Thursday, January 8, 2015

BATFE - Making It Up on the Fly Since, Well, Forever

I don't know how many of you saw this item that happened recently, but JPFO sent a link from David Codrea saying that in their first ruling of the year, BATFE has made up some interesting rules out of new cloth.  I don't believe for a zeptosecond that the anti-gunners are happy with the idea that you can make your own gun for yourself (ZOMG!!! Ghost guns!!11!) and there are absolutely anti-gun forces in the BATFE, even ignoring their rabidly anti-gun bosses willing to kill thousands to get a push for tighter laws.  These rulings make it harder for anyone who is interested in 80% lowers.

Kurt Hoffman writes the JPFO piece and describes the ruling.
(T)he Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has determined that a business, merely by making its machining equipment available for a fee, to individuals to use in building a firearm, has now "manufactured" the gun, and must meet all the requirements imposed on commercial gun manufacturers. This includes a gun manufacturer's license from the BATFE, the marking of the firearm (or receiver, which for legal purposes is the firearm) with a serial number, manufacturers' record keeping, and conducting a background check on the person who actually did the work in making the gun.
What does that mean in daily use?  Let's say you've bought an 80% lower and want to make an AR-15.  You have a hand drill, but no milling machine or other even a good drill press (both of which will do the job), but you have a friend who works in a machine shop.  Could you pay the shop a little something, maybe bring a box of donuts by when they open, in exchange for use of their machines?  This ruling says no.  I'm not sure this excludes you using the equipment if you yourself worked at the company, but if you're not paying anyone for use of the equipment, and they're not paying you your salary (that is, this is done on your own time - what we used to call a G job) I don't see this being equivalent to this ruling.

But let's bring it down to the hobby level.  It says, for example, that I can't let you come over to my place, and I pop your lower onto my CNC mill and run a Gcode file in exchange for a pizza or something.  I think I could let you use my equipment as long as no payment changes hands, which would be like the machine shop above renting out its equipment.  But as Kurt says, "if renting out access to one's machining equipment, which is then used to manufacture a gun, is to be considered "being in the business of" manufacturing firearms, how is selling the equipment any different?"  Does this make Grizzly, Horrible Freight, Little Machine Shop and everyone selling machine tools into gun manufacturers? 

Don't worry, it gets worse.  BATFE has previously ruled that once you take that 80% lower and drill a single hole in the fire control cavity, or mark the area that has to be removed, or (as ARES did) make the area to be removed a different color, you have just made that piece of metal (legally, no different from paperweight) into a firearm.  You're now the manufacturer. 

This ruling backfired on BATFE almost immediately.  After all, if making that drill hole made it a firearm, and it's now your legally owned firearm, why can't you take it to a gunsmith and have them complete it?  After all, they handle legally owned guns all the time.

ARES, who has been fighting BATFE for almost a year now, must have been chortling and rolling on the floor laughing when they read this, but recovered enough to post this on that book with faces place. 
Question 1: So an 80% lower is not a firearm...
ATF Answer: Correct

Question 2: So if I drill a single hole in the fire-control pocket of an 80% lower then it is a firearm...
ATF Answer: Correct

Question 3: Ok then... If an 80% lower with one hole drilled in the FCP is a firearm... can I then take the firearm that I made at home to an FFL and have him complete the rest of the work because he isn't manufacturing the firearm, he is just "gunsmithing" the firearm... I already manufactured the firearm by drilling the hole so it should be no problem right...

ATF Answer: Oh Crap!!!!!!!! ummmmm... Let me get back to you on that. No that can't be right... There is no way you can do that... That is not fair! you cheated!
Realizing they'd legislated themselves into a corner, the BATFE put language into this week's ruling to try to fix this.   My version of the two paragraphs turned into a few words:
"Uhhh... gunsmiths don't do that.  They fix guns and they can modify them, but gunsmiths don't use milling machines to make them.  Because we say so."  
Kurt Hoffman again:
So now, any gunsmith or machinist who is hired by the "gun" owner to complete the machining is going to be ruled to have "manufactured" a gun, and will thus be held to the same restrictions that apply to all commercial gun manufacturers. The BATFE is insisting on having its cake and eating it, too. They have previously argued that an 80% receiver ceases to be an 80% receiver, and becomes a "firearm," if the manufacturer does so much as scratch an outline showing where material needs to be milled away; but now, if the buyer of what the BATFE recognizes as an incomplete receiver similarly removes some of the material that must be removed in order to make the receiver function in a firearm, and then turns it over to a skilled professional gunsmith or machinist to finish the work, the professional ends up being considered the one to have "manufactured" the gun.
And now I'm going to do something I've hardly ever done: I'm going to quote myself from last March.
To me, the bottom line is that the BATFE might succeed in court against Ares and EP, but they will be unable to stop the 80% lower market as much as they hate it and want to shut it down.  They might desperately want to keep people from being able to build guns, but they're bucking one of the most powerful trends in society.  This is convergence, the new industrial revolution.  With the advance of personal fabrication - the intersection of home CNC, 3D printing, continually more powerful digital electronics, what's called the Maker movement, it is literally getting to the point where you will be able to buy anything you need to make any gun you want. Dimensioned drawings for the AR family lowers are online; it doesn't take much to turn those into tool paths.  The open source movement will provide that.  To use the cliche' again, "you can't stop the signal".
Trying to stop this new industrial revolution because you don't like it or you're afraid of it is like standing in the Bay of Fundy, yelling at the tide that it's not allowed to come in.  Good luck with that.  

(Original ARES polymer lower)


  1. I really like the letter that Karras at Ares sent to BATFE:

  2. Legislating solutions generates unitended cosequences every time and trying to fix those creates more; all those layers of law do in the end is create drag on the economy and frustration in the population.

  3. First you must have gun registration. Calmly and willingly if possible but by force if necessary. Second you must have gun confiscation. Easy to do because now you have a list of gun owners and their guns. Third you sieze power. This always follows steps 1 and 2 above.

  4. Just spitballing,

    What about a lost wax type mold with helicoil type inserts in certain places, and other metal inserts as needed, it's not an 80%, it is more of a negative space.

    Ready to be injected with zinc pot metal or high end epoxy.

    Is a negative spaced mirror image of a gun a gun, are opposite equal?

  5. Burnt toast - that's the second best idea I've seen. But I like my idea about 3D printing it with a printer that has two heads better.

    One print head prints the main lower with something that melts at 300 or 400 degrees. The other print head prints the parts that need to be cut away in something that melts below the temperature of boiling water. You boil some water, drop the lower into it, and the stuff you don't want melts away leaving a complete lower ready to build.

    I guess this whole legal framework mess makes the most sense when you think of it as the Feds trying to make it so complicated and illogical that they can catch more people breaking the laws. Ayn Rand's quote about the only way to rule over men is to make them criminals comes to mind.

    Oh, and RegT is right about the letter. In this ruling, the ATF said some things that completely contradicts their case against ARES Armor. In essence, they let ARES off the hook. Whether they admit it or not is another thing.

    Usual IANAL disclaimer.