“Puzzle Pieces All Laid Out” – How ATF Has Plan To Classify Semi-Automatic Rifles As “Machine Guns”
What is Going on With Gun Control Right Now in 2021?
Just a general warning. The statements presented may start to sound like a conspiracy theory, but I promise you, dear reader, it is not.
There’s been much talk at the range recently about the new proposed gun control by the Biden Administration. Many people are perplexed. We get a ton of questions, emails, and phone calls asking, “Will this affect me?”, “What can I do?”, “Why are they doing this?” among others.
I want to answer these questions as best as I can. We’ve been in the firearms industry here at TMGN since 2013 and have had a shop & range since 2015, so we’ve seen tons of changes from different administrations. There is a clear agenda here, and I’m reasonably sure most gun owners are going to be a little unhappy with the information I’m about to deliver.
So, I guess the main question to answer first would be, how did we get here? Right now, we’re looking at two (maybe more, who knows what the future holds) rule changes coming from the Biden DOJ and the ATF. These rule changes are an example of the Biden Admin governing by executive fiat, as they know they don’t have the votes in the Senate to pass any of their gun control agenda. But let’s unpack this. This situation is a culmination of events starting way back.
Also, before we start, for the sake of those new to firearms (statistics show 9 million people bought their first gun in 2020 alone), many more in 2021. To those of you, we say welcome!) Let me do some quick-term definitions and give some critical context.
NFA (National Firearms Act): The National Firearms Act of 1936. The NFA was the first major federal gun control act in American history. The NFA created a tax and registry for Suppressors (sometimes called silencers), Short Barrel Rifles & Shotguns (referred to as SBRs / SBSs respectively), and Machine Guns. If you wanted to own any of these items, you’d have to submit to a lengthy background check and pay a $200 tax. (Equivalent to $4400 in 1934) In return, you’d receive what’s known as a “tax stamp” showing that you were approved to own any of these “NFA items”.
FFL: Federal Firearms License, shortened to FFL is used interchangeably to refer to a Firearms licensee aka a Dealer, or the physical License that is given by the federal government for the ability to manufacture firearms and/or to sell them. FFLs are overseen by the ATF.
ATF Form 4473: The main form that people are required to fill out when purchasing a firearm. FFLs are required to hold this form on site for 20 years. The forms are used in the event a firearm is used in a crime, the ATF can “run a trace” on that firearm and figure out who it was last transferred to.
NICS: The National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The NICS conducts background checks on people who want to own a firearm or explosive, as required by law. When a person tries to buy a firearm, the seller, known as a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), contacts NICS electronically or by phone. The prospective buyer fills out the ATF form 4473, and the FFL relays that information to the NICS. The NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer. That background check verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm.
1968 Gun Control Act: The creation of the system that we all know today. The GCA created the FFL system, banned mail-order guns, and more. This law has been updated a few times, most notably in 1993 with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which created the NICS system we use today. The GCA replaced and updated the Federal Firearms Act, an older provision enacted in 1938.
2008 Heller Decision: In DC V Heller, the supreme court ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia, and use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes. Before this, gun control advocates argued that the 2nd Amendment had more to do with state militias than individual firearm ownership. With this decision, the Supreme court said that view was incorrect.
Stabilizing Brace: Sometimes called a pistol brace. A Device designed to help shooters with limited mobility stabilize their firearm more easily. Attached to the rear of a gun, usually equipped with straps or some way to allow the shooter to use their forearm to help stabilize the firearm while shooting.
Bump Stock: Bump fire stocks are gun stocks that are specially designed to make bump firing easier, which assist semi-automatic firearms with somewhat mimicking the firing motion of fully automatic weapons but does not make the firearm automatic. Essentially, bump stocks assist rapid fire by “bumping” the trigger against one’s finger (as opposed to one’s finger pulling on the trigger) thus allowing the firearm’s recoil, plus constant forward pressure by the non-shooting arm, to actuate the trigger.
Ghost Gun: Made up term to make “homemade firearm.” It’s made to sound scary to those with little firearms knowledge. It has been common practice for people to build their guns. It’s also perfectly legal to do and has been for years, contrary to what corporate media outlets would like you to believe. If you make a firearm in your house for personal use, it’s legal and does not have to be serialized or registered. Although it still must conform to Federal firearms law and not violate the NFA.
So, where do we start?
The United States has a long history of gun control. But let’s not be complete pessimists here. On the bright side, the ability to carry a pistol concealed for self-defense has been significantly expanded in recent years and has been trending towards fewer restrictions nationwide since 1976 when Georgia established the “Shall issue” process we have today. (Shall issue is when you are guaranteed a permit should you complete the state’s process for acquiring said permit. whether that means taking a class or paying a fee. Inversely, States like Maryland and California use a process called “May Issue” where even if you complete the requirements for obtaining a permit, the state must still deem your “reason” for having said permit to be permissible. This has been declared unconstitutional in D.C. but that’s a story for a different time.)
What is ironic here is that if you were to look at crime statistics, most crimes committed with a firearm, said firearm is a handgun. Why? It’s simple. Criminals prefer smaller, more concealable firearms. It’s hard to conceal an AR15, regardless of barrel length. Ironically when anti pistol legislation is proposed, it’s much harder for the government to pass. So, the anti-gun lobby has (for now) given up on the issue. Instead, they’ve targeted the scary-looking modern sporting rifles of today. Most notably, the AR15. However, their aim does extend to most semi-automatic rifles that accept a detachable box magazine.
Now that we’ve established what they’re after, let’s talk about the events leading up to today.
On the evening of October 1st, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. He killed 60 people and wounded 411. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. Paddock was able to achieve high rates of fire with a device known as a bump stock.
President Donald Trump ordered his Justice Department to find a way to ban the bump stock. The DOJ decided to classify the bump stock device as a machine gun in December of 2018, going into effect in March 2019. Since the only legal way to own a machine gun is to have a registered one on the NFA before 1986, bump stocks were effectively made illegal, and anyone in possession of one would be subject to 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
The problem here is that a bump stock isn’t a machine gun. It’s not even a firearm at all. It’s a piece of molded plastic that uses the gun’s recoil, discharging a round to “bump” the trigger. It does not guarantee automatic fire, nor does it modify a semi-automatic rifle and “convert” it to full auto. The firearm itself would remain semi-automatic, and the bump stock would allow the user to fire faster, using the force of the recoil.
Most gun owners weren’t up in arms over the bump stock ban. Public opinion of the ban was positive. More comments supported the proposed rule change on the federal register than opposed it—a rare thing for gun control. Many gun owners viewed bump stocks as a novelty and wrote it off entirely. The issue, though, was much more complex. It had little to do with the bump stock itself and much more to do with reclassifying an item that was not a firearm itself under the NFA and effectively banning it with no recourse for gun owners.
Fast forward to 2020. In May, the ATF announced it was changing its 4473 form. The form change would go into effect in November of 2020. Most gun owners are familiar with this form, even if they don’t know it by name. It’s the form that is filled out anytime that you purchase a firearm from a firearms dealer. It holds all the information of the individual looking to buy a gun before the FFL performs a background check through the federal NICS system.
“Why is a simple form change relevant?” you might ask. Well, the ATF did update the form itself. But the ATF also changed the layout of the form dramatically. Before the change, the ATF had all the personal information for the individual filling out the form on the first page. The firearm information was located on a separate page. The change moved the buyer’s information and the firearm information (serial number, make, model, and more) to the first page. Here’s where we get into speculation a bit, but I promise, there’s a reason for it.
I believe that the ATF is setting up for eventually keeping a digital database of 4473s. They are currently forbidden to do this by law. The only way that they’re legally allowed to keep physical 4473 forms is at one of their facilities in Martinsburg, WV. That facility is so full of paperwork that recently, the floor just caved in.
What’s also important to know is that 4473 forms can (and should) be destroyed by dealers after 20 years. That means that the ATF will never keep those forms on file. Good FFLs do this. The only way for the ATF to acquire 4473 documents is if an FFL goes out of business, closes, or loses their license, they will need to turn over the forms that have not yet hit the 20 year mark. The ATF doesn’t like this. So eventually, I’m sure we’ll see a push for the ATF to digitize their data collection (hence the change to the 4473 form, as digitizing forms becomes much easier with all critical data on the first page).
