ATF Reverses 50 Years Of Agency Practice to Go After Home Made Gun Makers

ATF RUL. 2015-1 Establishes New Rules For Persons Who Machine Unfinished Frames/Receivers.

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ATF Reverses 50 Years Of Agency Practice to Go After Home Made Gun Makers
Reeves & Dola, LLP
Reeves & Dola, LLP

USA – -( The New Year has brought new action from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who published ATF Rul. 2015-1 on January 2, 2015.

In this new ruling, ATF reverses its longstanding position that persons who machine unfinished receivers on behalf of a customer are not required to have manufacturer’s licenses. The ruling can be found on ATF’s website here.

I. Background

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, requires persons who engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms to obtain a license from ATF. The term “manufacturer” is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(10) as any person engaged in the business of manufacturing firearms or ammunition for purposes of sale or distribution. The term “dealer” is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(11)(B) and in ATF’s regulations at 27 C.F.R. § 478.11 to include “any person engaged in the business of repairing firearms or of making or fitting special barrels, stocks, or trigger mechanisms to firearms…” This type of dealer is commonly referred to as a “gunsmith.” The marking requirements of the GCA apply to firearms imported by a licensed manufacturer or manufactured by a licensed manufacturer. 18 U.S.C. § 923(i). Firearms altered or manufactured by a licensed dealer/gunsmith are not subject to the marking requirements.

Prior to issuance of Rul. 2015-1, ATF took the position that persons who repair, alter, or manufacture firearms from parts supplied by a customer are not required to obtain a manufacturer’s license. ATF allowed such activities to be accomplished with a gunsmith/dealer license on the basis that there was no sale or distribution of the firearms that were altered or manufactured. This position is apparent in ATF Rul. 2009-1, addressing gunsmiths who camouflage or engrave firearms and do not need a manufacturer’s license; ATF Rul. 2009-2, addressing persons who install drop-in replacement part on firearms and do not require a manufacturer’s license; and ATF Rul. 2010-10, addressing gunsmiths who repair or alter firearms on behalf of licensed manufacturers or licensed importers.

The GCA does not prohibit the manufacture of a firearm by an unlicensed person for his or her personal use. ATF has long recognized this right, most recently in questions and answers on unfinished receivers posted on its website on October 23, 2014 (“Receiver Blanks Q&A’s”), see for example question 9. Firearms manufactured by an individual for personal use are not subject to the marking requirements of the law, and ATF has expressed concern over its inability to trace such firearms if they are recovered by Federal, State, or local law enforcement agencies. See questions 6 and 7 in the Receiver Blanks Q&A’s on ATF’s website.

II. ATF Rul. 2015-1

ATF Rul. 2015-1 reverses the agency’s longstanding position that gunsmiths may lawfully manufacture firearms on behalf of a customer without obtaining a manufacturer’s license and complying with the marking requirements of the GCA.

The ruling also holds that unlicensed machine shops conducting such activities must obtain a license as a manufacturer. ATF reaches this conclusion by interpreting the term “distribution” to include the act of returning a completed firearm to a customer. However, ATF concludes that a distribution occurs only in the situation where the gunsmith or machine shop starts with an unfinished receiver, machines it to the point where it is a frame or receiver that meets the GCA definition of “firearm,” then returns it to the customer. ATF distinguishes such a “distribution” from “traditional services” gunsmiths offer, typically repairing or improving firearms that are already complete weapons or capable of being assembled as such. Apparently these “traditional services” do not result in a distribution when the firearm is returned to the customer because the firearm has not been machined in a manner or otherwise created or made suitable for use as part of a weapon.

Basically, ATF interprets the statutory term “distribution” in two different ways depending on the alterations made to the unfinished receiver or firearm.

Significantly, the ruling comments that allowing licensed gunsmiths to perform manufacturing processes on a frame or receiver on behalf of an unlicensed person would lead to “an absurd result.” The so-called absurd result ATF describes is of firearms that “could be legally manufactured without any markings or serialization by dealer-gunsmiths who could avoid licensing as a manufacturer simply because his/her customer is unlicensed.” The ruling states that such activities run counter to a major purpose of the GCA because it eliminates the ability of law enforcement to trace crime guns.

