If you want an AR-15 get it now, before the law changes


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.
The ATF’s formal proposals are not yet official, but you can read a draft version of them at this link.  It’s a long (107 pages) and complex document, but worth your time if firearms are of more than just passing interest to you.

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.



  1. I have to take issue with some of what you have said.

    "The ATF has been finding it more and more difficult to fulfil its mission…"

    No. It is not. It has been working very hard to suppress and hobble the firearms industry and the shooting community for as long as I can remember.

    "It's now moving to resolve these conflicts, and clarify the situation."

    Again, no.

    This document is not anything like clarifying.

    It is attempting to legislate new law instead of just a straight, simple interpretation of the existing one.

  2. As with all laws which lead to confiscatory penalties, a black-market will evolve very rapidly. The so-called law will, in effect, create 'criminal behaviour' by its very unnecessary existence.

  3. I tend to disagree with you on ATF as well as EPA and other governmental agencies.

    BATF as well others .gov entities tend to have a great deal of mission creep in their interpretation of laws passed by Congress. Bumps stocks are legal, then not. The law never changed, just a policy. Braces which were fine on pistols. Not one word of law has changed, just today's interpretation.

    Sometimes it is driven by attracting more funding, other times by political expediency.


  4. We will have to agree to disagree on the legality of "F-Troop"s actions, since the Bill of Rights is written in plain english….

  5. Interesting that a bureau of the Treasury is planning to breach commerce laws.

    Unintended consequences may apply.

  6. Good advice for all.
    What unfeathers my bed is your perspective that the "interpretation" of the law, from a questionable agency or other, as noted by others above, should have anything to do with the way free men conduct themselves, as if this or that policy/ruling/action was ITSELF based in law.

    If the gca of the thirties is null and void, where does that leave us?

    As it was said in the teewee miniseries "Twin Peaks"…the owls may not be what they seem.

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