ATF Ponders Changing Definition of What Is a Firearm To Target Growing Gun Diversity

Printed 3D AR15 Receiver
Printed 3D AR15 Receivers are just one of many new firearms creations.

Washington, D.C.-( Several large type-7 Federal Firearms Licensed manufacturers, The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and Polymer80 met with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) today.

Although the detailed discussions of the meeting are unknown at this time, AmmoLand News received leaked emails from our sources that show that the ATF is seeking a new definition of a firearm. Joe Biden has targeted so-called “ghost guns” and semi-automatic rifles in recent days. Sources say he is pushing to accelerate those changes by using the ATF as a stop-gap for stalled federal legislation.

The email states: “As you know, under current regulation 27 C.F.R. 478.11, the definition of firearm frame/receiver states that it is that part of a firearm which provides housing for “the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.”

The email goes on to state that many frames/receivers do not meet this definition. The meeting was to solicit input and feedback on the new definition to include all current firearm frames/receivers on the market.

The Wallstreet Journal incorrectly reported that the meeting was to be about targeting unfinished (80%) frames. Actual emails received indicate the “listening session” with ATF was more about the growing diversity of new gun styles and how to serialize more gun parts. Including Rifle Chassis Systems but also the long unchanging history of the firearms’ receiver definition and the need for updates to reflect “changes in technology”.

An AR-15 lower receiver houses the hammer and firing mechanism while the upper receiver houses the bolt. In a FAL, the upper receiver is the serialized firearms. The meeting seems to be stepping in the direction to change the discrepancies between different guns.

Recently there have been multiple cases where the ATF has arrested someone for selling an AR-15 lower receiver. The defendant challenges the ATF because an AR-15 lower receiver doesn’t meet the definition of a firearm. The ATF quietly dropped the cases without comment.

One case that stands out is the ATF arrest of Joseph Roh for illegally manufacturing AR-15-style rifles in Los Angeles. He challenged the ATF’s classification of an AR15 lower receiver as a firearm. Instead of fighting the case, the ATF quietly dropped it. Most believe that the ATF was worried a judge would decide in Roh’s favor unending gun control efforts.

The 60 plus person video meeting included multiple firearms industry manufacturers and industry representatives including Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) who commented:

“As the firearm industry’s trade association, NSSF is always willing to engage with ATF in a dialogue concerning regulatory matters that impact our industry members businesses so that we can protect their legal and business interests.”

Changing The Definition of What Is A Firearm

Sources inside the ATF tell us that the agency is considering changing a firearm’s definition to encompass the upper instead of the frame. The ATF reasons that anyone can finish an 80% frame or even 3D print one, but most of the general public do not possess the tools to complete a slide.

Safety Harbor Firearms produces a .50 caliber magazine-fed upper for the AR-15 called the SHTF 50. The ATF stepped in and insisted that the upper was a firearm and forced the company to serialize it. This decision made both the upper receiver and lower receiver a gun. The ATF reasoned that the company made the upper too much like a bolt action rifle.

Safety Harbor Firearms SHTF 50 Mag Fed Upper
Safety Harbor Firearms SHTF 50 Mag Fed Upper

The proposed changes have made their way into the hands of Everytown for Gun Safety even though it is not currently public. The gun-control group seems to be happy with the proposed changes. It isn’t clear how they managed to get the documents.

AmmoLand reached out to the ATF for comment but did not get a response.

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

John Crump

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

These alphabet soup agencies make it up as they go along . They have no authority to contradict the constitution. Give them an inch and they take a mile. It appears it’s time to do away with the BATF and the FBI as they no longer serve the citizens but a tyrannical government.


I’m sure this will be challenged in court if, and as soon as, it happens. ATF has been arbitrarily changing laws despite the admitted lack of authority to do so.
People have the right to build their own guns. Always have. This is just another infringement.


