A Foreign Part On My Rifle?! 922(r) Confusion

AKMS Shock 3DThe US firearm laws and regulations have some confusing bits, but one regulation that seems to almost universally confuse people is
18 U.S.C. § 922(r) defined by 27 CFR 478.39.

Some of our stupider laws center around finding a way to block people from circumventing already stupid laws. Back in 1989, the ATFE banned the importation of semi-auto rifles and shotguns, using the unconstitutional “sporting rifle” test, using a set of criteria based on the cosmetic look of certain firearms. Of course, the question was, “What stops manufacturers from importing parts and building the rifles in the US?”

So the regulation was written to ban the assembly of any rifle that would be identical to a rifle not importable under the “sporting” test if the assembled rifle contained more than 10 foreign-made parts from a list of 20 specific parts.

AKM ULTIMAG 3D MEPROUnfortunately, the regulation is confusing, and most gun owners are completely confused about how it applies to their rifles or shotguns. Here is what you need to know:

1. The regulation does not mandate that a particular number of US parts be used; it LIMITS the number of specific foreign parts that may be used.
The assembly of the rifle cannot include more than ten parts from a specific list. No matter how many US parts you may add, if the rifle has 11 foreign parts from the list, it is not compliant. On the other hand, it can have any number of foreign parts that are not on the list, and the compliance is not affected.

2. The regulation does not apply to ANY part of the firearm, just specific parts.
No part that is not on the list of 20 parts has any impact on compliance.

3. The way the ATFE defines parts on specific rifles can be surprising and unexpected. It can also change.
For instance, what is considered a piston on an AK is not considered the piston on a Saiga shotgun.
The SKS rifle contains both a gas piston and an operating rod. Owners made their SKS rifles compliant by replacing the operating rod with an inexpensive US-made operating rod. Several years back, the ATFE suddenly decided the operating rod was not actually an operating rod (they came up with their own name for it) and everyone had to change the way they brought their rifles into compliance.
From what I understand, the ATFE was very creative in defining the parts in the Tavor to make it as hard as possible for a compliant Tavor to be built.

4. Firearms imported or built prior to 1990 are exempt, as well as certain rifles specifically exempted as collectable.
However, if a rifle that is exempted as collectable is changed (an aftermarket stock added, for example) then the ATFE seems to consider it no longer collectable and identical to a rifle that would be banned from import. At this point, the rifle must be brought into compliance with 922(r)

5. You may replace a foreign part with either a foreign part or a US part without changing the status of the firearm. Before you replace a US part with a foreign part, simply count the applicable foreign parts first.
This is important to know because it is actually usually quite easy to install foreign made parts on a rifle. On current CzechPoint Sa vz.58 and Century VZ-2008 rifles, for example, all furniture is foreign-made, and can be replaced with foreign-made furniture without changing the status. Many AK rifles have foreign buttstocks and handguards, with US-made pistol grips. If you have such an AK, you can replace the buttstock and handguards with foreign-made accessories, but before you replace the pistol grip, you should check the number of foreign parts. You may need to switch out a different part in the rifle in order to install the pistol grip you want.

6. It is important that you check the construction of your own firearm and do not make assumptions concerning compliance.
Many firearms are now built with less than 10 restricted foreign parts, giving you more flexibility in accessorizing your firearm. Others may have certain obviously US-made or foreign-made parts, but may have more foreign-made parts than allowed. This may be due to a previous owner, or may be due to a mistake in manufacturing.

7. The ATFE has stated that the regulation applies to the assembly, not the possession of the firearm.
In other words, if you are in possession of a non-compliant rifle, the ATFE has said that it is not a crime. If you assemble such a rifle, it is.
This is good, since I have been in possession of a number of non-compliant rifles. These were generally customer’s rifles, and since I was doing work on the rifles that would be considered gunsmithing, but would be considered manufacturing if I was performing the same work on a new rifle for resale, I first brought the rifles into compliance before performing the work. Most of these rifle were non-compliant from the manufacturer. I have also purchased a couple rifles that I discovered to be non-compliant when new.

8. The ATFE has stated that they do not consider “constructive possession” when enforcing 922(r) compliance.
This means that if you have a rifle that requires US magazines for compliance, the possession of foreign magazines is not illegal, but they should not be placed in the rifle.

When dealing with 922(r) compliance, first decide on the final configuration you want. Sit down and figure out which parts are foreign-made, and then decide which parts you want to switch out, if necessary, to end up with a compliant rifle in the configuration you want. I use the really great resource at http://thegunwiki.com/Gunwiki/LegalFederal922rParts to quickly determine compliance for any common rifle. Keep in mind that your particular rifle may have fewer than the maximum number of foreign parts, or could have more than the maximum number due to a mistake by the manufacturer or ignorance on the part of a previous owner.

Also, the ATFE has made a lot of conflicting statements about 922(r) compliance, sometimes seeming to indicate it is ok for an end user to use a non-compliant magazine in a rifle that requires a US magazine, and other times being quite clear that it considers this to be the assembly of a non-compliant rifle. I recommend staying on the safe side. Also be careful about taking the advice of others, since there is a lot of misinformation out there. Each gun owner is responsible to know and understand applicable laws and regulations.

Please do not take this post as legal advice or as an authority on the subject. Always check everything against the published laws and regulations.

Here is the list of parts covered by 18 U.S.C. § 922(r):
(1) Frames, receivers, receiver castings, forgings or stampings
(2) Barrels
(3) Barrel extensions
(4) Mounting blocks (trunions)
(5) Muzzle attachments
(6) Bolts
(7) Bolt carriers
(8) Operating rods
(9) Gas pistons
(10) Trigger housings
(11) Triggers
(12) Hammers
(13) Sears
(14) Disconnectors
(15) Buttstocks
(16) Pistol grips
(17) Forearms, handguards
(18) Magazine bodies
(19) Followers
(20) Floorplates
Most semi-auto firearms will have a number of these parts in varying combinations.


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