Is ATF Going To Make Pistols, Based On Rifles, NFA Items Because of Weight?

Wiley Rein ATF Client Alert Screengrab
Wiley Rein ATF Client Alert Screengrab

WASHINGTON, DC-( law office of Wiley Rein caused a stir on the internet by releasing a client alert where they theorized the ATF might move to make AK pistols and AR pistols NFA items.

Firearms are generally not importable under 18 USC 922(l). However, there is an exception for importable guns in 18 USC 925(d)(3), for any firearm that is (1) not an NFA firearm, (2) not a military surplus firearm, and (3) meets the “sporting purposes” test; however, ATF chooses to define that test? There is not a clear definition.

The ATF has always stated that pistols derived from rifles meet the standard for “sporting purposes.” Now, mere weeks before the election, the rogue agency has reversed course and has taken the position that these guns are “too long” or “too heavy” to meet the sporting purpose test.

According to the ATF, these guns fail the test because the manufacturers did not design them for the user to fire them from one hand.

The gun control act (GCA) defines a “handgun” in 18 USC 921(a)(29) as a firearm with a “short stock” that the manufacturer designed for the user to fire with one hand. If a gun is not a “handgun” or a “rifle” (921)(a)(7) or a “shotgun” (921)(a)(5), then it is just a “firearm” (921)(a)(3) under the GCA. The ATF considers stripped AR-15 lowers as only firearms. So even if ATF thinks an AR or AK pistol isn’t a “handgun,” it would still be a “firearm” under the GCA. This reclassification doesn’t affect the pistol under the GCA.

The problem is the National Firearms Act (NFA).

The NFA defines what constitutes an NFA “firearm” in 26 USC 5845. This definition is separate from a GCA firearm. The only conceivable NFA classification into which an AK or AR pistol could fall is “any other weapon” (AOW).

An AOW is defined as: “any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, … Such term shall not include a pistol ….”

The NFA does not define what is and isn’t a pistol. The ATF defines a pistol in 27 CFR 478.11 as “A weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile … when held in one hand….”

The ATF uses the GCA definition of a “handgun” for the NFA term “pistol.” This definition means that the firearm manufacturer did not design it to fire it with one hand.

ATF is now saying that pistols based on rifles weigh too much or are too long to be fired with one hand.

AmmoLand Announces Palmetto State Armory AKV Pistol Giveaway!
Palmetto State Armory AKV Pisol

The theory proposed in the Wiley Rein’s alert is if the ATF says certain handguns aren’t importable because they aren’t sporting because they aren’t designed and intended for the user to fire them with one hand. Since they are not importable, then those same handguns could be classified as “AOWs” under the NFA for the same reason. The gun owner could conceal the firearm, and they are not pistols because the manufacturer did not design the gun for the user to fire with one hand.

The alert is speculation, but it is conceivable. The timing of the reverse course on the importation rules seems suspect. Some speculate it is just another move by an out-control agency to hurt President Trump in the eyes of gun owners. Others think it is the ATF gearing up for an all-out assault of the Second Amendment if Biden is elected.

Whether ATF has some master plan in store to turn all AK pistols and AR pistols into AOWs remains to be seen.

About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, Ammoland will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. 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.”
― Ayn Rand


No “law” should exist for a crime unless there is a victim involved. If you are willing to cage or kill me for keeping the fruits of my labor, YOU are the criminal, not me. If you are willing to cage or kill me enforcing a law telling me that I cannot smoke, eat or drink what I want, YOU are the criminal not me. If you are willing to cage me or kill me while enforcing a law that says that I can’t own a certain type of gun or because I decide to put a AR pistol to my shoulder,… Read more »


Ok Trump, what are you going to do to reign in this rogue (useless) agency?

uncle dudley

It’s bad enough we have to put up with the government making rules and laws that we feel are unconstitutional it seems they are never happy unless they can screw with the laws and rules they put in place in the first case and change them whenever they feel like it.


Yep, the USA has devolved into a communist based system of men making the rules and we are no longer a land governed my actual laws.


uncle – at thee risk of being deemed too religious – isn’t making rules and laws what the pharisees and sadducees did to the Ten Commandments?


With a good brace, like the Tailhook, you can fire a Barrett .50 Cal one-handed!

