Sig and ATF submit final arguments in silencer lawsuit

Is Sig Sauer trying to wiggle around regulation or are regulators ruling on arbitrary and capricious logic? Those are the questions Sig and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives answer in their final motions in a lawsuit over classifying a Sig muzzle device.

On paper, the New Hampshire-based company claimed the item was a muzzle brake, but the ATF classified it as a silencer, which would subject ownership and manufacturing of the item to strict regulations.

Sig filed suit in a New Hampshire federal court April 2014 after contesting the ruling for a year. Although legal arguments quickly plateaued, public interest in the case grew as some gun rights advocates began to see the case as corporate advocacy — an effort to undermine laws regulating silencers.

However, Sig’s attorney, Stephen Halbrook, said the company aims to simply challenge a regulator that “overreaches” how it interprets legal definitions.

Sig’s motion for summary judgement

Sig reiterates its claim that the device is a muzzle brake designed to reduce recoil, and doubles down on rhetoric that favoring ATF’s opinion would cause dire financial straits for Sig and profoundly overextend the agency’s authority.

“An adverse ruling will render the muzzle brake unmarketable, eliminate a product line, and cost jobs and revenue to Sig Sauer,” the company says in court document.

“A ruling upholding ATF’s classification will also create uncertainty within the firearms industry and among law-abiding gun owners, as all muzzle brakes could potentially be regulated as silencers under the rationale articulated by ATF.”

And if the court ruled with the agency, “[ATF’s] reach could sow confusion within the broader manufacturing community, because even non-firearms related dual-use parts, such as lawn mower mufflers, would be subject to regulation because of their adaptability for use as silencer parts.”

Sig alleges the ATF interpreted the legal definition of a silencer too broadly and unfairly applied it and ca to its device. “Several of the features that ATF states are commonly found in silencers are also found in muzzle brakes,” the company says.

“ATF describes the Sig item as a ‘monolithic baffle core’ with ‘expansion chambers, baffles, angled baffles, holes or slots,'” Sig adds. “Because the device has no outer tube, it cannot be said to have “expansion chambers.”

ATF’s motion for summary judgement

The agency wholeheartedly dismisses Sig’s claim that it intended to create a muzzle brake and addresses public policy concerns if forced to reverse its ruling.

“[Sig’s] argument would lead to an absurd result — the removal of silencer parts from the [National Firearms Act] based solely on the maker’s stated intent. This result was not intended by Congress,” the ATF says in its motion.

The agency explains how Sig designed the devices more like a silencer than a muzzle brake. The device, which is 9.5 inches long and welded to 6.5-inch barrel, runs directly above the gun’s hand guard, meaning it will expel propellent gases onto the user’s hand when a shot is fired, whereas a traditional muzzle brake expels gases away from the user, the ATF says.

Sig uses a device identical to the one in focus on its MPX machine gun to boot but in that circumstance the company admits it is a silencer, the agency says.

While the agency acknowledges that the device is not explicitly a silencer, it is a silencer part and it’s ruling still fits within the context of the law because the law includes “combination of parts” and “any part” language.

“If [Sig’s] position prevails, all manufacturers will label a part as something other than a silencer or silencer part and the part will become automatically free from regulation. As a result, contrary to the Congress’ 1986 amendments to the definition of ‘silencer,’ no part will ever be a silencer (especially because as stated above, the part will also very likely reduce recoil).”

The timeline

Both parties have until Feb. 9 to object to the responses and March 9 to reply to the objections. However, no date has been set for the court to issue its judgement.