Letter Re: BATFE’s Confusion About Pre-1899 Antique Gun Federally Exempt Status

Regarding the letter from the BATF on your [Pre-1899 FAQ] web page concerning antique rifles keeping their antique status even if built as custom sporters, etc. I don’t remember the exact wording. But this question has come up and someone cited your letter as proof that once an antique, always an antique… Except I know of a respected [Class] 01 FFL who was told by the BATFE to stop building pre-1899 Mauser custom rifles because they then became “modern”, manufactured on that date [of modification], not when the receiver was manufactured. – Dutch

JWR Replies: I suspect that the FFL holder that you heard from had heard a personal interpretation of the law from a field agent. The letter that I posted came directly from the ATF Firearms Branch and is hence definitive and authoritative. In essence, here in the U.S., either a receiver was made before 1898 or it wasn’t. Pre-1899 manufactured rifles, pistol, and shotguns–except for machineguns and short-barreled rifles and shotguns–are outside of Federal jurisdiction. Legally, the receiver is what constitutes the gun, and anything that someone does to modify it–aside for turning it into a full auto or attaching a short barrel in violation of GCA-’68–cannot bring it into Federal jurisdiction. Please read the letter again. (See the scanned pages.) The wording from the ATF Firearms Branch is quite clear: “The fact that the firearm has been re-barreled, re-chambered, re-blued, or sporterized would have no bearing on its [Federally exempt] classification.” Most likely the source of the confusion for ATF field agents is their vague recollection of the U.S. Curio and Relic (C&R) law, that states that if a C&R gun is substantially altered, then it loses its C&R status. But that is an entirely different law, pertaining to modern (post-1898) listed C&R guns, which are inside ATF jurisdiction. It is also noteworthy that the ATF letter on pre-1899s specifically addressed Model 1893 Turkish Mausers, that had their receivers re-heat treated and were then rebarreled for higher pressure 8×57 cartridges, in the1930s. These even had their receivers prominently stamped with 1930s dates at the time that they were re-arsenalized. But even these rifles are still considered legally “antique” and outside Federal jurisdiction!