Read the white paper on firearms regulations

A white paper by the second highest-ranking official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Internal document lays outs several proposals to reduce firearms regulations.

Federal Firearms Regulations


Options to Reduce or Modify Firearms Regulations

White Paper

(Not for public distribution)

Ronald Turk
Associate Deputy Director (Chief Operating Officer)
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)

20 Jan 2017


"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right
of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Second Amendment to the United
States Constitution

Executive Summary:

ATF is the only Federal law enforcement agency with a primary mission that directly involves an
Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, our actions and policies are appropriately
subjected to intense review and scrutiny. This paper serves to provide the new Administration
and the Bureau multiple options to consider and discuss regarding firearms regulations specific
to ATF. These general thoughts provide potential ways to reduce or modify regulations, or
suggest changes that promote commerce and defend the Second Amendment without
significant negative impact on ATFas mission to fight violent firearms crime and regulate the
firearms industry. This white paper is intended to provide ideas and provoke conversation; it is
not guidance or policy of any kind.

ATFas enforcement and regulatory efforts are focused on reducing violence and increasing
public safety. Positive steps to further reduce gun violence through enforcement or regulation
are extremely important but are not the focus of this paper.

Points for Discussion:

1. New Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL) Dealing Exclusively at Gun Shows (or internet):
For over two years representatives within the firearms licensing community have asked
for clarification and/or a decision from ATF regarding new FFL applicants requesting to
conduct business solely at gun shows. ATF has delayed a decision or guidance due to
several concerns including what it means to be aengaged in the businessa of selling
firearms, and ATFas ability to have access to a dealeras records where they may not have
routine business hours. ATF has already recognized FFL activities via the internet
without a classic astorefronta and is considering whether to include gun show only
activities in a similar manner. The marketplace has changed significantly in recent years,
and ATFas guidance to FFLs on these issues has not kept pace with developments in
commerce. Classic abrick and mortara storefronts with an on-hand inventory and set
afront-doora business hours often no longer apply in todayas modern marketplace. A
question remains as to whether ATF should consider simply changing past policy or
initiate a lengthy regulation rule change process. There is ample room for immediate
action on this issue. ATF can simply issue new guidance immediately and adjust past

policy to allow for a business to obtain a license with the primary intention of selling
firearms with the transfer occurring at a location other than the businessas physical
premises (whether at guns shows, over the internet, or elsewhere). This practice has in
fact already been taking place, and ATF has provided guidance to FFLs allowing such
activity with regards to internet only sales. Provided the business is established at a
location in full compliance with state and local laws/ordinances and the business is
reasonably inspectable by ATF at an established business location, limited or no actual
sales out the businessas front door should not be an issue.

If a formal regulation rule change is needed for long-term clarification, ATF can start
that process while immediately issuing a policy change to the above practice which
would have no negative impact to public safety. In fact, it would encourage more sales
and business through a licensee, including background checks on sales at gun show
events, and likely increase public safety. Several national gun show promoters prefer to
have licensees at their shows, which also somewhat reduces the so-called agun show
loopholea concerns some have expressed about such venues.

ATF recently issued guidance regarding what it means to be aengaged in the businessa
and indicated that:

aA person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the
location in which firearm transactions are conducted. For example, a person can
be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts
firearm transactions at gun shows or through the internet.a

Thus, by establishing that persons can be required to obtain a license to sell only at gun
shows, ATF must provide reasonable means for businesses to obtain a license. ATF can
provide guidance to the public for gun show-only dealers similar that which was posted
for internet-only firearms dealers. There is no apparent downside to such a proposal,
and in fact public safety is enhanced.

2. Armor Piercing Ammunition: ATF has regulatory authority to classify what is and is not
armor piercing (AP) ammunition. Several major ammunition manufacturing companies
have had requests pending for years to produce AP ammunition (AP ammo or ammo)
which is not intended for use in a handgun and potentially lawful under Federal law. In
2014, ATF proposed a framework that would have provided a transparent and fair
review process for these applications, and would have resulted in the approval of many
of the long-pending requests. The framework, however, also would have withdrawn the
5.56 agreen tipa AP ammo exemption that has existed since 1986. The withdrawal of
the exemption created controversy that ultimately stalled all AP ammo classification
decisions. Since that time, ATF has been asked to hold off on any AP ammo

determinations. Continued inaction on these requests poses significant litigation and
reputational risks to ATF. ATF can readily mitigate these risks by using the criteria
established in the framework to process and approve many of the applications, while
leaving the 5.56 agreen tipa AP ammunition exemption intact. Moving forward with
approval of these applications is consistent with the statutory goal of protecting the
public and law enforcement because, consistent with the statutory exemption, the
projectiles involved are not associated with criminal use, but instead are clearly
designed and intended for hunting and sporting purposes (the projectiles/calibers at
issue will generally penetrate body armor regardless of whether AP-classified metals are
used in the manufacturing process). If decisional restrictions were removed, ATF could
readily apply drafted standards for reviewing AP ammo requests while leaving the 5.56
agreen tipa AP ammo exemption intact. Many of the industriesa pending requests could
be decided in a timely manner, meeting both statutory requirements and safety
concerns within the law.

