Can Someone Clarify Some of the ATF Laws



  • I am looking to build an AR pistol and I am not clear on how to go about doing that. The parts between a rifle and a pistol are all the same, so at what point is it determined what is to be "rifle" and what is "pistol". And when is it "pistol" and not SBR.

    To be a little more specific, I am thinking about picking up an upper with a short barrel. Now I get that if I were to put that upper on a rifle lower, then I would have an SBR. But what if I have the upper and don't have it mounted to any lower, but also don't own a pistol lower? Then what? I do have rifle lowers sitting around.



  • The ATF has written at least two letters on the topic in this decade ... some readers think the two letters contradict each other ... though the second letter specifically states it does not.

    Certainly you should read those two letters and then determine your own interpretation.

    ==
    Some people use the "pistol" as a work around to having to get Form 20s approved to take SBRs across state lines. It takes about a month from the time you mail the Form 20 until the time you get the approved form back. Some people, don't plan their trips 30+ days ahead, so the work around is attractive.

    ==
    Now these words are MY interpretation.

    When you put an upper on a lower ... if the lower is not SBR'd you would be making an unregistered SBR ... UNLESS the lower has a pistol brace on it. If the lower has a pistol brace on it, then an unregistered SBR is not made. Instead, you are holding a pistol.

    Under current interpretations, what makes a lower a "pistol" lower, is the presence of the stabilizing brace on the lower.

    There were older interpretations which had lowers stamped as pistol lowers and sold as pistol lowers, but current interpretations are otherwise.

    ==
    I have read the letters ... the first one, in the hussein era ... indicated that shouldering a lower with a pistol brace and a short upper ... was "making" an unregistered SBR, even though holding the pistol in one hand with the pistol brace strap around your arm, was not making an unregistered SBR.

    The second letter says it does not change anything the first letter says, but that it is ok to shoulder a lower with a pistol brace and a short upper, provided you don't remove the strap from the pistol brace or attach a forearm grip to the upper.

    The second letter is used by those who wish to use the work around and take their "nada-SBRs" across state lines without form 20s ... and shoulder them when shooting.

    ==
    I have chosen to go ahead and SBR three of my lowers (that got done 3 years ago) and I fill out the form 20s .. .I send them in 45 days ahead of time. I even put my suppressors on the Form 20s, even though that is not required.

    As a friend of mine who is an attorney once said, "The law is what a given judge says it is, on a given day, for a given purpose". And, if I am going to roll the dice .. .and own firearms and shoot them and take them across state lines .. .then I want the strongest hand I can have .. .given that I am already gambling ... that the judge will make the right call. But ... that is me. You read the letters and make your own decision.

    Point being, you can ask 100 people .. you can ask 100 attorneys .. you can ask 100 ATF agents ... but until the judge makes the call in your case ... you will not absolutely know the interpretation that will apply to you.

    :)



  • I would get your pistol lower before purchasing the short barreled upper. But that's just me, I don't screw with the ATF! I got a SBR tax stamp on one of my lowers just in case. Better to be safe than sorry.



  • @painless said in Can Someone Clarify Some of the ATF Laws:

    I would get your pistol lower before purchasing the short barreled upper.

    That was going to be my advice too, if are looking to play it as safe is one can with ATF confusing reg's.
    Getting just a plain pistol buffer tube with no brace also simplifies things a great deal IMHO.
    I don't dork around with the braces, I just SBR my lower(s) as well.



  • @kansas said in Can Someone Clarify Some of the ATF Laws:

    Point being, you can ask 100 people .. you can ask 100 attorneys .. you can ask 100 ATF agents ... but until the judge makes the call in your case ... you will not absolutely know the interpretation that will apply to you.

    100% true. Which is proof positive that the legal system in this country is completely and totally useless.



  • One way to protect yourself is to ask these questions in writing to the atf. Then keep the letters that they respond with as evidence.

    BTw— I don’t know if you know this or not, but you cannot take a rifle and turn it into a pistol without a tax stamp. You will either need to buy a pistol lower or a receiver to build a pistol. Make sure your ffl records the transfer as a receiver or pistol and not a rifle.

