Monday, January 3, 2011

Where’s the crime? (SBR, SBS, AOW Part 2)

This is a natural progression of two of my previous posts – “Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns, Oh My” and “Grown-up Toys" that is meant to highlight the absurdity of the definitions of firearm types, and an inherent contradiction in trying to separate firearms into types.
This will take several ingredients:
  1. A 1911 version of the Mechtech CCU
  2. A 1911-pattern frame, that has never been assembled into a handgun
  3. All the rest of the parts necessary to assemble a 1911-pattern firearm, except the slide and barrel assembly
  4. a .22lr conversion kit for a 1911-pattern handgun
Place ingredients 1-3  in the inventory of an FFL in, say, Pennsylvania, assembled into a functional .45acp carbine. This is a perfectly legal rifle, per the federal definition of same:  “The term "rifle" means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.” (Note emphasis). Current federal law permits me (as a New Jersey resident) to purchase same from the PA FFL, as long as the laws of both states are followed, and PA permits FFLs to sell to out-of-staters and NJ permits its residents to purchase out-of-state. Say that I do so, following all the relevant laws – in this case passing an instant background check in PA, after showing an NJ Photo ID, an NJ Firearms Purchaser ID card, and filling out a federal form 4473 and a New Jersey Certificate of Eligibility. (For the sake of this post, this transaction is not happening in a City of the First Class under PA law).
Ingredient 4 is not a firearm, and therefore may be purchased without any particular restrictions. I will buy mine at a different PA FFL, still not in a City of the First Class by PA law.
I will then drive to a range, following all the laws pertaining to transport of firearms and ammunition without a License to Carry in PA. At the range I run a few magazines through my .45acp carbine. I step back from the line, detach the 1911-pattern frame from the Mechtech unit, and attach it to the .22lr conversion kit. I now have a handgun (federal definition": “a firearm which has a short stock and is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand” that is “ … a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore”) whose component pieces I obtained in a state in which I am not resident, without having fulfilled the requirements for purchase of a handgun of the state in which I am resident.
What federal laws did I break, and when? What state laws did I break, and when? Each individual transaction is legal. I bought a rifle in one store, and a conversion kit for a handgun in another. At no point did I engage in the manufacture of a firearm, and at no point did any of the components being sold by any one vendor qualify as a “collection of parts” for the assembly of a handgun.
The Mechtech unit is by far not the only way I could have done this – AR-15-pattern “pistols” have been around for a while. For me, as a New Jersey resident, an AR-15-pattern pistol is an illegal Assault Weapon, having a detachable magazine outside the handgrip and also (I believe) weighing over 50 oz. and fires what is traditionally a rifle round. The Mechtech+1911 carbine unit has the benefit of being chambered in a traditionally handgun caliber. The Mechtech CCU alone has the advantage of having the long barrel and the long stock as one single unit, foreclosing the possibility of assembling a carbine with only one or the other feature and falling into Short-Barreled-Rifle or Any Other Weapon territory. I specified a conversion kit as that is something that can be found in many FFLs inventory on hand – though I probably could find a slide assembly almost as easily.
Now, my (hypothetical) 18-year-old friend does the same thing. In PA, an 18-year-old may possess a handgun (subject to the laws concerning possession without a License to Carry). When he steps up to the line with a .22lr pistol, who broke what state and federal laws?
Someone braver than I (and better-funded) could probably parlay some of these thoughts into an interesting federal lawsuit aimed at gutting federal regulation of handguns and Any Other Weapons separate from rifles, and then leverage that into breaking up the asinine regulation of Short-Barreled-Rifles. A similar strategy using a Taurus Judge (or variant) with a smoothbore barrel will do in Short-Barreled-Shotguns. As I said in my previous post, we have a recognized individual right to possess a functional firearm, particularly a handgun. From that, and the amazing modularity of modern weaponry, follows the conclusion that there is no justification for regulating any semi-automatic firearm (long arm or handgun, smoothbore or rifled barrel) in a different fashion than any other.

Please follow through to The Lair: Two Handguns, One Lawsuit (SBR, SBS, AOW Part 3) for a slightly tweaked hypothetical intended as a direct attack on the definitions of short-barreled rifle and handgun as separate from rifle.


  1. What federal laws did I break, and when? What state laws did I break, and when?

    You may have broken NJ's state firearms laws, whose definition of a firearms manufacturer is written broadly enough to allow a judge to apply it to you if he doesn't like your face:

    "Manufacturer" means any person who receives or obtains raw materials or parts and processes them into firearms or finished parts of firearms, except a person who exclusively processes grips, stocks, and other nonmetal parts of firearms. The term does not include a person who repairs existing firearms or receives new and raw materials or parts solely for the repair of existing firearms.