3. Re-importation of Certain Department of Defense Surplus Firearms from Foreign
Countries: The State Department and ATF have worked over the past several years with
the Administration on requests for the importation of U.S. origin military firearms,
ammunition, and parts that were once sent overseas to support allies. There are
surplus rifles, pistols, ammunition, and other importable U.S. origin Curio and Relic
(C&R) defense articles (including M1 Garand and Carbine rifles) and pistols (M1911)
overseas awaiting importation authority. There is no clear public safety reason why
taxpayer-funded US-origin C&R defense articles should be denied re-importation to the
American public, while many non-U.S.- origin C&R items are approved. Additionally,
these items do not represent any discernable public safety concern, as demand lies with
collectors of vintage military firearms. Importation and sale through licensed dealers
would effectively regulate the lawful transfer of these firearms through a licensee and a
background check. Joint effort from the Administration, State Department, and ATF
could easily reverse past decisions and allow for the safe and legal importation and sale
of these historical and collectible items. Many M1 Garand rifles have been approved for
importation in the past, setting precedence for this to occur. The more recent denials
were in part due to perceived potential that they may be used in crimes, for which there
is little, if any, evidence for such a concern.

4. Title 18, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 922(o): Current law precludes FFLs who
are registered Special Occupational Taxpayers (FFL/SOT) from transferring machineguns
manufactured post-1986 unless they are for export or for law enforcement/government
use; and there is no provision for the transfer from one FFL/SOT to another. This is
somewhat detrimental to FFL/SOTs operating within the small, but useful, Department
of Defense-supported industry and theatrical armorer community. One option, if
supported by the Department of Justice (DOJ), would be to re-institute ATFas ability to

provide variances to licensees, as ATF has done in the past, that would adequately
provide form transfers within defense industry FFLs and avoid a requirement to change
the statute. Use of variances in a consistent and fair process within the limited DoD-
supported FFL/SOT community would be viewed favorably by the industry and have no
impact on public safety.

5. Firearm Arm or Stabilizing Brace: Manufacturers have produced an arm brace or
stabilizing brace which is designed to strap a handgun to a forearm to allow a disabled
shooter to fire the firearm. ATF determined that the brace was not a stock, and
therefore its attachment to a handgun did not constitute the making of a short-barreled
rifle or aany other firearma under the National Firearms Act (NFA). (NFA classification
subjects the product to a tax and registration requirement.) In the determination letter,
however, ATF indicated that if the brace was held to the shoulder and used as a stock,
such use would constitute a aredesigna that would result in classification of the
brace/handgun combination as an NFA firearm (i.e., the ausea would be a aredesigna
and making of a short-barreled rifle). ATF has not made another NFA determination
where a shooteras use alone was deemed be a aredesigna of the product/firearm
resulting in an NFA classification. This ruling has caused confusion and concern among
firearm manufacturers, dealers, and consumers about the extent to which unintended
use of a product may be a basis for NFA classification. To mitigate this confusion and
concern, ATF could amend the determination letter to remove the language indicating
that simple use of a product for a purpose other than intended by the manufacturer a
without additional proof or redesign a may result in re-classification as an NFA weapon.
While many at ATF are concerned about manufacturing processes continuing to push
the boundaries between a Gun Control Act (GCA) and an NFA firearm, ATF has a
relatively consistent history of what crosses the line between GCA and NFA firearms
with which to draw from, and still maintains the ability to exercise good judgement with
future requests based upon the firearmas individual characteristics.

