ATF position on pistol grip shotguns creates new danger for gun owners nationwide

(David Codrea)   An interpretation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that pistol grip shotguns are not shotguns has created an unforeseen legal liability for owners of such firearms.  ATF’s Nov. 2009 FFL Newsletter declared:

Certain commercially produced firearms do not fall within the definition of shotgun under the GCA even though they utilize a shotgun shell for ammunition. For example, firearms that come equipped with a pistol grip in place of the buttstock are not shotguns as defined by the GCA.

Here’s another wrinkle, from Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars:

An October 27, 2010, letter from the Firearms Technology Branch ruled that such a firearm, with a 17″ barrel and 26-1/4″ overall length, was not subject to the National Firearms Act.

You can click here to read the letter.

That would seem to indicate there’s no issue with violating National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) requirements, right?  No worries if you own one, or want to buy one…?

Not so fast.  If the pistol grip firearms are not “shotguns,” what are they?

The NFA Owners Association points us to the only “legal” definition seemingly available with which to classify these firearms (click on link for “National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, as amended” to open up the text):

[T]aken at face value, a “pistol grip firearm” with a bore diameter larger than 1/2″ in diameter is a “Destructive Device” under the NFA, unless the Attorney General determines that it is “a shotgun . . . generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes.” By determining that a “pistol grip firearm” is not a shotgun, it is difficult to understand how current law would not classify such as firearm as a Destructive Device.”

A “Destructive Device”?

“Any weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes.” Source: 26 U.S.C, Section 5845(f).

Which means registration on the NFRTR would be required.  But there’s no way to do that retroactively, is there?

Per Vanderboegh:

It appears there are only two solutions: (1) change the law to revert things as they were before ATF made the foregoing rulings, or (2) establish an amnesty period so millions of “Pistol Grip Firearms” can be lawfully registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) system.

Otherwise, he notes:

This action has apparently created millions of unregistered Destructive Devices, currently possessed by millions of law-abiding gun owners who do not realize they now illegally possess unregistered NFA firearms.

That is, depending on what ATF chooses to do next.  Or what they have forced on them.

But certainly this is all hysteria and an unjustified over-reaction to some “poor wording”? Some would counsel us not to worry, broadly assuring:

There’s no way these’ll turn into NFA-controlled guns or suddenly become illegal.

Let’s hope such confidence is well placed, and the final word, and more authoritative than, say, the implications of  ATF Ruling 95-3 (bearing in mind that per ATF, the pistol grip firearms in question are NOT shotguns, so any determination that they are “particularly suitable for sporting purposes” would be irrelevant by their own definition.)

What a confusing mess.

Tomorrow, let’s talk machine gunsLots of machine guns.  Lots of unregistered machine guns.

And ATF knows all about them.

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