B.L.U.F.: The Gun Control Act of 1968 doesn’t define “readily”. It doesn’t prohibit converting to a frame or receiver, does not prohibit possession of machine gun parts. Readily converted is very dependent on equipment, skill and knowledge.
After posting this article I continued my research and stumbled onto the source of the current definition of readily as ATF published it. A few years ago there was a court case. In the court case the judge was asked to if something was “readily converted”. The judge, in their opinion, listed the criteria they used to make that determination. The judge then made the determination.
The ATF copied the language of the opinion on what the criteria the judge used. This is not a definition. This is just how to make a decision. As currently written, the ATF can say “we used the criteria and have determined that this is readily converted.”
Stil, the language of the GCA of 1968 as amendment says that the only thing the ATF can say is if something is or is not a frame or receiver. Readily doesn’t enter into that equation at all.
In 1968 then President L.B. Johnson signed into law the Gun Control Act of 1968. This was the first law that significantly intruded into the rights guaranteed under the second amendment.
Prior to this time the worse that had happened was that people had to pay an extra $200 for NFA items. For a long time after the 1934 NFA being caught with a NFA item meant you had to register and pay the stamp tax, nothing more.
The GCA of 1968 gave us
- Only FFLs could import, manufacture or deal in firearms or ammunition.
- Only FFLs could purchase or obtain firearms out of their state of residence
- Only FFLs could transport destructive devices, machine-guns, SBS or SBR across state lines without permission
- To give false identification in purchasing or acquiring a firearm
- For FFLs to sell firearms or ammunition to people less than eighteen years of age
- For FFLs to sell anything but shotguns or rifles and shotgun and rifle ammunition to people less than 21 years of age
- Gave state laws the ability to limit who an FFL sold to
- Require government permission to transfer NFA items
- Require the FFL to keep a record of who they sell firearms and ammunition to
- Defined what a prohibited person was:
- A person under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
- is a fugitive from justice
- is an unlawful user of or addicted to marihuana or any depressant or stimulant drug (as defined in section 201(v) of the Federal Food, Durg, and Cosmetic Act) or narcotic drug (as defined in section 4731(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954)
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.
Note that the spelling of “marijuana” is from the actual GCA, not an AWA typo.
- It is ship firearms or ammunitions without telling the shipper it is a firearm or ammunition, in writing
- It is unlawful for a shipper to deliver firearms or ammunition to a prohibited person
- It is unlawful to move a firearm across state lines where the serial number has been removed, obliterated, or altered
- It is unlawful for an FFL to make a false statement in there their records
In addition, the GCA of 1968 defined what all the “important” terms mean.
(b) Machinegun. — The term ‘machinegun’ means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any combination of parts designed and intended to use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person
In 1968 there was nothing about “readily converted” to a machine gun, it was “readily restored”. Which means that having an AR-15 lower receiver with M-16/4 parts in it except for the auto-sear is NOT a machine gun by this definition. The receiver would have to be a machine gun receiver. Which in the AR world means the fourth hole.
Nothing in this talks about readily converted to a machine gun. It is all about readily restored to shoot.
Section 921 creates definitions for non NFA items:
- As used in this chapter–
- The term ‘person’ and the term ‘whoever’ include any individual, corporation, company, association, firm, partnership, society, or joint stock company
- The term ‘interstate or foreign commerce’ includes commerce between any place in a State and any place outside of that State, or within any possession of the United States (not including the Canal Zone) or the District of Columbia, but such term does not include commerce between places within the same Sate but through any place outside of that State. The term ‘State’ includes the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the possessions of the United States (no including the Canal Zone)
- The term ‘firearm’ means
- any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive
- the frame or receiver of any such weapon
- any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or
- any destructive device.
Such term does not include an antique firearm.
- The term destructive device’ means —
- any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas —
- rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces
- missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce
- mine, or
- device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses
- any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and
- Any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
The term ‘destructive device’ shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684(2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Secretary of the Treasury finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting purposes.
- any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas —
- The term ‘shotgun’ means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.
- The term ‘short-barreled shotgun’ means a shotgun having one or more barrels less than eighteen inches in length and any weapon made from a shotgun (whether by alteration, modification or otherwise) if such weapon is modified has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.
