Overstepping – A History of the ATF

As the ATF’s supposed pistol brace/SBR amnesty deadline draws near, the gun industry has continued to fight this ruling. SB Tactical, FRAC, Firearms Policy Coalition, Guns Owners of America, and the NRA have stepped up to fight the ATF and Federal government in court over the process. While rulings, motions, and filing are being passed back and forth, I think it’s time to remember this is nothing new for the ATF. They often overstep their own authority and have essentially a fiefdom of unelected bureaucrats who make laws on a whim. This overstepping is done often enough to warrant an entire article on their previous efforts to circumvent the 2nd Amendment. 

Let’s remember the other five times the ATF has overstepped its authority. 

The 80% Rule 

80% frames and receivers have become a popular building block to making your own firearm. When you get bored of assembling ARs, you can try your hand at finishing at 80% receiver. The ATF attempted to stop gun builders by seeking to unilaterally reclassify frames and receivers. They wanted to change the definition entirely and force 80% of receivers and frames to abide by the same regulations as normal receivers and frames. 

Luckily, a Federal judge in Texas put the kibosh on this overstepping and has currently blocked the rule. Although the ATF can and most certainly will appeal the receiver rule. For now, 80% receivers are safe, and we don’t have to create an entirely new system for dealing with a massively expansive definition of what a receiver or frame can be. Grab your chosen P80 lower parts kit and AR-15 lower and let it go.

Bump Stocks 

The bump stock ban saw the ATF exercise its power to legally expand the definition of a machine gun to include bump stocks. This completely rewrites the definition of what a machine gun is to something unrecognizable. Overnight the ATF ban bump stocks and required their destruction or surrender without any compensation, violating another part of the Constitution. 

Sadly plenty of supposedly pro-gun politicians jumped on this train, including Rick Scott and Donald Trump. The bump stock ban is being fought in the courts, but there have only been Circuit rulings and nothing Federal at this time. 

The Akins Accelerator 

The Akins Accelerator was a quasi-bump stock-like device that was designed for the Ruger 10/22. It was more than just your normal buttstock. It replaced the entire stock of the 10/22 with a specialized stock that contained a linear motion device. The rifle recoiled inside the stock and worked on the bump fire principle. 

It did not meet the definition of a machine gun because it didn’t allow the weapon to fire more than one round per trigger pull. The ATF initially approved the design, but before the Akin Accelerator made a major launch, they promptly pulled their approval. Just like bump stocks and stabilizing braces, the overstepping occurred long after permission was given. 

The AutoKey Card 

Imagine taking a piece of metal, drawing on it, and being arrested by the ATF. That was the issue Kristopher Irvin faced when he was arrested by the ATF. His AutoKey was a laser-engraved outline of a lightning link on a metal card. It was designed to be a novelty, a bottle opener, and a piece of art. The website very clearly states you should not try to cut the card into a lightning link. 

(Courtesy Small Arms Review)

The ATF didn’t care and arrested him, seized his websites, and then declared that the AutoKey Card was a machine gun by itself. If you have one, you effectively own a machine gun in their eyes. This isn’t even a 2nd Amendment issue. Its a 1st Amendment problem and serious overstepping on the part of the ATF. 

The Shoe String Machine Gun 

In 2004 some mad lad submitted a letter and photographs of a rifle with a shoe string featuring two metal keychain loops attached to the rifle. This guy attached a 14-inch piece of string to the reciprocating charging handle of an M1 Garand. He wrapped it around the trigger, with the second loop for the trigger finger. 

When pulled, the gun would fire, creating an effect similar to full auto fire. How this isn’t just advanced bump stockery is beyond me. However, the ATF declared it a machine gun. Not the entire configuration, but the 14-inch piece of shoestring became a machine gun. 

It took three years for the ATF to write a secondary letter confirming his shoestring was not a machine gun. 

Overstepping and You 

The ATF’s history of overstepping is long and well-documented. It’s also insane, but until now has only affected a small minority of gun owners. These gun owners represent an even smaller minority of the general population. The pistol brace debacle affects tens of millions of people, and I’m hoping to see a swift victory in the court system, and hopefully, something will come of their regulation without representation. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.