A senior official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has released a white paper detailing proposals to draw down some of the firearm laws currently on the books. ATF Associate Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Ronald B. Turk authored the report to begin discussion on ways current firearm laws can be changed to further protect the Second Amendment and promote commerce, without endangering the the ATF’s mission to combat violent firearm crimes.
The 10 page report from the ATF’s second-highest office details sixteen considerations to reduce, retool, or reaffirm current gun laws or regulations. Here’s a brief look at what Turk suggests.
1. Provide Guidance on Internet and Gun Show-Based Firearms Dealers
Currently there is a great deal of confusion as to what constitutes a firearm dealer. Because the firearms market has changed so much in the past decades, the rules are outdated. The line between a person selling his personal firearms at a gun show and a firearms dealer engaging in business is blurry and hard to define. Additionally, firearms dealers must have a “brick and mortar” address where they sell firearms. Turk suggests clarifying the rules to prevent people “accidentally” breaking the law and to promote more commerce.
2. Review Rules Concerning ‘Armor Piercing’ Ammunition
So called “armor piercing” ammunition has been a cause of fury among gun owners for quite some time. Whether it is stopping the flow of cheap 7.62 ammo from China and Russia or the threatened ban on M855 “green tip” .223 ammunition, anytime the ATF makes a move on ammunition, gun owners get nervous and angry. Meanwhile, ammunition manufacturers have had their new products delayed waiting on ATF approval. Turk wants to look at the regulations regarding AP ammunition, leaving an exemption for M855 ammo in place, while streamlining the ammunition approval process.
3. Reverse Ban on Re-Importation of Military Surplus Firearms
During the 2012-2013 gun control push, President Obama signed an executive order banning the re-importation of military-style firearms. These firearms are old rifles housed in armories on U.S. Military bases or the bases of our allies under a lend-lease sort of program. Old M1 Garand Rifles, M1 carbines, and even some 1911s have been unable to be brought back to the United States under Obama’s order. (This has been exceptionally hard for the popular Civilian Marksmanship Program that used to sell these rifles to citizens that participated in the program.) Turk suggests that these types of firearms are not a threat to civilians and most are curio & relic-type firearms, not fully automatic “assault rifles” as the former Administration framed them.
4. Rework Title 18 to Allow SOTs to Transfer Machineguns
This suggested change is of little consequence to everyday civilians, but is very important to firearm companies that work with full-auto firearms for the Department of Defense or as theatrical armorers. The change would allow the ATF to differentiate the types of Special Occupation Taxpayer licensees, as it had done in the past. This would allow SOTs to transfer post-1986 machineguns for reasons other than LEO or military use.
5. Change Language to Allow Shouldering of Stabilization Braces
The current ATF guidance states that while stabilization braces are legal, shouldering one constitutes a “redesign”. Because the brace is being used as a stock, the handgun becomes a Short Barreled Rifle—an NFA regulated item—and would therefore be illegal to own or use without the proper forms and tax stamps. Under Turk’s advisement, the language would be clarified in the ATF’s guidance letter so that shouldering the brace would not constitute “redesign” of the firearm.
6. Reissue a New Sporting Purpose Study
The ATF uses a study about the “sporting purpose” of firearms that is over 20 years old. By doing a new study on the sporting use and purposes of firearms in the modern era, the ATF would have a better idea of how shooters use their firearms today. As shooting sports like 3-Gun and USPSA grow in popularity, different types of guns have also become more popular. AR- and AK-style rifles have also become popular for hunting due to their portability and customization. There are many different import regulations based on the “Sporting Purposes” study, and by re-examining the sporting uses of firearms, these restrictions may be lifted.
7. Creation of Database for ATF Rulings
The ATF has no internal database of the letters they have sent, guidance they have issues, or regulations they have put in place. Because of this, there is often confusion within the Bureau. Additionally, there is no way for consumers, manufacturers, and inventors to know what how to navigate the many different regulations on new firearms and ammunition. Creating a central location and searchable database will not only speed up ATF operations, but also allow for firearms companies to focus their energy and get new products out to customers.
8. Reclassification of Suppressors as Non-NFA Items
We’ve discussed both the opposition to the NFA and the hope for silencers to be removed from the NFA. Because suppressors are very rarely used in any criminal activity but take up a lot of ATF resources to process, removing suppressors from the NFA would free up ATF agents to work on more important things—like stopping violent gun crimes and trafficking. Though this would most likely require legislation to enact, there is plenty of the ATF can do make the process of purchasing a suppressor easier for consumers.
