ATF’s AOW Determinations

SayUncle talks about the AOW regulations being a mess and relatively arbitrary. To some degree, this is a problem that’s been created by Congress, which defines a pistol thusly:

The term “any other weapon” means any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.

Originally the NFA was intended to include pistols, under a 5 dollar transfer tax. But language was added to remove pistols from National Firearms Act, leaving a rather ambiguous and sloppily definition of Any Other Weapon. Later, in the Gun Control Act of 1968, this definition was clarified, by defining a pistol like this:

(29) The term “handgun” means –
(A) a firearm which has a short stock and is designed to be
held and fired by the use of a single hand; and
(B) any combination of parts from which a firearm described in
subparagraph (A) can be assembled.

So basically the reason that ATF considers anything with a vertical foreword grip as an AOW is because it’s then no longer “designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand.” It is not unusual for Congress to pass ambiguous and poorly worded laws. But most agencies deal with this kind of ambiguity through the use of Administrative Law, meaning you propose and manage a body regulations that go into more detail than Congress chose to. ATF has traditionally resisted handling anything through administrative law, because it’s a defined process legally, and can’t changed on a whim. Most of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding ATF just restates the United States Code, rather than going into any detail about how things are defined and how to make determinations.

All it would take is an executive order from Obama to change the definition of a pistol, and make millions of gun owners instant felons overnight. For instance, AR-15 pistols with fore grips that are not vertical, are still considered to fall under the definition of pistol. There are a lot of target pistols as well, such as the Ruger Charger, that also have forward grips. But that’s not etched in stone (i.e. Law), or even wood (i.e. regulations). and one could imagine a plausible standard that was based on weight and balance rather than on the presence of absence of a forward grip. Think about that when you head to the voting booth this November.

9 thoughts on “ATF’s AOW Determinations”

  1. Think about that when you head to the voting booth this November.

    Don’t worry, Romney will fix it!


  2. congress writes crappy and ill defined laws? say it isn’t so! the whole nfa needs to go. its not the object that causes problems, its the people using it. plus i want my fully automatic .410 pistol, with optional stock. . .

  3. What’s confusing is that if I take an Under-folder type of AK, put on a Picitiney Fore end, I can slap a half a dozen folding grip handles on it, and it’s Legal. But if I take the “Shoulder Thing that goes Up” off of it, I’m immediately breaking the Law, even though it doesn’t change the Function of the weapon one iota, nor it’s conceal-ability under a Trench Coat.

  4. I am still of the opinion that the issues with classifying something into AOW, pistol, rifle, or shotgun, will be the chink in the law that allows us to get most of those differences rendered void for vagueness.

    If it’s path-dependent on whether a specific config is a “short” weapon, AOW, or handgun, (and or is, right now), the buyer can never be sure which he is buying.
    From a legal-tactics point of view, the AR-15 is a godsend, since the receiver is legally the firearm, and depending on accessories, can hit every one of any attempt to define firearms into categories.

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