    ...And there are extensive requirements for licensing and registration of "manufacturers".

    I found out about this during a similar thought experiment about black powder revolvers (which can be purchased and moved freely between states under federal law, while NJ law requires permission only for the purchase of handguns, not the possession or importation) and those conversion cylinders that turn BP guns into "modern" firearms. Both the gun and the cylinder are non-firearms, as far as the feds are concerned. And combining them should violate no federal law. But here in Jersey I'm sure a prosecutor would call you a manufacturer and the judge would go along with it.

  2. So - since I find that MechTech CCU very interesting and it's now been added to my "want" list - could we get a rundown on which laws (if any) actually would be broken in those scenarios?

  3. "A 1911-pattern frame, that has never been assembled into a handgun "

    Since you put it that way: under the CCU unit first, the 1911 frame is a 'rifle' frame. It was first assembled into a rifle. The 'crime' comes when you convert it to a pistol/SBR.

    Not that you've done anything morally wrong mind you, but that won't stop the ATF/FBI/Authorities from killing you and/or your family.

  4. Sure, if it ever became an SBR I'd be in violation of federal law due to possession of an unregistered SBR. But with the CCU unit, it can't ever be an SBR. There is no such thing as an unregistered handgun, so I can't be in violation of that.

    Granted that the minions of the law can arrest me on probable cause. What does their boss charge me with?

    That's a serious question, actually. Changing upper receivers and slides is not "manufacturing" by federal (or any other) law, so I haven't manufactured a firearm, either.

    I suspect there wouldn't be anyone who could be baited into filing federal charges; for the same reason Rock Island wasn't appealed. Because this would pull a critical support out from the house of cards that is NFA '34 and '68. Stay tuned for who I do think could be baited into filing charges, though.

  5. Your spam filter may have killed my earlier reply. I'm guessing the PDF link to NJ's firearms laws is what did it. But the gist of it was that I'm not so sure NJ wouldn't consider this "manufacturing" (for which the state requires licensing and registration). The state law gives this definition:

    "Manufacturer" means any person who receives or obtains raw materials or parts and processes them into firearms or finished parts of firearms, except a person who exclusively processes grips, stocks, and other nonmetal parts of firearms. The term does not include a person who repairs existing firearms or receives new and raw materials or parts solely for the repair of existing firearms.

    The law may not have been written to criminalize the use of carbine or conversion kits (I doubt its drafters knew such a thing existed), but it sure looks like the broad language can be read to include it.

    Buying a 1911 frame (by itself or as part of a completed gun) and either conversion kit sure seems like obtaining (metal) parts and processing them into a firearm to me. It certainly isn't "repair".

    Don't get me wrong; even here, I doubt you'd go to jail for turning your 1911 into a carbine or rimfire plinker. But while we're talking about fiddly legal details...

  6. Here's the link, in case it can come through:

  7. I'll be getting to a couple of those points shortly, but note the my hypothetical self is currently still on the firing line with a .22lr pistol in PA, not yet having packed up to go home.

  8. Ah, fair point, hypothetical Ian.

    I don't know a thing about Pennsylvania's manufacturing law, but wouldn't be surprised if they have none.

  9. Ian: My impression of the ATF's interpretations of the law suggest that "if it was ever a rifle FIRST", it's a rifle forever for their purposes.

    (Same thing with a long barreled "normal" shotgun vs. AOW shotgun, which is why people going for an AOW rather than SBS buy factory-pistol-grip shotguns.)

    And thus despite not having a stock anymore it'd still be a "short barreled rifle" when converted to what any sane human being would call a "pistol".

    Does this make sense in and of itself? Nope.

    Does it match the letter of the law? Very doubtfully.

    Will it still get you in court and maybe in prison? Quite possibly.

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  11. A bare "virgin" (never assembled) M1911 frame should transfer as a "receiver" on the Form 4473, but most dealers are going to want to log it as a pistol. In any case, either as a pistol or a bare receiver logged as "other" on the 4473, it can only be sold to a resident of the dealer's state. See 18 US Code 922(b)(3) for the restriction on interstate sales: the exception is only for rifles and shotguns.

    If you assemble it for the first time with a Mechtech CCU kit, in the BATFE's eyes it then becomes a rifle since there's a shoulder stock.

    Subsequently assembling it with standard M1911 parts would then constitute the manufacture of a short barreled rifle. Federal felony, 10 years in prison, etc.

    Nonsensical, but BATFE's opinion on this is long-standing and supported by case law.


Please keep it civil