Understanding 922 (r) Compliance
June 25, 2012

Recently I converted my imported Akdal MKA 1919 Shotgun into a legal shotgun which allows features considered to be "non-sporting" such as a high capacity magazine and flash suppressor.  Before I could make the conversion, I had to do some research and spend some time studying and understanding the laws and regulations associated with imported firearms.  In this article, I've tried to compile my research and outline the portions of these laws and regulations pertaining to imported firearms, and then I've tried to put these laws and regulations into my simple interpretations. I also tried to outline some of the specifics you should consider related to imported parts when converting a firearm to be 922 (r) compliant.  Don't consider anything in this article as legal advice, but instead it is intended to help point you in the right direction for when you do your own research into potentially converting an imported firearm.

 


Laws & Regulations

The basic laws and regulations stem from two main sources;

  • Title 18 United States Code (USC) Chapter 44 Section 922 (r), Section 925 (d)(3) and Section 5845 (a), and
  • Title 27 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 448.39.

The Federal Firearms Regulation Reference Guide 2005 states the information for Title 18 USC Chapter 44 Sections 922 (r) and 925 (d)(3) as follows.  Keep in mind that the text in colored italics was taken directly from the referenced documents and the white text is my interpretation and comments.

Section 922 (r)

It shall be unlawful for any person to assemble from imported parts any semiautomatic rifle or any shotgun which is identical to any rifle or shotgun prohibited
from importation under section 925(d)(3) of this chapter as not being particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes ...

My words: You can not use imported parts to make a rifle or shotgun that is not suitable or ready for "sporting purposes".

Section 925 (d)(3)

(d) The Attorney General shall authorize a firearm or ammunition to be imported or brought into the United States or any possession thereof if the firearm or
ammunition—

(3) is of a type that does not fall within the definition of a firearm as defined in section 5845(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 and is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes, excluding surplus military firearms, except in any case where the Attorney General has not authorized the importation of the firearm pursuant to this paragraph, it shall be unlawful to import any frame, receiver, or barrel of such firearm which would be prohibited if assembled;

Internal Revenue Code Section 5845 (a)

(a) Firearm. The term 'firearm' means

  • (1) a shotgun having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length;
  • (2) a weapon made from a shotgun if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length;
  • (3) a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length;
  • (4) a weapon made from a rifle if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length;
  • (5) any other weapon, as defined in subsection (e);
  • (6) a machinegun;
  • (7) any silencer (as defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code); and
  • (8) a destructive device.

The term 'firearm' shall not include an antique firearm or any device (other than a machinegun or destructive device) which, although designed as a weapon, the Secretary finds by reason of the date of its manufacture, value, design, and other characteristics is primarily a collector's item and is not likely to be used as a weapon.

My words: You can import a firearm as long as it is not a Class III weapon and is suitable for "sporting purposes". 

The best source I have found so far for helping to understand "sporting purposes" is the ATF Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns.  In this study, the ATF was able to define that certain shotgun features are not particularly suitable or readily adaptable for sporting purposes. These features include:

  • (1) Folding, telescoping, or collapsible stocks;
  • (2) bayonet lugs;
  • (3) flash suppressors;
  • (4) magazines over 5 rounds, or a drum magazine;
  • (5) grenade-launcher mounts;
  • (6) integrated rail systems (other than on top of the receiver or barrel);
  • (7) light enhancing devices;
  • (8) excessive weight (greater than 10 pounds for 12 gauge or smaller);
  • (9) excessive bulk (greater than 3 inches in width and/or greater than 4 inches in depth);
  • (10) forward pistol grips or other protruding parts designed or used for gripping the shotgun with the shooter’s extended hand.

This above helps you to understand why imported shotguns and rifles come without some of the features you would want on a tactical firearm such as adjustable stock, magazines over 5 rounds, handguard rails and flash suppressors.  So the question becomes, what can we do to convert firearms to make them legal for non-sporting purposes?  The short answer is to reduce the number of imported parts so they comply with this next regulation.

Title 27 C.F.R. 478.39 identifies 20 significant parts of which you must have no more than 10 on your shotgun or rifle if you plan to convert it to one that is not "particularly suitable for sporting purposes" (i.e. to use a high capacity magazine, collapsible stocks, flash suppressors, etc.)This section of the code is shown below.

(a) No person shall assemble a semiautomatic rifle or any shotgun using more than 10 of the imported parts listed in paragraph (c) of this section if the assembled firearm is prohibited from importation under section 925(d)(3) as not being particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.

(c) For purposes of this section, the term imported parts are:

  • (1) Frames, receivers, receiver castings, forgings or stampings
  • (2) Barrels
  • (3) Barrel extensions
  • (4) Mounting blocks (trunnions)
  • (5) Muzzle attachments
  • (6) Bolts
  • (7) Bolt carriers
  • (8) Operating rods
  • (9) Gas pistons
  • (10) Trigger housings
  • (11) Triggers
  • (12) Hammers
  • (13) Sears
  • (14) Disconnectors
  • (15) Buttstocks
  • (16) Pistol grips
  • (17) Forearms, handguards
  • (18) Magazine bodies
  • (19) Followers
  • (20) Floorplates

Well, there you have it.  Just make sure you don't exceed more than 10 of the above parts and you are good to go.  Simple.  Right?


