United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Sig Sauer, Inc.
B. Todd Jones, Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Sig Sauer, Inc., Plaintiff: Stephen P. Halbrook, LEAD
ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Hallbrook Law Office, Fairfax, VA;
Kenton James Villano, Mark C. Rouvalis, McLane Graf Raulerson
& Middleton PA (Manchester), Manchester, NH.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives,
Director, other, B. Todd Jones, Defendant: T. David Plourde,
U.S. Attorney's Office (NH), Concord, NH; William Ryan,
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives, Office of
Chief Counsel, Martinsburg, WV.
Barbadoro, United States District Judge.
National Firearms Act (" NFA" ) imposes strict
registration requirements and a special tax on anyone who
makes, sells, or possesses certain dangerous weapons such as
machine guns, short-barreled rifles and silencers. 26 U.S.C.
§ § 5801-72. Sig Sauer, Inc. plans to produce and
sell a rifle with a silencer component known as a "
monolithic baffle core" that is permanently affixed to
the barrel of the rifle. It contends that the baffle core is
exempt from registration under the NFA because it does not
meet the statutory definition of a silencer. The Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (" ATF" ) rejected
Sig Sauer's argument in an informal adjudicatory
proceeding and instead concluded that the baffle core should
be treated as a silencer under the NFA. 18 U.S.C. §
921(a)(24). The issue this case presents is whether the
AFT's determination was " arbitrary, capricious, an
abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance of
law" under the Administrative Procedure Act ("
APA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A).
applies to " particularly dangerous weapons,"
United States v. Posnjak, 457 F.2d 1110, 1113 (2d
Cir. 1972), including shotguns with barrels less than 18
inches in length, rifles with barrels less than 16 inches in
length, machineguns, silencers, and destructive devices. 26
U.S.C. § 5845(a) (defining " firearm" for
purposes of the NFA). The NFA sets " rigorous
registration and taxation requirements for the dealers and
transferors of those weapons." Posnjak, 457
F.2d at 1113. For example, each NFA firearm must be
registered in a central federal registry and bear a serial
number. 26 U.S.C. § § 5841, 5842. The NFA also
imposes a $200 tax on the making of an NFA firearm and on
each subsequent transfer of the firearm. 26 U.S.C. §
§ 5811, 5821; see Posnjak, 457 F.2d at 1114.
Violations of the NFA are punishable by substantial fines and
imprisonment for up to ten years. 26 U.S.C. § 5871.
adopts the definition of the term " firearm
silencer" used in the Gun Control Act (" GCA"
). 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(24) (GCA
definition of silencer); 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a)
(incorporating GCA definition by reference). Under the GCA, a
firearm silencer is defined as:
[A]ny device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the
report of a portable firearm, including any combination of
parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in
assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm
muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly
18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(24). This definition broadly
encompasses both completed silencers and parts that can be
used to produce silencers. Any combination of parts that is
intended to be used to produce a silencer will be deemed to
be a silencer under both the NFA and the
GCA, and a single part can qualify if it is " intended
only for use" in a silencer.
Sig Sauer's Classification Request
April 4, 2013, Sig Sauer submitted a prototype firearm to the
ATF and sought confirmation that the prototype would not be
subject to registration under the NFA. See A.R.
790. As proposed, the device combined a
short-barreled rifle with a monolithic baffle
core that Sig Sauer uses in producing
silencers. See A.R. 824. Sig Sauer explained in a letter
submitted with the prototype that it intended the baffle core
to serve as a muzzle brake and not a silencer. See A.R. 790
(doc. no. 15). It also asserted that its prototype would not
be subject to registration under the NFA as a short-barreled
rifle because the combined length of the prototype's
barrel and the baffle core was 16 inches, the minimum barrel
length that is sufficient to avoid classification as a
short-barreled rifle. Id.
responded to Sig Sauer's request by noting that the
baffle core was a silencer component and concluding, without
further explanation, that it qualified as a silencer under
the NFA because it was a part intended only for use in a
silencer. See A.R. 791-93.
Sauer followed up several months later with a request for
reconsideration. See A.R. 796-808. In pressing its request,
Sig Sauer reiterated its statement that it intended the
baffle core to serve as a muzzle brake rather than a
silencer. See A.R. 796. It also submitted sound testing data
for the prototype that showed that the baffle core did not
reduce the sound of a firearm discharge when used without an
outer tube. See A.R. 797. Finally, Sig Sauer produced
evidence supporting its claim that the baffle core functioned
as a muzzle brake, and it identified several other devices
that are manufactured and sold as muzzle brakes which, it
argued, were similar to the baffle core. See A.R. 798.
responded with a one-page letter again stating without
explanation that the baffle core was a " silencer"
because it was " a part intended only for use in the
assembly or fabrication of a silencer." A.R. 809.
Sauer filed its complaint in this court on April 7, 2014. On
June 9, 2014, the parties filed a joint motion to stay the
litigation to permit the ATF to reassess its determination
that the baffle core qualified as a silencer under the NFA.
Doc. No. 9. Shortly thereafter, Sig Sauer submitted a second
version of the prototype that was substantially similar to