By John Brown

Many of you have seen the recent references and rumors about the NFATCA and major industry representatives working with ATF to reach an agreement on the definition of small arms ammunition. If you have not, then you should know that there is a move to clearly define the term "Small Arms Ammunition." All of this was brought on by the fact that ATF has never really put a clear definition of the terms in any rulings. In the interest of public safety it would better serve everyone if there were some clarity to the subject and definition to the terms. Most everyone has stayed away from this issue simply because of the complexity of a seemingly simple definition.
This activity originally started in 2009 when a letter was sent out by ATF to clarify this subject. The letter was written under the auspices of the Safe Explosives Act and was intended to begin the process of defining small arms ammunition. That letter was actually rescinded when ATF realized that it may prompt an unusual number of people to apply for explosive permits and furthermore allow these same personnel to engage in the explosives industry, endangering their own safety. Since this was not the intent of the opinion letter, ATF wanted to invite the industry into further discussions to help better define the process of defining what small arms ammunition really is and to draw a line in the regulations on what ammunition could really be deemed an explosive and further define what weapons might be considered destructive devices. Hence this initiative became a major topic of discussion in both ATF and the industry.

This undertaking required the expertise of many industry personnel and especially experts from ATF's Explosives and Firearms Technology Branches. The objective: define Small Arms Ammunition and all of the nuances associated with the repercussions of such a decision. To say this is a major undertaking is an understatement. Careful examination of this subject crosses the lines of gun regulations and explosives laws at every angle. Because of the complexity of the issues, the NFATCA enrolled the help of the National Rifle Association, The National Shooting Sports Foundation, The Safari Club International and experts from SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute) to work with ATF in defining the issues and specifics of everything that has a bearing on creating not only a clear definition but the side effects of such a ruling. In developing industry representation for such a major undertaking, additional explosive and ammunition experts have been collected from all over the country to work collaboratively with the NFATCA to fairly represent the concerns of the entire industry.

There are so many facets of this process it is almost scary to consider that no matter what direction the mission takes the world as we know it will change. The simple process of buying, even as a collector, certain types of live ammunition will change. This is also complicated by the fact that there are so many large caliber ammunition rounds that are not controlled that the language for this process will affect the industry in one fashion or another.
If, for example, an opinion letter were to be written that declares that all ammunition above .50 caliber would be considered an explosive, well, let your mind do the rest of the work. Not only does that round become an explosive but the mere possession would require having an explosive license and an approved magazine for safe storage of the ammunition. That combined with the fact that your magazine must now have a mandatory inspection by an ATF Explosives expert every three years would throw a very large wrench into the way we know ammunition today. Once again, let your mind wonder for a moment and see where you end up. Are those cases of 40mm practice ammo, powered by a .38 blank now going to be considered an explosive? Is that .600 Nitro or your grandfathers 4 Bore now going to be considered an explosive? Do powder types and amounts play into the picture? If I am a collector of cartridges of all kinds what will be the requirements under this new scenario? The list of questions goes on and on and the answers are scattered among the many facets of defining small arms ammunition.

So how do we understand this problem? The answer is simply bringing together any and all experts in this field that can add value to what is decided. Thus, the NFATCA has taken the lead and gathered as many of these experts as possible and is meeting in joint sessions with ATF to reach a satisfactory resolution to the problem. In the interest of all concerned this team of experts has one mission in mind, "Work collaboratively with the right experts within ATF and the Industry to develop a ruling that will be in the best interests of public safety."

As with many of the issues that have been tendered with ATF during the last seven years, we know today that we won't always agree with everything and we don't always get everything that we want, but once again we have been allowed to sit at the table and participate in this ever important ruling process. The mission of these and many other meetings are to form a "Team" that works together in an effort to satisfy the requirements of both interests. That is exactly what is happening today and in the future with these efforts.
This issue, its consequences, and the outcome will have a major impact on virtually all facets of not only the NFA but the regular owners of firearms nationwide. We will gladly keep you posted on the details as this team works diligently to collaborate with ATF on such an important issue. If you have thoughts, comments or concerns, please come join us at www.nfatca.org and give us your input. The NFATCA is diligently watching over your NFA rights and fighting to protect them.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V14N6 (March 2011)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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