Leaked ATF Proposal a Game Changer for Gun Owners

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posted on May 5, 2021
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An apparently leaked Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) document detailing possible plans to completely redefine what parts of a gun are to be considered a “firearm” has many in the industry worried that a big change could be coming soon.

The document, which is 107 pages in length, was made public by Stephen Gutowski at The Reload and seeks to change the regulatory definition of frame or receiver, and also alter federal marking requirements for firearms. And, according to the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), the name of the proposed rule and the regulatory identifier number match a rule that was transmitted to the Office of Information and Regulatory affairs the third week of April.

“The rule, if implemented, would completely upend the firearm industry by changing what parts must legally be considered a ‘firearm’ under federal law,” stated NRA-ILA.

The apparently leaked document, titled “Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms,” certainly looks legitimate, even containing a billing code in the upper right-hand corner and the words “For Internal Review Only,” and, “Not for Public Distribution.” In response to an interview request concerning the authenticity of the document, April Langwell, chief of ATF’s public affairs division, told America’s 1st Freedom, “I cannot confirm, nor deny, the authenticity of the document, nor can I comment on internal communications or deliberations on potential or hypothetical rulemakings.”  

The draft rule, if ultimately proposed in its current state, would primarily add and alter definitions used to implement federal firearms laws. In a nutshell, the new definitions could make it possible for firearms to have more than one “frame or receiver,” which is not possible at this time and at odds with the controlling federal statute. The proposed rule would also create a new marking requirement for certain Federal Firearms Licensees that, according to NRA-ILA, has no basis in federal statute.

In the proposal, the ATF said the rule would likely have a “significant impact” on companies currently selling unfinished receivers. Those companies, it said, would need to “adapt.”

“Based on current marketing related to the unregulated sale of certain firearm parts kits, ATF anticipates that these non-FFLs would either become FFLs or would take a loss in revenue to sell a parts kit that does not contain a frame or receiver, or simply sell the frame or receiver, but not both,” the document said.

The document further acknowledged that most of the companies that would be affected are small ones, and could take a financial hit if the rule is approved.

“ATF estimates the majority of affected entities are small entities that would experience a range of costs; therefore, this rule may have a significant impact on small entities,” the document stated.

Unfortunately for America’s gun owners and gunmakers, the proposed rule, as written, would give the head of the ATF a tremendous amount of discretion over the rule’s contents. That fact makes President Joe Biden’s recent nomination of gun-ban group advisor David Chipman to run the agency even more problematic.

As you may recall, Chipman once called the AR-15, America’s most-popular rifle, a “weapon of war,” and testified before Congress that it is virtually “identical to those used by the military.”

“Simply reinstating the 90s-era ban on assault weapons is not enough,” he told the Congressional committee. “Instead, we should regulate a broader class of firearms, including assault weapons manufactured before the law’s enactment … while banning the future manufacture and sale of these firearms.”

If legitimate, the proposed rule should be published in the federal register this week (on or before May 8). At that time, interested parties—from gunmakers to gun owners—would have 90 days to comment on the proposal.

According to the proposed rule, all comments must reference the document’s docket number ATF 2021R-05, be legible, and include the commenter’s complete first and last name and full mailing address.

“Comments that do not meet these criteria will not be considered,” the document stated.

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