The last portion of ATF Rul. 2015-1 specifically addresses the use of machining tools by unlicensed individuals. The ruling notes that Federal firearms licensees and unlicensed machine shops may make its machinery available to individuals who bring in raw materials, unfinished frames or receivers, and firearms parts for the purpose of making a functional firearm. The ruling holds that businesses may not avoid the licensing, marking, and record keeping requirements of the GCA by allowing unlicensed individuals to use its machinery to manufacture and assemble firearms. The ruling states that if the business controls access to and use of its machinery, tools, and equipment, then following manufacture of a firearm a “distribution” of the firearm occurs when the finished frame or receiver or complete weapon is disposed of to the customer. ATF states that the businesses would be “engaged in the business” of manufacturing, even though unlicensed individuals may have assisted them in the manufacturing process.

EP Lowers Polymer 80% AR15 JIG-LESS lower receiver
EP Lowers Polymer 80% AR15 JIG-LESS lower receiver

III. Impact of ATF Rul. 2015-1

ATF’s interpretation of the licensing and marking provisions of the GCA will require unlicensed machine shops and licensed gunsmiths who machine receivers on behalf of customers to obtain manufacturer’s licenses under the GCA. The ruling will also require that such firearms be marked, recorded in acquisition and disposition records, and transferred in accordance with the Brady law and all other provisions of the GCA. The ruling will also result in a requirement for newly licensed manufacturers to register as manufacturers under the Arms Export Control Act, as required by State Department regulations in Section 122.1 of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (22 C.F.R. §122.1).

Current registration fees are at a minimum $2,250 per year, a significant sum particularly for small businesses. The combination of fees and government regulation may result in closing of businesses.

The ruling will have a significant impact on consumers who choose to manufacture their own firearms with the assistance of gunsmiths or unlicensed machine shops. Consumers rely on this method of firearms acquisition to save money and, in some cases, to avoid having their names recorded in FFL records that are available to the government.

Only consumers with the equipment and know-how to manufacture their firearms without assistance from others will be able to continue this practice.

IV. Conclusion

ATF Rul. 2015-1 reverses over 50 years of agency practice allowing the lawful manufacture of firearms by gunsmiths and machine shops on behalf of unlicensed consumers. ATF and the Department of Justice argue they are concerned about unmarked and untraceable firearms making their way into commercial channels. As valid a concern this may be, one cannot escape the fact that this “absurd result” has been going on without government intervention since before the GCA was enacted in 1968. Such a dramatic change in position without public input through the rulemaking process may indeed result in litigation and/or legislative action.

However, it is not yet certain whether we will see such action.

The above analysis is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice. Receipt of this alert does not establish, in and of itself, an attorney-client relationship.

Questions about this alert can be directed to:

About Reeves & Dola
Reeves & Dola is a Washington, DC law firm that specializes in helping clients navigate the highly regulated and complex world of manufacturing, sales and international trade of defense and commercial products. We have a deep understanding of the Federal regulatory process, and use our expertise in working with a variety of Federal agencies to assist our clients with their transactional and regulatory needs. .

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Ira Thernot

Just to be clear…if someone knows for sure…My friends has his own, personal, milling machine/lathe/drill press etc. He is not in business as a machinist he just has the tools for hobby purposes. If I used his tools, without any of his help, but with his permission to complete (that is i supplied any and all parts aside from the tools themselves, and completed all the necessary work, without him being in possesion of said parts or using any of his tools for the purposes of completing MY project) an 80% am I in violation of this ruling? Does the… Read more »


Whether you like it or the ATF or not, this rule makes sense within the regulatory framework that exists. Those “engaged in the business” of manufacturing firearms have long been required by federal law to be licensed. If you are taking an 80% receiver and machining it to a finished receiver for a “customer” for compensation you are manufacturing a firearm. It wasn’t a firearm when you started working on it and it is when you are done and you are doing it for monetary or other compensation for a third party. I don’t see how that is not “engaging… Read more »


When are the people of this country going to quite listening to theses Ass-Hats and start hanging them for treason?

Have you not had enough yet? Or is Football and Crappy Lite beer just that alluring…

Jeremy Brown

Want to build a 1911 80% Frame but do not have a milling machine? Think ATF Rul. 2015-1 is unfair? Stealth Arms’ Patent Pending Phantom Jig is your answer! Stealth Arms’ Phantom Jig has made completing a 1911 80% Frame with a milling machine a thing of the past! With the Phantom Jig and a drill or drill press, you will have everything needed to bring your 1911 80% Frame to completion and ready to accept parts. The Phantom Jig allows you to precisely cut the Slide Rails and Barrel Seat – no milling machine required! View Stealth Arms’ quick… Read more »

Chris Rakes

Sorry what is the difference in the now ruling and of the past. I thought you could not make money off these homemade guns any way.
by the way what lat is the law are the LBATF going by?