6. Reissue a New Sporting Purpose Study: Since the sunset of the Assault Weapons ban in
2004, the use of AR-15s, AK-style, and similar rifles now commonly referred to as
amodern sporting riflesa has increased exponentially in sport shooting. These firearm
types are now standard for hunting activities. ATF could re-examine its almost 20-yearold study to bring it up to date with the sport shooting landscape of today, which is
vastly different than what it was years ago. Action shooting sports and organizations
such as 3 Gun and the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) have also
drastically expanded in recent years. Restriction on imports serves questionable public
safety interests, as these rifles are already generally legally available for manufacture
and ownership in the United States. Low cost foreign made firearms are also still
imported and converted into anon-sportinga configurations. These restrictions have
placed many limitations on importers, while at the same time imposing a heavy

workload on ATFas Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division. ATFas Imports Branch
also possesses a list of firearms approved for import but has not made this list public.
Lists such as this can be made available to the public so that the importing community
does not have to guess as to what the standard for importation is. Many concerns from
the firearms industry could be re-examined through the publication of a new Sporting
Purpose Study along with an updated Imports Branch Guide.

7. Creation of a Database of Agency Rulings: ATF lacks a consistent internal database to
maintain and readily access private letters and ruling. The public also has no direct
access to public rulings in a manageable format. The inability to access these rulings can
create inconsistent agency interpretations of agency guidance. ATF can create a
retrievable database for internal use that includes access by the public for open rulings.

8. Silencers: Current Federal law requires ATF to regulate silencers under the NFA. This
requires a Federal tax payment of $200 for transfers, ATF approval, and entry of the
silencer into a national NFA database. In the past several years, opinions about silencers
have changed across the United States. Their use to reduce noise at shooting ranges
and applications within the sporting and hunting industry are now well recognized. At
present, 42 states generally allow silencers to be used for sporting purposes. The wide
acceptance of silencers and corresponding changes in state laws have created
substantial demand across the country. This surge in demand has caused ATF to have a
significant backlog on silencer applications. ATFas processing time is now approximately
8 months. ATF has devoted substantial resources in attempts to reduce processing
times, spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and
dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA
processing. Despite these efforts, NFA processing times are widely viewed by applicants
and the industry as far too long, resulting in numerous complaints to Congress. Since
silencers account for the vast majority of NFA applications, the most direct way to
reduce processing times is to reduce the number of silencer applications. In light of the
expanding demand and acceptance of silencers, however, that volume is unlikely to
diminish unless they are removed from the NFA. While DOJ and ATF have historically
not supported removal of items from the NFA, the change in public acceptance of
silencers arguably indicates that the reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and
historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated. ATFas
experience with the criminal use of silencers also supports reassessing their inclusion in
the NFA. On average in the past 10 years, ATF has only recommended 44 defendants a
year for prosecution on silencer-related violations; of those, only approximately 6 of the
defendants had prior felony convictions. Moreover, consistent with this low number of
prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings. Given the lack
of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not

be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating NFA classification, and should be
considered for reclassification under the GCA.

If such a change were to be considered, a revision in the definition of a silencer would
be important. The current definition of a silencer extends to aany combination of
[silencer] parts,a as well as aany part intended only for use ina a silencer. Compared to
the definition of a firearm, which specifies the frame or receiver is the key regulated
part, any individual silencer part is generally regulated just as if it were a completed
silencer. Revising the definition could eliminate many of the current issues encountered
by silencer manufacturers and their parts suppliers. Specifically, clarifying when a part
or combination of parts meets a minimum threshold requiring serialization would be

9. Firearms Industry Proposals to Allow for Interstate Sale of Firearms at Gun Shows: 18
U.S.C. 923(j) and supporting regulations prohibit FFLs from conducting firearms sales
outside the state in which they are licensed and reside. Many FFLs would like to be able
to travel to other states to venues like a gun show and conduct business. ATF currently
allows an FFL to travel to another state, display firearms for sale and take orders, but
not to transfer firearms on-site (this must take place back at the FFLas business location
in their home state, and only to a resident of their home state). Similarly, FFLs can
transfer firearms out of state to another licensee under an aadvance consignmenta
before the gun show to the out-of-state licensee in a somewhat convoluted process
where the traveling/transferring FFL is no longer making the sale. ATF and DOJ have
historically opposed removal of the statutory restriction on direct interstate firearm
sales by FFLs. Further discussion would be beneficial. A change that could allow FFLs to
operate at out-of-state gun shows (where also allowed by individual state laws) would
have no detrimental effect on public safety and still provide ATF a means to trace
firearms. It would also be viewed favorably by the broader firearms community. Since
an FFL has a license, maintains records, and conducts background checks for sales,
provided they are in compliance with State and local laws, there is no apparent harm or
risk to public safety in allowing them to do so, but not for the current statute and
interpretation requiring in-state only sales. Sales would be documented and traceable,
and a background check would be completed.

