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Things Are Getting Real For The BATFE’s Firearms Technology Branch

Sometimes, you can get to know a bit about someone by taking a peek at their shopping list.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was served a lawsuit last week by SIG Sauer. This suit immediately followed ATF’s public chastising from a judge in a similar case brought by Innovative Arms (both cases where muzzle brakes were submitted for testing and classification and deemed “silencers” by the ATF, but no decibel reduction testing was provided to back up their determinations). It might be of interest to other muzzle device manufacturers (and possibly the legal team at SIG Sauer) that ATF themselves this month has admitted that their own sound testing equipment “…has reached end of life and requires an upgrade.” and has issued a sole-source solicitation to purchase a new “computer controlled firearm silencer testing system” from a Virginia-based Bruel & Kjaer representative that custom built ATF’s last system in 2005.

Click to view .pdf

FedBizOpps SIMS Solicitation

Recently, ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch claimed that Innovator Enterprises, Inc.’s Stabilizer Brake was a highly-restricted silencer, even though the manufacturer’s intent was to make a freely-sold, unregulated recoil device. The ATF’s determination, however, was shot down with no small amount of candor by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia when Innovator Enterprises sued the ATF over the mischaracterization. District Judge John Bates’ commentary read that the ATF’s “decision to classify the Stabilizer Brake as a ‘firearm silencer’ is ‘arbitrary and capricious’ for at least two reasons: the agency failed to ‘articulate a satisfactory explanation’ for its decision and the agency failed to ‘examine the relevant data’ before coming to a final conclusion.”

The Court noted that the ATF did not provide any proof or determination of the Stabilizer brake’s ability to reduce noise, but gave FTB the benefit of the doubt by assuming “Although the FTB (Firearms Technology Branch) utilizes state-of-the-art sound metering equipment, these tests do not affect the classification of any item.” But ATF themselves, in what may wind up being an unfortunately-timed admission from them in any upcoming court cases, gives justification of their purchase by admitting that their sound metering equipment is actually not “state-of-the-art” but rather “has reached end of life.”

The Court goes even further to question the history of “what exactly Congress was concerned about in deciding to regulate silencers at the federal level”, and points out a study showing that “The 1934 congressional debates [over what became the National Firearms Act] provide no explanation about why silencers were licensed” in the first place.

The ATF’s National Firearms Act Branch is incredibly overworked and understaffed. It is constantly inundated with tens of thousands of silencer transfers, and is currently dealing with the frustrations of a contractor’s failed e-Forms website (that was supposed to help ease their workload and speed the processing times of these transfers). Add the issue of being repeatedly sued over arbitrary determinations – on what is not even a firearm to begin with, but rather a harmless noise-pollution reduction device – it is certainly a ripe time for Congress to assess if suppressors should be removed from the purview of the NFA entirely.

- Kel Whelan

Kel Whelan has spent decades working NFA issues, and is well known to many in the firearms industry. Plus, he can always recommend a great place to eat.

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26 Responses to “Things Are Getting Real For The BATFE’s Firearms Technology Branch”

  1. matty says:

    Holy crap a federal judge questioning the regulation of suppressors? That’s amazing and exciting.

  2. Reverend says:

    The Court goes even further to question the history of “what exactly Congress was concerned about in deciding to regulate silencers at the federal level”, and points out a study showing that “The 1934 congressional debates [over what became the National Firearms Act] provide no explanation about why silencers were licensed” in the first place.

    THAT ALONE MAY HAVE THEM REMOVED FROM THE NFA IS PRESSED EVER FURTHER!

    • nigel tufnel says:

      i always figured it was for poaching. being in the 30′s and all.

      • JB Gleason says:

        The whole NFA law was a reaction to the violence created by Prohibition (which ironically the Government created by making alcohol illegal) and “Sawed Off Shotguns”, Tommy Guns (MG’s), Silencers (assassin’s tool) and DD’s were considered Gangster Weapons. Thus made controlled devices which of course caused all Gangsters to immediately divest themselves of such devices and revert to slap fights.

        • Jim says:

          JB, thanks for that laugh!

          It’s so good that all of the criminal element is in the process of adhering to existing gun control laws and “revert(ing) to slap fights.”

          My comment on ATF 41P included the recommendation that they could alleviate their backlog by removing suppressors from the NFA. If guns were invented today, OSHA would require that they be suppressed.

  3. bulldog76 says:

    *rubs eyes* do i see light at the end of this very long tunnel

  4. Haji says:

    I really would like to see silencers de-listed as an NFA device; it doesn’t make much sense to begin with, other than that NFA Branch makes a decent income from the $200 tax. this next election could be very, very interesting in terms of reestablishing American’s rights…or we could end up with status quo and deal making that keeps anything from happening.

    • RSS Feed says:

      Honestly, there is a 0% chance of that happening.

