Sunday, February 26, 2012

What is a Firearm Part III

I recently wrote to the ATF Technology Branch, and courtiously received a reply regarding certain questions pertaining to firearms frames or receivers.  The Branch wrote me back, and here is the relevant portion of their letter to me:
Q1:  For a given firearm, who determines which part to serialize, the manufacturer or ATF?  If ATF, what process does the manufacturer pursue to obtain that determination?

A1:  As you point out, as background, 27 CFR 478.92(a)(1)(i) states that the manufacturer must serialize the frame or receiver of the firearm.  If there are any doubts as to which part of a firearm constitutes the frame or receiver, ATF will make the final determination.  The manufacturer would submit a sample of the firearm in question to FTB at the following address:

ATF, Firearms Technology Branch
244 Needy Road
Martinsburg, WV 25405

Our Branch would make a determination and furnish a written response within 90 days of receiving the sample.

If a particular manufacturer wishes to apply a serial number to any part of a weapon other than the frame or receiver, the manufacturer may do so.  But this additional serial number must be in addition to the required number on the frame or receiver of the weapon--i.e., placing a serial number on the bolt, barrel, or slide, etc., would not preclude or satisfy the requirement to serialize the frame or receiver.

Q2: Assuming all parts have been properly serialized by the manufacturer, can one rely on the serialized part as being the one and only part constituting the "frame or receiver" and, thereby, the "firearm" as defined?

A2: No, you cannot assume that the serialized part is the firearm.  As noted above, manufacturers can serialize other component parts if they wish, and many companies will apply serial numbers to multiple components of the firearm.  It is not uncommon to see serial numbers on slides, barrels, bolts, top covers, cylinders, and even, in some cases, on parts as small as firing pins or as insignificant as grip panels.

So I believe this letter should make anyone think twice about shipping something to a non-FFL simply because it is not serialized.  There could be many reasons a particular part is not serialized, but could still be the "frame" or "receiver" as far as the ATF is concerned.  The manufacturer could make a mistake, or the firearm might have been stolen or for some other reason serial numbers were obliterated or forged.  Bottom line, a person needs to know exactly which part ATF considers to be the frame or receiver for that particular firearm, or risk engaging in an illegal transfer at their own peril.  

The letter should also put into perspective comments on the Internet such as "the lower receiver of an AR-15 is the only part that has to ship through an FFL because it is the serialized part," which appear over and over again and are relied on by the firearms community.  Technically, the real reason is that the lower receiver is considered the "frame" or "receiver", and therefore, it is the part the manufacturer must serialize.  But simply because it is serialized does not make it the regulated part, per se. 

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