As the law is written, neither the upper nor the lower are a firearm. In reality until the upper and lower are together do they become a firearms. Neither should be serialized or considered a firearm unless they are together.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cam

If they do that- both will be serialized and it will be illegal to assemble upper on a lower unless they match. Sounds like an undesirable outcome to me. If atf redefines upper to be the firearm, will congress pass a bill outlawing “ghost guns” which makes all existing unserialized uppers illegal? I imagine they would, while tossing a bone – you can keep your upper if you take it to FFL who (after background check) will engrave and register the upper. It’s a chicken bone which will splinter and choke you if you bite… no thanks. It’s not paranoia… Read more »


As to the lower, it depends on the definition of the “firing mechanism.”


That Block of steel or aluminum is a gun if the dimensions are the same as or could be made into a gun!! What Bull Shit are they trying to pull…

Green Mtn. Boy

The unauthorized government agency wants it cake and eat it also at the bidding of their tyrannical masters in the district of corruption

Heed the Call-up

The ATF needs to do some research on what “shall not be infringed” means. When they find that out, they can save taxpayers 10s of billions of dollars after they shut down.




How about devoting a few words to the principle that it’s not any part of BATFU’s authority to “redefine what a firearm is?” That is a legislative issue, and the legislature hasn’t done it. BATFU has tried to end-run that reality at least twice in the past five years, and got its a* whupped both times, most recently in the bump-stock decision. But each time citizens were robbed of their lawful property, nobody in the BATFU was ever punished, and none of the citizens were ever reimbursed. Just like what Obama’s EPA did to coal-fired plants — by the time… Read more »


Good Lord. The BATFE was ordered to rewrite the definition of a machine gun by the President of the Untied States. Do you also absolve Trump of this action?

Somehow, it’s Obama’s EPA, but ????’s BATFE.

Roland T. Gunner

Whats your point?


Remember, diversity is the goal. or was that perversity?


Diversity? No, no, the goal is Unity. The goal has always been Unity. We have always been at war with diversity.

Ryben Flynn

If they decide an 80% receiver is a firearm, that will put over a dozen forging companies out of business or force them to get a FFL07, Manufacturer of firearms other than destructive devices. and have to serialize all the forgings.

Jeremy B.

I think the reality is that they would like to make the UPPER receiver the firearm. This would effectively flip the 80% market.

Would an 80% AR upper look like? An 80% glock slide?

I think they have realized that the regulation is broken, so since they need to fix it, they will fix it in a way that makes 80% builds vastly more difficult.

Jeremy B.

If anything, this could open up those forging companies to complete the lowers in house as they will no longer be firearms. Instead, the uppers would be serialized.


So what will happen is that uppers and lowers will be FFL items as together they are the ‘part that makes a firearm’.

So no more easy, cheap upper builds for a new caliber. The stripped uppers will be FFL and very possibly barrels as well.

Hope those damn lawyers are happy. They strut around saying “I beat the ATF”. No, you just kicked a hornets nest. They never look at unintended consequences, just ‘win this case’.

Ryben Flynn

For the most part all it takes is a barrel and bolt change. The same upper and lower work for most calibers. Maybe enlarge the ejection port for big bore, but that’s about it. That was all I had to do for my 458 SOCOM AR.
I doubt very much the barrel would be declared a firearm, maybe classified as a steel club.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ryben Flynn

So you only buy barrels and bolts to change calibers. You tear down the same upper every time you want to swap? Sounds pretty cumbersome to me.


Under the legal definition you should be able to buy unserialized Ar lowers and uppers. It’s not until you bolt them together are they a firearms. An finished upper is a 50% and a finished lower is a 50%

Roland T. Gunner

How does making an AR upper “too much like a bolt action rife” necessitate a serial number and cause it to be reclassified as a firearm? How foes an AR lower, holding the hammer, trigger and fire controls, not meet the deginition of a “receiver”?. How can they decide to just change a definition in our language, or even a law, to get what they want?


So how many complete, unserialized uppers are in existence? Those uppers will make the paltry numbers of 80% lowers a tempest in a teapot. ATF going to come around to your home and stamp serial numbers on each one???


Nope, they will require you to pay and get it done. A new poll tax on the second amendment