If you, like I, were inundated with a flash around the gunmedia sphere about how all “AR-type” pistols are now AOWs let us now provide some clarity.
Mike, MrGunsnGear, has a good summary in the video, but for the textually inclined let me explain.
A legal firm, Wiley Rein LLP, has released the following:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has recently changed the manner in which it interprets the statutory and regulatory definition of “handgun,” thereby further limiting the types of firearms eligible for importation. These determinations are not public, so it is difficult for the regulated community to assess and track shifting agency positions.
Click through to read the whole body, but I will summarize below.
The ATF is allegedly denying imports of pistols like (emphasis on the like since we don’t know any actual model) the Draco, Zenith’s (not that you can find any of those), Arsenals, HK SP5’s, etc. under a new subjective interpretation of pistol that they have under FATD (Firearms and Technology Division). Yes, the ATF has a FATD, I laughed too.. its okay.
But the interpretation, which does not appear to have public supporting documentation (like the ongoing Q situation), seems to indicate that if the particular ATF evaluator has a hard time firing a given “pistol” with one hand it is an AOW instead. Say nothing of 1918 calling wanting it’s handgun firing technique back, this is apparently the new ‘standard’. Which unfortunately isn’t a standard since it is subjective on the evaluators opinion and ability with no published standards.
Obviously opinion will always have its say in an evaluation, but without standards available to submitters anything they do is just a shot in the dark that they get a friendly evaluator that time.
Other mentioned criteria include, “rifle rights”, “rifle caliber”, and “rifle length barrel”, all of which are left undefined. We can guess at what they mean but if the ATF doesn’t publish the standard then it cannot be worked within. Instead of publishing a standard the ATF is working in a ‘give it to us and we’ll just tell you yes or no’ methodology.
I do not envy the ATF’s position, they are under a lot of pressure to do their jobs (whether those jobs should even exist at all or exist as they do is another debate) and they’re doing as they do. Carbine type ‘pistols’ are clearly an NFA workaround, like binary semi-auto. Engineers who worked within the bounds of known law to outsmart politicians (not difficult) and comply with the law while still making the desired product. This would all go away with an amended NFA, but Congress will not.
Life gets really simple if you redefine NFA Title I as, “Any firearm with a manually operated or semi-automatic action,” and Title II as, “Any firearm with a select-fire or automatic action. Destructive devices.” Remove silencers completely as they are an accessory. Remove the Hughes amendment too. Regulatory life gets so much easier for everyone. Make, model, serial number. Life is good. Nobody left wondering if they will be inked in as a felon the next day, they have a firearm and they are a legal possessor of firearms. Simple.
And again tot he topic at hand, these reported items appear to be targeted at imports, not domestic product. The IWI Galil ACE pistols might be influenced but the IWI Z-15 pistol will be unaffected since that is a domestic product. All subject to change of course, this is the ATF. This all goes back to the ATF’s “scoring” system for sporting purposes of imports. How different types of sights, if a trigger is serrated or textured on the blade or not (seriously, that is a thing.. Glock had to change the trigger on the G19 to get it to score high enough to import), or various lengths and angles and capacities and so on.
It is all very convoluted.
An AK type firearm with peep sight might get denied while one with a notch sight might pass, the fact that a notch sight is marked for one distance or multiple might be the pass/fail. One with a tube on the end that could be replaced to take a brace but provides a counter balance making it easier to shoot could pass while one without the provision for a tube gets rejected. The same exact model could be passed or rejected by different evaluators.
Language from the ATF has hinted that every single variation you could possibly manifest of ‘carbine’ type pistols, a classification of firearm that is entirely their (and congresses’) fault, is subject to its own review. Meaning down to optical and accessory choice and location. If I place a flashlight on the left side of the handguard and my buddy places the same light on the right side, those are two different submissions. If it is one spot forward or rearward, those are technically different submissions. Every optic chosen would be a different submission, including without sights.. but that could very well get rejected as ‘too difficult’ to fire with one hand.
In short, the ATF is being very obtuse about defining a ‘pistol’, something which does already have a legal definition. They are doing so, in these instances, to imported items. None of this information is truly public facing, however they leave open that they can change their mind on future submissions even if said submission has the same prior rejected parts.
So are you a $5 felon? The tax for an AOW being $5 under the NFA.
Nobody knows. If you own an imported pistol like a Draco, an EVO, or an ACE, nobody knows. If you have domestic gun like an AR or XCR, nobody knows. Literally until the ATF puts it in print on their letterhead, nobody knows.
Bureaucrats are fun, aren’t they?