Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Legality of Reloading Ammunition and Various Thoughts...

When I first began shooting competitively, mentors steered me towards rifles and pistols chambered in .22LR (LR = long rifle).  .22LR is a mild small caliber round ideal for target shooting, and the required round in many disciplines.  It is however, a round that is not reloaded, the spent brass is sent off to be recycled.  I believe this is because of the impracticality of re-priming rim fire cartridges, and also the relatively low cost of .22LR ammunition.

As I progressed to center fire firearms, reloading spent brass cases proved far more economical than purchasing factory ammunition.  Additionally, hand crafted ammunition can be of superior quality than mass produced ammunition, if done properly.  The reader is left to his or her own devices for further study of the reloading process.

In the FEDERAL FIREARMS REGULATIONS REFERENCE GUIDE  2005 published by the ATF:


p. 184

(H4) Is a person who reloads ammunition required to be licensed as a manufacturer?
Yes, if the person engages in the business of selling or distributing reloads for the purpose of  livelihood and profit. No, if the person reloads only for personal use.
[18 U.S.C. 922(a) (i) and 923(a), 27 CFR 478.41]

Interestingly, the GCA defines "ammunition" as (s.921(a)):
(17)
(A) The term “ammunition” means ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm. 
This implies that to commercially manufacture ammunition components, one would need to be licensed.  This raises some interesting questions.  For example, there is a new cartridge out, the .300 AAC in various specifications, which can be manufactured rather easily from existing .223 cases (an inexpensive case available in mass quantities) with minor cutting and shaping.  If one wanted to get into the business of mass-converting .223 brass into .300AAC brass, would a license be required?  What about bullet casters, who manufacture and sell only the lead bullets (aka "heads")?  In practice, does the ATF check or even care about these things?  And if so, why?

The policy reasons behind a statutory regime of licensing commercial manufacturers of ammunition is not entirely clear to me.  I do not believe the ATF has any responsibility or involvement in "certifying" or monitoring that manufactured ammunition is safe for use, analogous to the FDA with food and drugs. 

Thus, it seems to me as nothing more than a tax.  Especially so, because once sold by the manufacturer, there is no licensing or record keeping requirement of subsequent sellers (although this may not be the case for import/export or NFA regulated items):
p. 176
(A4) What kinds of ammunition are covered by the GCA?
Ammunition includes cartridge cases, primers, bullets or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm other than an antique firearm.  Items NOT covered include blank ammunition, tear gas  ammunition, pellets and nonmetallic shotgun hulls without primers.  Generally, no records are required for ammunition transactions. However, information about the disposition of armor piercing ammunition is required to be entered into a record by importers, manufacturers, and collectors.  A license is not required for dealers in ammunition only.
[18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17) and 922(b)(5), 27 CFR 478.11 and 478.125]
p.177
(B4) May an unlicensed person obtain ammunition from an out-of-State source?
Yes, provided he or she is not a person prohibited from possessing or receiving ammunition.  [18 U.S.C. 922(g) and (n)]

p.182
(F11) Is a license required to engage in the business of selling small arms ammunition?
No. A license is not required for a dealer in ammunition only, but a manufacturer or an importer of ammunition must be licensed.
[18 U.S.C. 922 (a)(1)(B)]
The fact that ATF licenses ammunition manufacturers, but does not necessarily regulate quality or safety, makes everything even more interesting from a legal and policy perspective.  The reloading process itself is very safe, I am sure more people are injured changing light bulbs than reloading ammunition.  And for the most part, the reloader assumes the risks associated with using the ammunition he makes.

But what about average, every day gun owners who purchase reloaded ammunition at gun shows or elsewhere?  I would imagine that the average citizen simply assumes that some federal regulatory body, probably ATF, holds manufacturers to some sort of quality control standards, like the FDA does for food and drugs.  Or in addition, that some sort of bond or insurance is secured in case the ammunition is defective and causes personal injury or property damage.  But since these assumptions are wrong, where does that leave us?  I guess this is one of the reasons that firearms manufacturers often include strict instructions in the manuals not to use reloaded ammunition, in an effort to limit their liability on the argument that their firearm's chamber ought to be able to handle the maximum possible pressure a cartridge could create, not just the SAAMI specification.  A hand loader might knowingly assume the risk of exceeding the SAAMI specification, but does the purchaser of reloaded ammunition necessarily know what they are getting?

I would not suggest that ATF get in the business of ammunition testing and certification, but what they could do is clearly inform the public that they do not do this, and perhaps require that all ammunition, reloaded or not,  be sold with a standard form disclaimer either printed on the box or inside the plastic baggie (as reloads are often packaged at gun shows) clearly stating that the ATF does not regulate  ammunition for safety.  I think as a matter of safety and consumer protection, that reloads need to be clearly labeled as such--a consumer deserves to know whether they are purchasing a particular manufacturer's factory loaded ammunition or reloads merely recycling that manufacturer's brass (although some manufacturers outsource their brass and it may not be head stamped with their name, often times the manufacturer and the head stamp are the same), which could confuse and mislead the consumer.

In "sophisticated" shooting circles, we all know that it is "buyer beware" when purchasing reloads.  But I've known several novice and infrequent shooters who bought reloads at gun shows without fully appreciating a) that they had bought reloads in the first instance, and b) the dangers in using ammunition over- or under-pressure.  To protect those people, I would not oppose some kind of warning regulations, similar to cigarette warnings.  In fact, ammo warnings make a heck of a lot more sense to me, because you're an idiot if you don't appreciate the dangers of smoking in today's world, but you're not an idiot if you are a gun owner who hasn't been educated as to the necessity of using properly pressured ammunition in your firearm.

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