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ATF White Paper Advocates Reducing Gun Regulations

March 8, 2017

Ronald B. Turk, associate deputy director and chief operating officer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has written a white paper discussing the possibility of loosening gun regulations in a number of areas. The white paper, despite being marked “Not for Public Distribution,” was released by the Washington Post on February 6th.

Opening with a reminder that the ATF is the “only Federal Law Enforcement Agency with a primary mission that directly involves an amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” the document, dated January 20, 2017, continues to address a number of issues that the deputy director would like to see addressed. Many of the changes recommended would be looked on favorably by gun owners, as Turk emphasizes a strategic approach to reducing gun regulations. Some of the key points include: 1)  changing regulations on re-importing U.S. made guns, ammunition, and parts 2) address concerns that the use of a product can be determined as a “redesign” and make the product illegal and, 3) reevaluate the regulations on silencers.

Rethinking Regulations on Re-importing

Turk addresses regulations preventing the re-importing U.S. manufactured items by reminding his readers that the United States already imports foreign made items and that the vintage collectors that would benefit from this policy change are not a public safety concern. He also encourages the ATF to redo an almost 20 year old Sporting Purpose Study to better reflect the modern sport shooting industry. As noted by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) by doing this the ATF would be re-examining the Sporting Purposes Test (18 U.S.C. § 925(d)) which historically has been used to narrowly define what items were suitable for re-importation by excluding the modern sport shooting rifles, including AR-15s and AK-style guns. The NRA-ILA commented that Turk’s recognition of how the ATF has overlooked the Action Shooting Sports and its increasing popularity “is a welcome development.”

Use as Redesign?

The ATF has previously determined that using a stabilizing pistol brace on the forearm “did not constitute the making of a short barreled rifle” and therefore could not be considered a “redesign” which would bring the brace under the NFA and make its use illegal. In its determination however, the ATF left open the possibility that using the brace against one’s shoulder – as opposed to the forearm – could constitute a “redesign”. This left open the possibility that for the first time a “shooter’s use alone was deemed a redesign of the product/firearm resulting in NFA classification.” In the paper Turk urges that this language be addressed, so that using an item in a manner other than its intended purpose cannot change its classification. This would prevent a concerning precedent from being set and alleviate confusion caused by the language in the determination letter.

Silencers Off the NFA List

Turk also addresses the possibility of removing silencers from the National Firearms Act (NFA) list. Silencers are hard to buy and because of their NFA status have strict regulations which can land a user in hot water if he or she is not careful. For example, lending a silencer to a friend is an accidental felony transfer, because silencers cannot be transferred in a manner that is not compliant with the NFA. According to the Virginia State Bar, transferring for this purpose has been “broadly defined to include selling, assigning, pledging, leasing, loaning, giving away, or otherwise disposing of a regulated firearm.” Silencers have increased in popularity and even Donald Trump Jr. has advocated for looser restrictions on purchasing them. It is interesting to note that this recommendation comes concurrently with the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 which was introduced in the house by South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and Texas Rep. John Carter on January 9th. The act which would eliminate the $200 transfer tax on silencers and “remove suppressors from the scope of the NFA”.

A New Direction for the ATF?

Deputy Director Turk’s recommendations could indicate a new direction for the ATF, and with the support of a Republican Congress and President the changes laid out in the document may be achievable in the near future. Although the white paper states that its contents are “general thoughts that cannot be taken as exacting language regarding policy or quotable specifics,” gun advocates can hope that the deputy director will be able to influence the culture and policy of the ATF.