Note: July 2011 BATF regulations on this subject are posted at the bottom of this page and may differ from what we have posted here previously.|
I posted this, September 17, 2011 and have not studied it through to see how or if it clarifies the issue. It appears to contradict itself and still goes back to the basic issue of the illegality of taking a frame assembled as a rifle and converting it to handgun.
I understand also there has been a BATF clarification permitting RESTORING a handgun back to handgun configuration after having been converted to rifle.
|The "Short Barrel Rifle" Issue.|
By now most everyone has gotten the word that an assembled combination of a frame, buttstock, and barrel under 16" represents a potential invitation to "The Graybar Hotel," but many shooters are oblivious to those parts of the same law that address "making" a handgun from a rifle.
This is technically against the law!
One can legally convert a handgun into a rifle by installing a buttstock and a barrel 16" or longer, but once it is configured as a rifle, converting it back to a handgun is "making" a handgun from a rifle.
The "Catch 22" is there is no way to identify whether any given frame started life configured as a handgun or as a rifle, nor is there any way to know its history changing hands from one owner to the next.
It is probably best to rely on the information from the 4473 form covering one's purchase of a frame as back up to identify what legal configuration it was. Or, when buying a frame from an individual make an honest attempt to keep it in the same last known configuration.
|Expanding on this, here is an example, courtesy of "GonHuntin," who has researched the subject extemely well.|
There should be some mention somewhere that the US Supreme Court case the TC letter (posted below) speaks of did not deal with converting contenders that left the factory in rifle configuration.....it only addressed the legality of converting a contender handgun into a rifle through the use of a "carbine kit"......TC did not offer a factory contender carbine at the time the case was filed......thus, the decision cannot be used to infer the legality of converting contenders/encores that left the factory as rifles......
Second, one of the best ways to get the point across is as follows:
If you walk into your neighborhood gunshop and buy a Remington Model 7 rifle and an Encore rifle.......take them home and:
1. take the model 7 barreled action out of the stock and place into a vice, hacksaw the barrel to less than 16" and place the action and barrel in an XP-100R handgun stock......
2. take the Encore rifle barrel and stock off the frame and replace them with a pistol grip and barrel less than 16" long......
You have committed the same federal felony of making an unregistered short barreled rifle.........
These two items would definitely help make the issue crystal clear.
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|A Major Problem Exists Between Thompson Center's Policy Statement Regarding Converting Handguns and Rifles Back and Forth and What The Actual Letter Of the Law Is.
Below is a reprint of their Policy Statement. Compare this to the BATF's statement that follows it.
The following was hand entered verbatum from the policy statement sent to me by US Mail from Tim Pancurak at Thompson Center Arms Co.:
Notice Concerning Encore/Contender Pistols and Carbines
Thompson/Center Arms Co. went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to establish the lawfulness of the Contender pistol and Carbine (including the carbine kit), and won. The Supreme Court opinion also establishes the legality of the Encore system, which has similar interchangeable parts.
With these systems, a receiver may be assembled either with a pistol grip and pistol barrel, or with a shoulder stock and rifle barrrel (minimum length 16 inches). A barrel under 16 inches in length must never be assembled onto the reciever when the shoulder stock is attached. Within that parameter, the consumer may use the parts to make a pistol or carbine, and may change the configuration at will.
In 1988, Thompson/Center filed suit against the United States alleging that the pistol and carbine kit used above do not constitute a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches in length, a weapon made from a rifle with an overall length less than 26 inches, or a restricted "firearm" as otherwise defined in the National Firearms Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Thompson/Center. Their opinions are cited as United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Co., 504 U.S. 505 (1992), affirming 924 F.2d 1041 (Fed. Cir. 1991).
In the trial court and in the Federal Circuit, the United States argued both that (1) the mere unassembled parts constituted a rifle with a barrel under 16 inches in length, and that (2) use of the receiver to assemble a pistol after a rifle had been assembled constituted making a weapon from a rifle with an overall length less than 26 inches. The Federal Circuit rejected both arguments. See 924 F.2d at 1043, citing 26 U.S.C. 5845 (a) (3) and (4). The United States abandoned the latter argument in the Supreme Court, which held generally for Thompson/Center. Accordingly, both issues (1) and (2) were decided in favor of Thompson/Center and are not now open to question.
