ATF "Letter Rulings" - The Washington Times


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Bill_Rights
January 3, 2012, 09:19 AM
I was unaware the rules were so "fuzzy". See article from today's The Washington Times newspaper by Chuck Neubauer (below). I think gun designers should all publish their private ruling letters in one central register or blog, so that everybody can see how capricious the federal bureaucrats are. Is that doable? From: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jan/2/gun-makers-baffled-by-atf-criteria/?page=all#pagebreak
Gun makers baffled by ATF criteria
Models OK’d on case-by-case basis
By Chuck Neubauer The Washington Times Monday, January 2, 2012

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is in charge of determining whether a gun model is legal, but the agency won’t say much about its criteria.
Despite overseeing an industry that includes machine guns and other deadly weapons, ATF regulations for the manufacture of weapons are often unclear, leading to reliance on a secretive system by which firearms manufacturers can submit proposed weapons for testing and find out one at a time whether they comply with the law, critics say....

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Buck Kramer
January 3, 2012, 09:26 AM
Typical bureaucratic mess. Thanks for posting!

357 Terms
January 3, 2012, 09:32 AM
ahh....bureaucracy.

Sam1911
January 3, 2012, 09:35 AM
As they say, it must be a s...l...o...w news day if the media is finally getting around to picking up on this.

Yeah, the Tech Branch is fickle and self-contradictory. If you get a letter from them covering what you want to do, KEEP IT SAFE. It probably will protect you if/when the next examiner decides the exact opposite thing, but it doesn't cover anyone else's bacon.

One thing the internet sure has improved is the sharing of this kind of information. You can go on any number of gun boards (like THR) and find examples of letters scanned and posted which contradict each other. Folks should be up in arms about it, but when everything is kept on a private one-on-one basis, it is difficult to compile the evidense of this kind of official chicanery.

Ryanxia
January 3, 2012, 10:53 AM
It's amazing what we've let our country come to.

Sam1911
January 3, 2012, 11:29 AM
It's amazing what we've let our country come to.

Perhaps. However any study of history will show that every government that developed past the stage of the divine right of kings, and the absolute rule of monarchy (in fact, most monarchies, even) developed bureaucracies to handle whatever regulatory functions were in place. I'd have to say there's never been a bureaucracy that wasn't rightly accused of being flawed in many ways, including being capricious, unfair, and maddeningly contradictory.

And that certainly includes the US, pretty much from when the last Royal Governor got up out of his seat to get on a boat and the first American governor sat down in it.

Perhaps we're really most appalled that, by 2012, we haven't managed to require that ours be transparent, fair, and strictly bound by the letter of the laws it claims to administer.

So instead of saying it is amazing what we've let our country come to, we should say that it amazes us we haven't made more progress.

But this is all good news, really. WE'VE known how the BATFE operates for decades. Now the major media is posting negative accounts of their blundering (F&F?) and unaccountable capriciousness. Great!

AlexanderA
January 3, 2012, 12:38 PM
The ATF started out as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Unit of the IRS, then it became the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division of the IRS, then it became a separate Bureau within Treasury, and finally, only recently, it was transferred to the Justice Department. This history is relevant because the "letter ruling" process is well-established (and indispensible) in regard to tax matters. It allows people to get official opinions on proposed transactions; otherwise, a resolution (through the administrative appellate process or through the courts) is only possible once the transaction is completed. A letter ruling is generally binding for that particular transaction but has no precedential value (cannot be relied on) by/for anyone else in similar circumstances. Selected letter rulings, deemed to be of broad interest and subjected to much more thorough review, are published as "Revenue Rulings" (or "ATF Rulings") and these can be relied on by the general public. Private letter rulings are really a service to the taxpayers; if subjected to the cumbersome review process needed if they were to have broad application, they couldn't be issued in a timely manner.

Because of the Internet, private letter rulings can be exchanged, compiled, and published by the people to whom they are issued. This is not an official publication and the rulings still cannot be relied upon by others casually reading them. Therefore caution is in order.

230RN
January 3, 2012, 01:29 PM
AlexanderA said,

Selected letter rulings, deemed to be of broad interest and subjected to much more thorough review, are published as "Revenue Rulings" (or "ATF Rulings") and these can be relied on by the general public. Private letter rulings are really a service to the taxpayers; if subjected to the cumbersome review process needed if they were to have broad application, they couldn't be issued in a timely manner.

