The 90-day public comment period on a far-reaching proposal to change the definition of a "frame" or "receiver" under federal law is set to close on Aug. 19.

The rulemaking, posted to the Federal Register by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on May 20, 2021, as of Wednesday had 240,037 formal comments listed. Until recently, most remarks have been overwhelmingly against the proposal, with previously reporting earlier in the month that just 105,000 public comments were listed.

It should be noted that the past two weeks anti-gun groups such as Everytown and Giffords have been pushing traffic to the site with a simple two-click interface to log comments to the Federal Register. 

Social media posts on ATF comment period
Anti-gun groups have been trying hard to make the rule change about stopping "dangerous ghost guns," using verbiage coined by such organizations for so-called 80-percent lowers and frame kits.  




Ghosts? It's Bigger Than That

The rule, however, goes far past gun control talking points on poltergeists and specters in making substantial changes.

The proposal is so Byzantine that the common gun owner or hobbyist gunmaker who crafts or upgrades their own firearms for personal use may be hard-pressed to comply fully. It could absurdly make an 80-percent lower or frame the same sort of serialized item that is reserved for a complete AR-10/15-style lower or Glock-style frame. It could also extend this requirement to bolt carrier groups and upper receiver groups. As an AR owner may just have one serialized lower, but several BCGs and uppers due to the modularity of the design, this would leave tens of millions of instances with non-compliant parts floating around in circulation – as well as closing the valve on future supplies without paying transfer fees at an FFL.  

The need to fundamentally change the definition of a firearm receiver that's already been defined in law for 53 years itself is questionable. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was written at a time that Eugene Stoner's AR-10 and AR-15 system had already been in widespread factory production around the world and, in the case of the latter, had been adopted by the U.S. military as a standard infantry rifle, making split upper and lower receivers hardly a strange, or ephemeral concept. Split receivers are now arguably in common use, with tens of millions produced in the past several decades. 

The rulemaking is big on tracing, using the word repeatedly over and over in its justification. However, it says nothing about serializing individual barrels or bolts which, as any casual user of popular television police procedural dramas can point out, is what make/leave the tool marks for ballistic fingerprinting. As most criminals do not obtain their guns legally, the increase in serialization may not translate to curbing gun crime. 

nationwide survey of 1.37 million inmates at the state and federal level, conducted in 2016, found that about a third said they possessed or carried a firearm while committing their crime. Of those 256,400 prisoners, some 43 percent, said they obtained their guns from illicit “street” sources such as other criminals, often by bartering stolen goods or drugs. The next leading source, about 25 percent, came as gifts or purchases from friends or family members. About 6 percent were able to receive their guns through theft.

Further, some argue the ATF is reaching too far in trying to push such a sweeping change administratively, holding that, if such a broad change is needed, it should be done by Congress. As pointed out by the four-page letter of Aug. 10, 2021, led by Congressmen Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan of the House Judiciary Committee to Marvin Richardson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the proposed new rule concerning the definition of a "frame" or "receiver" under federal law "is deeply flawed, beyond the scope of ATF’s authority, contrary to years of previous ATF opinions, and harmful to millions of law-abiding American firearm owners."


Below are ATF’s instructions for submitting comments:

You may submit comments, identified by docket number ATF 2021R-05, by any of the following methods—

Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
Mail: Andrew Lange, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Ave. NE, Mail Stop 6N-518, Washington, DC 20226; ATTN: ATF 2021R-05.
Fax: (202) 648-9741.

Instructions: All submissions received must include the agency name and docket number (ATF 2021R-05) for this notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM” or “proposed rule”). All properly completed comments received will be posted without change to the Federal eRulemaking portal,, including any personal information provided.

The NRA notes that, when making a comment, "Please be sure to stay professional, explain the arbitrary nature of these rule changes, and make your comments personalized so that the ATF knows how you, as an American gun owner, are impacted."

revolver barrel loading graphic