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ATF war on EP Armory illustrates arbitrary inanity of gun regulation

Too bad those who presume to be our 'leaders' lack the large brain
Too bad those who presume to be our 'leaders' lack the large brain
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) raided EP Armory, a California manufacturer of "80% complete" AR-15 receivers, back in March. They also raided Ares Armor, a retailer who carries EP Armory's products, to confiscate not only their inventory of EP Armory polymer 80% receivers, but also the names of customers who had bought them. Since then, National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea has provided extensive coverage of the ensuing legal wrangling, complete with dueling court orders. Seattle Gun Rights Examiner Dave Workman has also been following the legal back and forth, and notes that even Congress has gotten involved.

There is clearly, then, a lot to keep an eye on in this case. Today, though, we will take a narrow look at just one peculiar aspect of the fight. EP Armory makes 80% complete receivers out of the more traditional aluminum, too, but the BATFE has shown no interest in those. The focus has been completely on the polymer receiver blanks, and the entire dispute appears to be centered on how the incomplete receivers are manufactured.

EP Armory's major innovation in their polymer receiver blanks is that the portions that need to be drilled or milled away in order to complete the receiver so it can be used in a functional firearm are a different color from the portions that need to be left behind to form the frame of the receiver. Because of this, an aspiring builder can finish the receivers without using a template, and with only very simple tools--little more than a drill and a Dremel tool, in under an hour, as illustrated in this YouTube video.

The BATFE's objection to this does not appear to be that it has made it "too easy" to complete the receiver, although judging by the Bureau's bizarre contention that merely providing tools and hands-on instruction in the process of completing a receiver requires a Federal Firearms License, and presumably a background check on the person being assisted in completing the receiver, we can't entirely rule out the possibility that at some point they will decide that a "too easily" completed 80% receiver is actually, legally speaking, a full firearm, thus subject to all the legal restrictions imposed on gun commerce.

For now, though, what they have fixated on is EP Armory's manufacturing process. Specifically, they seem to be under the impression (or are at least claiming to be under the impression) that EP Armory first casts the frame of the receiver--the part that the builder will keep, and which becomes the lower receiver of the firearm, and then adds the differently colored plastic in the cavity of the receiver, and plugging the holes that will then have to be drilled out for the pins used in assembling the gun.

If this were true, then technically speaking, the receiver would have been a complete receiver for a brief time, and by law, once a receiver is completed, it cannot, legally speaking, ever revert back to "80%" status. It is, from then on, a firearm in the eyes of the law.

The problem for the BATFE is that the receivers are apparently not made that way. According to Ares Armor's restraining order complaint, EP Armory anticipated this objection, and designed the manufacturing process specifically to address it:

The BATFE has raided EP Armory based on incorrect information about EP Armory's manufacturing process. The determination letter written by the BATFE incorrectly classified the EP Armory product as a firearm based on faulty information. The BATFE was under the impression that EP Armory was making a firearm and then reverting back to the 80% stage by filling in the fire-control cavity. At no point during the manufacturing process by EP Armory is a weapon made and then reverted. The solid fire-control cavity is built first and the rest of the 80% casting is made around this "core" specifically so that their product at no time could be considered to be a firearm.

If that is true, it would seem that the BATFE has no case.

But on a more fundamental level, why should it matter? Whether the frame is made first, and then filled in with plastic of another color, that will then have to be removed; or the to-be-removed portion is made first, and the frame formed around it--the aspiring builder gets the same thing, and has to do the same amount of work, either way. Selling a receiver made as outlined in the first example, though, without observing all the legal niceties required for gun commerce, would be a federal felony, while selling receivers manufactured by the second described technique, without any controls at all, is completely legal. How is the first scenario any more "harmful" than the second?

On the still more fundamental level, of course, that any such restrictions exist on even complete firearms makes a mockery of shall not be infringed. Still, even if we the people lack the will to hold the government--our servants--accountable to the Constitution, can't we at least require that the edicts they presume to impose on us make some kind of logical sense?

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