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.
🚨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. pic.twitter.com/mUue1Fhqvc— NRA (@NRA) May 7, 2021
Gun Owners of America vowed to fight the rule “at every turn.”
Biden just dropped a new proposed rule that seeks to change the longstanding definition of a firearm and add more undue burdens on honest citizens. GOA will fight Biden’s assault at every turn. Watch to learn more➡️https://t.co/CIShJGn1Gj pic.twitter.com/eIWISt8FoD— Gun Owners of America (@GunOwners) May 9, 2021
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.”
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: