Readers will doubtless be aware that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (commonly known as the ATF) is considering significant changes to US firearms regulations. They will probably involve, but are not necessarily limited to:
- The way in which firearms are classified, particularly where the functions traditionally classified as a “receiver” are split between more than one part (such as the AR-15 rifle, striker-fired pistols, etc.).
- The classification of arm braces in AR-15 pistols (which, let’s face it, have been used as pseudo-shoulder stocks almost from the beginning, which is technically illegal).
- The parts of a firearm that trigger (you should pardon the expression) a requirement for it to be logged in a gun dealer’s books and its transfer conducted via the background check system, thus effectively “registering” the firearm to its purchaser. For example, an AR-15 rifle’s lower receiver has until now been the only “registerable” component, but that will probably change to include the upper receiver as well, and possibly other components too (perhaps the bolt or bolt carrier group, etc.)
- Restrictions on the private completion of so-called “80% lowers” or other legally incomplete firearms by enthusiasts, and the regulation of gunsmithing activities to ensure that everyone engaging in them is registered as such.
- Restrictions may be imposed on “paperless” private sales, requiring all transfers to be recorded through the official system.
This isn’t unexpected. The ATF has been finding it more and more difficult to fulfil its mission, what with incomplete lower receivers being legally sold without registration for later completion by home gunsmiths (so-called “ghost guns”), or AR-15 pistols being widely adopted as tax-free surrogates for short-barreled rifles (so-called SBR’s) that should be individually licensed and taxed. It’s now moving to resolve these conflicts, and clarify the situation. Some of us, including yours truly, would prefer to have much less regulation and more freedom, but we can’t deny that the ATF is doing the job it’s legally mandated to do. If we want it done differently, we should object to and work to change the laws themselves, not the agency that has to enforce them.
However, this does mean that the tens of millions of existing firearms that might be affected by changes in the regulations will somehow have to be “grandfathered in” to the new system. It’s impossible to the point of absurdity to have them all brought in to a gun shop to be individually recorded and logged – the sheer amount of work (even if people complied, which is far from certain) would be enough to put gun shops out of business, because they’d have no time left to make a living. Also, it’s manifestly unfair to take an AR-15 pistol that until now has been entirely legal, and require its owner to pay a $200 tax to register it as an SBR. There are millions of those pistols out there, and their owners would quite justifiably sue the pants off the ATF for imposing a retroactive tax on them. If they have to be registered as SBR’s, it’s likely there’ll be some sort of accommodation offered, such as the opportunity to do so during a window of time in which the $200 tax will be waived, or at least greatly reduced.
There’s also the thought that many gun owners will not register their firearms if required to do so. We’ve already seen such civil disobedience at work in states that tried to impose such requirements on their residents (for example, New York and Connecticut), and I’ve little doubt the situation will be similar elsewhere. However, if your firearm has been logged into a gun shop’s books, and its sale recorded on a Form 4473, you’re officially registered as its owner whether you like it or not.
I know that many gun owners have sought to buy firearms privately, as sales between individuals are not recorded in that way; others have held “swap meets”, where owners of similar weapons can exchange theirs, thereby each getting a gun that isn’t papered to them. However, under the new regulations, it’s entirely possible that all private transactions of this type will be outlawed, and all firearms transfers required to be logged through the official system. This will make anonymous, “paperless” gun ownership impossible for most firearms in future. Therefore, if you want to buy or sell a firearm “off paper”, your window of opportunity to do so will probably close soon.
For all these reasons, if you want to buy or sell an AR-15 or other “politically incorrect” firearm, it might be a very good idea to get it now, before the new regulations come into effect. I plan to (legally) sell a couple of rifles that are surplus to requirements before that happens, to avoid bureaucratic complications. It simplifies matters.