A quick side note here is that the government should never know what firearms you own. It’s your constitutional right to own firearms. The same way it’s your constitutional right to speak your mind. You wouldn’t want the FBI to keep a database of your text messages, would you? Same concept. We also know from history that keeping a database of firearms owner information eventually leads to a registry. Gun registries ALWAYS precede confiscation. If you look at history, this is always the case. It’s better to not allow for a registry so that confiscation cannot occur because doing even light research on what happens to disarmed populations is a scary thing.
So let’s continue with what’s going on currently.
In Nov. of 2020, Joe Biden won the Presidential election. During his campaign, he had been known for extra inflammatory statements on gun control. Saying, “Yes, I’m coming for your assault weapon” and associating himself with Robert-Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, promising to nominate him as Gun Czar. Robert-Francis had famously said during a debate, “Hell yes, we’re coming for your AR15.” When speaking to union workers at a campaign stop, he told a worker who asked him about his gun control plans: “we’ll take your AR14s away”.
On December 18th, 2020, the ATF announced that it was planning to treat pistol braces as stocks and felt that they were being used to skirt the NFA and create unregistered Short Barrel Rifles. Gun owners came out in droves to comment on the Federal Register. A mere five days later, the ATF withdrew the pending rule change.
In 2021 things were quiet for the start of the year, President Biden primarily focusing on infrastructure, coronavirus, and taxes. That is until April 7th, 2021, when he held a press conference, announcing six actions that Biden is taking on gun control.
The Justice Dept. will make a rule to “help stop the proliferation of ghost guns.”
The DOJ will, after that, issue a rule about stabilizing braces.
The DOJ will publish model “Red Flag” legislation for states.
Biden will nominate David Chipman to serve as the Director of the ATF.
The DOJ will issue an annual report on firearms trafficking.
The Biden admin is investing in “evidence-based” community violence interventions.
At that moment, there was little information about any of the incoming rules. The only clear thing was that Biden’s nominee for the ATF would be David Chipman. David Chipman is a current gun-control activist and ex-ATF agent for those of you who don’t know. For all the Biden campaign sloganeering on “Healing a Divided Nation,” David Chipman has turned out to be one of the most divisive nominees yet, and one who has a clear ideological bias.
We know that David Chipman has a bias because during his confirmation hearings in May of 2021, He stated that he “supports a ban on AR15 style rifles.” He also has written numerous articles and made many public statements on his opposition to Americans owning firearms.
One of the most important things to know about David Chipman is that in 2017 he wrote an article for Giffords called “Legal and Lethal – 9 Products That Could Be the Next Bump Stock“. In the article, he speaks about how Congress must take action and ban things like High-Capacity Shotguns, AK & AR Style pistols, AR Pistol Arm Braces, 50 Caliber Rifles, Muzzleloaders, and more.
Shortly after David Chipman’s hearing, the DOJ announced its rule on “Ghost Guns.” Of course, It covers more than just people making firearms in their homes. The ATF decided firearm parts now need to be classified as firearms. Therefore, those parts need to have their background check done at the time of purchase. Their reason is that the gun control act of 1968 hasn’t been updated. At the time of writing, the GCA didn’t account for all the different parts that citizens could purchase separately. It’s estimated that if you took the average AR15 and applied this rule, the AR15 would have 12 or more regulated parts that would require a background check. Meaning that if you buy an AR15, under this new rule, you’d be buying 12 different legal firearms built into one legal firearm. Make sense? I don’t think so.
If you know anything about the history of the 1968 GCA, you know this is a total fabrication. A law prior called the Federal Firearms Act, which DID regulate parts, was replaced by the 1968 GCA. Congress found regulating firearm parts to be an “unworkable solution” and decided to regulate firearms by “frame or receiver,” not multiple parts.