Turk also suggests changing the definition of a suppressor. Under current law, any part or combination of parts intended for use in a suppressor is considered a suppressor. Thus the tube, the baffles, even the end caps can be considered a suppressor and subject to the NFA. Each part must be serialized and have the serial number engraved on it. Firearms, however, are legally only required to have the serial number on the lower receiver or frame. By changing the definition of what needs to be serialized, suppressor manufacturers and parts companies can better serve suppressor owners.
9. Allow Interstate Firearms Sales at Gun Shows
Currently, an FFL dealer must process all firearm transactions at his or her place of business. Furthermore, they cannot do any firearm transaction outside of the state in which they live and work. Many small FFL dealers would like to sell firearms at gun shows in other states, but are forbidden by 18 different laws and regulations. There are convoluted systems that skirt these laws, such as: taking orders for firearms in one state and then sending them from the FFL dealer’s home state at a later date, or doing an “advanced consignment” deal with a local FFL dealer in which the original FFL dealer is technically not involved in the transaction. These laws are burdensome to small businesses and do little or nothing to protect public safety. It also discourages legitimate firearm dealers from doing business at gun shows. Turk suggests rolling back these regulations and allowing FFL dealer to proceed in they’re typical sales, just across state lines.
10. Retooling Rules Regarding Destructive Devices
The suggested rule change would differentiate between multi-use destructive devices, like grenade launchers and cannons, and single-use destructive munitions, like grenades or artillery shells. Though this doesn’t affect many average gun owners, it is an important distinction for munitions companies that have a difficult time producing these types of devices.
11. Reexamine Program on Demand Letters for ‘Gray Market’ Guns
The current ATF regulation states that gun stores that have at least 10 guns with a “time-to-crime” of three or less year, must provide information on certain guns in their inventory. (Naturally, no purchaser information can be collected, but other information can be sent, like make, model and serial number.) Originally, this provision was set at a threshold of 25 guns, but has since been shortened to 10. By raising the threshold to 15 or higher, the ATF will free up significant resources with little to no affect on crime prevention.
12. Reexamine Program on Demand Letters for Border State Gun Sales
FFLs based in the Southwest states must report the sale of multiple modern sporting weapons to the same person. That is, if a person buys multiple AR and AK style firearms at once, the FFL must report this to the ATF. The regulation was started to help curb the amount of gun trafficking and straw purchases that help arm the Mexican cartels and border gangs. The program has actually been decently successful, with 300 different investigations and 374 recommendations for prosecution over the past 5 years. However, it may be worth looking into changing the program or finding a better focus.
13. Stop Review of Regulation for Longer FFL Record Retention
The current ATF rules state that FFL dealers must retain all their firearm sales records for at least 20 years. This allows the ATF to do accurate traces of guns used in crimes. However, there has been a push to force FFL dealers to maintain accurate records indefinitely. Turk argues that most guns used in crime have a time-to-crime rate within months or years, very rarely as long as 20 years. In fact, in the past five year, only 1200 gun traces have failed due to records being destroyed after 20 years. That 1200 only accounts for less that .05% of the number of gun traces done EACH YEAR. So, lengthening the time of record retention for FFL dealers would just be an extra burden and have negligible effects on crime fighting.
14. Allow Firearm Retailers to Use NICS for Employee Screening
The National Instant Check System, the background check system that ensures a gun purchaser is not prohibited from buying a firearm, can only be used for that purpose. However, FFL dealers are legally required to ensure that their employees are legally allowed to be involved with firearms; something that most employment background checks won’t dig up. The ATF could help by loosening the restrictions on using NICS. If FFL dealers can just run a NICS check on employees, the dealer will know quickly whether their employees are prevented from working with firearms. It would mean safer gun ranges and gun shops, and less opportunity for prohibited people from getting their hands on firearms.
15. Push for a Senate-Confirmed ATF Director
The ATF has been without a confirmed Director since B. Todd Jones stepped down in 2015. In fact, since the ATF moved from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department in 2003, the ATF has only had one Senate-confirmed Director. For most years, there is only an acting director heading the ATF. Turk states that having a Presidentially-nominated, Senate-approved director will “enable the agency to be fully in sync with leadership, and maximize the agency’s potential regarding priorities, budgets, and support.”
16. Review and Remove Out-Dated Regulations
To finish his report, Turk then gives a list of 26 different regulations, rules, and statutes that are outdated and no longer applicable. Many of these are holdovers from the previous Assault Weapons Ban or other changes in firearm policies. By cleaning up the language and removing the old regulations, it’ll be easier for law-abiding gun owners to stay on the right side of the law and for the ATF to focus on criminals who oppose the law.
All in all, it seems that Ronald Turk’s ideas are completely in favor of gun owners, gun sellers, and gun manufacturers. Let’s hope that some of his ideas stick and the ATF loosens some of these outdated restrictions on gun owners.