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Add a Pistol-Grip to Your Firearm Become a Destructive Device?

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Sipsey Street Irregulars: This is going to piss off a number of people -- thoroughly and completely. I help Paul Helmke with his next crusade. Try to figure out why.

This is not recent, but it's the first I have come across it.

Here is a portion of the article at the link above. Does this only refer to all firearms or shotguns (with pistol-grips) with NO stock? I'm confused here. Too much legal jargon.

ATF Letter Ruling means that a "pistol grip firearm" is a Destructive Device

In a section entitled "Pistol Grips and Shotguns" on pages 2-3 of its November 2009 FFL Newsletter (click here to read it, ATF stated that "A firearm with a pistol grip in lieu of the shoulder stock is not designed to be fired from the shoulder and, therefore, is not a shotgun." This statement arose from ATF's clarification that "Certain commercially produced firearms do not fall within the definition of shotgun under the GCA even though they utilize a shotgun shell for ammunition. For example, firearms that come with a pistol grip in place of the buttstock are not shotguns as defined by the GCA." The procedures for recording transfers of such firearms were published by ATF (click here to read them), and ATF advises they be described as a "pistol grip firearm."

Regulations involving pistol-gripped shotguns were included in the first regulations implementing the NFA, published in the INTERNAL REVENUE BULLETIN, Cumulative Bulletin XIII-2, July-December 1934, pages 433-440 (click here to read them). In particular, S.T. 772 states: "A so-called shotgun with a pistol grip, which fires a shot shell, falls within the class of 'any other weapon' . . . f such a gun is capable of being concealed on the person." S.T. 779 addresses classification of a firearm that is "a single shot, single trigger, and single hammer gun with a pistol grip, and is chambered for shot loads. It is so compact that it may be strapped over the shoulder, either over or under the coat." S.T. 779 further states that "The test described by the [National Firearms] for determining whether a particular weapon comes within the classification of 'any other weapon' . . . is not the length of the barrel, but whether the weapon is capable of being concealed on the person," and that the foregoing gun met the definition of "any other weapon" under the NFA.

When the Congress amended the NFA under the National Firearms Act of 1968 (also known as Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968), it defined a "destructive device," in part, as "Any weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes." Source: 26 U.S.C, Section 5845(f). "Secretary" refers to the Secretary of the Treasury; however, the Attorney General began performing all functions of the Secretary of the Treasury with respect to firearms after ATF was transferred to the Department of Justice on January 24, 2003.

Until the November 2009 article, and a subsequent ATF Letter Ruling, so-called "pistol-grip shotguns" may have occupied a "gray" area under the GCA and the NFA. In 1960, the Congress amended the NFA to establish a 26" overall length requirement for a rifle or shotgun; a 16" barrel length standard for a rifle; and a $5 transfer tax for all "any other weapon" NFA firearms (click here to read it). Before the 1960 Act, both rifles and shotguns were required to have barrel lengths of 18" (there was no overall length requirement), and AOW transfers were $200. ATF adopted the 26" overall length requirement as a criteria for "concealibility" to uniformly implement the AOW standard. Consequently, since 1968, ATF viewed so-called "pistol-grip shotguns" under the 26" overall length requirement and manufacturers apparently presumed that an 18" barrel length was also required.

In response to a request for clarification of the law, ATF advised a firearms manfacturer in a letter dated July 20, 2010 (click here to read it): " . . . in an effort to achieve consistent application of the law, ATF utilizes 26 inches as the presumptive standard to determine whether a firearm is 'capable of being concealed on the person' [and] "barrel length is considered only to the extent that it constitutes a portion of the overall-length measurement of a firearm." ATF also stated "because the statute does not expressly indicate any overall length, a firearm measuring greater than 26 inches in length may properly be classified as an . . . AOW . . . if it otherwise satisfies the definiton of an AOW and there is evidence that the firearm in question was actually concealed on a person [italics in original."

In a letter dated October 27, 2010, ATF advised the manufacturer that installing a barrel approximately 17" in length in a firearm that was originally manufactured with a pistol grip in place of a shoulder stock, whose overall length is approximately 26-1/4", "is not a 'firearm' as defined by the NFA." (Click here to read it). The letter also states that if the submitted firearm "is concealed on a person, the . . . classification may change."

The foregoing discussion, played out in Federal District Court in a criminal case, might well cause millions of what ATF now terms a "pistol grip firearm" to be reclassified as an "Any Other Weapon" if any such firearms are concealed on a person. Such a reclassification could occur, for example, in a criminal case if a defendant is found guilty of concealing a "pistol grip firearm" on his or her person.

If one takes ATF's most recent correspondence on the issue at face value, it means that concealing a "pistol grip firearm" (regardless of its barrel length) on a person, could legally render it an "Any Other Weapon" subject to the NFA.

There are millions of such "pistol grip firearms" that have been lawfully owned by millions of law-abiding citizens for many years, and they are manufactured by a variety of firearms manufacturers. If these firearms were ruled to be NFA firearms, they would be instantly and involuntarily converted into illegal contraband. Moreover, under current law, there is no legal mechanism to enable their continued legal possession except by (1) registering them as NFA firearms during an amnesty established by the Attorney General, or (2) a change in the NFA law, which must be enacted by the Congress and signed by the President.

ATF has created a potential legal conundrum by clarifying that that certain "pistol grip firearms" are not shotguns, because apart from the "Any Other Weapon" issue just discussed, ATF has not acknowledge the fact that these firearms are most probably classifiable as "Destructive Devices." Again, taken at face value, a "pistol grip firearm" with a bore diameter larger than 1/2" in diameter is a "Destructive Device" under the NFA, unless the Attorney General determines that it is "a shotgun . . . generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes." By determining that a "pistol grip firearm" is not a shotgun, it is difficult to understand how current law would not classify such as firearm as a Destructive Device."

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Mis-interpreted. ATF actually got one right this time. A pistol gripped shotgun with no buttstock (like a Mossberg Cruiser) does not fit the definition of 'shotgun', 'pistol', or 'any other weapon'. So it is in a category by itself as a 'firearm'. Sells on a 4473 just like a pistol. It is NOT a 'Destructive Device'. The interesting thing is that it appears that it is legal to have this with a shorter 14" barrel!!!

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Mis-interpreted. ATF actually got one right this time. A pistol gripped shotgun with no buttstock (like a Mossberg Cruiser) does not fit the definition of 'shotgun', 'pistol', or 'any other weapon'. So it is in a category by itself as a 'firearm'. Sells on a 4473 just like a pistol. It is NOT a 'Destructive Device'. The interesting thing is that it appears that it is legal to have this with a shorter 14" barrel!!!


Here are the ATF letters "legalizing" pistol gripped shotguns with a barrel of less than 18".



The pistol gripped shotgun is still regulated under the GCA but not the NFA and as such only needs to abide by the 26" OAL ruling because there are no other rules governing it because it is not considered a shotgun, rifle or pistol for which there are rules.


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