By Jeff Folloder
One of the most vexing aspects of manufacturing firearms covered by the National Firearms Act (NFA) is marking requirements. The NFA and GCA are very specific about these requirements, though the requirements often provided even more confusion. Of particular concern was the issue of weapons ultimately having two or more sets of separately identifying maker names, locations, model names and serial numbers. Certainly, having all of these multiples created logistics problems (marking space on a firearm sometimes being at a premium) and increased confusion for law enforcement when trying to figure out which mark meant what. NFATCA worked with ATF for several years to address this issue and the publication of ATF Ruling 2013-3 was the result. Five-plus years after publication, 2013-3 is still poorly understood, even by some ATF Industry Operations Investigators.
ATF Ruling 2013-3 allows manufacturers to adopt already engraved information on existing firearms. ATF had received numerous inquiries from manufacturers and importers of firearms, plus makers of NFA firearms (makers), asking if they can adopt the existing markings that were placed on a firearm by the original manufacturer. They asked specifically if they may use the existing serial number, caliber/gauge and model already placed on a firearm instead of marking this information on the firearm when they further manufacture or import the firearm. Further, some firearm manufacturers and importers acquire receivers and assemble them into completed firearms for the purpose of sale or distribution. Others, including makers, acquire complete firearms and further manufacture them (such as re-barreling or machining the frame or receiver to accept new parts). In either case, the firearm is already marked with a serial number, original manufacturer’s name, model (if designated), caliber or gauge (if known) and place of origin. Many manufacturers, importers and makers asserted that marking firearms with their own serial numbers, calibers/gauges and models, in addition to the existing markings, is costly and burdensome. They also contended that multiple markings are confusing for recordkeeping and tracing purposes.
ATF agreed with all these premises and published 2013-3 to specifically allow the adoption of existing markings. In doing so, ATF Ruling 75-28 was superseded and ATF Industry Circular 77-20 was clarified. The devil is in the details. Part of 2013-3, at the end, states “…Held further,licensed manufacturers seeking to adopt all of the required markings, including the original manufacturer’s name and place of origin, must receive an approved variance from ATF.” This is the part that has caused and still causes confusion. A marking variance must be obtained if the manufacturer wishes to adopt all of the existing markings and not use/engrave their own name and location. This scenario is exceedingly rare and ATF could not cite a single instance of it during a recent inquiry.
ATF authorizes licensed manufacturers, importers and makers of firearms to adopt the serial number, caliber/gauge and/or model already identified on a firearm without seeking a marking variance, providedall of the following conditions are met:
- The manufacturer, importer or maker must legibly and conspicuously place on the frame, receiver, barrel or pistol slide (if applicable) his/her own name (or recognized abbreviation) and location (city and state, or recognized abbreviation of the state) as specified under his/her federal firearms license (if a licensee);
- The serial number adopted must have been marked in accordance with 27 CFR 478.92 and 479.102, including that it must not duplicate any serial number adopted or placed by the manufacturer, importer or maker on any other firearm;
- The manufacturer, importer or maker must not remove, obliterate or alter the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number to be adopted, except that, within 15 days of the date of release from Customs custody, a licensed importer must add letters, numbers, or a hyphen (as described in paragraph 4) to a foreign manufacturer’s serial number if the importer receives two or more firearms with the same serial number;
- The serial number adopted must be comprised of only a combination of Roman letters and Arabic numerals, or solely Arabic numerals, and can include a hyphen, that were conspicuously placed on the firearm; and
- If the caliber or gauge was not identified or designated (for example, marked “multi”) on the firearm, the manufacturer, importer or maker must legibly and conspicuously mark the frame, receiver, barrel or pistol slide (if applicable) with the actual caliber/gauge once the caliber or gauge is known.
Change can be difficult. Even rulings from more than five years ago still cause issues in the NFA community. We are acutely aware that much of the confusion relating to regulatory oversight of 2013-3 can be resolved with training and education. And that is part of the mission of NFATCA: encouraging and assisting with training and education. If you have questions or comments, send us an email at email@example.com. Or visit us online at nfatca.org or facebook.com/NFATCA.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N5 (May 2019)|