ATF Proposes Unclear New Rule Banning ‘Ghost Guns,’ Redefining ‘Firearms’

David Chipman, President Biden’s pick to head the ATF, currently works for the anti-gun group Giffords. (Photo: David Chipman Facebook)

Just 30 days after President Joe Biden ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to write a rule banning so-called “ghost guns,” the ATF has complied.

The proposed rule bans the direct sale of build-it-yourself 80-percent receiver kits, but it also attempts to redefine the term “firearm” to account for split-receiver rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47. In addition, the agency offers (supposed) guidelines for how companies can determine when a piece of metal counts as a “firearm.”

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, none of the regulations offer much real clarification to consumers or manufacturers, and all proposed rules give the ATF latitude to redefine their terms to account for “future changes in firearms technology or terminology.”

“To reflect existing case law, this proposed rule would add a sentence at the end of the definition of ‘firearm’ in providing that ‘[t]he term shall include a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be assembled, completed, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive,’” the announcement of the proposed rule states.

While likely to be challenged in court if approved, this addition to the definition of “firearm” would all but eliminate easy access to build-it-yourself kits from companies like Polymer80. Such kits would still be available (assuming the companies stay in business) but would be sold and regulated like any other firearm.

Gun-rights groups have blasted the proposed rule, arguing that it would give the ATF near-unlimited power to regulate firearms and firearm accessories.

“The proposed rule would do nothing to address violent crime while further burdening law-abiding gun owners and the lawful firearm industry with overbroad regulations,” the NRA said on Twitter.

Gun Owners of America vowed to fight the rule “at every turn.”

SEE ALSO: Who is David Chipman, Biden’s New Head of the ATF?

The proposed rule does not require private citizens to serialize homemade, private-use firearms, but it would require an FFL to serialize “privately made firearms” (PMFs) within 60 days of receiving those firearms.

The ATF acknowledges, as the gun rights community has pointed out, that the agency’s current definition of “firearm” does not account for split-receiver firearms like the AR-15 and AK-47. But rather than proposing a clear rule to accommodate these types of receivers, the agency simply grants itself broad, unilateral power to define virtually anything as a “receiver” and, therefore, a “firearm.”

“The definition would include, at a minimum, any housing or holding structure for a hammer, bolt, bolt carrier, breechblock, cylinder, trigger mechanism, firing pin, striker, or slide rails,” the proposed rule states. “However, the definition is not limited to those particular fire control components. There may be future changes in firearms technology or terminology resulting in housings or holding structures for new or different components that initiate, complete, or continue the firing sequence of weapons that expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.”

The agency also fails to clarify at what point a hunk of metal becomes a “firearm” under federal law. While the proposed rule would likely ban the unregulated sale of 80-percent receiver kits, the ATF offers little guidance for manufacturers and consumers related to this larger question.

A “partially complete” frame or receiver counts as a firearm because it has reached a stage in manufacture “where it may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to a functional state.”

SEE ALSO: ATF Arrests Florida Man for Selling Metal Drawing of Full Auto ‘Lightning Link’

By “partially complete,” the agency means, “a forging, casting, printing, extrusion, machined body, or similar article that has reached a stage in manufacture where it is clearly identifiable as an unfinished component part of a weapon.” The Director, the rule states, can judge whether a part is “identifiable” by consulting “any available instructions, guides, templates, jigs, equipment, tools, or marketing materials.”

As for what counts as “readily converted,” the proposed rule proposes a definition that reads, “a process that is fairly or reasonably efficient, quick, and easy, but not necessarily the most efficient, speedy, or easy process.” Agents would consider time, ease, expertise, equipment, availability, expense, scope, and feasibility in deciding whether a process is quick and easy but not the quickest and easiest.

In this, the agency is departing drastically from their historic understanding of “readily converted.” As the Second Amendment Foundation outlined in this excellent brief, the ATF has always defined receiver blanks by their state of manufacture and not how long it takes to turn a blank into a functioning receiver. It’s not clear under this new rule how manufacturers and consumers are supposed to know what the agency considers “quick and easy.”

Concerned citizens can submit comments on the proposed rule 90 days after official publication in the federal register using any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Andrew Lange, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Ave. NE, Mail Stop 6N-518, Washington DC 20226; ATTN: ATF 2021R-05.
  • Fax: (202) 648-9741.

The rule has not been officially published as of Monday afternoon, May 10.

Read the proposal for yourself here:

Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!

About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over four years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco. Follow him on Instagram @bornforgoodluck and email him at jordan@gunsamerica.com.

