MSLF makes its case in Syracuse v. ATF, which could redefine “firearm” under federal law

Denver, ColoradoFebruary 5, 2021 — It’s simple. Things that aren’t “firearms” cannot be  regulated as “firearms” under the federal Gun Control Act, Mountain States Legal Foundation’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms (CKBA) argued Friday in a amici curiae brief, on behalf of our clients in Syracuse v. ATF.

The case could bring a sea change in how “firearms” are defined and regulated under federal law, potentially sweeping aside Second Amendment protected rights along the way. 

There’s no legal prohibition on constructing a firearm for personal use. And many Americans still do so. The federal government’s longstanding interpretation of the term “firearm” does not include certain “non-firearm objects” that a home gunmaker could fashion into a gun part if he or she has the necessary skills and equipment. These objects vary widely, and within the firearms industry go by various names, including “receiver blanks,” “frame blanks,” “partially-manufactured frames,” “partially-manufactured receivers,” “80% frames,” and “80% receivers.”

The Petitioners in the case, several progressive-run cities and a well-known gun control organization, are trying to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to treat these objects as “firearms,” forcing the ATF to exercise broad authority it lacks under the Gun Control Act. And that would lead to absurd results.

“Millions of ordinary objects and raw materials that Americans use or interact with on a daily basis would be swept in, simply because it would not take “too much time”—for some person, under some set of circumstances—to manufacture those objects into firearms,” CKBA’s brief points out. “Individuals have constructed firearms out of everything from plumbing materials, to a shovel, to 2 x 4 blocks of wood and nails.  The adoption of Petitioners’ proposed definition would essentially require the ATF to regulate numerous objects found at your local Home Depot store, merely because of the time arguably or theoretically involved in construction.”

CKBA’s clients have thus far been denied intervenor status in the case, a decision CKBA is appealing to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals—arguing that excluding CKBA’s clients from the case excludes necessary perspectives and valuable legal arguments no one else will present. CKBA represents private citizens whose ability to build firearms for personal use could be impaired if the case is wrongly decided, a company that produces and sells materials that firearms may be constructed from, and a well-established ally in the gun rights fight, Firearms Policy Coalition.  

“Despite the Court’s recognition that our clients’ substantial interests will be impaired if the Court rules for the Petitioners, it did not allow our clients to join the case as a party,” said Cody J. Wisniewski, Director of Mountain States Legal Foundation’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms. “Regardless, we are filing this brief because the federal government does not adequately represent the interests of the gun community and we have distinct, relevant arguments and experiences the Court should consider.”

Friday’s brief will ensure that the perspectives and legal arguments of CKBA’s clients are considered as the court decides whether to let stand ATF’s current definition of “firearm,” or to force ATF to revisit the issue. 

Follow this link to read the filing.

Follow this link to read the case summary.