Leaked BATFE White Paper Shows Senior Admin’s Position on Relaxed Regulations
The ATF’s associate deputy director, Ronald Turk – second in charge only to acting director Thomas Brandon – recently penned an internal white paper which was leaked to several media outlets, including the Washington Post, who published the letter this week.
In the letter, Turk makes a number of proposals, mainly expressing support for reducing firearms regulations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE).
The white paper includes 16 “Points of Discussion,” including expanding licensing of “kitchen table FFLs” without a brick-and-mortar storefront, moving forward with approval for new manufacture of armor piercing ammunition, allowing interstate sales of firearms by FFLs at gun shows, expanding the permitted use of the NICS background check system by FFLS, and providing clarification on several demand letters.
Likely of more interest to many gun owners are several other suggestions that may have a more immediate impact on their firearms collections and uses.
There are many regulatory changes or modifications that can be made by or through ATF that would have an immediate, positive impact on commerce and industry without significantly hindering ATFs mission or adversely affecting public safety. There are also areas where adjustments to policy or processes could improve ATF operations.
– BATFE Associate Deputy Director, Ronald Turk
Re-importation of Certain Department of Defense Surplus Firearms from Foreign Counties
In this section, Turk outlines State Department work in recent years regarding requests for the importation of U.S. origin military firearms, ammunition, and parts that were once sent overseas to support allies. Considering that the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) has been sold out of most grades of M1 Garands since early 2015 and, due to dwindling supplies, prices have climbed to range from $830 to more than $3,000, allowing re-importation of surplus firearms would be a boon to the market.
Allowing this re-importation would likely flood the market with US-origin firearms – including M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, and 1911 pistols – driving the prices down while allowing Americans to own a piece of C&R history.
Turk states that “[t]here is no clear public safety reason why taxpayer-funded US-origin C&R defense articles should be denied re-importation to the American public,” saying that “these items do not represent any discernable (sic) public safety concern.”
The ATF official also pointed out that recent denials for re-importation have been based on their potential for use in criminal activities and that there is “little, if any, evidence for such a concern.”
Revisiting the Firearm Arm or Stabilizing Brace
In this section, Turk discusses pistol arm braces, such as the Sig Sauer brace, noting that the ATF determined that the brace was not a stock, and its attachment to a handgun did not constitute the making of a short-barreled rifle or “any other firearm” under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
In a later letter, the ATF indicated that holding the brace to a shoulder and using it as a stock would constitute a “redesign” that would result in classification as an NFA firearm subject to regulation and taxation. Turk admits that the ATF has never made any other determination “where a shooter’s use alone was deemed be a ‘redesign’ of the product/firearm resulting in an NFA classification” saying that “[t]his ruling has caused confusion and concern among firearm manufacturers, dealers, and consumers about the extent to which unintended use of a product may be a basis for NFA classification.”
To ease this confusion, Turk recommends amending the determination letter to remove the language indicating that simple use of a product for a purpose other than intended by the manufacturer – without additional proof or redesign – may result in re-classification as an NFA weapon.
Here is a big one, especially considering the momentum that the 2017 Hearing Protection Act has gained, and Turk dedicates nearly a full page to this topic, starting by spelling out the current hoops that consumers must jump through to own NFA-regulated silencers – including registration, a $200 tax, and a long wait.
In the white paper, Turk recognizes the fact that legitimate use of silencers to protect hearing and reduce noise throughout the sporting and hunting fields, as well as the fact that 42 of the 50 states currently allow silencers to be used for hunting. He also notes the lengthy backlog and long wait times – which he estimates to currently be around eight months – for silencer purchases that increased interest and use has created.
Turk states that the BATFE is “spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA processing. Despite these efforts, NFA processing times are widely viewed by applicants and the industry as far too long, resulting in numerous complaints to Congress.”
As silencers account for the vast majority of these NFA applications, Turk suggests that the easiest way to reduce the resources dedicated to processing such applications is to reduce the number of silencer applications. “While DOJ and ATF have historically not supported removal of items from the NFA, the change in public acceptance of silencers arguably indicates that the reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated,” says Turk.
He continues, “ATF’s experience with the criminal use of silencers also supports reassessing their inclusion in the NFA. […] Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating NFA classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the GCA.”
This openness to reevaluating the classification of silencers further strengthens our position that now is the time to “strike while the iron is hot” and contact your representatives to support pro-gun legislation such as the Hearing Protection Act, which would remove silencers from the purview of the NFA.
Removing and Revising Obsolete Regulations
In the last section of the white paper, Turk proposes more than two dozen specific sections of firearm and explosive regulations that are currently under review for possible removal and/or revision. The list includes regulations pertaining to “assault weapon” bans, “high capacity” magazines, importation and exportation of certain products, and record keeping requirements.
Turk concludes his white paper by noting that there are numerous regulatory changes that “would have an immediate, positive impact on commerce and industry without significantly hindering ATFs mission or adversely affecting public safety.”
While Turk’s letter may be a shameless attempt at trying to be installed at the head of the bureau (section 15 calls for a confirmed director of BATFE instead of the current “acting director” position) or to ease his organization’s workload , it is refreshing to see anyone in the department urging reduced regulation to benefit the industry and shooting community in favor of increased respect for the natural rights ostensibly protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Turk’s final paragraph also notes that operations at ATF’s Martinsburg facility and other areas have been “severely hampered by outdated technology and systems that negatively impact ATF’s ability to provide services and information.” Anyone who has made use of the ATF’s eForms system knows this to be true. Hopefully these are the seeds of relaxed regulations and, for the regulations which remain, better functionality – perhaps even the promised and long-awaited return of online, electronic Form 4 NFA transfers.