{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Phil May 15, 2021, 9:43 pm

    This brings up a memory from 2010 in an email conversation with Venessa Echols, newscaster for WFTV9, Orlando, FL. She reported on a crime in which a KalTec Sub2000 was used in the crime. She reported on the news it was a “machine gun”. I asked her why the term was used. She replied that the reporter covering the crime was told by the Sherriff of Orange County at the time, Jerry Demings (husband of now Congressman Val Demings) said they called it a “machine gun” because they said it was readilly convertible into one!

  • IhateLibs May 15, 2021, 12:30 pm

    Totally ILLEGAL and UN CONSTITUTIONAL . I wonder how much more WE as a Nation are going to take when Our Rights and Liberties are being Burnt b4 our very eyes ??? When its time tell me when and where it starts dont wanna miss one second of this , Im ALL in boys LOCK & LOAD MOLON LABE

  • skipNclair May 15, 2021, 11:41 am

    If anything should be banned it should be the ATF as they are traitors to the constitution and are again infringing on the rights of the people. Just about everything they do is unlawful.

  • Steven Donnelly May 15, 2021, 5:10 am

    I am a strong supporter of gun control. I keep my 40 odd firearms (although I’m not sure what a firearm is any more) locked in my house and under control when I’m home and I keep my carry gun very close to me when I’m out so it can’t get in trouble.

  • James Garvin May 15, 2021, 2:17 am

    Oh well, I guess I’ll have to register my potato gun. It uses hair spray for a propellant/explosive!

    • IhateLibs May 15, 2021, 12:32 pm

      Hair sprays too sticky . WD-40 does great

  • Ray May 14, 2021, 4:12 pm

    They can’t legally change law! Only congress can do that will be thrown out in court just like bump stock!

  • Dustin Eward May 14, 2021, 4:06 pm

    Wake up. This is a declaration of war. Start acting like. Communists are taking your guns.

  • James T Matters May 14, 2021, 2:34 pm

    This is what happens when you allow a political party to control language itself. All definitions become fluid, and therefore, meaningless.

  • JOHN T. FOX May 14, 2021, 2:29 pm

    THE KEY TERM IS EXPLOSIVE. SO WE NEED TO ELIMINATE THE EXPLOSIVE ELEMENT TO ELIMINATE THE REGULATIONS. CHEMICAL REACTION WOULD THEN BE THE BEST ROUTE, IF MAGNETICS CAN’T BE FIGURED OUT. OR PORTABLE COMPRESSED AIR GUNS WOULD BE AWAY AROUND IT. RANGE WOULD BE LIMITED, BULKY, NOISY, AND HEAVY TOO! PERHAPS SOMETHING LIKE A COKE MENTOS REACTION.

  • Chastran May 14, 2021, 12:17 pm

    ATF has yet to realize that they cannot pick up a turd by its clean end…

    • Dan Crocker May 14, 2021, 2:28 pm

      Agreed. And thanks to all the liberals who voted this hair sniffing pedo into the White House.

  • Koldman May 14, 2021, 12:01 pm

    Dang in that first photo, this guy has coked-out-Gary Busey levels of crazy in eyes. His gun prohibitionist zeal is shining bright as day.

  • Buzz Waldron May 14, 2021, 11:56 am

    In the meantime, the lying Dims will continue to refer to ADDICTIONS VIOLENCE by the dishonest idiotic term of “gun violence”…

  • Me May 14, 2021, 11:09 am

    So are they going to make the upper the ‘gun’ and the lower will be the unregulated part or will they try and make both regulated?

    I also love how “easily” keeps getting harder and harder all the time.

  • Matthew Hudson May 14, 2021, 11:05 am

    The entire concept of what is and is not a “Right,” has become so convoluted that no one knows the truth anymore. Most of us, anyway. It’s a symptom of a sick culture. A culture that is ill, and at the end of it’s life. We’ve abrogated our duties to our friends and families and turned over responsibility of our own safety to paid strangers. It’s ending just as they feared in 1938.

