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Has Franklin Armory found an ATF loophole?

Franklin Armory gets an A+ in marketing (for now). With one press release, they have blogs, forums, and social media buzzing with speculation about how its new product, the Reformation, is approved by the ATF. Here’s the simple answer: it’s not.

We reached out to Franklin Armory for comment and were told via phone and email that they will not be releasing any more information on the Reformation until SHOT Show.

Multiple sources within the ATF have confirmed that there has been no approval for this product as a non-NFA firearm.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that an approval won’t come in the future. Perhaps that is why Franklin Armory is waiting until SHOT Show. Also, the press release only claims that ATF confirmed that the product is not a “rifle.”

WHAT WE KNOW

For now, we can only guess what unique feature(s) the Reformation has that makes it neither a rifle, shotgun, nor an NFA firearm based on their press release.

Here’s what we know so far that is relevant to the legal analysis: The Reformation is a firearm, it has an 11.5-inch barrel, and it has a Magpul buttstock.

We also know that Franklin Armory claims that it isn’t a rifle, a shotgun, nor an NFA firearm and that it is part of an “NRS” series of firearms with patent-pending “NRS” technology.

reformation press release

Press release from Franklin Armory

LEGAL BACKGROUND

Let’s start with some basic firearm definitions as a foundation. Because they already tell us it’s a firearm, we’ll skip the definition of a firearm and jump straight to definitions of types of firearms.

In the space of this article, we can only scratch the surface of firearms law – we’re going to have to skip quite a bit. If you’d like to learn more, check out some of my articles and courses on ATF Compliance.

Rifle: “…a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.” 18 USC 921(a)(7)

Shotgun: “…a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger. 18 USC 921(a)(5)

Short-Barreled Rifle: “…a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.” 18 USC 921(a)(8)

Short-Barreled Shotgun: “…a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.” 18 USC 921(a)(6)

Simply, these definitions mean that if a firearm has a buttstock (designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder) and a rifled barrel it’s a rifle and if it has a smooth barrel it’s a shotgun.

gca-rifle

If a shotgun’s barrel is less than 18 inches or its overall length is less than 26 inches, it’s an NFA firearm called a Short-Barreled Shotgun (SBS). If a rifle’s barrel is less than 16 inches or its overall length is less than 26 inches, it’s an NFA firearm called a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR).

If a firearm is designed an intended to be fired by one hand, it is a handgun. Therefore, adding a forward pistol grip to a handgun would typically make it an “Any Other Weapon” (AOW) because it is now meant to be fired by two hands. However, if a firearm is over 26 inches long, it isn’t “readily concealable” and can’t be an AOW.

WHAT ISN’T IN THE REFORMATION?

By looking at the picture, it appears to be a Short-Barreled Rifle. After all, it has a buttstock (not an “arm brace”) and a barrel shorter than 16 inches. I’ve read many speculations online that aren’t legally significant so I’d like to get those out of the way now.

Some have said that it might be a muzzleloader. Although that would make it legal, Franklin Armory has already said that it is a firearm, which means it’s not a muzzleloader because true muzzleloaders are considered “antique firearms,” even if they were made this morning, and are exempted from the definition of a firearm.

Others have said that the barrel must be smooth. It seems that they are making this guess because they are trying to figure out a way that the Reformation isn’t a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR). From the definitions above, we know that a rifle needs…rifling. Therefore a smooth barrel would keep it from being a rifle, but it wouldn’t keep it out of the NFA definitions because it would then be a Short-Barreled Shotgun.

I’ve even seen guesses that it fires .410 shotgun shells and it has a rifled barrel. If this is true (it doesn’t appear to be the case from the magazine pictured) then that only helps it solve an AOW issue wherein smoothbore pistols designed and intended to fire shotgun shells are considered AOWs.

gca-shotgun

The most common comments I’ve seen so far refer to the length of the firearm being over 26 inches. The length being over 26 inches is only significant to keep the firearm from being an “Any Other Weapon” (AOW). The overall length isn’t relevant to the SBR or SBS analysis because the barrel is already short enough to make it either one.