Because of the Internet, private letter rulings can be exchanged, compiled, and published by the people to whom they are issued. This is not an official publication and the rulings still cannot be relied upon by others casually reading them. Therefore caution is in order.

Very interesting and perfectly reasonable....

... if you assume the Second Amendment is no longer relevant.

(....230RN said, looking over his shoulder, wondering if he's been penciled onto The List yet...)

Terry, 230RN

Bubbles
January 3, 2012, 01:40 PM
I was unaware the rules were so "fuzzy".
Not news to anyone with an 07 or 10 FFL.

Ask ATF FTB for their manufacturing standard as to what constitutes a machine gun. You'll be waiting a long time for the response, as it doesn't exist.

Bill_Rights
January 4, 2012, 12:31 AM
Sam1911, Thanks for instead of saying it is amazing what we've let our country come to, we should say that it amazes us we haven't made more progress.It makes me think back to new types of rifling in bores and sharpshooter tactics circa 1773. Didn't we escape bureaucratic bungling for a while then? Likely King George's bureaucracy in England would not have approved either, at least not for civilian colonists. If we'd bothered to ask Britain's bureaucrats at the time, and obeyed their diktats, would the USA be an independent country now? I merely scratch the surface of this question and would like to know the real history.

AlexanderA,
This is an interesting perspective: Letter Rulings are actually a rapid-turnaround service. But since, you say, they are non-binding on the public, a manufacturer should be free to manufacture and publically sell a firearm despite a negative private Ruling Letter, thereby forcing a full review, and continue to sell, with impunity, until the ruling is completed and assumes the force of law. This is another way of speeding up the review process, if there really is a problem. It has the merit of giving the benefit of the doubt to free citizens (and their legal "persons" known as corporations) to do what they please, until the government comes up with a good reason why they shouldn't. I think this is the gist of the U.S. Constitution, is it not? The citizens own the power and the government does the bidding of the citizens, within limits set by the Constitution. My reasoning presumes that the ATF's ruling concerns the "deadliness" (or some such measure) of the proposed firearm. If, on the other hand, the ATF's ruling concerns the saftey of the firearm to the consumer/buyer/user, then a manufacturer may willingly submit to a ruling in order to shield itself from civil liability law suits - in that case, the manufacturer gives up a freedom in return for a degree of legal immunity. But in either case, lethality or safety, the ruling cannot be legally binding upon any manufacturer, as long as the manufacturer is willing to accept the risk of private/civil law suits. At least, I think this the way it should be, if we walk this out the way it points.

230RN
January 4, 2012, 05:46 AM
Bill_Rights (exceprted):

This is an interesting perspective: Letter Rulings are actually a rapid-turnaround service....

(snip)

....At least, I think this the way it should be, if we walk this out the way it points.

I like the way you think, but not being an expert on the machinations of the BATFE, I can't really comment beyond a "+1."

Prompted by that, one wonders (without veering the thread) whether this same kind of thinking might be applied to other Alphabet Agencies.

Terry, 230RN

lemaymiami
January 4, 2012, 07:32 AM
Having been a "good bureaucrat" (retired cop)... Whenever I run afoul of some agency's rules I try to take it with a grain of salt and remember that it's probably punishment for past sins.... I'd been retired from police work for exactly six months when I got my first ticket.

No good bureaucrat gets ahead by taking the slightest chance - you follow the rules, dot the "I's" cross the "T's" and move one, whether it makes good sense or not. On those few occasions when I've decided to fight whatever rule is being applied... I've found that it's a bit like hitting a tarbaby...

Sam1911
January 4, 2012, 07:39 AM
It makes me think back to new types of rifling in bores and sharpshooter tactics circa 1773. Didn't we escape bureaucratic bungling for a while then? Likely King George's bureaucracy in England would not have approved either, at least not for civilian colonists.I'm not really sure how to answer that question. I know of no regulations on specific arms technology at the time, and do know that arms, including the heaviest ordinance of the day (cannons mostly) were owned, possessed, and used by private citizens and merchants as they had need. From that point of view, I guess we were better off as British citizens (then) than we are as Americans (now)! :D Of course, history has been less kind to the freedoms of our cousins across the pond than to our own in the intervening years.

