“For more than a year, Joseph Roh illegally manufactured AR-15-style rifles in a warehouse south of Los Angeles,” the report explains. “But five years after raiding his business and indicting him, federal authorities quietly cut a deal with Roh earlier this year and agreed to drop the charges.”
It’s fair to wonder what in the world is going on, especially considering all the players involved. It’s also fair to say that after reading the entire article that what is considered “lawful” and “unlawful” becomes damn near impossible to determine once deviation from the simple elegance of “shall not be infringed” is allowed. It’s easy to get lost in all the twists and turns involving so-called “80-percent receivers” and “build parties” and upper and lower receivers. It’s easier still to get lost in the “law,” and that term is used ironically—the risks and penalties are there, but the rules that can invoke them are really nothing more than regulation without representation.
Arcane determinations about what “legally” constitutes a “firearm” via ATF “classifications” make even the government question how some prosecutions can be conducted without jeopardizing others.
If fed enforcers, with near-unlimited resources and armies of lawyers, can’t proceed with certainty, how the hell are citizens supposed to know what they can do vs. what will result in their lives being destroyed?
The thing is, this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. Back in 2008, ATF ruled:
“ATF has reconsidered its classification of the lower assembly of the FNC rifle as the receiver. The upper assembly of the FNC rifle is more properly classified as the receiver.”
And in an “our bad” moment, ATF added”
“To the extent this ruling is inconsistent with any previous ATF classifications, they are hereby superseded.”
Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character comes to mind.
That ruling prompted firearm designer Len Savage to ask:
“According to the criteria that ATF applied to figure out the ‘upper” is the ‘receiver’ according to the law for an FNC, If the same criteria were applied to the AR-15 / M-16 the ‘upper’ must be the ‘receiver’ not the lower. Would this impact the NFRTR if the ATF ever does apply the same criteria at some point to the AR-15/M-16?”
It’s hardly just this issue where ATF’s inability to pick a story and stick to it has caused cluster-****s of epic proportions. Cases in point:
A 2009 interpretation that pistol grip shotguns are not shotguns created an unforeseen legal concern for owners of such firearms. As NFA Owner’s Association observed, “it is difficult to understand how current law would not classify such as firearm as a Destructive Device.”
Which means registration on the NFRTR would be required. But there’s no way to do that retroactively.
And then there’s ATF Ruling 82-8, which held that “SM10 and SM11A1 pistols and SAC carbines are machine guns as defined in Section 5845(b) of the Act” except that it would only apply to those manufactured after June 21, 1982. My source tells me “Approximately 50,000 were manufactured prior to the cut-off.”
Then again, how is that any more absurd than machineguns manufactured after May 19, 1986, being banned from “civilian” possession and transfer?
Since we’re talking offensive absurdities, who remembers, in addition to declaring a shoestring to be a machinegun, the time ATF ruled Chore Boy pot scrubber pads were NFA firearms? Or Airsoft guns being seized because the agent who tried to insert a magazine backward insisted “With minimal work, it could be converted to a machine gun”?
And don't get me started on my legal, then illegal, then legal again and now illegal Akins Accelerator bump stock.
“There's no way to rule innocent men,” novelist and Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand wrote. “The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”
Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s head of secret police, chillingly put that into practice:
“Show me the man and I'll find you the crime.”
That sure is a far cry from the government’s mandate to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
About David Codrea:
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.