And how many people only use one hand to fire a pistol, when they have the ability to use the second hand for stability?

This is a load of manure.


Just what we need…MORE confusion. How about they take a language lesson and learn what SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED means.


I never fire ANY pistol or revolver with one hand. So should I register all of them as AOW since I’m not “using” them as “designed”? One hand shooting is for dueling 200 years ago. NOT for today. For sure. I want to see how many LE use the one hand John Wayne stance when firing at someone with a cell phone. Give me a break. Dump the NFA. It’s a kick in the face of ALL of the Founding Fathers.


CL – agreed – but there are ‘some’ pistol disciplines where you DO ‘only’ use one hand. I competed in a bulls eye league where that was the rule.
And as old and broken as I am I can still shoot many rifles one handed as well, especially if I can ‘brace’ them on a tree or something.


I’m familiar with bullseye competition. And I do realize that yes, you can, if not under any pressure shoot with one hand.


The NFA must be abolished. It was an unconstitutional stretch to regulate firearm choice by prohibitive taxes via taxing authority, the only backhanded way politicians saw they could infringe on citizens’ right to bear arms. SCOTUS found in Miller, a test of the NFA, that arms appropriate to the military are specifically protected by the 2nd, and only those not of military use could be taxed under NFA. Well, every effing firearm you can create has some military offensive or defensive use as long as it’s operational! Full auto is our birthright, as are laser blasters and plasma cannons when… Read more »


Nothing the BATFE does surprises me any more after Ruby Ridge, Waco and Fast and Furious. Neither does the fact that BATFE, and all other Federal agencies (and their agents) are never held accountable for violating their own regulations and the law, including felonies and even murder.


That’s cause their SPECIAL! Don’t you know? Our Founding Fathers WANTED things like Ruby Ridge and Waco taking place! They would be disappointed to see that so few have taken place. IT DISGUSTS ME! Especially while having dinner one day and the guy who was sitting next to me said “Sammy loved home grown green beans”. Referring to the green beans my wife had picked from the garden. Later that day while my dad was visiting a I said “Dad, did you ever think you would meet Randy Weaver?” To which he responded…”Not in your living room!”. Yes, first hand… Read more »

Ryben Flynn

The entire NFA is outdated. It came about due to the rise in crime during Prohibition, which was a direct result of the Women’s Temperance Movement started in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ryben Flynn

I don’t care how they rule because they are going to do whatever they think they can get away with. Then it goes to the courts and “We the People” wait with baited breath and Scream at the Interweb. Instead of dealing with the issue as Our Founding Patriots did by Lighting their “Ass’s Up”. The time is long past to Piss or get Off the Pot. Regardless of how any court rules including the Supreme Court. There will always be Politicians and Bureaucrats who will Game the System anyway possible to subjugate the citizenry and force them to relinquish… Read more »

AZ Lefty

“where they theorized the ATF”
Well that’s nice that you have a “theory”


What is sad is that we need to speculate as to what the laws are and what they will be in the near future. Particularly given how much candidates, from all sides, preach about how transparent they are. While laws occasionally need to be adjusted as social mores evolve or as issues arise due to ambiguity in the law – generally laws must be stable. Laws also must be clear, knowable and changes predictable. Otherwise it is difficult for society to function at all. Flip flopping laws and “rules” based on undefined personal whims are hallmarks of tyranny and a… Read more »


The “law” is very clear when you strip away all the nonsense and legal mumbo jumbo designed and intended to overtake it for more than a century. All the indoctrination and brainwashing. Theft of your tax dollars and hijacking of your unique form of self government. The law says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. That’s what it says. I rest my case, with one hand on my gun……


Good thing it’s only one hand…ATF SWAT would be heading your way if it was two.


That’s why it is the duty of We the People to maintain our government at all levels to maintain our government officials and quickly and swiftly remove them from office if they violate the law or violate their oath of office which of course is law but we the people are too apathetic and too involved in their own private petty little lives to be concerned about the big picture of all levels of our government officials


a theory is a somewhat educated guess, needing to be proved or debunked. facts matter, words matter, definitions.


The gun control act (GCA) defines a “handgun” in 18 USC 921(a)(29) as a firearm with a “short stock” that the manufacturer designed for the user to fire with one hand. Hmmmmmmmm. How many ATF Agents and other LEO’s use both hands to fire their “handguns”!!!! The second hand is for the purpose of better control, which can be argued for the AR-15 pistol. That law does NOT specify how long or short the stock can be!