I own in excess of 30 weapons. Custom, OEM, mutts, Frankenstein’s of hand guns and long guns. Many of them I have tens of hours into customization, etc. I compete in 3 gun matches and burn in excess of 1K rounds a month at the range for shits and giggles. Shooting is my sport and honing my skills keeps me fit and frosty. That said, I actually agree and support the BATFE’s position. Its position in no way attacks, changes or limits the Dremel wielding home enthusiast from manufacturing his/her own firearm for personal use. What it does do is… Read more »


I am not sure what scares me more for the future of this countries views on the 2nd A., the hardcore gun control advocates, or people like you. you are frightening.


Looks like you don’t just shoot guns for sh&ts and giggles, your posts are very similar.


Yawn… Another Bily badass making threats on the internet. LOL. You so scary. LOL

WTF HAPPENED on 9/11!!??!!

What keeps the cartels from buying machine guns and using them on anyone they please. Your reasoning is EXTREMELY flawed. I do believe. That is my personal opinion and give some more examples of what the real issues. Some facts to keep in mind. Restrict are B.S. They know where the guns come from. Tracking them is a NON ISSUE. Why does it matter that much? A MURDERER is a MURDER. Our government is handing out guns as if they were candy in Jordan and Syria. In Britain the violent CRIME in measure per 1000. Those figures are said to… Read more »


Serial numbered guns in large are no easier to track than a non marked gun. There are exceptions. The fact is more legal dealers than can be counted lawfully transfer firearms and then file PAPER records of the transaction baring fire or other disaster the dealer holds these records for a number of years. If the dealer no longer pays to be a dealer the PAPER is transfered to the ATF. The ATF has no method, time or resources to dig through these stacks and stacks of paper. Therefor the trail goes cold. Manufacturers to dealers is easy to track… Read more »


“What keeps Johnny Jihad and his buddy Haji Harry from buying a 100 of them, finishing them and using them against you and your families?”

not letting then into the country, you bootlicking fool.
Which part of registration leads to confiscation DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND from Europe, England and Australia?????


Hey genius do you understand that with no serial number knowing which of the 100’s of 80% makers made the chunk of material will be impossible? Or are you going to become Johnny Jihad lawsuit man and go after whoever you feel like?

Chris Cook

The ruling I think is solid and the description in the title or explanation via AMMOLAND is fogged. The reason this ruling or determination came about is because an attorney was looking for verification of when a non-firearm actually becomes a firearm. The letter that was sent to the ATF was an attempt to not only poke the bear, but make an attempt to circumvent the current legal definition behind the manufacturing of a “Do It Yourself” firearm. With the current language used by the ATF an 80% with no prior machining is not considered a firearm, but if the… Read more »

Bevin Chu

Gun control is not the control of guns. It is the control of people. It is the control of people who surrendered their guns by the people who confiscated their guns.

The greatest mystery in the world is why people feel morally obligated to obey a gang of strangers, merely because the gang calls itself “The Government.”


How do we change the system without violence? Non Compliance!! Do not listen to these knuckleheads. Do what you will, let your moral compass be your guide and phuck the ATF. They’re not our damn daddy. We are FREE…remember that folks. FREE people do not ask permission.


We will not comply. Simple as that. Come get us. See how that works out.


there is no such thing as “80% receivers”, It’s either a receiver or it’s not a receiver… The atf seem to be trying to ILLEGALLY ban home gunsmithing… you cannot enter a SN, without a company name as it shows on the C2 FFL License. so the ATF is now trying to make a precedence that would require SN on all home build firearms, knowing full well that the avg person does not have the tooling to properly machine the SN into the none receiver, or into a hand made custom built firearm, because the ATF require a specific height/font… Read more »


In california and most states you can take a gun in and have a number put on it. Or Put and number on it and let the record it. That to me isn’t that big of a deal. But I don’t see any significant deterrent or crime prevention in it. Like Back ground checks they really do absolutely nothing to stop crime. They are a feel good law for law abiding people.How can something that doees nothing but waste time and resources be called common sense. BRAINWASHING IS WHAT IT REINFORCES. NEVER FORGET THEY HAVEN’T EVER TOLD THE PEOPLE WHO… Read more »

Dr Dave

The key language is “control of the equipment” If you go to a machine shop and give them the instructions book that came with the 80% build lower receiver and ask them to help you carve out the extra material then YOU are not building it THEY are in control. If however you go in and “rent” their equipment or get a freebie then YOU are in control and ATF has no say. Suggesting that you need to both own the equipment and possess the knowledge is fine to say but will it hold up in a court of law?… Read more »

Ed Ski

no one will believe me, but i will state it anyway: a woman bears a child- she manufactures it, she makes it. to keep and bear arms, by extension, means that making your own weapons IS allowed by the bill of rights and shall not be infringed upon. when these statutes were written, most people made their own knives and guns.


