|This is part one of a three-part alert from Reeves & Dola, LLP on ATF’s new definition for “frame or receiver”. Part two will address the impact of the Final Rule on “privately made firearms.” Look for the next installment on smallarmsreview.com in the coming weeks.|
On April 26, 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) published Final Rule 2021R-05F (the “Final Rule”) overhauling the definition of firearm “frame or receiver” and amending the marking requirements for firearms. ATF published the Final Rule almost a year after it released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) (86 FR 27720 (May 21, 2021)). As we explained last year in our 2-part alert, this new rule will significantly change ATF’s regulations implementing the Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”), the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), and the import provisions of the Arms Export Control Act (“AECA”), and is the first major change to the definitions of “firearm” and “frame or receiver” since ATF first promulgated regulations implementing Title I of the GCA in 1968.
The Final Rule takes effect on August 24, 2022. To help you prepare for these changes, we are putting out a multi-part alert highlighting key aspects of the Final Rule and recommended practices to adapt to the regulatory changes. To begin, this Part 1 will review the new definition of “frame or receiver.” In Part 2 we will review the new definition of “Privately Made Firearm” and the related controls. Part 3 will examine the changes to the firearm marking and licensee recordkeeping requirements.
I. An Overview of the New Definition “Frame or Receiver”
The Final Rule creates a new § 478.12 to house the definition of “frame or receiver”. The structure of the definition is different from what ATF originally proposed in the NPRM because of the high number of comments expressing concern over the convoluted structure originally presented. The regulations implementing the National Firearms Act and the Arms Export Control Act, 27 C.F.R. Parts 479 and 447 respectively, will also be revised to cross-reference the new definition of “frame or receiver” in 27 C.F.R. § 478.12.
The definition includes several examples to illustrate the following: (1) grandfathered prior classifications; (2) which part of common firearm models is the frame or receiver; and (3) partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frame or receiver that would be considered a frame or receiver because it can be readily completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to a functional state.
A new term that will play an important role in firearm and frame or receiver classifications is “readily,” which is added to §§ 478.11 and 479.11. “Readily” is part of the statutory definition of “firearm,” which includes a weapon that will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile, and also the ‘‘frame’’ or ‘‘receiver’’ of any such weapon. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3)(A), (B). However, ATF has never defined the term until now. ATF first introduced “readily” in the NPRM and received many comments in opposition to the definition. Nevertheless, only minor changes have been made to the term in the Final Rule. “Readily” will play a very important role in determining whether a frame or receiver has been destroyed, and in classifications of partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frames or receivers.
B. Single Housing or Structural Component
One of the key changes made to the definition of “frame or receiver” was to center the definition around only one housing or structural component for a given type of weapon. ATF made this change in response to comments, and it is a marked improvement over the NPRM, which referenced “any housing for any fire control component.”
The Final Rule also creates three distinct sub-definitions. One is for “frame,” which applies to handguns and handgun variants. ‘‘Receiver’’ applies to rifles, shotguns, or projectile weapons other than handguns. The third sub-definition is for frame or receiver applicable to firearm mufflers and silencers.
C. Prior Classifications
To ensure that industry members and others can rely on ATF’s prior classifications, the Final Rule grandfathers most prior ATF classifications, and variants thereof, into the new definition of “frame or receiver.” The Final Rule also provides examples and diagrams of some of those weapons, such as the AR-15 rifle and Ruger Mark IV pistol.
CAUTION! ATF classifications of partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frames or receivers as not falling within the definition of firearm “frame or receiver” prior to this rule ARE NOT GRANDFATHERED! Any such classifications, including parts kits, would need to be resubmitted for evaluation. The resubmission should include any associated templates, jigs, molds, equipment, tools, instructions, guides, or marketing materials that are sold, distributed, or possessed with the item or kit, or otherwise made available by the seller or distributor of the item or kit to the purchaser or recipient of the item or kit. ATF will take this into consideration when making the classification determination.
If persons remain unclear which specific portion of a weapon or device falls within the definitions of “frame” or “receiver,” then they may voluntarily submit a request to ATF Firearms Technology Industry Services Branch for a classification determination.
II. Working with the New Definition of “Frame or Receiver”
Despite the changes to the structure of “frame or receiver” in the Final Rule, the definition is dense and includes several paragraphs and subparagraphs. This style of regulatory structure can be challenging to work through, so we provide an order of review to help guide you through the new definition.
Rather than trying to swallow this definition whole (danger, choking hazard), we offer the following yes/no questions to determine which portion of the “frame or receiver” definition applies to your firearm or part. As you review these questions, we recommend having the complete new § 478.12 handy for cross-referencing purposes, especially because our approach does not follow the strict order of the definition in the hopes of creating a more digestible flow.
Question 1: Is your frame or receiver melted, crushed, shredded, or cut according to ATF-approved methods?
☐ NO – proceed to Question 2.
☐ YES – your item is “destroyed” and is not a controlled “frame” or “receiver” pursuant to § 478.12(e).
- The term “destroyed” means the frame or receiver has been permanently altered such that it may not “readily” (see new definition in §§ 478.11 and 479.11) be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to function as a frame or receiver (defined in § 478.12(a)).
- Destruction can be accomplished by completely melting, crushing, or shredding the frame or receiver, or torch cutting according to ATF specifications.
Question 2: Is your piece a blank or a disassembled, partially complete, or nonfunctional frame or receiver?
☐ NO – proceed to Question 3.
☐ YES – refer to § 478.12(c) to determine whether it is a controlled frame or receiver. If it is designed to or may “readily” be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to function as a frame or receiver, it is controlled as a frame or receiver (defined in § 478.12(a)).
- “Readily” is a new defined term in § 478.11.