    Policing in the USA, and this is a policing issue, was supposed to be by militia. What it has evolved to is so far away from what the founders conceived that it’s not even the same world. But in a way, it is. To be blunt, we screwed up. The founders did not want military policing our streets, they did not want a centralized police force controlling our every move, and they most certainly did not want us to lose our Liberty. And today, if you ask a hundred people the difference between freedom and liberty, 99 will say they don’t know, if not a hundred. Freedom is the ability to do something. LIBERTY is the ability to do something without first asking permission. Liberty is dead. I’ll bet that not one of you can think of any action you can take that does not require some sort of permission, or permit. Even flushing the toilet requires a host of permits from the permit you had to get to install the toilet, to the permits the water department have to satisfy to get the water for the flush to your house. You cannot even marry in this nation without a permit! Walking to the store? Think about it. Sidewalk – permit. Car – multiple permits and regulations on it’s use. Your shoes have dozens of licenses and permits to even make it to your feet. Don’t go dressed in any way other than what the government allows, there are permits for that or laws and regulations controlling it, and you.

    Guns have been free of regulation and control more than any other activity or product. But we are so inundated with laws, rules and regulations in our cages, that the wardens do not like that you can actually fight back. Oh, they are not longer police, they truly are wardens. A warden is, “a person responsible for the supervision of a particular place or thing or for ensuring that regulations associated with it are obeyed.” Your freedom is an illusion, your liberty is a joke, and the cage door will shut on you if you decide to disobey any of the wardens regulations.

    There is no law, not a single one, none, absolutely NO law in this nation that regulates arms that has legal standing. Legal Standing has to have Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Subject Matter Jurisdiction is a function of our Constitution and has nothing to do with the 2nd amendment. Read those 18 enumerated rights, the rights we gave the government to be converted to powers. Do you see the one regulating the right to bear arms? Do you see the one granting the government permission to DEFINE the right to bear arms?

    If you own a right, you also own title to that right. Owning title means you define what the right is, to you. YOU get to define the right, YOU get to decide if it means you carry a gun, or not. Own a gun, or not. Own a shotgun, or a handgun. YOU define it. The breath, scope, and range of the right is yours to define. So when a government agency with no power over the right, decides to take that right, to control it, to regulate it, to define it, it means they have STOLEN it and are no longer operating under the powers granted. They have conducted a coup, over you, personally. They have stolen your property, stolen your first amendment protected right to express yourself. They have violated the 2nd amendment limitations we placed on them and are acting under color of law. They have violated the 4th amendment by you having to open your house to their regulations, your papers for them to examine, and you have granted them power to search you with the only probable cause you’ve committed a crime the fact you’ve decided to buy a gun that they control, regulate and grant to you, provisionally, and only with their permission. They have violated the 5th amendment by making you answer for the crime of gun ownership by begging them permission to buy a gun – and agreeing to abide THEIR rules once you do. You truly are deprived of life, liberty and property and ALLOW IT EVERY DAMNED DAY.

    They violate the 6th amendment – did you have a speedy trial when your gun was denied you? Did you get a trial at all, or an administrative rule saying, “You did something wrong, or filled out our form wrong, so you get NOTHING!” And you let it happen. When was the last time I heard of someone filing a lawsuit over not getting approved for a weapon, not for the lack of approval but for the approval in the first place being a crime? Nope, you were accused, tried, prosecuted, and sentenced with no hearing, no trial, no judge, mo magistrate, no recourse. G U I L T Y! MOVE ON OR FACE OUR WRATH!

    7th amendment is clearly violated because the controversy is far more than 20.00, and did you get a right of trial by jury before your right was denied? And before you get started and say, “Hey, I got MY gun…. after three days…” You were prosecuted, found guilty, and denied your right for three days. It’s a punishment. It’s a judgement. It’s a SENTENCE!

    8th? LOL, what can be a more cruel and unusual (although today getting killed because you can’t carry a gun doesn’t seem that unusual anymore, does it?) than to deny a woman a weapon for three days when she has a stalker? To deny a person who had a sentence of a year and one minute (A felon and misdemeanor charge are and can be exactly the same charge, but if the sentence is 364 days and 21 hours, you can buy a gun, if it’s 365 Days and one minute, then it’s a felony, it has NOTHING to do with the CRIME…) the right to defend themselves, to fight back against a criminal, to stand as an adult? THIS is the crime! THIS is the punishment that lasts a lifetime! Imagine this, please, think about it, please…. You get a new car, run it up to a hundred and ten on a bridge at nighttime, and now, you get a felony reckless driving charge, and you can NEVER AGAIN defend your family against a home invasion. Never go hunting. Never own a rifle for fun. Never carry a weapon openly to say to others, “I am not your victim.” A lifetime long punishment, no other nation in the world has this as far as I know, for such a simple and stupid lack of judgement level crime. (I know the person who did this, personally)

    NO, we have no more liberty in this nation. It’s gone. We let it happen. Now, I fear, we will pay the price for our sloth and inaction.

