Friday, April 18, 2014

Sig Sauer Lawsuit Against ATF Muzzle Brake/Silencer Ruling has Merit

Photo from the ATF letter.  Sig Sauer never contended that the muzzle brake would not function as part of a gun muffler/silencer/suppressor

Sig Sauer, Inc., the well respected firearms manufacturer, has filed suit against  B. Todd Jones as the Director of the ATF for ruling that the muzzle brake that they submitted for evaluation is "a part intended only for use in the assembly or fabrication of a silencer and therefore is a silencer..."  as defined in U.S. statutes.   The case document can be read here.  It is nine pages long, and makes a fascinating read.

Sig Sauer Inc., included laboratory tests that showed that the muzzle brake reduced muzzle rise and did not reduce the report of the firearm to which it was permanently attached.

The crux of the matter is the part of the law that requires severe regulatory and financial burdens for the sale and possession of silencers.   The law defines silencers in three ways.  From, here is the definition of silencers in U.S. code:
(24) The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any 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 or fabrication.
For the first test:  Is it a device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm?

Sig Sauer includes tests showing that it does not silence, muffle or diminish the report, and says that it is for use as a muzzle brake.

For the second test: Is it a combination of parts, designed or redesigned and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler?

Clearly it is *a* part, but just as clearly it is not a sufficient "collection of parts" by itself, which brings us to the third test, which ATF used in its letter to justify its classification of the muzzle brake as a "silencer":  Is it "any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication"?

This is the entire crux of the matter.   Sig Sauer says that it is a "dual use" component, that can be used as part of a gun muffler, *and* can be used as a muzzle brake, and that it is designed and sold as a muzzle brake.  They include tests to that effect.

It appears to me that they have a logical and reasonable case.  Will a judge see it that way?

The courts have not challenged the ATF judgement regularly, but there is precedent.   Few have challenged the ATF with first rate attorneys and corporate financial backing.   Thompson-Center Arms did, and won their case,  United States v. Thompson-Center Arms Company.   In that case, it is worth noting that one of the main points of Justice Souter's argument in the majority opinion, was that the parts had dual use utility, depending on the way that they were assembled, and applied the rule of lenity to rule against the ATF.

Just recently, in  Innovator Enterprises v. United States, the D.C. district court held that the ATF must do more than merely declare something to be what it says it is.  It has to show reason and logic, it may not be arbitrary and capricious in its rulings.  The Innovator case is very close to the Sig Sauer case, in that both involve muzzle brakes that the ATF ruled as "silencers" without any scientific testing of the devices.

Will Sig Sauer win its lawsuit?  It is impossible to know.  Clearly the muzzle brake can be used as part of a suppressor, but just as clearly, it works just fine as a muzzle brake.

In the Innovator case, the court made use of the research done by P. Clark on the Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers.  In this academic work, Clark shows that the original purpose of the law was never explained, and that it is doubtful that there is any useful purpose served by the law.

While repeal of the extreme regulation of silencers is a legislative function, a court could well take into consideration the limited utility of the law in determining how broadly or narrowly to interpret it.   While courts have been severely criticized for looking at foreign law as a means of justifying their decisions, in this case it could work for the narrow interpretation of this particular law.   Most European jurisdictions regulate gun mufflers far less than the United States, if at all.  

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

1 comment:

Wireless.Phil said...

I think the problem here is the idiots at the ATF confuse the word "break" as in it brakes or muzzles the sound of the firearm.

Call it something else!