Thus, the sale, possession, and use of the Contender or Encore pistol and carbine as described are fully in accord with federal law. The use of these products in all of the States is likewise lawful, except that certain restrictions may apply in California.
|BATF Position Statement|
If these scanned images are not readable on your screen, you may obtain them by email from firstname.lastname@example.org .
|In summary, without getting into all the court decisions and logic behind both positions, it boils down to this:|
|Thompson Center says you can freely swap handgun and rifle parts back and forth so long as you do not combine a buttstock and a barrel less than 16" or an overall length with a buttstock under the legal 26" limit.|
The BATF says you can't!
Who are you going to believe?
I tend to believe the one carrying the big stick with the arrest powers and suggest you do the same!
|Special Thanks to "GonHuntin" for his persistence in bringing these issues to our attention and for supplying his copy of the BATF's responses posted above. Below is a background letter from him: |
First off, Mike, I'd like to thank you for the comments you have made regarding my efforts to determine the truth about what is and is not legal to do with the Encore and Contender.
First, a little background info so folks will know where I am coming from. I have been shooting as long as I can remember. I started loading my own shotgun ammo with a Lee Loader when I was about 10 years old. If it goes bang, I enjoy shooting it! I bought my first Contender about 16 years ago and have enjoyed collecting, shooting and hunting with them ever since that time.
Not long after buying my first Contender, I also became interested in Title 2 firearms (commonly known as "class 3 weapons" or NFA weapons). As I researched the laws pertaining to title 2 firearms, specifically the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968, I also learned of the TC Supreme Court case. I read everything I could find about the case. About this same time, I was a member of the old "TC List", an e-mail discussion group centered on the TC Contender. While participating on this list, the topic of converting Contenders between rifle and pistol configuration often came up, one member even publicly reported shooting his 14" 309 JDJ Contender with a buttstock attached! These discussions also were commonplace on the various handgun forums. As I participated in these discussions, I was often attacked for mentioning the laws that prohibit the conversion of rifles into pistols. I was told that the TC court case had somehow exempted the Contender from the law, I was also told that all TCs were legally handguns despite how they left the factory, and I was told that it didn't matter how they left the factory as long as the dealer listed the firearm as a pistol when the paperwork was done. I knew that all these "explanations" were simply not true. I had actully taken the time to read and research the TC court case, and I had actually read the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Years went by and the discussions continued. I was called a liar, stupid and many other things that weren't quite as complimentary. Finally, in 2003, I'd had enough of those people who either didn't want to listen or chose to ignore the facts, so I decided to settle the matter once and for all. I wrote a letter to the BATF Technology Branch in Washington DC. The Technology Branch is the division of the BATF who's job is to determine the legality of firearms. They are the folks you contact when you want an answer to a legal or technical question concerning firearms and they answer the question with reference to the specific laws that apply. If you don't like their answer, the next step is to file a court action.
The response I received from the Technology Branch confirmed what I had said all along (the original letter I wrote and the BATF response are posted on this forum and available for you to read).
1. A firearm that left TC in rifle configuration (equipped with a buttstock) *IS* legally a rifle and is subject to all rules and regulations pertaining to rifles.
2.It is NOT legal to convert a rifle into pistol configuration without first registering it with the BATF as a Title 2 weapon, (short barreled rifle).
3. The legal status of a TC, whether rifle or pistol, is based on the configuration of the firearm when it leaves the factory.
4. The legal status of a frame that left the factory with no other parts (bare frame without stock or grips) is determined by the way it is FIRST assembled. If it is first assembled as a rifle, it will always legally be a rifle, if first assembled as a pistol, it will always legally be a pistol.
5. A dealer cannot change the legal status of a firearm by listing a rifle as a handgun on the form 4473. Listing an Encore rifle as a pistol on the 4473 does not alter the fact that it is and will always legally be a rifle.
6. A person who buys a Contender or Encore that was illegally converted from a rifle to a pistol can be prosecuted for possession of an unregistered Title 2 weapon.....*EVEN IF THAT PERSON DID NOT KNOW THE WEAPON WAS ILLEGALLY CONVERTED*!!! (a call to TC with the serial number of the frame will determine whether it is legally a rifle or pistol)
When presented with irrefutable facts, antagonists then often ask me how many people have been prosecuted for illegally converting a Contender or Encore or how likely is it that a person would ever get caught. My response to those questions are, "I don't know".......and that is not really the point....is it? I'm not interested in discussing the moral issue of breaking the law or the risks of getting caught, I'm interested in getting the facts out to those who are potentially at risk of committing a federal felony due to ignorance of the law. The fact is, people commit serious crimes everyday and get away with it, however, most of those people know the risks of their action but many TC owners don't!