- What is not considered a frame or receiver: forging, casting, printing, extrusion, unmachined body, or similar article that has not yet reached a stage of manufacture where it is clearly identifiable as an unfinished component part of a weapon, for example an unformed block of metal, liquid polymer, or other raw material.
- § 478.12(c) contains examples to show what could be considered a controlled frame or receiver compared to what may not rise to the level of control.
- Prior ATF classification letters concerning partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frames or receivers, including parts kits: If you have an ATF classification letter issued prior to April 26, 2022, ruling the partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frame or receiver, including a parts kit, was not, or did not include, a firearm frame or receiver (either under the old § 478.11 or old § 479.11), this letter is no longer valid. If your business involves such items, whether it is importing, selling/transferring, or acquiring for use in further manufacturing and assembly operations, you should consider obtaining a new classification determination from ATF under the new rules. When issuing a classification, ATF may consider any associated templates, jigs, molds, equipment, tools, instructions, guides, or marketing materials that are sold, distributed, or possessed with the item or kit, or otherwise made available by the seller or distributor of the item or kit to the purchaser or recipient of the item or kit. See § 478.12(f)(2).
Question 3: Did ATF issue a classification determination ruling on which part of the firearm is the controlled frame or receiver before April 22, 2022?
☐ NO – proceed to Question 4.
☐ YES – refer to § 478.12(f)(1). Such determination is grandfathered in and remains valid under the new definitions. These firearms are exempt from the new definitions and the marking requirements under the Final Rule.
- This question is not for partially complete, disassembled or nonfunctional frames or receivers. For these items, refer to Question 2.
- Any such part marked with an “importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number” (new definition added to § 478.11) is presumed to be the controlled frame or receiver of the weapon unless there is an official ATF determination or other reliable evidence showing that such part is not the frame or receiver.
- Some examples of such prior determinations include: (i) AR-15/M-16 variant firearms; (ii) Ruger Mark IV pistol; (iii) Benelli 121 M1 shotgun; and (iv) Vickers/Maxim, Browning 1919, M2 and box-type machine guns and semi-automatic “variants” (defined in § 478.12(a)(3)).
Question 4: Is it a firearm muffler or silencer? Refer to § 478.11 for the definition of “firearm muffler or silencer.”
☐ NO – proceed to Question 5.
☐ YES – refer to § 478.12(b). For firearm mufflers and silencers, the frame and receiver is the part that provides housing or a structure for the primary internal component designed to reduce the sound of a projectile. The frame or receiver does not include a removable end cap of an outer tube or modular piece.
- The Final Rule adds a new definition to § 478.11 for “complete muffler or silencer device” which is important for determining when and what to mark with the required identifying information. We will address this in more detail in Part 3 to our Alert.
- ATF references baffles, baffling material, expansion chamber, or equivalent as the primary internal component designed to reduce the sound of a projectile.
- For the part that provides housing or structure, ATF cites to an outer tube or modular piece.
- If the firearm muffler or silencer is modular, the frame or receiver means the principal housing attached to the weapon that expels a projectile, even if an adapter or other attachments are required to connect the part to the weapon.
Question 5: Is it a “frame” (for handguns) or a “receiver” (for rifles, shotguns, and other weapons that expel a projectile other than handguns) not captured by Questions 1-4 above? Refer to § 478.12(a) for the definitions of “frame” and “receiver”.
☐ “Frame” as defined in § 478.12(a)(1).
☐ “Receiver” as defined in § 478.12(a)(2).
☐ Item is a “multi-piece frame or receiver” not captured under 478.12(a). Refer to 478.12(d). (A “multi-piece frame or receiver” is defined as “a frame or receiver that may be disassembled into multiple modular subparts, i.e., standardized units that may be replaced or exchanged.” It does not include an internal frame of a pistol that is a complete removable chassis that provides housing for the energized component, unless the chassis itself may be disassembled.)
☐ None of the above. Item is not a “frame or receiver” under the new definition. If after performing this analysis doubt remains as to the proper classification, or which specific portion of a weapon or device falls within the definitions of “frame” or “receiver,” you may voluntarily submit a request to the ATF Firearms Technology Industry Services Branch for a classification determination.
- “Variants” and “variants thereof” are defined in § 478.12(a)(3)).
- § 478.12(a)(4) lists several examples of common firearm models and “variants thereof” with illustrations showing which part is the frame or receiver under the new definition. The examples listed are: (i) hinged or single framed revolvers; (ii) hammer-fired semi-automatic pistols; (iii) Glock variant striker-fired semi-automatic pistols; (iv) Sig Sauer P250/P320 variant semiautomatic pistols (internal removable chassis; distinguished from a multi-piece frame unless the chassis can be disassembled); (v) bolt action rifles; (vi) break action, lever action, or pump action rifles and shotguns; (vii) AK variant firearms; (viii) Steyr AUG variant firearms; (ix) Thompson machine guns and semi-automatic variants, and L1A1, FN FAL, FN FNC, MP38, MP40, and SIG 550 firearms, and HK machine guns and semi-automatic variants; and (x) Sten, Sterling, and Kel-Tec SUB-2000 firearms.
This concludes part 1 of our Alert on ATF’s new definition for “frame or receiver”. Part 2 will address the impact of the Final Rule on “privately made firearms.”
The above alert is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice. Receipt of this alert does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Questions about this alert may be directed to Johanna Reeves: 202-715-9941, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|About Reeves & Dola, LLP – Reeves & Dola is a Washington, DC law firm that specializes in helping clients navigate the highly regulated and complex world of manufacturing, sales and international trade of defense and commercial products. We have a deep understanding of the Federal regulatory process, and use our expertise in working with a variety of Federal agencies to assist our clients with their transactional and regulatory needs.|