10. Destructive Devices: The current definitions for destructive devices under both the NFA
(26 U.S.C., 5845(f)) and the GCA (18 U.S.C., 921(a)(4)), and applicable controls, do not
differentiate between destructive device launchers and destructive device munitions.
Applicable regulatory and statutory controls under the GCA and NFA are focused on
multi-use objects, such as typical long guns or machine guns, not single-use, expendable
munitions which are also subject to the Safe Explosives Act. The customer base for
destructive device munitions is very limitedathe U.S. DoD, foreign governments as

approved by the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) under current export
policy, and small numbers of other destructive device launcher and/or munitions
manufacturers for use in research, testing, or assistance in United States Government
/foreign contract fulfillment. In addition, the cost of munitions production runs, safety,
and contract fulfillment requirements such as applicable DoD marking requirements
necessitate, at a minimum, different standards for marking munitions than are possible
for launchers. This includes marking by lot numbers and having multiple dispositions
against a single lot number. There are several different ways to revise applicable
controls to help solve these issues, as being currently discussed by ATF and destructive
device munitions industry members. ATF should continue to discuss these issues with
leadership and the industry to explore changes that would be useful to the defense
munitions industry and have discernable impact on public safety or ATFas ability to
regulate them.

11. Demand Letter 2 (DL 2): An ATF regulation currently provides that all FFLs that have
had 10 or more guns with a time-to-crime of 3 years or less traced to them in the
previous year must provide ATF with copies of limited information from used firearms
they acquired in that previous year. This equates to limited auseda or agray marketa gun
information (no purchaser information is directly stored by ATF, only gun information)
that can be used to expand the success rate of traces for secondary market firearms.
This information can be useful to further crime gun trace capabilities by creating a
pointer to allow for a more current firearms trace to a secondary purchaser. ATF
originally set the threshold for DL2 reporting at 25 firearms, but later reduced that
number to 10 firearms. ATF is currently re-examining the program and anticipates a
change to the number (somewhere in the vicinity of 15 or more) based on trend and
data analysis. Some have argued that DL 2 creates a burden on firearms dealers to
provide ATF information on used firearms that may become, but are not necessarily,
crime guns. An increase in the firearms requirement above 10 would likely have a
positive impact on the firearms industry and still meet program objectives. ATF should
continue to examine data to determine where the appropriate number of firearms lies
to best manage this program.

12. Demand Letter 3 (DL 3): Via regulation ATF currently requires FFLs in several southwest
border states to record and submit multiple sales records for certain semi-automatic
rifles capable of shooting with a detached magazine (although not defined as such by
law or regulation, this applies to the sale of more than one rifle commonly referred to as
amodern sporting rifles,a sold to the same person at the same time). This requirement
came into effect several years ago in an attempt to curb the flow of rifles from
commerce to the criminal element via illegal firearms trafficking into Mexico and South
America. There are examples where this regulation has proven effective and may
provide a deterrent effect. Over the past 5 years, ATF has over 40,000 multiple sales

reports involving over 90,000 rifles; opened over 300 investigations, and recommended
approximately 374 defendants for prosecution. DL 3 places some burden on the
firearms industry via reporting requirements. The elimination of DL 3 could have a
detrimental effect on ATFas criminal enforcement mission based on the numbers of
investigations and defendants seen to date, but can be further discussed regarding
utility and impact.

13. Pending ATF Regulation Regarding FFL Records Retention (20 years): ATF has a
regulation pending at DOJ to increase the requirements for FFLs to retain records
indefinitely. The current standard is 20 years, and records older than 20 years can be
destroyed. The intent of the change from 20 years to indefinite retention is to provide
access to records for firearms traces over longer periods of time. However, many argue
that crime guns are not frequently recovered with times to crimes from purchases over
20 years old. Also, older firearms possessed by criminals frequently transfer hands
several times and a trace will often not lead to the criminal after so much time has
passed. ATF has averaged approximately 1,200 failed traces a year over the past 5 years
due to records destruction, accounting for less than one half of one percent of traces
conducted nationally each year. While such an extension is arguably a viable law
enforcement intelligence tool, much of the firearms industry is opposed to such a
change and a closer review of this proposal could be beneficial.