The ATF is also looking to classify items that they feel are “readily assembled” into firearms themselves. The definition of this is extremely unclear. My guess is that they are targeting 80% kits. 80% Kits are uncompleted firearm receivers in an 80% done state, meaning that legally they aren’t considered firearms. The purchaser can complete these firearms themselves at home with some significant work, depending upon the kit and type of receiver. These kits are typically popular with hobbyists, not so much with criminals.
Lastly, this little lost detail that may be the most important of all: 4473 forms must be held INDEFINITELY by FFL holders, which means that FFLs can no longer destroy 4473 forms after 20 years.
Now here we are at the latest announcement, the ATF’s proposed rule on stabilizing braces.
On June 7th, 2021, the ATF announced its proposed rule change for “factoring criteria for firearms with attached stabilizing braces.” What they’ve done is create an overly complicated worksheet to ban all firearms with braces attached to them.
The proposed rule change goes like this: If your handgun has a brace on it, the ATF has a worksheet that determines if that brace, in its configuration on your pistol, creates a “short barrel rifle.” (Defined as a firearm with a stock and a barrel length of under 16 inches.) Essentially, the ATF thinks that people are using braces to skirt the NFA and create short barrel rifles without paying the tax and registering their guns on the NFA registry. So, they’ve made the most complicated worksheet imaginable, named Worksheet 4999, to figure this out. The worksheet takes things into account like weight, length of pull, optic or scope on your pistol, and use two hands to fire the gun (which all people do even when shooting non-braced firearms) many more criteria if you score too high, oops! You have an illegal firearm.
Probably the most egregious thing about Worksheet 4999 and the proposed rule change is that at the top of the sheet, there’s a disclaimer that essentially allows the ATF agent to deem your firearm as an illegal SBR regardless of if you pass the worksheet criteria and they feel that you are trying to circumvent the NFA. So even if you pass the worksheet, your agent may decide they feel like you’ve violated the law, and unfortunately, this rule change gives them the power to do so.
So, where does this all come together?
It’s obvious when you look at what’s happened and what’s been proposed where the Biden admin is headed for gun control. They are testing the waters right now with these two proposed rule changes, but I guarantee this is not the end. These current ideas have been taken right from the David Chipman “Legal and Lethal” playbook. There’s a part where Chipman writes this about semi-automatic rifles:
“The danger posed by firearms that enable shooters to continue firing in this manner is the same reason Congress chose to include machine guns in the NFA when it was originally enacted: these weapons enable a shooter to fire many bullets very quickly. Semi-automatic firearms equipped with large-capacity magazines do not, however, fall under the NFA. The NFA refers to machine guns as those firearms that discharge more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. Firearms developed since the NFA and equipped with large capacity magazines rarely require manual reloading, but they can expel a lot of ammunition in a brief period. They do so by allowing a trigger to be pulled many times very easy and ensuring that there is almost always another bullet ready to go. Despite this, large-capacity magazines and semi-automatic firearms equipped with them (sometimes called “assault weapons”) are not regulated under the NFA, even though they pose an incredible danger to our communities.”
Take note here of Chipman’s idea that any semi-automatic rifle that can accept a “high-capacity magazine,” which I would assume is a magazine above ten rounds, is essentially a machine gun because they don’t need to be reloaded as often.
We should look to this article as essentially the playbook that the ATF will take in the future. They are words right from the potential Director’s own thoughts.
What potentially makes this situation more sinister is that they have the legal precedence to do so because of the bump stock ban. On top of that, the ATF’s next move of indefinite holds on 4473s, and the eventual argument for moving to a digital system means that you can bet that there will at some point be a push for a registry of who owns what.
As I said, it sounds like a conspiracy. The puzzle pieces are all laid out in front of you. It’s our duty as gun owners to fight back and secure our rights. We all need to leave comments on both proposed rule changes. Even if you’re a defeatist that doesn’t think that the comments will dissuade the ATF from stomping on your rights, keep in mind that groups will use your comments like Firearms Policy Coalition and Gun Owners of America to sue the ATF immediately should these changes take place.
This article has been a longer piece than usual, but I hope it’s helped you understand where we are today with gun rights. In the time it took you to read this article, you could have commented on both proposed rule changes, so please make your way to regulations.gov and make your voice heard!
Tue, 08/24/2021 – 22:05