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MODERN MUZZLELOADING, INC. v. MAGAW

August 7, 1998

MODERN MUZZLELOADING, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN MAGAW, DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FLANNERY

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 This matter came before the Court at a hearing on July 24, 1998. In February, the Court considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court denied the motions, remanding to the ATF for further explanation of its classification of the Knight Disc Rifle. Pending before the Court are the parties' renewed cross-motions for summary judgment. After considering the parties' written submissions, their arguments at the hearing, and the applicable law, the Court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies the plaintiff's motion.

 I. Background

 This case involves a challenge to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's ("ATF") decision to classify the Knight Disc Rifle as a firearm for purposes of the Gun Control Act of 1968 ("GCA"), as amended, 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-930. The statute excludes "antique firearms" from the class subject to regulation. Modern Muzzleloading, Inc., the manufacturer of the Knight Disc Rifle, contends that the rifle is an antique firearm that should not be subject to regulation under the GCA. Acting on that view, for the fifteen-month period ending in December 1997, Modern Muzzleloading manufactured and distributed 30,000 Knight Disc Rifles without a license. *fn1" In this action, Modern Muzzleloading has sued the Director of the ATF, seeking both (1) a declaration that the Knight Disc Rifle is not a firearm for purposes of the GCA and (2) an order enjoining ATF from enforcing its classification of the rifle. Modern Muzzleloading previously sought a preliminary injunction, which the Court denied in its February order.

 The GCA

 The GCA defines the term "firearm" as "any weapon . . . which will or is designed to . . . expel a projectile by the action of an explosive." 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3). However, "such term does not include an antique firearm." Id. The GCA defines the term "antique firearm" as follows:

 
(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.

 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16). This case turns on whether the Knight Disc Rifle is a replica within the meaning of subparagraph (B). Since it is a currently-manufactured weapon, the rifle cannot qualify directly under subparagraph (A). It is also undisputed that the rifle does not accept either rimfire or conventional centerfire ammunition and that, therefore, subparagraphs (B)(i) and (B)(ii) do not apply. Both parties agree that the term replica should or may be understood by referring to the parenthetical language found in subparagraph (A). Nevertheless, the parties disagree about the scope of this parenthetical and its affect on the determination of what constitutes a replica under subparagraph (B).

 The Knight Disc Rifle

 As this Court discussed in its February decision, the key characteristic of the Knight Disc Rifle is its use of either a percussion cap *fn2" or a shotgun primer *fn3" as an ignition system. The rifle is designed so that each of those systems is held in place by a plastic disc with a hole in its center, into which the user inserts the ignition system. Modern Muzzleloading sells two discs for use in the rifle. One, a red disc that actually comes with the rifle, is designed to accept a percussion cap. The other, an orange disc that Modern Muzzleloading sells as an accessory, is designed to accept a shotgun primer. The only difference in the discs is that the hole in the center of the orange disc is slightly larger, because the shotgun primer used in the rifle is slightly larger than a percussion cap. The use of the primer is viewed by the ATF as a defining characteristic in determining whether the Knight Disc Rifle is properly classified as an "antique."

 ATF's Classification of the Knight Disc Rifle

 In October 1997, ATF wrote Modern Muzzleloading, stating that it had received inquiries regarding the status of the Knight Disc Rifle and requesting samples of the rifle and its accessories. After receiving those items from Modern Muzzleloading, ATF examined the rifle. The ATF official who inspected the rifle concluded that "[the Knight Disc Rifle] is designed to use shotgun primers for an ignition system. It is not an antique firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16) and it is a firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3)." ATF Inspection Report, Admin. Record at 16.

 The conclusion reached in the report was consistent with the position expressed by the ATF in an industry circular released three weeks before the inspection of the Knight Disc Rifle. That circular found that "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. *fn4" Primers are not an antique ignition system and are ammunition for firearms subject to regulation." ATF Industry Circular, November 6, 1997, Admin. Record at 14.

 Subsequent to its release of the industry circular and inspection of the Knight Disc Rifle, ATF informed Modern Muzzleloading of its classification decision in a letter dated December 8, 1997. Explaining its view that the Knight Disc Rifle is a firearm, ATF noted that its examination revealed that "the rifle is designed to use # 209 shotgun primers regardless of the type of disc actually used in the rifle." *fn5" ATF wrote the following:

 
Such shotgun primers are distinctly different from percussion caps. As defined in [the GCA], the term ammunition means ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm. Number 209 shotgun primers are designed for use in "firearms" and the primers are ammunition subject to the provisions of 18 U.S.C. chapter 44. Percussion caps are not ammunition as defined.
 
Based on our examination, the rifle is designed to use shotgun primers or percussion caps interchangeably and is not a replica of an antique firearm. Accordingly, the ...

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