14. Expanding Permissive Use of NICS Checks by FFL Holders: Standard pre-employment
background checks frequently do not reveal that a person is firearms-disabled. Other
than requiring potential new-hires to purchase a firearm, licensees, in particular large
retailers, are frequently unable to determine that an employee cannot be involved in
firearms operations. Retailers would appreciate the ability to run a NICS check on
current employees or potential new hires to ascertain whether they can legally fulfill
their job requirements. A key aspect of this proposal is that it would be entirely
elective; if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), ATF and others all concurred with
this slight expansion of the use of NICS, there would be no mandate that licensees
perform a NICS check on all employees. Keeping the expansion of the system limited to
elective employee checks will prevent any significant increase in cost to the FBI or ATF
(in terms of running background checks or expanding regulatory enforcement), while it
will enable FFLs to increase their compliance with existing regulations and help ensure
firearms-disabled personnel do not have easy access to firearms. Businesses could also
be required to certify that permissive NICS checks were only used on impacted
employees or face sanctions for misuse of the system.

15. Need for an ATF Confirmed Director: Since moving from the Department of Treasury to
the DOJ in 2003, ATF has had only one Senate-confirmed Director. The agency needs a
presidentially nominated, Senate-confirmed Director who has the support and backing

of the Administration to lead ATF. This will enable the agency to be fully in sync with
leadership, and maximize the agencyas potential regarding priorities, budgets, and

16. Old Regulations Under Review for Possible Removal or Amendment: Below is a list of
the firearms and explosives regulations that are currently under review. They are likely
no longer applicable (or portions of which are no longer applicable), and may be
removed as part of a final rule to remove expired regulations. 1

a. 478.40 a Assault Weapons ban
b. 478.40a a prohibition language for assault weapons
c. 478.57(b) and (c) a assault weapons and large capacity magazines
d. 478.92 (portions) a AP ammo and large capacity magazines
e. 478.116 (portions) a importing large capacity magazines
f. 478.119 a importing large capacity magazines and feeding devices (belts,
drums, stripsa|)
g. 478.132 a records keeping for large capacity feeding devices sold to law
h. 478.153 a request for large capacity magazines and feeding devices for
manufacturer testing
i. 478.171 (portions) a exporting AP ammo and semi auto assault weapons
j. 479.32(a) and (c) a reduced importer/manufacturer tax rate 1988; short taxable year
k. 555.11 (portions) a obsolete dates; commerce in explosives
l. 555.27 (portions) - obsolete dates; explosives background checks
m. 555.33 (portions) - obsolete dates; licensees and permittees general explosives
n. 555.41 (portions) - obsolete dates; licenses and permits general explosives
o. 555.45 (portions) - obsolete dates; licenses and permits general explosives
p. 555.49 (portions) - obsolete dates; issuance of licenses and permits
q. 555.51 (portions) - obsolete dates; duration of licenses and permits
r. 555.57 (portions) - obsolete dates; change of control, RPas and employees
s. 555.102 (portions) - obsolete dates; authorized operations by permittees
t. 555.103 (portions) - obsolete dates; transactions between licensees and permittees
u. 555.105 (portions) - obsolete dates; distribution to non licensees and non
v. 555.125 (portions) - obsolete dates; records maintained by permittees
w. 555.126 (portions) - obsolete dates; transaction records
x. 555.142 (portions) - obsolete dates; relief from disabilities
y. 555.201 (portions) - obsolete dates; storage
z. 555.224 (portions) - obsolete dates; table of distances


This list was produced by ATFas Enforcement Programs and Services Directorate



There are many regulatory changes or modifications that can be made by or through ATF that
would have an immediate, positive impact on commerce and industry without significantly
hindering ATFs mission or adversely affecting public safety. There are also areas where
adjustments to policy or processes could improve ATF operations. Alleviating some of these
concerns would continue to support ATFas relationships across the firearms and sporting
industry, and allow ATF to further focus precious personnel and resources on the mission to
combat gun violence.

In addition to these points of discussion, it is vital for ATF to find resources to refresh aging
technology and systems that support law enforcement and the firearms industry. Functionality
at ATFas Martinsburg facility and other areas has been severely hampered by outdated
technology and systems that negatively impact ATFas ability to provide services and

Note: The opinions expressed within this white paper are not those of the ATF; they are merely the ideas
and opinions of this writer. They are provided for internal use within ATF and DOJ and not intended to be
public. They are also general thoughts that cannot be taken as exacting language regarding policy or
quotable specifics. Additional specific details can be provided to further these general discussions.

The men and women of ATF are overwhelmingly a fantastic group of hard working civil servants who look to
reduce violent crime and ensure public safety. The focus on combating gun violence is key. Fairly regulating
the firearms and explosives industries is also important. As the firearms conversations take place over the
next few months and years, this paper is offered to provide informal insight on potential productive ways to
limit regulation and continue to protect our Second Amendment freedoms, while focusing on ATFas mission to
protect our nation.

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