      • Haji says:

        Sorta like being able to own a pistol for defense in DC and getting a CCW in San Diego county?

        • Observer says:

          “NFA Branch” or the ATF makes zero dollars from NFA transfers… NFA stamp taxes are just paid into the general treasury. NFA branch is funded out of the regular ATF budget which is a large part of why they are perpetually unable to deal with their workload.

          The entire scheme of how the NFA process works is all regulatory and could be changed at anytime. Nothing in the law would prevent an online tax stamp payment via an automated system and a silencer sale on a 4473 for example. Or a similar online application and stamp payment, print out the stamp, Form 1 SBR done is 5 minutes or less. ATF just has no motivation, either financial or political, to implement such a scheme.

  5. Superfly says:

    Strike SBR/SBS regulation, while we’re at it.

    You can buy an AK/AR pattern firearm without a stock and call it a pistol. Slap a stock on it, it suddenly becomes extra deadly, and requires regulation.

    The NFA is a joke. An old, really bad joke.

  6. AdamG says:

    No wait and no tax? One can dream

  7. Terry says:

    Talk about built in obsolescence…
    So the system has reached its end of life in under 10 years and BATFE MUST return to the original developer for the upgrade. While most government agencies and the military are using equipment that ranges from 20 to 60 years old.

    • Paul says:

      Not many 60 year old computers are still in use. The problem with software based solutions is that the hardware, and to a lessor extent, the operating software has a very limited life compared to that of a shovel or hammer. The advantages of software based solutions – this digital signal processor as an example – is that they are far cheaper than the old purpose built hardware and factors more feature rich.

  8. ray wong says:

    In some countries like New Zealand suppressors are seen as a public safety device. It protects the shooters from hearing damage and reduces noise to nearby residents and business.

    Suppressors should be mandatory or at least highly recommended for shooting ranges in business or residential districts. For example shooting ranges should require suppressors after a certain time of day.

  9. Mike Nomad says:

    Testing equipment reached End-Of-Life? Oh, for fsck’s sake. For what they need to do, all it takes is a decent, Hi-SPL handling mic, a fairly robust laptop computer, and some software. Not even 10K (USD) worth of kit. How much has BATFE spent on ammo over the last decade?

    The common sense exhibited by the court is indeed refreshing. Suppressors & SBR/S need to be non-stamp items. But like someone above mentioned, one thing at a time. And it looks like the challenge over suppressors is underway.

    If things eventually go right, that will be a bummer for all the Stamp Collectors…

  10. Chicken Legs says:

    Good job Kel…thanks amigo!

  11. I’m not so sure about that one thing at a time thing. That’s not what the statists do; they flood the bandwidth with new laws and restrictions and movements to violate rights. The pushback is limited — there are only so many of us who can devote several days, weeks, months, or years of our lives to fighting them. Even when we win one for individual rights, 99 other things have slipped on by because there are literally millions of statists on the government payroll doing little while on the clock, who can slink around and get their agenda fraudulently implemented via backchannels, often in the dark of night.

    If you’re passionate about a reform, don’t wait — start fighting for it and force the statists who want to take everything away from us all to fight multiple fronts instead.

  12. Acro Jules says:

    Wait, the first paragraph says “Innovative Arms.” The second says “Innovative Enterprises.” Which is it?

  13. Ed says:

    In December 2012 Salon.com had an article on suppressors that was so biased that it can be considered unintentionally funny:

    http://www.salon.com/2012/12/30/silencers_the_nras_latest_big_lie/

    While it us uncommon knowledge that many states allow possession of suppressors for those who properly do the paperwork and pay the $200 tax to the U.S. Treasury, there are enough that do not to seriously impede interstate travel with a suppressor:

    http://www.silencersarelegal.com/

    This is another issue that compels you to contact your Representative in Congress and Senators to repeal the NFA and other gun control laws as they violate your Second Amendment rights. You should not need prior written permission from your state and Federal government and pay any fees and taxes before you exercise your rights.

  14. z0phi3l says:

    When will we get a Republican President, no Democrat will ever do this, who will once and for all disband the Democrats illegal GESTAPO? All they do is waste money and illegally harrass legal gun owners, enthusiasts, and manufacturers.

    As an agency their relevancy ended years before Clinton turned them into his secret assassin squad

  15. Dano says:

    The most interesting thing to me, is that a silencer is defined as a “firearm”, both under Title 18 (Gun Control Act firearms) and Title 26 (National Firearms Act firearms) of the U.S Code.

    A firearm? has anyone ever been shot by a silencer?

    • Jag says:

      @Dano

      Maybe if you put a venomous needle in it and blow really hard?

      Who am I kidding, nope.

      As far as I’m concerned, at the very least suppressors, SBRs, and SBSs need to be removed from the NFA laws.