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DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Industry Circular

Number: 98-2
Date: November 6, 1997

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MUZZLE LOADING WEAPONS THAT USE A MODERN IGNITION SYSTEM

All Federal firearms licensees and others concerned.

Purpose. The purpose of this circular is to clarify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) position regarding the classification of muzzle loading weapons that use modern primers for ignition.

ATF has recently received a number of inquiries regarding whether "in line" muzzle loading weapons that have been designed or redesigned to use modern firearm primers are classified as firearms under the Gun Control Act. An "in line" muzzle loading weapon is a muzzle loading firearm designed such that the firing mechanism (striker) is located directly behind the barrel. The striker moves forward in line with the bore of the weapon.

Background. Section 921(a)(3)(A), Title 18, U.S.C., defines the term firearm to include any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. The frame or receiver of any such weapon is also a firearm as defined. However, antique firearms are excluded from this definition.

Section 921(a)(16), Title 18, U.S.C., defines the term antique firearm as:

(A) any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898; and

(B) any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph(A)if such replica

     (i) is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or

    (ii) uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.

Section 921(a)(17)(A), Title 18, U.S.C., defines the term ammunition to include cartridge cases, primers, bullets, and propellant powder designed for use in any firearm.

Discussion. The cited definitions make it clear that weapons actually manufactured in or before 1898 are not subject to regulation as firearms. Further, modern replicas of antique firearms using an antique form of ignition such as matchlock, flintlock, or percussion cap are also not subject to regulation as firearms.

However, muzzle loading weapons with "in line" firing mechanisms designed or redesigned to use modern conventional firearm primers do not meet the definition of antique firearms and are subject to regulation as a firearm. Primers are not an antique ignition system and are ammunition for firearms subject to regulation.

Inquiries. Inquiries concerning this circular should refer to its number and be addressed to: Chief, Firearms Technology Branch, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 650 Massachusetts Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20226.

John W. Magaw Director

This was last updated on August 25, 1998

 
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