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Citizen Today, Criminal Tomorrow: Will the ATF Make You a Felon?

Has the ATF gone rogue – or is it just finally fulfilling its true purpose?

The ATF is not, nor has it ever been, a legislative body; it’s a law enforcement agency under the Executive Branch. As such, it shouldn’t be able to create or change laws so that those who are law-abiding citizens today might be dangerously armed criminals tomorrow. Sadly, that’s not how it works, in practice, in the realm of gun control. The agency has been doing exactly that for some time now, from the Honey Badger affair to the bump stock ban to the more recent decision that the previously approved 80% pistol frames from Polymer80 are firearms after all.

So if you own a specific brand of AR pistol, use your pistol brace in the wrong way, own a bump stock, or bought an 80% pistol build kit from Polymer80 without jumping through the FFL hoops, congrats! Your firearm makes you a felon. And if you fall into that last group, watch out. At least one person has reported ATF agents showing up demanding the surrender of the previously legal pistol frame.

From the ‘Office of the President-Elect’

When candidate Joe Biden’s campaign released “Joe Biden’s Plan to End Our Gun Violence Epidemic,” we were told in no uncertain terms what a President Biden’s priorities would be. In what could be far more accurately called “Biden’s War on Guns,” so-called ghost guns are targeted specifically.

Now, contrary to what Team Biden probably wants you to think, home gunsmithing is neither illegal nor some shady under the radar business. Americans have been building their own firearms all along – and the law has always allowed it. All that has changed are the tools and materials needed for the craft.

One of the biggest fears of gun owners since this election cycle began has been that the right to keep and bear arms would come under renewed attack as soon as a Democrat moved into the White House. Unfortunately, we didn’t have to wait. Evidently, the ATF now answers to a different master.

ATF Deputy Director Regina Lombardo revealed during a November 10 conference call that Team Biden had already reached out to her to discover the agency’s “top priorities.” Those priorities are pistol braces and lower receivers, and now it seems the ATF is working hard to get on Biden’s nice list.

Just a month after that call, Polymer80, Inc. was raided by the ATF. Records of sales were obtained. At least one person has reported that the ATF has shown up and demanded the surrender of a pistol that had been purchased – in a perfectly legal manner, at the time – as part of a build kit.

Gun Control by Fiat?

Only elected legislators, acting together, are supposed to be able to modify laws in ways that might attach prison time and the forfeiture of civil and basic human rights to what was otherwise perfectly legal activity. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case in practice when it comes to gun control for a long time.

The National Firearms Act of 1934, in part, defined firearms in legal language. The Gun Control Act of 1968, amongst other things, updated this and required that anyone who engages in the business of building and selling firearms must obtain a federal firearms license (FFL) and apply serial numbers to and pay taxes on those firearms. The law does not, however, require an individual making a gun for his or herself to do this. The ATF has been allowed the authority to define what constitutes a firearm, so long as they do so within the existing federal laws. This has caused numerous problems over the years, but this most recent incident is, perhaps, the best example of how.

The part of a completed gun (or the individual part when building a gun for oneself) that is legally considered a firearm, and thus requires a serial number and a background check, is the lower receiver for long guns and the frame for handguns. Since individuals aren’t prohibited from building their own, many companies now sell what are called 80% receivers and 80% pistol frames. The idea here is that the frame or receiver is almost done, but you, as the end user, must engage in some milling work to render these parts capable of being used as a firearm.

None of these parts are regulated individually as firearms. However, now that they’re bundled up in a kit, the ATF has decided that it somehow does constitute a firearm. This means, of course, that Polymer80, Inc. has been selling firearms in violation of federal law.

More importantly to the individual customer: Anyone who bought this kit, according to the ATF, has done so in violation of federal law.

Because of the extraordinary authority granted to the ATF, all that stands between a law-abiding citizen who owns a firearm and a potential felony conviction that would result in years in prison, a hefty fine, and the loss of the right to keep and bear arms is a single decision by someone at the ATF.

What Is the ATF Really About?

And it isn’t just pistol frames sold in convenient kits. Lower receivers for the AR platform that still require some work are on the rocket docket too, according to Biden’s plan. As are 3-D printed firearms. Essentially, the administration wants to ban home gunsmithing – and the ATF seems more than happy to pitch in.

But is this new? Has the ATF, which at this moment answers to the Trump administration, gone rogue? Nope. This is far from the first time this has happened. There have been many examples just like this, though the one that spawned the most public outcry so far was the Honey Badger.

So why would an agency answerable to a supposedly gun-friendly president – let’s not forget Trump’s bump stock ban of 2018, which essentially did the same thing as what the ATF is doing now – act in this way? The answer is simple: The ATF was never about protecting the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment does that. The existence of the ATF – and the NFA and GCA, for that matter – are in direct conflict with the Second Amendment. They exist only to regulate how we the people keep and bear arms. So no, they haven’t gone rogue – they’re just finally living up to their purpose.


Read more from James Fite.

Read More From James Fite

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