Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ATF Changes its Stance on Pistol Arm Braces...Sort Of...

ATF Changes its Stance on Pistol Arm Braces...Sort Of...
By: Zach McCormick
April 25, 2017

My favorite firearm blog (The Firearm Blog) published a story on how the ATF  has changed its opinion on what happens when a citizen shoulders a pistol with an arm brace on it. Sort of...

The short version is that nothing has really changed. 

The long version is that, if the article and purported "open letter" are accurate, then "incidental, sporadic or situational use" of a pistol with an arm brace "at or near the shoulder" is not, NOT ok.
If you find yourself re-reading that sentence and rubbing your head you're not alone because the ATF's "opinion" is about as clear as mud.  The reason for the confusion is that the ATF didn't say "all pistol arm braces can be shouldered and its ok".  Instead, this new opinion says that the widely held interpretation of their 2015 opinion (which concluded that shouldering an arm braced pistol "re-configured" the pistol into an NFA regulated item) is "incorrect and inconsistent with the ATF's interpretation...".

The ATF's "clarification" goes on to state that although shouldering a pistol (with the SB Tactical arm brace) may not be itself a re-configuration that requires a tax stamp, certain other "affirmative steps" will place an item under the purview of the NFA. Unfortunately, little specific direction is provided as to what those steps are. Instead the letter states in part the following:

"If however, the shooter/possessor takes affirmative steps to configure the device for use as a shoulder-stock, for example, configuring the brace so as to permanently affix it to the end of a buffer tube, (thereby creating a length that has no other purpose than to facilitate its use as a stock), removing the arm-strap, or otherwise undermining its ability to be used as a brace-and then in fact shoots the firearm from the shoulder using the accessory as a shoulder stock, that person has objectively "redesigned" the firearm for purposes of the NFA".

Unfortunately, no definition of what "permanent" means is given in the letter and that matters because most of the arm braces are no more or less "permanently" attached than a run-of-the-mill rifle stock (i.e. held in via retaining pin, screw  etc...). Further, no direction is provided on what the ATF considers to be the 'magic' length that makes a pistol brace modification unlawful.

The one clear point is that removal of the arm-strap from the SB Tactical brace is a "no-no" in the ATF's view. However, right after that one point of real clarity the letter writer uses the ambiguous catch-all that anything that "otherwise [undermines]" the brace's ability to be a brace is not ok. Though its only "not ok" if the user shoulders AND shoots the firearm.

Again, if your head hurts you are forgiven because this does not make any sense. This is clear when one asks some simple questions. For instance, what is the magic length for an arm brace to be legal? Wouldn't it be ironic if the ATF found a pistol with a lengthy arm brace to be an NFA governed item while simultaneously deeming a rifle of comparable length to fall outside the NFA?

 Further, although this opinion seems to only apply to the SB Tactical arm brace (aka the Sig Arm Brace) not all arm braces have straps. How then would the logic in this opinion apply to similar arm brace devices? If the manufacturer of one device includes straps with the brace but doesn't pre-install them does the item become illegal if the straps are not affixed by the user?

Yet another question arises when one looks at the fact that if a converted arm brace only brace only causes a pistol to become reconfigured IF FIRED FROM THE SHOULDER then it conversely means that a converted but unshouldered device is just fine. It that is true, then we are back to the same "its only illegal if its shouldered" stance that the ATF appears to be trying to distance itself from and round and round we go!

Although this opinion letter was ostensibly designed to 'right a wrong' it seems more likely that the ATF has been trying to figure out what to do with itself after opening the flood gates on arm braces. This letter may have been a reaction to the vagueness and the uncertainty that has pervaded the firearms community with respect to this issue and it may also have been an effort by the ATF to retain its de facto status as law maker in this area. After all, what is the actual  legal weight of an "opinion letter" like this in court?

What authority the ATF's "opinion letters" carry is a nuanced topic and cannot be properly addressed in full within this article. Suffice it to say that the question has not been fully answered in the federal court system and it is just possible that the ATF is ok with that.

In conclusion, if you are interested in remaining outside the "zone of danger" with respect to arm braces on pistols, you can choose not to shoulder them. However, it seems inevitable that a new wave of youtube videos will be hitting the internet featuring people that are letting their shoulders get cozy with pistol mounted arm braces.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Infamous Day

An Infamous Day
By: Zach McCormick
December 7, 2016

Many have seen American flags flying at half-mast today and wondered why. In fact, Old Glory has been brought earthward in remembrance of the Japanese surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accurately asserted that this date was one that would "live in infamy".  On December 11th, 1941, the United States Congress did what it has never done since and issued a formal declaration of war against Germany, Italy and Japan (Axis powers).