If we'd bothered to ask Britain's bureaucrats at the time, and obeyed their diktats, would the USA be an independent country now? I merely scratch the surface of this question and would like to know the real history.Well, obviously if we'd followed the wishes of the king, and the majority in Parliament at the time (though certainly not ALL of the MPs), we would not have declared Independence, of course.

But maybe I'm not answering your question well. Can you rephrase it?

Letter Rulings are actually a rapid-turnaround service. But since, you say, they are non-binding on the public, a manufacturer should be free to manufacture and publicly sell a firearm despite a negative private Ruling Letter, thereby forcing a full review, and continue to sell, with impunity, until the ruling is completed and assumes the force of law.They certainly are free to, except for that "with impunity" part. If they do not like the ruling and feel it conflicts with the law, they could make their items and force the BATFE to make a case against them. With an adequate application of lawyers, money, and time they can force a test case on the issue and try to get a high enough court to hear it that a legal precedent is set on that matter. As long as the case goes "our" way, that's much better for the public all 'round, as now there's a decision by a court about how the law will be interpreted.

(For a more enlightening view of how something like that process might work, and how "easy" it is to get the BATFE to conform, research US v. Thompson Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Thompson-Center_Arms_Company). That case took place in 1992, and only in 2011 did the BATFE adopt the interpretation that it seemed the Court intended.)

AlexanderA
January 4, 2012, 08:12 AM
Bill Rights wrote:

My reasoning presumes that the ATF's ruling concerns the "deadliness" (or some such measure) of the proposed firearm. If, on the other hand, the ATF's ruling concerns the safety of the firearm to the consumer/buyer/user, then a manufacturer may willingly submit to a ruling in order to shield itself from civil liability law suits - in that case, the manufacturer gives up a freedom in return for a degree of legal immunity. But in either case, lethality or safety, the ruling cannot be legally binding upon any manufacturer, as long as the manufacturer is willing to accept the risk of private/civil law suits.

ATF rulings have nothing to do with either lethality or safety. The BATFE is not a "consumer protection agency" like the FDA, etc. What they're trying to do is simply determine whether a given item violates the letter of the law (or complies with it). A manufacturer doesn't have to submit a proposed firearm for a ruling. If it's in a gray area, though, it would be wise to do so since otherwise he risks losing all his tooling and product development costs (if the item is later found to be illegal once it goes into production). From a manufacturer's perspective, working with the agency is necessary "due diligence." This is real-world management stuff, not some theoretical "rights" argument.

Bubbles
January 4, 2012, 09:31 AM
Letter Rulings are actually a rapid-turnaround service. But since, you say, they are non-binding on the public, a manufacturer should be free to manufacture and publically sell a firearm despite a negative private Ruling Letter, thereby forcing a full review, and continue to sell, with impunity, until the ruling is completed and assumes the force of law.
No manufacturer would ever take on that risk as the ATF has the power, given to it by Congress, to determine what a firearm "is". So, you submit a new design for a semi-auto for determination. ATF figures it is too easily converted to full-auto, therefore it's a machine gun. If you sold any you are subject not just to civil penalties, but to criminal penalties - and while your case is slowly progressing through the federal court system, your license gets revoked, and your inventory/computers/equipment/etc. gets seized as part of the investigation, so your income is gone as well.

ETA: The gun control laws passed by Congress and policies/CFR's created by the ATF are the primary reason that the US is losing ground in the global small arms technology race.

Mike OTDP
January 4, 2012, 09:43 AM
A lot of the problem is that the Federal firearms laws are not models of clarity. They are like the tax code...if you put a question to three IRS officials, expect at least three answers.

If I were running ATF, I'd be prodding Congress for clearer legislation.

Put it on the to-do list.

dprice3844444
January 4, 2012, 11:53 PM
well,if atf has moved to the justice dept,then their records are public and they can't say cases are confidential taxrecords anymore

230RN
January 6, 2012, 07:45 AM
Bubbles addeth:

ETA: The gun control laws passed by Congress and policies/CFR's created by the ATF are the primary reason that the US is losing ground in the global small arms technology race.

I've often wondered about that. I'm sure many of us have mechanical ideas that we might even be afraid to put down on paper in the privacy of our own homes.