In the unlikely event you get caught and are prosecuted, the penalty for possession of an unregistered Title 2 weapon is up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. Even if you aren't convicted, it would cost a small fortune to defend yourself in court.
Bottom line.......even if the chance of getting caught is remote, is it worth the risk when you can buy a $250 pistol frame and not worry about it?
Most current BATF regulations, July 2011.
I have not studied it to see how or if it differs from the information above, but is presented here for your information.
U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Office of the Director
Washington, DC 20226
26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3): DEFINITIONS (FIREARM ) 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(4): DEFINITIONS (FIREARM) 26 U.S.C. 5845(c): DEFINITIONS (RIFLE) 27 CFR 479.11: DEFINITIONS (RIFLE)
27 CFR 479.11: DEFINITIONS (PISTOL)
A firearm, as defined by the National Firearms Act (NFA), 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3), is made when unassembled parts are placed in close proximity in such a way that they: (a) serve no useful purpose other than to make a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; or (b) convert a complete weapon into such an NFA firearm. A firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3) and (a)(4), is not made when parts within a kit that were originally designed to be configured as both a pistol and a rifle are assembled or re-assembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., as a pistol, or a rifle with a barrel or barrels of 16 inches or more in length). A firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3) and (a)(4), is not made when a pistol is attached to a part or parts designed to convert the pistol into a rifle with a barrel or barrels of 16 inches or more in length, and the parts are later unassembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., as a pistol). A firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(4), is made when a handgun or other weapon with an overall length of less than 26 inches, or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length, is assembled or produced from a weapon originally assembled or produced only as a rifle.
ATF Rul. 2011-4
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has received requests from individuals to classify pistols that are reconfigured into rifles, for personal use, through the addition of barrels, stocks, and other parts and then returned to a pistol configurationbyremovalofthosecomponents. Specifically,ATFhasbeenaskedto determine whether such a pistol, once returned to a pistol configuration from a rifle, becomes a „weapon made from a rifle‰ as defined under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
Some manufacturers produce firearm receivers and attachable component parts that are designed to be assembled into both rifles and pistols. The same receiver can accept an interchangeable shoulder stock or pistol grip, and a long (16 or more inches in length) or short (less than 16 inches) barrel. These components are sold individually, or as unassembled kits. Generally, the kits include a receiver, a pistol grip, a pistol barrel less than 16 inches in length, a shoulder stock, and a rifle barrel 16 inches or more in length.
Certain parts or parts sets are also designed to allow an individual to convert a pistol into a rifle without removing a barrel or attaching a shoulder stock to the pistol. These parts consist of an outer shell with a shoulder stock into which the pistol may be inserted. When inserted, the pistol fires a projectile through a rifled extension barrel that is 16 inches or more in length, and with an overall length of 26 inches or more. Other parts sets require that certain parts of the pistol, such as the pistol barrel and the slide assembly, be removed from the pistol frame prior to attaching the parts sets. Typically, a separate barrel is sold with the parts set, which is 16 inches or greater in length. The barrel is installed along with an accompanying shoulder stock. The resulting firearm has a barrel of 16 inches or more in length, and an overall length of 26 inches or more.
The NFA, Title 26, United States Code (U.S.C.), Chapter 53, requires that persons manufacturing, importing, transferring, or possessing firearms as defined in the NFA comply with the Act‚s licensing, registration, and taxation requirements. The NFA defines the term „firearm‰ at 26 U.S.C. 5845(a) to include „(3) a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length;‰ („short-barreled rifle‰) and „(4) a weapon made from a rifle if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length‰ („weapon made from a rifle‰). The term „rifle‰ is defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(c) and 27 CFR 479.11 as „a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire a fixed cartridge.‰ Although not defined in the NFA, the term „pistol‰ is defined by the Act‚s implementing regulations, 27 CFR 479.11, as „a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having (a) a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s); and (b) a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand and at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s)‰ (emphasis added).