    • Nicholas May 14, 2021, 2:14 pm

      “Policing in the USA, and this is a policing issue, was supposed to be by militia.” Wow! You mean to say that you actually understand that aspect of our law, and you have read the Constitution?
      For years now, I’ve been explaining the reality of the purpose of the 2nd, and the proper path towards stopping and revoking gun control laws. Few want to listen. They’ve been so scammed by both sides that they refuse to comprehend that the only recognized power “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions” is “the Militia of the several States”. I know for a fact that groups like the NRA don’t want the membership to be educated in this area. I also know that a lot of these supposed pro-2nd attorney’s deliberately steer their clients from the topic of the required militia commanded by the original Constitution.
      I was interviewed on a show, and proposed a plan for revitalization of the militia. The host said we can get thousands behind this. I told him on air that I would do all the leg work, just need support. He said to me, I want you as a regular guest.
      I know that some of the attorney’s who filed those cases that were dismissed by the S. Ct. got a hold of him. I never was invited back on the show. I e-mailed several times, and I know there were others who asked him when I would be back. A constitutional attorney heard the show and he said you should go back on, you were articulate and accurate. We have to battle both sides on this issue.
      It’s an uphill battle because the community does not want to bring the proper legal arguments. They’re too invested in the “individual right theory” and refuse to hear anything else. Most actually believe that groups that call themselves militia without any lawful authority are what the Founders recognized.

    • Dustin Eward May 14, 2021, 4:09 pm

      The this, the whole this, and nothing but the this; so help me God.

    • Bradley O Albert May 14, 2021, 6:05 pm

      Amen! I couldn’t agree more. Your explanation could be applied to many of the ridiculous demands by groups of people who don’t understand the importance of somethings are meant to be ‘black or white’, ‘yes or no’ or ‘male or female’, etc.
      Whatever happened to common sense? I suspect there are many who have never heard of common sense.

    • Tim Jones May 14, 2021, 8:06 pm

      Sad, but all true. Like every empire, we are sliding down. It may take a few more years, but it will happen!

  • Easy Eddie May 14, 2021, 10:55 am

    An administration populated by Marxists, academicians, theoreticians, genderqueer and left-wing activists. What could possibly go wrong? Other than the outlier mass shooting events, the FBI shows rifles are rarely used in commission of a crime. (Too hard to conceal and difficult to shoot when you turn it sideways). Wait until they find out that there are deadly ‘black’ crossbows out there. Under Joey B, America circles the drain.

  • pete May 14, 2021, 10:51 am

    When we gun nuts bastardize the definition of pistol, among other things, we bring this sort of scrutiny and regulation upon ourselves. Keep pushing the envelope, and somebody eventually notices.

    • chas May 14, 2021, 11:41 am

      What you just said translates to “if we obey the letter of the law we will be punished”. That’s not a sign that we’re the ones doing wrong.

    • Shanz May 14, 2021, 4:31 pm

      Are the California gun laws, which undoubtably will be federalized, pushing the envelope?

    • Kane May 14, 2021, 5:54 pm

      What is the definition of “gun nuts”?

      The NFA is NOT consistent with the 2A.

  • Alej Marcos May 14, 2021, 10:33 am

    Come on down to Texas and take them, you two-bit sonsof8itches.

  • Kane May 14, 2021, 10:20 am

    Didn’t Bill Murray have a “ghost gun” in that movie “Ghost Busters”?

  • Biden Hunter May 14, 2021, 10:02 am

    I got away with a felony when I got my gun. Don’t Comply.

  • Kevin Collins May 14, 2021, 9:55 am

    Ignorance on display!!! Let them have this rule and nothing is a gun!!! BATF will ‘rule’ themselves out of existence. Modern smokeless powder is a propellent, not an explosive! It burns fast, it does NOT explode!

    • Matthew May 14, 2021, 11:45 am

      Do you know gas refineries in the USA are fined every year for not using cellulose alcohol in their fuel? Government does not reascend regulations, they only add to them. They only remove them when we force them to, legally, or using public opinion.

  • Greg May 14, 2021, 9:51 am

    Gun powder is not a explosive, it is in fact a accelerant! There is no difference between gasoline and gun powder, ignition of either create enormous pressure that propel the projectile/piston.
    Is there a reason for the use of the word EXPLOSIVES.
    The way they have worded this my truck will have to be registered as a gun, it has explosions and propels carbon monoxide projectiles when in use .