However, to get to the AOW analysis for the above two scenarios, it needs to not be a rifle or a shotgun and with that buttstock, it’s unclear how it escapes the rifle or shotgun definition. Therefore, the guesses above may be significant later, but there must be something more first that allows it not to be considered a rifle or shotgun.

WHAT IS THE REFORMATION?

So, what could it be? How is this firearm not a rifle or a shotgun?

Knowing what I know now, I think that the Reformation must be unique in its rifling, its trigger, and/or its stock.

We also should look to the name because Franklin Armory names their products with acronyms that stand for something. For example, their two previous legally-creative products are the X0-26 pistol and their BFS trigger.

The XO-26 pistol had a forward pistol grip and wasn’t an NFA firearm (an AOW) because it was just over 26 inches (thus the “26” in the name). Their BFS trigger, which stands for Binary Firing System, allows a firearm to fire on both the pull and release of the trigger and is not a machine gun because it only fired one round per “operation” (pull and release) of the trigger.

nfa-aow

Rifling: If the Reformation has straight lands and grooves (that do not twist/rotate), then I could see how it is technically neither a rifle nor a shotgun. With straight grooves, it wouldn’t be “rifling” because rifling spins a bullet. If there’s no rifling, it can’t be a rifle (nor an SBR). Also, straight grooves would keep the barrel from being “smooth.” If it’s not smooth, it can’t be a shotgun (nor an SBS).

Perhaps NRS stands for “Not Rifled or Smooth?” If this is how they got around the law, I’m very interested to see how far this firearm is effectively accurate.

Trigger: Franklin Armory is known for unique triggers and perhaps this is a release-to-fire trigger, a trigger that requires more than one pull, or some other variation of their binary system. The definition of a rifle refers only to a single “pull” of the trigger. Therefore, it’s a stretch, but maybe Franklin Armory is claiming that it isn’t a rifle or shotgun because there’s no trigger “pull” which fires a round.

This is my bet. Not only because they are known for creative triggers, but also because the hashtag #newtrigger was spotted on their Instagram post.

In this case, NRS could stand for “N*? Release System?”

Stock: Franklin Armory may have fixed the buttstock and they are claiming that at the short-length, it is not designed to be used as a buttstock and is therefore not a rifle nor a shotgun. This is also a stretch because the product they are using is already designated as a buttstock.

In this scenario, NRS might be “Non-Removable Stock?”

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

Why might Franklin Armory’s current A+ marketing grade change?

For one, the ATF may never approve the Reformation and all of the attention they’ve grabbed will be focused on an unsuccessful attempt.

Second, and especially if they are successful, they risk the Reformation hurting the industry as a whole by “poking the bear.” If this effectively allows SBR-like firearms without SBR registration, it will likely attract new legislation (especially at state levels). And, if we’ve learned anything from history, knee-jerk legislation is usually over-broad and ends up affecting much more than the original target.

Don’t get me wrong, I love finding loopholes and also expanding our gun rights. In fact, I make my living doing it as a firearms attorney. However, there’s a right and a wrong way and time to go about it.

Stay tuned for updates as we learn more about the legality of Franklin Armory’s Reformation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cleckner
Ryan Cleckner is a former special operations sniper and sniper instructor. Currently, he’s a firearms law attorney, best-selling author, RECOIL/Carnivore contributor, university lecturer, Trigger Words podcast host, and entrepreneur. He runs both RocketFFL which helps people get an FFL and stay compliant and RocketCCW which gets people qualified for a CCW online. His newest project is focused on family and organizational safety at Mayday Safety.

Website: RyanCleckner.com
Instagram: @Cleckner
FaceBook: facebook.com/ryan.cleckner/

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