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.
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.