Last edited 2 years ago by ForsakenConstitution
Michael Ware

Anyone who would ignorantly say AK or AR pistolsweigh too much or are too long to be fired with one hand” apparently has never picked up a S&W 460XVR like the one I use each year and gone out hunting… Mine is quite heavy and the heft requires work on my part. However, I assure you all it is plenty “sporting” enough, both by definition and common sense alike.

If I had my druthers, ATF could pucker up and kiss me between the back pockets…


I know that previously if one put a vertical foregrip on a pistol, it was considered “making” an AOW. However if firearm length exceeded 26” it is not pistol, rifle, or AOW. Any idea if anything over 26” will continue to be classified as “firearm” rather than AOW? If so, I’ll need to do some measuring and possibly get muzzle device pinned and welded. Costs more money than AOW registration, but sidesteps extensive non monetary costs. YouTube is full of people screaming that ATF has issued the rule change. Guess this is braking news – so is it still a… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Finnky
Some guy

You mean after biden is installed….. They are feeding fake ballots into the mail even now. Watch the polling place? Who cares, you can’t watch the postmark machines.


“Elections are not won by those who vote but by those who count the votes.”


Screw them. Anything we bought legally at the time is gold, and their retroactive regulating can kiss our collective asses.

Michael Ware

Arizona, is the ATF bound to ‘grandfather’ anything for any reason? If so, where is that written?

Dave in Fairfax

Michael Ware,

It’s right next to the part of the Constitution that authorizes the existence of the ATF. (sarc)

Last edited 2 years ago by Dave in Fairfax

Dave – isn’t it in the section that says we can only have muzzle loaders? I keep looking but am having trouble finding that section, maybe it is due to my tired old eyes.

PS, used to live in Fairfax, across the street from NRA HQ, it was convenient being able to walk to the range.

Dave in Fairfax


My eyes too. I’m on Braddock 1/2 way from Waples to 495. Actually 1/2 way between NRA and GAO. The lady at the desk at GOA has a picture her with Roy Rogers and a Bible. 2 thumbs up. Nice lady, good group.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dave in Fairfax

In the Constitution they ignore. It would be treated as an expost facto “law”.


Google the Constitution and then look up ex post facto

Some guy

Good luck with that. Once biden is installed, it’s over. This ” commission ” to look at the supreme court he is talking about? The whole constitution is going, period. You’ll turn them in, because you will not fight. You talk, but you won’t fight.


I can stand behind your statement because I’ve been in this battle by myself since the beginning. I can state is a matter of fact that the biggest group of apathetic people in America are in the 2nd Amendment community!

Last edited 2 years ago by USMC0351Grunt

The problem is when the time comes for the collective asses to be collected they are spread far and wide and filled with excuses.

Last edited 2 years ago by USMC0351Grunt

TY John. Guess YouTube only counts as a single unreliable source, no matter how many channels reinforce each other. One says something and no one confirms before jumping aboard to avoid being scooped.

Grateful to have you as a reliable news source.


I think it is time to make the BATFE into an EXTINCT government agency! These bastards are playing GOD again and it is time that it STOPS!!!


We all need to go to the gym to make sure we are strong enough to “aim” those 10” pistols one handed when the libs come up with a fitness test….


so sick of the B.S.. We need to do what I have been saying for months. If it is auto, you need a special permit that is required by the government illegibly. If it is not auto, fire whatever it is at will because you have no jurisdiction to determine what I can and can’t shoot in the first place. Nothing in the constitution says what I am required to have. Change the laws and take the F out of ATF.

Trump 2020


So what makes “auto” any different from any other method of firing? Shouldn’t it be…IF YOU KILL SOMEONE OR INJURE SOMEONE FOR NO REASON, you’re guilt of a crime. Having POSSESSION OF SOMETHING should not and in reality is not a crime. NO VICTIM, NO CRIME. PERIOD.


rate of fire does not matter. the bearing of arms does. that is what the Bill of Rights states. another government agency that should be dissolved; criminal and absolutely useless. nothing more than glorified cops, not preventing crimes, just writing reports and trying to catch the criminal.