Earlier this month, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raided a local gun shop here in Bakersfield, California, called EP Armory. The store had been open for all of six days when federal agents swooped in and shut them down. They also raided the home of the store’s owner. An unknown number of items and documents were removed from the EP Armory storefront. Soon after the ATF took these actions against EP Armory, the owner of Ares Armor of National City, California, filed a temporary restraining order against the ATF to prevent the agency from seizing the company’s customer information. Luckily for Ares, they had advanced warning, and were able to take action before federal agents busted down their door. Not that the restraining order stopped the ATF from busting down their door – federal agents later raided Ares Armor to get the customer information, basically using disinformation and legal trickery to get around the restraining order.
At issue in both of these incidents is something called an eighty-percent lower receiver (the EP in EP Lowers stands for Eighty Percent). Under federal law, it is legal for a person to build their own custom firearm for their own use (as long as they are able to legally own a firearm under the law). This firearm does not need a serial number, does not need to be registered with any government agency, and cannot be sold or transferred in any way, shape or form (unless a serial number is obtained and permanently attached to the firearm). This is perfectly legal in the United States of America, and in the state of California.
Unlike a completed lower receiver, an eighty-percent lower is incomplete – by definition, eighty percent of the manufacturing process has been completed, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done. For further clarification, the lower receiver is the one part of the gun that the ATF classifies as a firearm. In this case, we’re talking about lower receivers for AR-15 semiautomatic rifles – you know, those scary black rifles people in the media are always so freaked out about. Because they are incomplete, eighty percent lowers are not classified as firearms by the ATF.
Traditionally, most lower receivers, and pretty much all eighty-percent lowers have been made from aluminum, but new materials and manufacturing methods have made it possible to manufacture sturdy, trustworthy polymer lower receivers. Chris Cook, the owner of EP Lowers, came up with a method to manufacture high quality polymer eighty-percent lowers that are more affordable than, and don’t require the heavy machining of aluminum eighty percent lower receivers. According to ATF regulations, these new eighty percent lowers did not fit the definition of a firearm.
Not, that is, until the ATF decided to change the rules. Due to their affordability and ease of completion, EP Lowers got very popular very quickly, and the government, which doesn’t seem to like any firearms they can’t easily track and confiscate (with the exception of those they trafficked into Mexico), decided they needed to do something about this.
The ATF has a “process” (if you can really call it that) known as Letter Rulings, whereby they can arbitrarily change the rules pretty much whenever they want. This is how, at one point, the federal government ended up classifying a 14-inch shoestring as a machine gun.
And so, the ATF just arbitrarily decided one day that these polymer eighty-percent lower receivers were firearms that were being sold illegally…and the only conclusion that can be drawn from their quest for customer information is that they are now on a mission to confiscate those receivers from everyone who purchased one – even if it was legal at the time of purchase. The ATF has abused its authority in deciding that something which it once had no problem with was suddenly an illegal firearm, and if they do begin confiscating these lower receivers, it will constitute a massive breach of the Second Amendment.
And, of course, it doesn’t stop there (it never really stops with this administration, does it?). In a similar action to the one on the EP Lowers, the ATF arbitrarily decided that one company’s new muzzle break was actually an illegal “silencer.”
A muzzle break is a piece of metal attached to the end of the barrel of a rifle. Its function is to reduce recoil by redirecting the gasses expelled out of the barrel when the rifle is fired. They can also be engineered to reduce muzzle flash.
In this case, the muzzle break was also designed to direct noise forward, away from the shooter – not to silence the shot, just to redirect the sound generated by it. As they have to do (in order to avoid being in the same type of situation as EP Lowers and the shoestring manufacturing industry), Innovator Enterprises, Inc., which created the muzzle break, went to the ATF for a determination on the legality of their device. The ATF decided it was a silencer. The company sued in an effort to overturn the designation, and that’s where the fun begins.
Apparently, the ATF has a list of six “characteristics” that it uses to define just what, exactly, qualifies as a “silencer.” In this case, apparently the muzzle break had three of those six “characteristics,” so the ATF said it was a silencer. No testing was done to see if the device actually muffled the sound of a gunshot. No regulations or laws were cited to support its classification as a silencer.
Understandably, a federal judge threw out the ruling, forcing the ATF to actually do its due diligence in determining whether the muzzle brake actually qualifies as a silencer.
These, of course, are just a couple of incidences in what has been a long history of irresponsible and unethical behavior by the ATF. And since the ATF has lost track of thousands of guns that they trafficked into Mexico, and apparently can’t even keep track of their own firearms, it makes one wonder what business they have bullying American citizens and businesses.