    Tax stamps are not that big of a deal. In opinion, I would get a pistol lower and bare pistol buffer. Then file form 1 for sbr, then buy the upper. Once the stamp clears you can then put a stock and forward grip on it.



  • @kansas said in Can Someone Clarify Some of the ATF Laws:

    The ATF has written at least two letters on the topic in this decade ... some readers think the two letters contradict each other ... though the second letter specifically states it does not.

    Certainly you should read those two letters and then determine your own interpretation.

    ==
    Some people use the "pistol" as a work around to having to get Form 20s approved to take SBRs across state lines. It takes about a month from the time you mail the Form 20 until the time you get the approved form back. Some people, don't plan their trips 30+ days ahead, so the work around is attractive.

    ==
    Now these words are MY interpretation.

    When you put an upper on a lower ... if the lower is not SBR'd you would be making an unregistered SBR ... UNLESS the lower has a pistol brace on it. If the lower has a pistol brace on it, then an unregistered SBR is not made. Instead, you are holding a pistol.

    Under current interpretations, what makes a lower a "pistol" lower, is the presence of the stabilizing brace on the lower.

    There were older interpretations which had lowers stamped as pistol lowers and sold as pistol lowers, but current interpretations are otherwise.

    ==
    I have read the letters ... the first one, in the hussein era ... indicated that shouldering a lower with a pistol brace and a short upper ... was "making" an unregistered SBR, even though holding the pistol in one hand with the pistol brace strap around your arm, was not making an unregistered SBR.

    The second letter says it does not change anything the first letter says, but that it is ok to shoulder a lower with a pistol brace and a short upper, provided you don't remove the strap from the pistol brace or attach a forearm grip to the upper.

    The second letter is used by those who wish to use the work around and take their "nada-SBRs" across state lines without form 20s ... and shoulder them when shooting.

    ==
    I have chosen to go ahead and SBR three of my lowers (that got done 3 years ago) and I fill out the form 20s .. .I send them in 45 days ahead of time. I even put my suppressors on the Form 20s, even though that is not required.

    As a friend of mine who is an attorney once said, "The law is what a given judge says it is, on a given day, for a given purpose". And, if I am going to roll the dice .. .and own firearms and shoot them and take them across state lines .. .then I want the strongest hand I can have .. .given that I am already gambling ... that the judge will make the right call. But ... that is me. You read the letters and make your own decision.

    Point being, you can ask 100 people .. you can ask 100 attorneys .. you can ask 100 ATF agents ... but until the judge makes the call in your case ... you will not absolutely know the interpretation that will apply to you.

    :)

    I have actually read both of those letters before. Totally ludicrous and contradictory.

    I get all the thoughts on just doing the SBR to be safe. But there are a couple of issues for me on doing that. First, most of my shooting is done across state lines. I live in NC but shoot primarily in SC, so there is the extra hassle of the annual paperwork. Not a big deal, but still a bit of a hassle. If/when I get a suppressor, I will have to do that anyway.

    But the bigger issue is how the concealed carry works in my state. The CC is only good for a pistol, not a rifle. In NC we are totally open carry, no distinctions between loaded/unloaded. But you can't carry anything concealed unless it is locked, or if you have a handgun CC. So to legally transport an accessible rifle in a vehicle, it must be stored in a visible location. A rifle under the seat is a felony. But a "pistol" under the seat? No problem. An AR rifle with a 50 round drum magazine strapped to your shoulder and 6 more mags on a belt? No problem. An AR pistol with a 50 round drum magazine in a backpack? No problem. An unloaded 22 bolt action in an unlocked duffel bag? Felony.

    Then when I cross into SC, they have different rules. No open carry at all, and they distinguish between loaded/unloaded. Basically in SC all transportation (vehicle or on person) of any long gun must be unloaded and locked. But if it is a pistol and you have a CC, no problems. Don't even have to notify LE if stopped.

    So while I may very well do an SBR someday, a pistol just seems to make more sense for now.



