ATF's New "Frame or Receiver" Rule
What You Should Know
-- Part 3 --
This is our final installment of the 3-part Alert covering the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) Final Rule 2021R-05F (the “Final Rule”) overhauling the definition of firearm “frame or receiver” and amending the marking requirements for firearms. The Final Rule was published on April 26, 2022, in Vol. 87 of the Federal Register, pp. 24652-2479, and is scheduled to go into effect in two days, on August 24, 2022.
In the first and second parts to this alert we reviewed the new definitions of “Frame or Receiver” and “Privately Made Firearm.” In this final installment, we examine the new marking and recordkeeping changes under the Final Rule ATF deems necessary to implement the new definitions. The regulatory citations in this Alert are all in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
I. New Marking Requirements
A. Scope of the New Marking Requirements
One of the core elements of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”) is the requirement imposed upon Federal Firearms License (“FFL”) manufacturers and importers to identify each firearm they manufacture or import with a unique serial number on the frame or receiver and any additional information in the manner prescribed by ATF. Historically, ATF regulations specified the serial number as the only marking required on the firearm frame or receiver. The other mandatory identifying information could be placed either on the frame/receiver or on the barrel or, if a pistol, the slide. This information included the firearm model, if designated, the caliber or gauge, the name and location (city and state) of the FFL manufacturer and, if applicable, the FFL importer, and the name and country of the foreign manufacturer, if applicable. These markings enable law enforcement to identify and trace firearms used in criminal activities through licensee records because the GCA and ATF regulations require each licensee to enter every firearm acquired and dispositioned using the identifying markings on the firearm.
The Final Rule revises ATF’s marking requirements in parts 478 and 479 to specify the frame or receiver be marked with not just the serial number but also the name of the FFL manufacturer or importer and the city and state of their place of business. The model, caliber or gauge, foreign manufacturer and country of manufacture may continue to be placed on the frame or receiver or the barrel or pistol slide.
However, the new marking requirements described in the Final Rule will apply only to frames or receivers with a “new design” manufactured on or after August 24, 2022. A “new design” means the design of the existing frame or receiver has been functionally modified or altered. A “new design” does not result from “a cosmetic process that adds to or changes decoration of the frame or receiver, such as painting or engraving. Also, adding or replacing stocks, barrels, or accessories to the frame or receiver is not considered a “new design.” See 87 FR 24743 (new §§ 478.92(a)(4)(v) and 479.102(b)(5)).
ATF has explained that almost all firearms classified before issuance of the Final Rule are grandfathered and may continue to be marked in the same manner as before the effective date. In other words, manufacturers will be able “to mark the same information on the same component defined as a “frame or receiver” as they did before the effective date of the rule, which includes the specific component of a weapon or device (and variants thereof) that ATF classified as the frame or receiver before the rule becomes effective.” 87 FR 24709. But note, this exception does not apply to Privately Made Firearms, the marking requirements for which we detail in Part 2 of this Alert series.
As for newly designed frames or receivers manufactured after August 22, 2024, the new marking requirements are described below.
B. New Frame/Receiver Markings - General
The Final Rule creates two alternative options for the frame/receiver markings, to be set forth in new §§ 478.92(a)(1)(i) and 479.102(a)(1):
Serial number plus the written-out name of the FFL manufacturer or importer and city/state of their business; OR
The FFL name plus the abbreviated FFL number (first three and last five digits of the license, no dashes) followed by a hyphen and the unique serial number assigned to the firearm. If using this option, this numbering scheme must be a print size of at least 1/16 inch. See new §§ 478.92(a)(1)(v) and 479.102(a)(5).
Important Notes on Manufacturer or Importer Name Markings: The FFL name markings on the frame must mirror exactly what is listed on the license, including corporate designations such as Inc. or LLC. To mark a firearm with an abbreviation or an acronym of the manufacturer or importer name, the licensee must add the abbreviation or acronym to its FFL as a trade name. This is done by the license holder submitting a request to the ATF Federal Firearms Licensing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
In the Final Rule, ATF explains the reason for requiring all this information on the frame or receiver is that the associated licensee information, when marked on the slide or barrel as currently allowed, can be separated from the serialized frame or receiver in limited circumstances, rendering the firearm untraceable. A unique identification number, or traditional serial number, on the frame or receiver alone may not be sufficient because ATF may not know which licensee produced the firearm or the location where the traceable records are located. Manufacturers may, however, seek a marking variance from the Director if they find it difficult to transition to these marking requirements for new frame or receiver designs.
The Final Rule also adds a new definition for “importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number” to §478.11. The term includes the serial number and the full or abbreviated license number or licensee name, and location information placed on a frame or receiver. This new definition will ensure such markings are protected under 18 U.S.C. 922(k) and state laws, which prohibit possession of firearms with serial numbers that have been removed, obliterated, or altered.
C. Multi-Piece Frames and Receivers
The marking requirements for a “muti-piece frame or receiver” (new design) will be set forth in §§ 478.92(a)(1)(iii) and 479.102(a)(3). According to ATF, the Final Rule clarifies for licensees which portion of a multi-piece frame or receiver must be marked with the required markings. “These clarifications with respect to the markings of a multi-piece frame or receiver are necessary for the final rule; otherwise, multi-piece frames or receivers could be sold or distributed piecemeal in individual subparts and replaced by the end user without any traceable marks of identification.” 87 FR 24672.
