37/38 mm gas/flare gun ATF ruling

To fellow Forum readers…

I was forwarded this ATF ruling yesterday and then

That ruling has serious implications for lots of folks, I’d imagine.

No question, but the question begs, what does it mean for collectors who might own one of the weapons and for those cartridge collectors with the various rounds (or both)?

I am looking for some advice about Curios and Relics FFL.


I’d suggest contacting Dan Shea from Long Mountain Outfitters. He’s written several books for FFL and other ATF licensees, mostly about Title 2 / Class 3 items. Either that or the NFA branch agents in Chicago, although I’m not sure if they’d give any information beyond what’s in their bulletins.

I was lucky enough to have Dan in one of my explosives classes and I picked his brain for 2 days straight. Nice guys and knowledgeable. I’ll bet he’d be a good resource for IAA.

I know a local fed/ATF inspector and I’ll ask her next chance I get if she has any additional sources of information.

My first-glance reaction is that if a person possessed a 37mm ‘flare-launcher’ and a kinetic-impact or chem round, it would qualify as ‘constructive possession’ under BATFE.

This ruling makes the use of the 37mm launcher as a possible less-lethal tool at my agency much less appealing. We’d considered 12ga and 37mm platforms but neither was ever approved or acquired.


Note that the ruling is from 1995, so this is nothing new.

From listening to the class 3 crowd, it appears that the layman’s explanation is:

  1. You can own a 37mm gas/flare gun with no hassles.

  2. You can own a 37mm gas/flare ammunition with no hassles.

    1. You can own a 37mm gas/flare gun and 37mm gas/flare ammunition with no hassles.

(now, pay attention it starts to get tricky now)

  1. You can own a 37mm “anti personnel” ammunition with no hassles as long as it is not explosive projectiles. (E.g- rubber bullets, wood, pellets, buckshot, tennis balls, solid lead projectile, etc)

BUT-----BUT— you CAN NOT own/possess the 37mm gas/flare gun at the same time as ammunition in number 4
UNLESS you get all the paperwork and fees to have it registered as a “destructive device” (DD) BEFORE having the gun and anti-personnel ammo at the same time.
FURTHER COMPLICATION- once the gun is registered as a DD, it may be difficult to get it removed from that classification, so you are stuck with the added paperwork and fees if you ever want to sell it.

Collect the 37mm gas/flare guns and the “good” types of ammo, OR
collect the “anti-personnel” type ammo but no 37mm gas/flare guns.

If you want to do both, jump thru the BATFE hoops and get the required paperwork.

Pretty stupid, but they just enforce the laws Congress passed.
(Remember they consider “potato guns” made from PVC pipe and using hair spray to launch a potato a significant distance to be “Destructive devices” too! And they will prosecute.)

Thanks John…no clue about the aged nature of the ruling…and it was sent to me from a current 37/40 less lethal sales guy (as something “new”)

I don’t collect the guns…I used one in my 2006 SLICS display

But…if that old gas gun were to be “disabled”…firing pin removed (or something)…

at what point might it be legal to own as a display collectible ?

(assuming w/o all the hoops and paper work)

(I might answer my own question as if one owned a fully automatic “something”…simply by removing the firing pin…that would doubtfully make it legal to own…does the analogy apply ?..thus I guess removing a firing pin


A search of the BATFE site proved fruitless. The following are from our neighbor to the North. I’m sure these adaptations would suffice in creating a PC firearm. Me, I’d just hide whatever, wherever, and not know nothin’ about nothin’.

[b]Deactivation Guidelines
In order for the firearm to be considered deactivated by the Canada Firearms Centre, the firearm must first be confirmed by a gunsmith, to no longer be considered a firearm as per the definition of a “firearm” in S. 2 of the Criminal Code. (LISTED BELOW)

Criminal Code S.2 “firearm”
“firearm” means a barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person, and includes any frame or receiver of such a barrelled weapon and any that can be adapted for use as a firearm;

  1. Deactivation of Small Arms of Calibre 20mm or Less
    a. Semi-automatic, Full Automatic, Selective Fire, and Converted Firearms.

  2. A hardened steel blind pin of bore diameter or larger must be force fit through the barrel at the chamber, and where practical, simultaneously through the frame or receiver, to permanently prevent chambering of ammunition. Furthermore, the blind pin must be permanently welded in place so that the exposed end of the pin is completely covered by weld. The strength and hardness of the weld must be that of the metal used in the construction of the firearm. In the case of firearms having calibres greater than 12.7 mm (.5 inch), the pin need not be larger in diameter than 12.7 mm. In the case of multi-barrelled firearms, all barrels must be pinned, using as many pins as necessary to block all chambers.

  3. The barrel must be permanently welded to the frame or receiver to prevent replacement.

  4. The breech face or portion of the breech bolt which supports the cartridge must be removed or drilled out to a diameter at least as large as the base of the cartridge, so that the bolt can no longer support the cartridge.

  5. The receiver must be completely and permanently welded closed to prevent replacement of the breech bolt.

  6. In the case of firearms designed to support full-automatic fire, the trigger mechanism must be rendered unusable. Any trigger mechanism part or component, which is necessary for full-automatic fire, must be destroyed by cutting or grinding and permanently welded in place to prevent replacement.

b. Rifles, Shotguns and Handguns other than Revolvers

  1. The barrel, bolt and frame or receiver must be modified as in 1.a.

  2. The bolt, if present as a separate piece, must be permanently welded to the frame or receiver to prevent replacement.

c. Revolvers, Revolving Rifles and Shotguns, and Cap and Ball Revolver

  1. The barrel and cylinder must be permanently blocked by a hardened steel pin of bore diameter which traverses the entire length of the barrel and cylinder. The pin must be permanently welded in place at the muzzle, barrel/cylinder gap and except for muzzle-loading firearms, at the breech end of the frame. The strength and hardness of the welds must be that of the metal used in the construction of the firearm.

d. Black Powder Rifles and Shotguns

  1. The barrel must be blocked immediately forward of the flash hole using a blind pin in the manner described in paragraph 1.c.1.