  • @dddoo7 said in Can Someone Clarify Some of the ATF Laws:

    BTw— I don’t know if you know this or not, but you cannot take a rifle and turn it into a pistol without a tax stamp. You will either need to buy a pistol lower or a receiver to build a pistol. Make sure your ffl records the transfer as a receiver or pistol and not a rifle.

    Yes I am aware that if the lower leaves the factory as a rifle, then it can never be a pistol.

    Tax stamps are not that big of a deal. In opinion, I would get a pistol lower and bare pistol buffer. Then file form 1 for sbr, then buy the upper. Once the stamp clears you can then put a stock and forward grip on it.

    I guess what i am really driving at here is how exactly do you get a "pistol" lower? If I order a lower from, let's say Bud's or Brownell's for sake of argument, what determines whether it is a rifle or pistol? When I go pick it up from my local FFL what, if any, paperwork needs to be done to specify it as a pistol?



  • Ah, well that helps clarify a lot in terms of your use case !!!

    However, there are actually THREE sets of laws in play for you. The Two States AND the Feds.

    ==
    Even if you configure the weapon as a Pistol ... it still could be registered as an SBR from an ATF/Federal perspective, even if, at the same time it is a pistol.

    ==

    Of course, it might occur to me not to do most of my shooting in SC .. given all this complexity :D

    ==

    If you want to prioritize walking thru the local minefields first ... with the "AR Pistol" ... then per all the learning I've done ... under the current interpretations, you just need a lower with a pistol brace ... and put your upper on there ... and it is a pistol.

    You can certainly check with attorney's and ATF agents as well.

    ==
    But if it was me, I'd go the SBR route ... I did go the SBR route ... and I'd find "friendly" places to shoot ... I did find friendly places to shoot !!! In Kansas !!! :D

    Kansas is an "Open Carry" state ... and also a "Concealed Carry" state. Meaning any law abiding citizen can open carry (as long as you cause no disturbance) ... and any law abiding citizen can concealed carry. Essentially all non prohibited persons have a blanket CCW in Kansas. Just doesn't apply outside Kansas.

    So loaded or unloaded and locked or unlocked ... concealed or unconcealed ... all good in Kansas. Let me know if you need help finding some property here in Kansas !!! :D



  • See I think any lower can be a pistol lower if you put a stabilizing brace on it ... then put an upper on it with no forearm grip ...

    But as you see, if you ask 100 people, you will get different answers. Same, if you ask 100 (gun) attorney's, you will get different answers ... same if you ask 100 ATF agents, you will get different answers. I bet even if you ask the ATF in writing every six months, you will get different answers ... hence, you have to read the docs yourself and decide what you are comfortable doing.

    One thing DD and I agree on is SBR these lowers ... that covers you with the Feds ... and if you are covered with the Feds .. you're in pretty good shape with the states ... and get the Form 20 annual thing, etc. I think DD and Kansas agree on that much.

    ==
    My understanding is that there used to be such a thing as a pistol lower ... sold as a pistol lower etc as DD is saying but that was changed several years back ... and now any lower will do, as long as it has a pistol brace on it ... and as long as no forearm grip is on the upper ...

    ==



  • Let me try this ... my shooting buddy has a "pistol" lower with the word "pistol" engraved on it and a receipt showing it was purchased as a pistol and a copy of ATF letter #2 stating it is ok to shoulder it. And when we go hunting in this state or others, he carries that with him with the rest of his ATF paper work (for the suppressors, etc.
    And he finally convinced me that doing the pistol route was less hassle than doing the SBR route. I already had my 3 SBRs, but if I put a pistol brace on one of my lowers, then I wouldn't have to do the form 20 thing.
    So I did some research and picked out my pistol lower and brace .. but I also did some reading and talking. I asked some class 3 dealers and a class 7 manufacturer and two gun attorney's I've worked with ... and net/net after all that, I realized how murky the whole thing was and that there is no fixed law you can count on in this area ... so I decided it wasn't worth the risk ... and just stuck with my 3 SBR lowers and the form 20 process. After studying up on it, that's what I decided I was comfortable with. I'm just saying your ass is on the line ... do some studying ... and make your own decision for you.