Franklin Armory and the Firearms Regulatory Accountability Coalition (FRAC) have filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and US Attorney General Merrick Garland. The plaintiffs claim the ATF has wrongly classified a Franklin Armory product and delayed regulation related to a second product.
This is the latest in a string of lawsuits against the ATF and Garland charging the agency with alleged arbitrary and illegal rules changes and overstepping its authority. ATF, presumably directed by the Biden Administration, has radically altered the definition of a firearm over the last year, from the Rare Breed Forced Reset Trigger case to the so-called Final Rule on Frames and Receivers that turned out to be not so final after all. An already controversial pistol brace rule change is expected in February.
The Franklin Armory FAI-15 Antithesis
The first of Franklin Armory and FRAC’s charges against the ATF stem from the agency’s classification of the Franklin Armory FAI-15 Antithesis as a short-barreled rifle (SBR) under the Gun Control Act (GCA) and the National Firearms Act (NFA). The plaintiffs claim the Antithesis does not meet the SBR definition under either standard.
The Antithesis is an AR-15 style firearm that fires .45 Long Colt rounds or .410 shotgun shells. It has a rifled barrel. But both the GCA and NFA define a rifle as being “designed…and intended…to fire only a single projectile.” The lawsuit argues that since the Antithesis fires .410 shotgun shells, containing multiple projectiles, it cannot be classified as a rifle. Neither does the firearm meet the NFA definition of a short-barreled shotgun (SBS) since the barrel is rifled.
Franklin Armory and FRAC claim that the Antithesis is a new type of weapon, and that the statutes’ “plain text” does not permit the ATF’s classifications. The suit says classifying the firearm as an SBR is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to law.” The suit further claims that “ATF’s erroneous decision has subjected the FAI-15 Antithesis to onerous and inapplicable requirements under the NFA and the GCA, in excess of ATF’s statutory authority and contrary to congressional intent.”
In other words, ATF did not follow the NFA’s and GCA’s definition of an SBR, essentially making their own definition. Doing so exceeds their lawful authority and usurps Congressional power to make federal law. A similar charge is currently being adjudicated in the ongoing Vanderstok v. Garland case regarding frames and receivers.
The Franklin Armory Reformation
The second charge involves the Franklin Armory Reformation firearm. The Reformation fires a single proprietary projectile, as well as traditional 5.56mm rifle rounds, but the barrel features patented lands and grooves instead of rifling. The lands and grooves do not impart spin to the projectile, so the Reformation does not meet the definition of a rifle.
The firearm is an SBS under the GCA but not the NFA since it can fire a traditional rifle round. ATF, through the GCA, requires manufacturers and federal firearms licensees (FFL) to secure authorization to sell GCA short-barreled shotguns across state lines. There is no process for seeking authorization to sell a GCA SBS that does not meet the NFA definition.
Franklin Armory requested that ATF develop and implement such a process so they could sell the Reformation legally nationwide. ATF informed Franklin Armory and the public through a 2019 open letter that it would do so. Four years later, the ATF has taken no action on Franklin Armory’s request, despite its promise. Nor has the agency provided a reason for the delay.
Franklin Armory alleges significant financial harm, since they designed and developed a product, and its tooling, which they cannot sell on the anticipated scale. The plaintiffs also claim that the ATF’s failure to act has deprived the American public of the opportunity to purchase the Reformation if they desire.
According to the court filing, Franklin estimates that the Reformation would generate $8 million in sales in its first year and $25 million per year after the first five years. The company also estimates sales of one million rounds of Reformation ammunition in the first year and ten million rounds per year after the first five years. Additionally, Franklin Armory’s exclusive patent for the lands and grooves design is time limited. Each day without the requested processes costs the company money.
“The ATF’s Egregious Inaction and Overreach”
Franklin Armory President Jay Jacobson said that:
“The ATF’s classification of Antithesis overlooks the plain and clear language of the statute in favor of their own politically motivated interpretation, and its extraordinary delay in creating the procedures and forms necessary for the Reformation series of firearms to be sold in the marketplace has caused Franklin Armory significant financial harm. We have spent years attempting to resolve this matter without litigation. This lawsuit rightfully challenges the ATF’s egregious inaction and overreach, and seeks to ensure that not only Franklin Armory, but all industry members are treated fairly, accurately, and in accordance with the laws enacted by Congress.”
Franklin Armory and FRAC charge that the ATF violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). They ask that the Court:
- Declare unlawful and set aside ATF’s classification of the FAI-15 Antithesis.
- Enter an order compelling ATF to—within 30 days—classify the FAI-15 Antithesis consistent with statutory requirements and the evidence before the agency.
- Declare that ATF has unreasonably delayed in promulgating procedures to authorize the sale, delivery, and interstate transportation of weapons classified as short-barreled shotguns under only the GCA.
- Enter an order compelling ATF to—within 30 days—issue procedures authorizing the sale, delivery, and interstate transportation of weapons classified as short-barreled shotguns under only the GCA.
- Grant such further and additional relief as this court deems just and proper.
We will keep you updated on this, and the other lawsuits aimed at reining in the ATF, which seems only too happy to implement the gun control its political masters can’t get through Congress. The infringement list is long, but gun owners and gunmakers are fighting back. Stay tuned.