The Greatest Generation quickly rallied and young men trooped off to battle in a campaign that would claim nearly a half million American lives. This blood-soaked conflict not only led to the downfall of the Axis powers but exposed to the world the atrocities of their respective regimes. The world experienced a new kind of horror when the unthinkable cruelty of the "National Socialists" (aka NAZIs) was uncovered in the concentration camps and elsewhere.

As with all of history, these events have begun to fade from the collective consciousness.
However, there are profound lessons to be learned from not only the conflict years themselves but in the time leading up to the war itself. In those decades, the seeds of discord were sown in ways that are eerily similar to the conditions today.

In an effort to avoid repeating mistakes of the past let us take a short moment to think about why our flags are flying low and why it is so important that we remember this infamous day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Concealed Carry In Florida Without A Permit During a State of Emergency

Concealed Carry In Florida Without A Permit During a State of Emergency
By: Zach McCormick
Date: October 5, 2016

In 2015, the State of Florida enacted a law that permits Floridians without concealed carry weapons permits to conceal their firearms about their person "while in the act of evacuating during a mandatory evacuation order issued during a state of emergency declared by the Governor pursuant to chapter 252 or declared by a local authority pursuant to chapter 870". This is a common sense measure designed to remove some of the burden that citizens bear while they seek shelter during an emergency. 

It is critical to note that this law truly is an ‘emergency exception’ because it only provides protection to Floridians during a very short 48-hour window and only during the "act of evacuating”. The “act of evacuating” is defined to mean the "immediate and urgent movement of a person away from the evacuation zone within 48 hours after a mandatory evacuation is ordered". (Here is a link to the statute if you would like to read it in its entirety: Florida Statute 790.01). It is fair to say that anyone that makes use of this law must only do so if they are fully aware of all of the parameters that are involved because ignorance will serve as no defense to the unwary.

Additionally, there are some things that are not directly addressed by the law that may be useful to know.

  • Felons and misdemeanor domestic battery convicts still may not possess guns.
  • "Off-limits" still probably means "off-limits" for concealed carry. (Full list of off-limits areas here).
  • Carrying a firearm concealed is by no means a license to unlawfully use it.

One important problem with the law is that it creates something of a contradiction in situations where schools are used as emergency shelters. This is because, generally, schools are on the 'off-limits' list when it comes to where concealed firearms may be lawfully carried. Unfortunately, there is no direction in the statute as to whether, during the state of emergency, such prohibitions are lifted. This means that, however impractical or contrary to the spirit of the statute it may be the safest approach is to leave your firearms some place that is safe and that is off school property while you take refuge inside the school-shelter.

No matter how you choose to exercise your rights, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to act in a mature, and measured fashion during these difficult times. Law enforcement officers as well as other public service officials will undoubtedly be in a heightened state of alert and, given the relatively new nature of this law, could be unaware that it even exists. Therefore, even though Florida citizens generally retain their civil liberties during states of emergency, the interests of safety are well served by placing a high priority on defusing and deescalating tense situations immediately before they become a problem. Whether dealing with a neighbor or a police officer, the appropriate place to remedy any wrongs is the courtroom, not the street.

Off Limits Areas for Concealed Weapon Permit Holders in Florida

Off Limits Areas for Concealed Weapon Permit Holders in Florida
By: Zach McCormick
Date:October 5, 2016

       "Being forewarned is being forearmed" is an old phrase and it essentially means that if you know what challenges are before you that you will be better equipped to deal with those matters if you are aware of them before you encounter them. 

When it comes to legal and responsible firearms ownership and more specifically to lawful concealed weapons carry, it is absolutely critical to know the law. After all, to quote another old saying "ignorance of the law is not a defense".