  2. The flash hole must be permanently welded closed. In the case of percussion guns, the nipple must be welded closed and then permanently welded to the barrel to prevent replacement.

e. Magazines

  1. The magazine follower must be permanently welded to the interior of the magazine to prevent loading of ammunition.

  2. The body of the magazine must be permanently welded to the frame or receiver to prevent removal or replacement.

  3. Firearms of Unusual Design or Construction
    a. Allowances may be made for variations of the procedures outlined in 1.a. to e. if the firearm is made of unusual substances or is of an unusual design. However, any variation in the procedure must accomplish the same goals as the original procedures. The firearm must be made to be permanently inoperable and incapable of chambering or firing ammunition.

Form CAFC 1023
USE THIS FORM if you are an individual or a business (including museums), to notify the Registrar of Firearms that your firearm has been modified and can no longer discharge a projectile, nor can it be adapted or re-modified to do so.

For more information about the Firearms Act, contact the CFP.

This fact sheet is intended to provide general information only. For legal references, please refer to the Firearms Act and its regulations.

Provincial, territorial and municipal laws, regulations and policies may also apply[/b]

Canadian laws only apply in Canada, so don’t jump to any logical conclusions about how that might translate into U.S. firearms law.

BATFE has provided specific guidance on how to deactivate certain DD’s to remove them from “DD/firearm” status and make them the same as a pile of scrap iron as far as the BATF is concerned.

For mortars and Bazookas this usually includes cutting a bore diameter hole in the pressure area of the barrel, and replacing the “receiver” (base that has the firing pin in case of mortar) with a dummy with no firing pin or provisions to install one, or welding the firing pin hole shut and welding receiver and barrel together. Also, welding thick pins across the bore to keep a projectile from traveling thru it (kinda like crosshairs in a scope). I assume a 37 gas/flare gun would need similar vandalism, and that merely removing a few parts would NOT be sufficient.

I believe that the BATFE “Technical Branch” controls questions like that and they may be able to tell you over the phone if your proposed course of action (done prior to obtaining BOTH gun and ammo) is acceptable. They may require you to do the modification and send it in for approval. If not adequate, I don’t know if they return with directions on what to do or just confiscate it and tough luck for the owner.

Apparently DD registration is not that hard or expensive. I think that some IAA members are active DD collectors with the necessary paperwork and they can tell you much more than I can. PM me if you want them to get in contact with you.

Reminder- I am not a lawyer, and don’t know squat, so this is just my understanding of the law on this subject. Follow my interpretation at your own risk.

As I stated, these guidelines would SUFFICE, in the act of deactivation of just about any firearm. Did not state or even recommend their validity pursuant to US regulations. More to the point, I posted them as examples for Pepper’s question as to what might constitute making a firearm useless. Forever. Any or all of the listed examples may or may not be required. Past history with the ATF urges me to advise against utilizing a verbal response from any ATF department as legally binding to them. Request a written response to any query and make copies for your records.

As to your mention of the “BATFE has provided specific guidance on how to deactivate. . .” please advise where that document might be found. It would certainly have been sourced instead.

[quote=“John S.”]

Pretty stupid, but they just enforce the laws Congress passed.
(Remember they consider “potato guns” made from PVC pipe and using hair spray to launch a potato a significant distance to be “Destructive devices” too! And they will prosecute.)[/quote]

Actually, they do not, and that is one of theissues many have with BATFE…they make rulings and pass “laws” all on their own without any kind of oversight in many cases, even though they have no power to do such…

Correct. BATF/Treasury classified the USAS12, Striker et al as Destructive Devices under the “sporting purposes” text.

Interestingly, with regards to our group, the “sporting purposes” caveat is applied to modern ammunition. If memory serves, the Barnes/PMC/Taurus collaborative .45acp cartridge (185gr solid copper ANSB) was pushed through several hoops before it could be sold commercially without restriction.

That rule about the combined possession of 37mm launchers and 37mm antipersonnel ammunition in 37mm sounds familiar, and it has been what has led me to believe in the past that the hornet’s nest / baton type rounds might be D.D. ammo, but then I was told it was only if you owned a launcher in the same caliber at the same time. Nobody should really think twice about this law much due to the fact that 37mm launchers are non-guns, and there is no transfer, tax, or registration of any type whatsoever required, so it’s not like law enforcement or the government knows who owns them, or could somehow track anyone down. The only way somebody would get in trouble is if they were out & about and happened to have their launcher and certain types of ammo in plain view, together. When does that ever happen? If a collector were doing a display of some sort with lots of anti-personnel type ammo, then just leave the launchers behind. The launchers are fairly unremarkable anyway, the cartridges are the collectible stuff. And the demill thing does apply if the launcher is non-functional, so then you can have them together. The constructive-possession law as it applies to the combined owning of a launcher and certain ammo reminds me of how the short-barreled shotgun/rifle law works; you can own a short barrel no problem, but if you own a short barrel and a gun which it is compatible with (even if that gun has a longer barrel attached), then you are in possession of an SBS/SBR if they are ever found stored together, or in your vehicle. Picky law, but again, no way for anyone to know since a short barrel by itself (legal) has no tracking, registration, or tax, it’s just a spare part.