  • survivor50 May 14, 2021, 9:47 am

    Redefining ‘Firearms’…

    ” Anything that sets your arms on fire…”

  • Paul R Labrador May 14, 2021, 9:43 am

    Pretty sure only Congress is allowed to write laws……

    • Me May 14, 2021, 11:07 am

      Ah, but you see they are not writing laws, they are changing definitions. No difference in the end though. I guess you can blame Congress for allowing the power to be delegated.

    • Dustin Eward May 14, 2021, 4:13 pm

      Yup. I warned about this trend years ago. It’s endemic to the Social Justice game.

      Change the definition of words and the law can mean anything you want it to mean.

  • Marc M May 14, 2021, 8:41 am

    Guess they will be finding a way to regulate a milling machine now! God help us.

    • Gunrunner May 14, 2021, 10:41 pm

      It’s already been determined that if you have a drill press, or bench grinder, and a couple screwdrivers that you have everything necessary to manufacture guns and parts, ergo, you are a “Gunsmith”! I can only imagine how the first hundred, or so, cases of doors being kicked in at 2 AM by BATF&E shock troops will go, before We, the People, take a stand and take back our country, our self respect, and or Rights…

  • TexDad May 14, 2021, 8:18 am

    How is an AK a split-receiver firearm?

    • James Smith May 14, 2021, 9:24 am

      I agree , just b/c the top dust cover with sight on it can be removed , doesn’t make it a split receiver. The gun still functions without it mounted ( not that would want to fire it that way ) .

  • Anthony Romano May 14, 2021, 7:39 am

    My neighbor has one, he has a drill press in his basement and is the handiest guy I know. He admitted he had a heck of a time drilling out that 80% lower. He can never sell it unless he puts a serial number on it and him and the buyer go to an FFL to transfer it. This is a bunch of bullshit by antigun idiots that know nothing about firearms and that’s why they’re scared of them!

  • Robert Peterson May 14, 2021, 6:10 am

    I don’t get it. If congress defined terms in a piece of legislation that it debated, passed and a president signed, how can a regulatory agency “redefine” those terms? Isn’t it up to congress or the courts to amend/ change a law?

    • Me May 15, 2021, 2:41 am

      As far as I understand it the terms are not defined by congress. Congress says “firearm” and then the ATF has the delegated authority to decide what a firearm is.

  • George May 14, 2021, 5:56 am

    Enforcement agencies want unclear rules & regs, that they might use them as they please.

  • Rich K. May 14, 2021, 4:30 am

    BATF = Bureaucrats for the Absolute Termination of Freedom, aka the American Gestapo

  • Alexander Daniel May 12, 2021, 3:36 am

    I don’t think any change occurs if they ban the construction and industry of firearms. Because of the ban the industry then they do nothing to address violent crime while further burdening law-abiding gun owners and the lawful firearm industry with overbroad regulations as just said @the NRA. people get arms unlegally if they ban the firearms industry. if they do that then we will face also security issues and leak of information about our country through specious activities.

  • Christopher Mace May 11, 2021, 9:33 am

    When you read the footnote about readily converted, they say 8hrs in a fully equipped machine shop is “readily converted”.

    Aside from the obvious ramifications to home building, this sets a very dangerous precedent. They will take this definition and apply it to other things in the future. You can convert any existing firearm into a MG with 8 hrs time in a fully equipped machine shop-just as an example.

    As with all of these things they come up with, the devil is in the details.

    • PB- dave May 14, 2021, 6:55 am

      8 hrs in a “fully equipped” machine shop could build most any type of firearm receiver from scratch, let alone converting. This begs the questions: How many MG’s , Ghost guns, or home-builds have been used for criminal activities ? and Why is this a priority concern with the gov’t ?

      • Jay Smith May 14, 2021, 9:30 am

        EXACTLY , it’s just fear driven political regulation attempt(s) . The , ” Well , we gotta do SOMETHING ! ” ( with the – awwshucks arm/elbow swing added ). Just like the gun show loophole . How many guns bought from any private owner , have been used in mass shootings or crimes. Most of the guns i see by those guys are old plinkers , hunting rifles , or revolvers . Not exactly the street thug gun demographic . They all want Glocks .

      • Shanz May 14, 2021, 4:35 pm

        PBs be brave. It’s hard to be the good guy.

    • Dustin Eward May 14, 2021, 4:19 pm

      By this definition, anyone with access to dirt is in possession of a machine gun…

      …you can smelt aluminum from almost any bucket of dirt, cast a slug, and mill a receiver from it in LESS than 8 hours…

      I’ve done it.

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