REPLY FROM BATFE CONCERNING BARREL LENGTHS

Is this weapon legal?

Is this weapon legal?

Back in April (2013) I was told by some one who MIGHT have known, that my suppressed .44 magnum hog gun Might have been illegal. This weapon began as a Thompson Contender single shot pistol with a 14″ SS barrel. When I decided to suppress it, the fellow I dealt with told me he would weld a muzzle brake on the barrel to make it 16″+, to be legal for using with a shoulder stock, and fit the suppressor over the brake. Well, he forgot to do that part, which left me the option of requiring him to do the job he contracted to do, getting a short barreled rifle (SBR) permit for the gun, or having the suppressor welded on the barrel. Since I did not want to invest another $200 for another permit that would require another trip to the sheriff for his signature and fingerprints, and another long wait for approval, I told him to weld it on. I really did not need to use the “can” on any other firearm, and have since learned that those with expertise in the suppressor field feel it should be dedicated to one weapon, whether permanently attached or not.

At any rate, a gentleman who owns several suppressors and has some experience with BATFE told me last spring that the original barrel had to be 16″ – not including extensions, so mine would still require an SBR permit. Wanting to be sure, I went to the BATFE website. Not finding an answer there, I looked for a way to ask a question, and found out they will not answer E-mails or phone calls, you must write them an old fashioned letter, which I did. Since they did not answer quickly, I checked with Mike Belim, of Belim Contenders, for his opinion. Mike told me he was almost positive that any permanent barrel extension bringing the total length beyond 16″ was enough to satisfy legal requirements. For a second opinion, he referred me to David White, a custom gun maker from Oklahoma who routinely sells and installs some very attractive barrel extensions for Contenders, usually for folks who have one with a 14″ barrel and either can’t shoot it well in pistol configuration, or who would like a short, handy “rifle” for a youngster, or maybe their wife. 16″ Contender barrels in a desired caliber can be hard to find at times – as I know from experience. David told me he was reading the BATFE regulations as we spoke, and his interpretation was that barrel extensions were good to go. Both he and Mike Belim also stated they did not think a full-blown weld was required, just maybe a bead or two to make sure the device could not be unscrewed by hand.

Although the word of two experts was re-assuring, one never knows when dealing with the “gov’ment”, so I was still hoping for confirmation from the folks who enforce the law. A few days ago, on August 22, I got that confirmation! The letter on BATFE letterhead and signed by Earl Griffith, Chief of the Firearms Technology Branch, informed me that a barrel of less than 16″ in length “would constitute a National Firearms Act firearm (Short-barreled-rifle), and that barrel length is measured from the closed-bolt face of the firearm to the furtherest point of the barrel, not including any removable muzzle device.”

“However, we caution that a permanently attached muzzle device (such as a flash hider, muzzle brake, or lawfully registered silencer) is considered to be part of the barrel for measurement purposes.”

“The following permanent-attachment methods have been approved by ATF:
Gas or electric steel-seam welding.
Blind pinning with the pin head welded over.
High-temperature (1100 degrees Fahrenheit) silver solder.”

BATFE has long been sort of unhappy with firearms that can be converted from rifle to pistol, or pistol to rifle, as though an international assassin would pay any attention to their regulations. Thompson Contender had a long court battle with them – and won, according to T/C – because the federal regulators maintain that if you, as I did, put a shoulder stock on a “pistol” – even one with a 16″ barrel like my T/C .410/.45LC – you have “manufactured” a rifle, and it would be illegal to turn it back into a pistol. Such interpretations of law are fairly ridiculous, but not unexpected.

At any rate, since the “barrel” length of my suppressed .44 mag Contender – including the welded on suppressor – is a bit over 19″, I now have written verification from the gov’ment that it IS legal.

It just took me a bit over 4 months to get it!

Editors Note: For anyone who might need to ask a similar question,The best address to write may be:

U.S. Department Of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Martinsburg, WV 25401-9431

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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