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.The ATF recommends that manufacturers voluntarily submit weapons for case-by-case determination. But those judgments are private and, it turns out, sometimes contradictory. Critics say nearly identical prototypes can be approved for one manufacturer but denied for another.That process, known as “letter rulings,” results in various findings about what makes a weapon. Program critics, including the ATF’s former assistant director of criminal investigations, said one determination contended that a shoestring was a machine gun.The letters are sent only to the person submitting the weapon, making it hard for other gun manufacturers, designers and dealers looking for guidance to make judgments about the agency’s evolving interpretations of the federal code. That lack of publication also means that no one knows when the agency issues rulings at odds with similar cases. . .
Not to mention subject to the whims of ATF managers wishing to prosecute an "economic Waco" against designers and manufacturers perceived to be "the enemy."
Len Savage, a Georgia firearms designer and manufacturer, said what ATF allows and disallows “follows no rhyme or reason” and described the regulatory technique as “enforcement by ambush.” The owner of Historic Arms LLC, which makes and designs semi-automatic replicas of famous firearms, called the letters “worthless” because agency officials “can change their mind on a whim.”Mr. Savage said it is impossible to know what is compliant and that the ATF can spontaneously rescind approvals for any project.He said the ATF told him in a July 2005 letter that he could convert machine guns legally owned by collectors into belt-fed weapons, but said in April 2006 that it was overturning its decision “upon reconsideration.”“It cost me $500,000 in orders,” he said, adding that he was forced to destroy several weapons he had built because ATF would not grandfather them.He said he had seen letters showing that two different companies submitted weapons for testing, with one declared legal and the other ruled illegal even though they were “dimensionally and operationally identical.”
Here's the part I like:
ATF spokesman Drew Wade declined to answer specific questions about letter rulings, citing ongoing litigation such as an Arizona criminal case in which the legality of modified weapons is at issue.
Can you say "U.S. vs. Clark," Wade? I know you can.
I can't wait for THAT little bit of selective prosecution to play itself out, to the discomfiture of both the agency and its highly placed NFATCA snitches, Dan Shea and John Brown.