So here is a simple list of places that the are off limits in the State of Florida for concealed weapons holders.  Per Florida Statute 790.06, section 12(a):

A license issued under this section does not authorize any person to openly carry a handgun or carry a concealed weapon or firearm into:
1. Any place of nuisance as defined in s. 823.05 (generally referring to brothels,      
       gambling houses or places where gang activity occurs)
2. Any police, sheriff, or highway patrol station;
3. Any detention facility, prison, or jail;
4. Any courthouse;
5. Any courtroom, except that nothing in this section would preclude a judge from  
carrying a concealed weapon or determining who will carry a concealed weapon in his or her courtroom;
6. Any polling place;
7. Any meeting of the governing body of a countypublic school
districtmunicipality, or special district;
8. Any meeting of the Legislature or a committee thereof;
9. Any school, college, or professional athletic event not related to firearms;
10.  Any elementary or secondary school facility or administration building;
11.  Any career center;
12.  Any portion of an establishment licensed to dispense alcoholic beverages for
consumption on the premises, which portion of the establishment is primarily devoted to such purpose;
13.  Any college or university facility unless the licensee is a registered student,
employee, or faculty member of such college or university and the weapon is a
stun gun or nonlethal electric weapon or device designed solely for defensive purposes and the weapon does not fire a dart or projectile;
14.  The inside of the passenger terminal and sterile area of any airport, provided that
no person shall be prohibited from carrying any legal firearm into the terminal,
which firearm is encased for shipment for purposes of checking such firearm as
baggage to be lawfully transported on any aircraft; or
15. Any place where the carrying of firearms is prohibited by federal law.

Bear in mind that as to the question of schools, there are some fairly complex rules that relate to the type of school, what relation the permit holder has to the school and the exact location that the permit holder wishes to carry the firearm on the school grounds. There are also some nuances to what constitutes a prohibited area in an establishment that serves alcohol. In other words, this is a list designed to provide an overview. If you use it to avoid all of the places on the list than you can rest easy that you are not in violation of the law on this point at least.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fostech "Echo Trigger" - Legal Full Auto 'Lite'

Fostech "Echo Trigger" - Legal Full Auto 'Lite'
By Zach McCormick
August 4, 2016

The Firearm Blog posted a video from the Military Arms Channel on an AR Trigger that delivers the next best thing to 'full auto' (with no tax stamp required). Manufactured by Fostech Outdoors , the "Echo Trigger" is up for pre-order  at the cost of $479 with estimated product ship dates coming in the "fourth quarter of 2016".

If you are like me and had never heard of these types of triggers till now here is the short of it: The trigger fires when pulled and also fires when the trigger is released. Now "release triggers" have been in use for quite a long time in shotguns but in shotguns they tend only to fire on the release, not the pull as well. Because there is one function of the trigger required to actuate each shot (pull for one shot, release for one shot) this doesn't run afoul of federal law...yet. Unlike a 'bump-fire' type approach to increased rates of fire, this 'double-stroke' trigger allows the firearm to remain stationary while firing and I like that.

Of course, I'm a research hound and as soon as I saw the MAC video posted on TFB, I immediately checked the interwebosphere for more information on the Echo Trigger because it looks like an awesome way to burn through ammo. It reminded me of the Franklin Armory "Binary Trigger System" that I'd seen the guys at MAC review before and I was curious to see if it had any of the quirks that the Franklin Armory trigger apparently exhibited.In fact, I was convinced I would end up buying the Franklin Armory trigger when I first heard about it, but I held off after seeing some footage (link to that video here) in which they (MAC) appeared to have some malfunctions with the test unit. The problems seemed to be that it was possible to 'out run' the trigger thereby requiring a rack of the charging handle periodically. For me at least, this kind of turned me off V1.0 of that product. I'll concede that I've not had the chance to use either trigger group so take this for what it is: (Internet armchair quarterbacking a product that was in its pre-production phase when I saw someone else use it).

However, the guys over on the IV8888 channel seemed to know what I was thinking and noted that there were some really good additional features on the Echo Trigger that seem to address the problems that may have cropped up in other 'pull and release' style AR triggers systems.

The idea of being capable of firing two shots so quickly is promising and Fostech seems to be indicating that they already have a 'green light' from the ATF as far as the whole 'its not a machine gun that would be regulated by the National Firearms Act" thing goes so thats encouraging. Till it gets released I'll keep my fingers crossed and start making room on my credit card.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Firearm Blog Posts an Informative Q&A with the ATF on the effects of 41F and NFA Gun Trusts

The Firearm Blog Posts an Informative Q&A with the ATF on the effects of 41F and NFA Gun Trusts
By: Zach McCormick
July 18, 2016