How to Determine "Imported" Parts

Looking at this list above leads you to think it is easy to make a determination when counting imported parts, but questions like these came up when I was converting my MKA 1919 Shotgun:

  • Is an internal choke really a muzzle attachment?
  • Does an integrated buttstock, pistol grip and lower receiver count as one part or three parts?
  • Are the upper and lower receivers considered one part or two?
  • Are they considering the barrel extension on the receiver-end or muzzle-end?

Another point to consider is that although every part within your firearm may be imported, only specific parts are considered to be critical "imported" parts by the BATFE.  To keep yourself on the right side of the law, I recommend exercising conservatism where possible/economical and getting your hands on an official letter from the BATFE stating what they consider to be "imported" parts for your particular firearm.  You may be able to find an official letter on the internet, but if not, getting a letter is actually easier than I had originally thought.  For my Akdal MKA 1919 Shotgun imported from Turkey, I sent a letter to the BATFE at the address below asking them this question.  "Has a ruling been made on the number of Title 27 C.F.R. 478.39 (c) parts that exist on the Akdal MKA 1919 Shotgun?  If so, what is the count and please provide the part names."

          Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
          Chief, Firearms Technology Branch
          244 Needy Road Martinsburg, West Virginia  25405  USA

For further clarification, I also asked them this question.  "Also, is the integral lower receiver, buttstock and pistol grip considered as one part or three for this shotgun? "  The photos below show the letter I received from the BATFE.  It took about 5 weeks for me to receive this letter, but it was worth the wait because this letter represented solid information and I was able to reduce my conservatism into the most economical conversion for this shotgun.

Figure 1 - BATFE Letter Page 1                                Figure 2 - BATFE Letter Page 2
MKA 1919 BATFE Letter Page 1   MKA 1919 BATFE Letter Page 2

One thing I also learned from this letter is that the BATFE will only answer the questions you ask.  They did answer both of my questions, but I wish they would have elaborated on some of the details (i.e. frame or receiver, mounting blocks).  From this letter, and knowing the configuration of the MKA 1919, I'm starting to learn a couple of things for my own future use such as:

  1. Any firearm component that combines in its design, multiple "parts"... would only count as a single "part" for the purposes of § 478.39 (their words).
  2. Internal chokes were not considered imported parts.
  3. Permanently affixed (?) receiver-end barrel extensions were not counted as imported parts.

Managing "Imported" Parts Count 

Once you understand which parts of your firearm are considered to be imported, you must get your part count down to no more than 10 for the configuration which you plan to use for your firearm.  This sounds simple, but you can easily get on the wrong side of the law if you are not careful.  For example, if your imported parts count was 9 and you were using a collapsible stock with an American made magazine, switching back to the original imported magazine would bring your "imported" parts count up to 12.  Since the imported magazine counts as three parts (body, follower and floorplate), your total "imported" parts count goes up by three and you would be shooting an illegal firearm because of the collapsible stock being considered as not suitable for sporting purposes.

These are a few simple rules to help you manage your imported parts count.

  1. Get a letter from the BATFE (if possible) to determine the true count and understand which parts they are considering "imported".
  2. Target getting your "imported" parts count down to 7 parts so that you can always use your original magazines, if needed.
  3. When replacing "imported" parts, make sure your new parts are truly American made and not imports.
  4. Be careful when splitting a single "imported" part into multiple parts (ex. integral stock and lower receiver where you cut the stock off and replace with a different stock and now one "imported" part becomes two).

 

Bottom Line:

You can legally own and use fully tactical (high capacity magazines, collapsible stock, flash suppressors, etc.) imported firearms as long as you do your research and correctly reduce the total "imported" parts count down to 10 or less.  Remember that the "imported" parts are those defined by the BATFE and not every part (although imported) is an "imported" part, so make sure you get the best information you can on the definition of these parts.  I recommend making every effort to get your hands on a BATFE letter to make sure you are on solid ground.  Also, you will need to check and make sure you do not violate any State laws or local ordinances.  Finally, if you have a letter from the BATFE and would like to share, send it to me (editor@gunsumerreports.com) and I will add it to the list of letters below for various firearms.


BATFE Letters:

Firearm BATFE
Letter
(Page)
Letter
Date
Total
Imported
Parts
Numbered items in Title 27 C.F.R. 478.39 with my letter code below
1
R
2
Ba
3
BE
4
MB
5
MA
6
Bo
7
BC
8
OR
9
GP
10
TH
11
T
12
H
13
S
14
D
15
BS
16
PG
17
FH
18
MB
19
MF
20
FP
Akdal MKA 1919 Shotgun 1 2 6/12/12 14 1 1 - 1 - 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 - 1 - - 1 1 1 1
Benelli M4 Shotgun 1 2 7/24/09 13 1 1 - - - 1 1 - 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 - 1 1 1 -
Saiga 12 Shotgun Link 12/2/11 15 1 1 - 1 - 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 - 1 1 - 1 1 1 1
R - Receiver, Ba - Barrel, BE - Barrel Extension, MB - Mounting Block, MA - Muzzle Attachment, Bo - Bolt, BC - Bolt Carrier,
OR - Operating Rod, GP - Gas Piston, TH - Trigger Housing, T - Trigger, H - Hammer, S - Sear, D - Disconnector, BS - Buttstock,
PG - Pistol Grip, FH - Forearm Handguard, MB - Magazine Body, MF - Magazine Follower, FP - Floorplate

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