Tuesday, April 04, 2006

More on AFTE, Gunsmiths, and Gun Parts

Michael Bane has been all over a developing story (links below). I directed Ten Ring readers to his first post. Be sure to read it, but here’s a description so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

An ATFE agent visited a custom gunsmith who altered a gun from its original appearance by changing the barrel and hammer. He added these parts to a receiver made by Ruger. The receiver, of course, was duly serial numbered and Ruger paid an 11% manufacturer’s tax on it. However, the ATFE agent claimed that by adding the parts the gunsmith had manufactured a new gun. The agent claimed the hapless ‘smith owes excise taxes on the gun and many other guns with similar work. The ‘smith will lose his business if he can’t pay what could be an exorbitant amount.

For still more detail and confirmation, read Michael Bane’s related post, which quotes from an article in The Outdoor Wire.

I’ve had time to think and read about this situation and post more intelligently about it. First, the ATFE agent could be overzealous, newly hired, not aware of the difference between altering and manufacturing, or all the above. That’s a possibility. It’s just as likely that there’s more involved. Even the NRA thinks that’s possible in an unofficial post made to The High Road Forum.

If there’s more involved and if it is allowed to stand, then we’ll see our gun rights seriously eroded and here’s why I think so. A receiver is the only part of a gun that must have a serial number. A barrel, a hammer, a sear (except a full-auto sear), and other parts are not regulated. Because parts aren’t regulated, many people have built their own ARs and AKs usually after buying only a receiver or a kit or they’ve turned an off-the-shelf 1911 into a super-accurate race gun.

I’ve seen gun banner arguments (but can’t find them) that an ordinary person shouldn’t be able to buy gun parts out of fear people will build their own guns or make them "more deadly." After all, you can’t build a gun without a receiver, but neither can you build one without a barrel, hammer, sear, etc. ATFE too often listens to such arguments. It’s not impossible that they are trying to reduce the aftermarket business or at least get a cut of it through taxation.

In this case, custom gunsmiths are the canary in the coal mine. They’re an easy target. They advertise, have premises, and “are in the business” as the law states (27 CFR 478.11). If the ATFE succeeds in establishing a new interpretation of manufacture, custom gunsmiths will go out of business or their work will become even more expensive. Gun parts could dry up because a parts dealer could not guarantee that you’re not using the parts to “manufacture” a gun.

If carried still further, it could mean that once you buy a gun, it must stay in the same configuration as it was at the time of purchase. If you need a repair, you’ll have to visit a gunsmith who’ll have to put in a similar part. The devil would be in the details. Would dehorning and putting on low-mount sights on a carry gun be manufacturing? Would adding a scope to a rifle be manufacturing?

Don’t laugh. During the Assault Weapons Ban putting a flash hider on certain guns was an instant felony. Let’s keep an eye on this one and get ready to contact your Congress Critter.

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