The Final Rule requires the licensed manufacturer or importer mark each subpart of a multi-piece frame or receiver with the same serial number and associated licensee information so that the frame or receiver, once complete (assembled or unassembled), can be traced. The serial number identified on each subpart must be the same number so that the complete frame or receiver does not have a serial number duplicated on any other firearm produced by the manufacturer. Once the modular subparts are aggregated as a complete multi-piece frame or receiver, a modular subpart identified with the serial number cannot be removed and replaced unless the destruction procedure set forth in this rule is followed. See 87 FR 24705.
The term “multi-piece frame or receiver” is defined in new § 478.12 “frame or receiver”.
D. Firearm Mufflers or Silencers
The Final Rule will not significantly change they way industry currently marks firearm mufflers or silencers (for ease, we use the term “silencer” in this alert). Pursuant to the new § 478.12(b), the silencer frame or receiver is the part that provides housing or a structure for the primary internal component designed to reduce the sound of a projectile (i.e., baffles, baffling material, expansion chamber, or equivalent). In most cases, this will be the outer tube.
The Final Rule codifies an allowance (see NFA Handbook, ATF ePublication 5320.8, sec. 7.4.6, p.46, sec. 9.5.1, p. 60) for a qualified manufacturer (possessing both a manufacturer’s FFL and Special (Occupational) Tax pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 5801) to transfer a silencer part to another qualified manufacturer for purposes of further manufacture, assembly, or repair of complete devices. See 87 FR 24743 (new § 478.92(a)(4)(iv)(A)). ATF explains the Final Rule does not require firearm muffler or silencer parts that are transferred for further manufacture or repair to be “actively” in the manufacturing or repair process if those parts are being transferred for those purposes. 87 FR 24729. It is important to note that under new § 478.92(a)(4)(iv)(B), the term “repair” does not include replacement of the outer tube. This is because the outer tube is now defined as the frame or receiver and ATF considers replacement of a serialized outer tube to be a significant manufacturing activity that it results in the manufacture of a new silencer, which must be notified to ATF on a Form 2 in accordance with § 479.102.
E. Time Period for Marking
The Final Rule specifies the time period in which a complete weapon or a complete muffler or silencer device, or the frame or receiver of a weapon or device (including a modular subpart of a multi-piece frame or receiver), must be marked with a serial number and other identifying information and recorded. Non-NFA firearms must be marked within seven days following the date the entire manufacturing process has ended for the weapon, of for the frame or receiver if the latter is disposed of separately, or prior to disposition, whichever is sooner. See new § 478.92(a)(1)(iv)(A). Weapons and parts defined as ‘‘firearms’’ under the NFA must be marked by close of the next business day. See new §§ 478.92(a)(1)(iv)(B) and 479.102(a)(6). These time periods are consistent with the recordkeeping requirements.
F. Adoption of Existing Markings
In response to comments, the final rule permits licensed manufacturers and importers to adopt existing markings previously placed on a firearm without a variance from ATF in certain circumstances. These circumstances are specified in Parts 478 and 479 and include:
- Newly manufactured firearms (§§ 478.92(a)(4)(iii)(A) and 479.102(b)(3)(i));
- Remanufactured or imported firearms (§§ 478.92(a)(4)(iii)(B) and 479.102(b)(3)(ii));
- Manufacturers performing gunsmithing services (§§ 478.92(a)(4)(iii)(C) and 479.102(b)(3)(iii)); and
Privately made firearms marked by non-licensees (non-NFA only, see § 478.92(a)(4)(iii)(D).
II. New Recordkeeping Requirements
The most significant change to the recordkeeping requirements is a new requirement for licensees to consolidate their records of firearms manufacture or acquisition with records of disposition, and to eliminate duplicate recordkeeping entries. To be clear, persons (including corporate entities) who are licensed as both a manufacturer and an importer must continue to maintain separate records for business conducted under the respective manufacturer or importer FFL, as detailed § 478.122 (required records for importers) and § 478.123 (required records for manufacturers).
Prior to the Final Rule, both these sections included a requirement for a licensed importer or a licensed manufacturer, respectively, to maintain separate records of their sales or other dispositions of firearms to non-licensees (old §§ 478.122(d) and 478.123(d)). However, in recent years ATF issued rulings to allow licensed importers and manufacturers to consolidate their records of acquisition with their separate disposition records. See ATF Rul. 2011-1 (authorizing licensed importers to consolidate their records of importation or other acquisition of firearms and their separate firearms disposition records, provided all stated requirements are met) and ATF Rul. 2016-3 (authorizing licensed manufacturers to consolidate their records of manufacture or other acquisition of firearms with their separate firearms disposition records, provided all stated conditions are met). By making this consolidation a requirement, the Final Rule supersedes ATF Rul. 2011-1 and 2016-3.
The Final Rule also implements clarifying technical changes to the format and column titles for the required acquisition and disposition (“A&D”) records, as detailed in tables in §§ 478.122, 478.123, and 478.125(e). These changes make clear that both the name and license number (not the address) of a licensee from whom firearms are received and to whom they are disposed are recorded properly in the A&D Record. The revised table columns for the A&D records are detailed in the Final Rule, 87 FR 24744 (manufacturers and importers) and 87 FR 24745 (dealers). The revisions for licensed collectors A&D records are at 87 FR 24746.
III. Closing Thoughts
Today, ATF published corrections to the Final Rule in 87 FR 51249. These corrections all appear to be minor and due to the significance and complexity of the Final Rule, people should anticipate additional corrections as time passes and ATF continues to receive comments or questions from industry pertaining to real-time operations under the new definitions.
This brings us to the end of the series, but have no fear, this will not be the last alert we write on the new definitions of “frame or receiver.” For now, I need the rest.