One of my favorite firearms blogs, (The Firearm Blog) has posted a very informative "Q&A" with an ATF NFA Branch Agent that discusses, among other things, what has changed when it comes to how to use trusts to hold NFA items now that the new "41F" rules have gone into effect.
It is definitely worth a read through if you are considering using a trust to lawfully acquire new NFA property. However, the summary of the article is that basically everyone that is named in a trust who can possess trust property must submit fingerprints and photographs in duplicate and they must provide copies of these documents to their chief law enforcement officer. The definition of who constitutes a chief law enforcement officer now includes the State Attorney's Office as well as the Sheriff or Chief of Police in the locality within which the citizen resides. However, it is important to note that these new rules are so new that the various agencies may be unfamiliar with them at first and it may be a good idea to reach out to an employee of the department that the documents are being sent to before sending them to help prevent misunderstandings.
There is also still some confusion as to who exactly has to submit prints because although the new rules specifically exempt 'beneficiaries' from the photo and printing requirement, the definition of a 'responsible person' essentially includes anyone who has a present interest. This could include a "beneficiary" who can enjoy the benefit of the trust prior the death of the settlor and/or trustee. Based upon the responses given by the ATF agent, the likely answer to this question is that everyone has to give their prints and photos. Unfortunately, this will increase the paperwork requirements for the citizen applicant considerably.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the complexity of using a trust to successfully secure a tax stamp has increased (although the benefits of trust are still very much in existence). Therefore, the need to have a properly executed and compiled trust packet is at an all time high. This sentiment is echoed by the ATF agent interviewed by The Firearm Blog as he mentions that getting the documentation right is essentially the only real way to speed up the process of getting the tax stamp back timely. So pay extra attention to compiling the paperwork or else make sure you have a lawyer that knows what they are doing handle the matter for you.

A small bit of good news for those that have completed their NFA collections already is that no further action has been mandated by the ATF to simply maintain a trust that already has tax stamps and NFA property in it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Did Gun Control Cost Lives in the Orlando Nightclub Shooting?

Did Gun Control Cost Lives in the Orlando Nightclub Shooting?
By: Zach McCormick
On June 12, 2016

Early in the morning on June 12th, 2016 a criminal attacked an Orlando, Florida nightclub and killed more Americans at one time than had ever occurred before in a domestic ‘mass shooting’. As generous Floridians eagerly lined up to give their blood to the injured, President Obama had already used the tragedy to push his gun control agenda in his address to the nation. His comments were darkly ironic given that he made his statements while he and his entire family enjoy the protection of the U.S. Secret Service who carry all manner of firearms including actual assault rifles, submachine guns and much more. No one can blame him or any other official that enjoys such privileges but it is disingenuous to advocate for stripping the American people of the very thing that he derives great benefit from.

The facts of precisely what occurred at the Pulse Nightclub shooting will undoubtedly take a great deal of time to come out and the families of the dead and injured must be allowed to grieve. However, in light of the anti-gun propaganda that has already begun to flow, it is worth analyzing what effects one of Florida’s few forms of gun control may have actually had in this tragedy. Florida Statute 790.06 criminalizes the possession of a firearm by a patron in an establishment, or “portion” of an establishment, wherein alcohol is served for consumption on the premises. As it happens, concealed weapons permit holders are a very law abiding group and most do not carry within such places because of the risk of criminal prosecution.

To be sure, guns and alcohol should not be mixed, however, the law in this case does not make any distinction between a person who is impaired by alcohol and a person who is not. It simply bans the possession by any, non-law enforcement, citizen in the building where the alcohol is served. A paradox is then created because Floridians who wish to abide by the law must disarm themselves thereby putting them at risk of victimization. Yet, if they choose to protect themselves, they may be at risk of breaking the law. This creates the classic ‘Catch-22’ where no good choice exists.

This kind of law also has the effect of creating “gun free zones” which have, time and again, proven themselves to be extremely vulnerable to attack. It is easy to see that the Florida legislature was probably trying to reduce alcohol related firearms violence when it enacted this rule. However, as this latest tragedy demonstrates, criminals do not follow laws. Instead the burden is borne solely by the law abiding who were never a threat in the first place. It is also worth noting that at least four states in the Union have expressly done away with these types of provisions including Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. As of this writing, none of the states in question appear to have devolved into Hollywood style, ‘Wild-West’ anarchy.

As it happened, good guys with guns were the ones that were ultimately responsible for stopping the Orlando shooter and there can be no doubt that being prepared is better than not. Americans should not be stripped of their right to defend themselves simply because they cross invisible legal barriers. Laws already exist that criminalize the illegal use of a gun and Florida’s penalties for such crimes are rightfully severe. The reality is that no one can stop a criminal solely by passing a law. As the world seems to plunge into an increasingly dark period, the last thing we need to do is disarm ourselves.