I'm reminded of Philip Wylie's remark about when G2 came to interview him after he'd published something about the atomic bomb in the early 1940s:

Cannot the common man add and subtract neutrons in his head?

Terry, 230RN

REFs:

Opus 21 by Phil Wylie--
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/w/philip-wylie/opus-21.htm

(This book was seminal in shaping my early thinking.)


G2--
http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/miotc/mihist.htm

(Scroll down about 5/8th of the way or use page search.)

Shadow 7D
January 6, 2012, 03:35 PM
didn't something similar happen to Cavalry Arms (makers or used to be makers of poly AR lowers)

where the lowers were molded at a off sight location then finished in their shop, and had been for quite a while, then the ATF decided that the molded, unfinished receivers were more than 80% finished and shut them down despite a letter otherwise.

Zoogster
January 7, 2012, 01:23 AM
The ATF deals with a lot of unspecific law passed by congress, and then attempts to apply law that is very unspecific in specific ways.
They in general seem to do a decent job of it at this point in time.


bubbles said:
The gun control laws passed by Congress and policies/CFR's created by the ATF are the primary reason that the US is losing ground in the global small arms technology race.

Well it is certainly true that it slows innovation to a trickle. The days of men tinkering with their latest invention anytime and anywhere they want, even in their garage, without any formal paperwork required, are gone. Those men don't then figure out something neat, test and improve, patent, and bring a technology to the market that then or in the future has an impact.
Those prior times with less restrictions were the times when most firearm innovation was rapid. When people could try something, see if it worked, adjust it, modify it, or scrap it and start over, without filing any tax forms or trying to fit it into the definitions of the proper category each and every time.

The formalities greatly reduce innovation. Leaving most innovation to holders of the proper licenses in advance, which overall greatly reduces new innovation.
This leaves most innovation to large companies, not small individual risk takers. Many of the large companies play it safe, while the risk takers would have sometimes succeeded and often times failed, but continued to bring many more ideas to the market than the big companies do.
The fact that many innovations can only be sold to a military market also reduce the ability to make any profit on something not adopted by the military, and does not let new ideas stay alive and mature into better products or better implementation before the individuals behind them go broke. Leaving technology that may have been behind the next great thing to die off before it has matured.
The reasons America was a place of such massive and rapid innovation a century ago have been greatly diminished when it comes to firearms.


However 'losing' the arms race is a bit over reaching, many other nations have the same type of restrictions. Leaving innovation to large companies, and with a large percentage of innovations targeting a military or police market.
So in contrast to saying the laws in the US are causing the US to lose, rather I would say the laws in the US put the US on a more even playing field, while in the past the US had a clear and decisive advantage.

Sam1911
January 7, 2012, 10:39 AM
The fact that many innovations can only be sold to a military market also reduce the ability to make any profit on something not adopted by the military, and does not let new ideas stay alive and mature into better products or better implementation before the individuals behind them go broke.
I agree completely that this is the biggest problem. No possible funding source other than, not just "governments" but A government, really. With ITAR and such, even if a manufacturer developed a really great new SAW or SDR or GPMG, they can't easily, or perhaps even at all, sell it to some other country that is interested.

If you read the histories of Gatling, Browning, Maxim, and the other great early machine gun designers, they were trotting the globe to find buyers, whether those buyers were British, German, Russian, private or governmental.

Of course that's in stark contrast to Degtyarov, Simonov, Kalashnikov, etc. working in the collective/cooperative development teams of the Soviet Union. (Who's products tend to eternally reinforce the old Russian canard that Great is the enemy of Good.)

However 'losing' the arms race is a bit over reaching, many other nations have the same type of restrictions. Certainly true, though I have no idea really how much development individuals even try to do in the rest of the world. Without the strong "gun culture" we have here, I imagine the few large arms manufacturers and military/state arms and munitions development organizations present in other countries may be an adequate outlet for the organic interest in creating and improving small arms, arising in the civilian population there. Sad but true.

blarby
January 8, 2012, 01:47 PM
I've often wondered about that. I'm sure many of us have mechanical ideas that we might even be afraid to put down on paper in the privacy of our own homes.

:what:

Thats very close to conspiracy to conspire....tread lightly.

We're making notes of those potential thoughts to use against you later, perhaps after re-thinking them differently and jailing you (not us) for them. :D

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