This is a deliberate set up by ATF to comply with the unconstitutional UN Gun Control over registration. ownership, etc.


Since when does ATF have the right to tell businesses what they have to do when loaning equipment? Rented , loaned equipment does not make the owner of the equipment a manufacturer. The user of the equipment is the manufacturer , as cnc machines have other uses than just firearms. Furthermore there was no congressional bill , this is ATF acting on its own , Commerce Clause our Constitution , you know the document government is shredding.


They are using the same self imposed “right” they used to make you and I to purchase health insurance. It’s a “father” knows best mentality by our “big daddy”. All 536 of them.


Soooo the “legality” of the machinist, or machine shop, helping me produce my finished reciever is now going to be operating illegally under this new ruling? The shop will now be considered guilty if they finish the piece for me or just as guilty if they just provide a place for me to piddle. They will be guilty without touching anything? Wow. I smell manure.


We need Congress to remove non exporting manufacturers to be removed from ITAR registration as State dept does not have authority to regulate commerce according to our Constitution . Exporters only should have to be registered. We need Congress to act against the UN Arms treaty that Kerry signed without Congressional approval. The Obama administration still wants to act unlawfully to achieve their agendas. The BATFE needs to stop changing policies and just enforce the law . Which includes going after felons that tried to purchase firearms.They need to enforce the drug laws as written, not letting states do what… Read more »


For those in the BATFE “or anyone else” who sincerely believes that their CONstitution, laws, codes, statutes, policies, etc,. automatically apply to the private person just because they are within the fictional borders of a CORPORATE FICTION masquerading as a legitimate government.. CAN YOU PROVE IT!?!? Everyone has been told that the CONstitution and law automatically apply to everyone. it is the “alleged” governments collective opinion that it applies, everyone feels it applies, everyone believes it applies, everyone assumes and presumes it applies. HOWEVER; hearsay, opinions, feelings, beliefs, assumptions and presumptions aren’t proof of a damn thing. What factual, first… Read more »


Nicely said. Iv felt this way for along time..thanks for saying it..


Regardless of any facts, they have more guns than any individual they target and are more than willing to use those guns. That is all the legitimacy they need…in their minds, anyway.


If you or I were to do business in the exact same manner as they do, at the barrel of a gun.. do as we say or we’ll kill you.. would we not be criminals?? then why do they get a pass for their crimes?? they aren’t government, i proved that! They destroy peoples lives and FRAUDULENTLY CLAIM TO BE LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT, WHEN THEY ARE NOT!

Alton McDonald

Hello Goat; Aparantly your not ready to defend yourself from any form of Gov’t Tyranny!!! Sooner of later these Morons will find out that their so-called bravery WILL get their asses Killed by American Patriots such as myself!! In you/my home defensive positions are very importent, I now have mine, look around your home and prepare yours!!


GCA and NFA both “infringe”. The 2nd amendment says, “shall not be infringed”. It make no allowance for “infringing just a little bit”. The only reason the GCS and NFA stand today is because the govt has what it takes to take what you’ve got. That’s the bottom line. It is not right. It is not moral. It is not constitutional. It also does not matter — the govt can do whatever it wants without repercussions and it knows it, demoncrat or rethuglican makes no difference.

It bears repeating: The founding father’s would have already started shooting by now.

Iman Azol

CONspiracy reTARD.

The fact they they operate on convoluted, ridiculous laws passed by Congress and not yet struck down by SCOTUS does not mean they’re a private corporation owned by the Queen, or the Lizard People, or the UN, or the Jews, or whatever other boogeyman you believe in.

And you internet tough guys will sh&t your panties and blubber if they ever kick in your door.


Vote this guy out of office……. I am sick of hearing this crap when they are arming terrorists and countries that support terrorists and terrorists acts against the USA. Not mention I have no Idea who flew the planes or Missiles in the the Twin Towers or the pentagon. But I do know there was charges, demolition charges placed in those building prior to those attacks. GW had something to do with bringing those building down on top of fist responders. These people and KILLERS killing People for FUN are not legitimate USA government officials they are frauds. Jerks Imprisoning… Read more »