Unassembled Parts Kits
In United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company, 504 U.S. 505 (1992), the United States Supreme Court examined whether a short-barreled rifle was „made‰ under the NFA when a carbine-conversion kit consisting of a single-shot „Contender‰ pistol was designed so that its handle and barrel could be removed from its receiver, and was packaged with a 21-inch barrel, a rifle stock, and a wooden fore-end. The Court held that, where aggregated parts could convert a pistol into either a regulated short-barreled rifle, or an unregulated rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length, the NFA was ambiguous and applied the „rule of lenity‰ (i.e., ambiguities in criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of the defendant) so that the pistol and carbine kit, when packaged together, were not considered a „short-barreled rifle‰ for purposes of the NFA.
However, the Court also explained that an NFA firearm is made if aggregated parts are in close proximity such that they: (a) serve no useful purpose other than to make an NFA firearm (e.g., a receiver, an attachable shoulder stock, and a short barrel); or (b) convert a
-3- complete weapon into an NFA firearm (e.g., a pistol and attachable shoulder stock, or a
long-barreled rifle and attachable short barrel). Id. at 511-13. Assembly of Weapons from Parts Kits
The Thompson/Center Court viewed the parts within the conversion kit not only as a Contender pistol, but also as an unassembled „rifle‰ as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(c). The inclusion of the rifle stock in the package brought the Contender pistol and carbine kit within the "intended to be fired from the shoulder" language in the definition of rifle at 26 U.S.C. 5845(c). Id. at 513 n.6. Thompson/Center did not address the subsequent assembly of the parts. United States v. Ardoin, 19 F.3d 177, 181 (5th Cir. 1994). Based on the definition of „firearm‰ in 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3), if parts are assembled into a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length, a regulated short-barreled rifle has been made. See, e.g., United States v. Owens, 103 F.3d 953 (11th Cir. 1997); United States v. One (1) Colt Ar-15, 394 F. Supp. 2d 1064 (W.D.Tenn. 2004). Conversely, if the parts are assembled into a rifle having a barrel or barrels 16 inches in length or more, a rifle not subject to the NFA has been made.
Therefore, so long as a parts kit or collection of parts is not used to make a firearm regulated under the NFA (e.g., a short-barreled rifle or „any other weapon‰ as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(e)), no NFA firearm is made when the same parts are assembled or re- assembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., a pistol, or a rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length). Merely assembling and disassembling such a rifle does not result in the making of a new weapon; rather, it is the same rifle in a knockdown condition (i.e., complete as to all component parts). Likewise, because it is the same weapon when reconfigured as a pistol, no „weapon made from a rifle‰ subject to the NFA has been made.
Nonetheless, if a handgun or other weapon with an overall length of less than 26 inches, or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length is assembled or otherwise produced from a weapon originally assembled or produced only as a rifle, such a weapon is a „weapon made from a rifle‰ as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(4). Such a weapon would not be a „pistol‰ because the weapon was not originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile by one hand.
Held, a firearm, as defined by the National Firearms Act (NFA), 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3), is made when unassembled parts are placed in close proximity in such a way that they:
(a) Serve no useful purpose other than to make a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length (e.g., a receiver, an attachable shoulder stock, and barrel of less than 16 inches in length); or
(b) Convert a complete weapon into such an NFA firearm, including ˆ (1) A pistol and attachable shoulder stock; and
(2) A rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length, and an attachable barrel of less than 16 inches in length.
Such weapons must be registered and are subject to all requirements of the NFA.
Held further, a firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3) and (a)(4), is not made when parts in a kit that were originally designed to be configured as both a pistol and a rifle are assembled or re-assembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., as a pistol, or a rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length).
Held further, a firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(3) and (a)(4), is not made when a pistol is attached to a part or parts designed to convert the pistol into a rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length, and the parts are later unassembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., as a pistol).
Held further, a firearm, as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(4), is made when a handgun or other weapon with an overall length of less than 26 inches, or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length, is assembled or produced from a weapon originally assembled or produced only as a rifle. Such weapons must be registered and are subject to all requirements of the NFA.
To the extent this ruling may be inconsistent with any prior letter rulings, they are hereby superseded.
Date approved: July 25, 2011
Kenneth E. Melson Acting Director