- The term ‘rifle’ means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger
- The term ‘short-barreled rifle’ means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.
- The term ‘importer’ means …
- The term ‘manufacturer’ means any person engaged in the manufacture of firearms or ammunition for purposes of sale or distribution; the term ‘licensed manufacturer’ means any such person licensed under the provisions of this chapter
(That was transcribed from the GCA of 1968. Parts were left out as they are not of interest to us. Parts have been modified since the bill was originally signed into law)
Nowhere in the bill do they define what the term “frame or receiver” means nor do they define what the term “readily” means.
Because congress did not define what a frame or receiver was, the Secretary of the Treasury (ATF) is required to publish that definition.
Firearm: Any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or any destructive device; but the term shall not include an antique firearm. In the case of a licensed collector, the term shall mean only curios and relics. The term shall include a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. The term shall not include a weapon, including a weapon parts kit, in which the frame or receiver of such weapon is destroyed as described in the definition “frame or receiver”.
— 27 CFR 478.11 “Firearm”
Note that this definition of firearm does not match the language of the GCA of 1968. It includes “weapon parts kit”.
Frame or receiver: The term “frame or receiver” shall have the same meaning as in § 478.12.
— 27 CFR 478.11 “Frame or receiver”
This is the current version, hear is the version as of 4/26/2022:
Firearm frame or receiver. That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.
— 27 CFR 478.11 “Firearm frame or receiver” as of 4/26/2022
As of 4/26/2022 there are 37 references to the word “readily” but no definition given.
As of 12/28/2022 there are 50 references and they do define “readily”
Readily. A process, action, or physical state that is fairly or reasonably efficient, quick, and easy, but not necessarily the most efficient, speediest, or easiest process, action, or physical state. With respect to the classification of firearms, factors relevant in making this determination include the following:
- Time, i.e., how long it takes to finish the process;
- Ease, i.e., how difficult it is to do so;
- Expertise, i.e., what knowledge and skills are required;
- Equipment, i.e., what tools are required;
- Parts availability, i.e., whether additional parts are required, and how easily they can be obtained;
- Expense, i.e., how much it costs;
- Scope, i.e., the extent to which the subject of the process must be changed to finish it; and
- Feasibility, i.e., whether the process would damage or destroy the subject of the process, or cause it to malfunction.
Of course they left all the important parts out. With a manual mill with a DRO it takes me about 5 hours to go from an 80% lower to a functional receiver. If I was doing more, I would create some jigs and I would be able to do it in about 2 hours. Is that readily?
Easy is a relative term. Giving birth is “easy” but I don’t want to go through it nor does my wife want to go through it again. For me, it is “easy” to do the work, for others it isn’t.
Expertise: It is very easy to make mistakes while doing the conversion with a mill. It takes knowledge of what you are doing. With a jig system, it might not take as much skill. It still is not simple.
Equipment: You can buy a mill big enough to do a conversion for around $1000 US. You can not rent or borrow or use somebody else’s mill. You can also invest dollars for jigs, router, drill press and such, still not “cheap”.
Availability is a bogus term. I know the URL of a site where I can purchase a complete select fire fire-control parts kit for an M4/M16. It is as easy as typing in my address and credit card to get that part. Same with 80% lowers and all the other parts. This is just an always unless there is panic buying.
Expense: I remember seeing people bang shovels into AK-47 receivers. Was that readily? It was certainly cheap in cost.
Scope is another “in the eye of the beholder”. I consider the scope of turning an 80% lower into a fully receiver to be much larger than the scope of turning an 80% plastic fantastic into a functional frame. That could be because I’ve not done it.
Feasibility: I’ve got one lower that has a bad trigger slot. I messed up. It still works. On the other hand, I could have miss drilled a single pin hole and totally destroyed me receiver. A friend of mine has a paper weight that looks like an AR15 lower but isn’t and never will be.
Today, every such “failure” is upwards of $100.
All of this is to say that readily is really really in the eye of the beholder. If I had a full CNC machine with tool changer it might very well be that turning an 80% lower into a functional receiver is as simple as pushing the button and waiting for the result popping out 30 minutes later. It might be that doing the same thing to a raw casting takes about the same amount of effort and time. Disregarding all of the setup time and CNC programming time.
At this point, I believe that the entire GCA is going to go away in the next 10 years.