ATF Quietly Ruled Stocked Pistols are “Short Barreled Rifles” in 1961

Image courtesy Rock Island Auction

U.S.A.-( A proposed rule change about arm braces on pistols prompted this correspondent to research the history of shoulder stocks, pistols, and the National Firearms Act (NFA).

When the National Firearms Act of 1934 was passed, pistols with shoulder stocks were not mentioned. Short barreled rifles were not intended to be in the law. They were inserted at the insistence of a confused congressman on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Fitting a pistol with a shoulder stock had always been an option.  The 1934 NFA was imagined to be regulating shotguns which had been shortened to create concealable, awkward pistols, not pistols that had a stock added to them, creating a carbine more accurate, but less concealable than a regular pistol.

The primary targets of the 1934 bill had been pistols, revolvers, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, and machine guns. Through lobbying by the NRA and concerned citizens all over the country, pistols and revolvers were taken out of the bill.

page 1 of H.R. 9066 hearing on 16 April 1934

The resulting law regulated things most people did not have.

Homer Cummings was the first Attorney General of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) administration.  Cummings pushed hard for national restrictions on firearms. He had a long run as Attorney General. Cummings helped engineer the U.S. v. Miller test case of the law before he left office in 1939.  Cummings is credited with many of the laws which vastly expanded Federal power in criminal matters.

The economic failures of the New Deal, and then World War II, removed most interest in the National Firearms Act. For many years, there was little enforcement. Returning servicemen brought back war trophies of shoulder-stocked Mauser and Luger pistols.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was a part of the Department of the Treasury.  The firearms act had been passed as a tax act to circumvent the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the Tenth Amendment. The reason was openly acknowledged by Cummings and others during the Ways and Means Committee hearings.

The ATF did not officially rule on shoulder-stocked pistols until 1961.

This correspondent contacted Rick Vasquez, an acknowledged expert on ATF history and federal firearms law, to ask when the ATF had formally included shoulder-stocked pistols as short-barreled rifles under the NFA. Rick lived up to his reputation. Within a few hours, Rick had forwarded the documentation showing the rule change in 1961:

A hand gun of the Luger or semi-automatic Mauser type having a barrel less than 16 inches in length with an attachable shoulder stock affixed, or held by the possessor of such a weapon, is held to be a short barrel rifle.

However, a handgun of this type permanently altered by removing the stock attachment device on the hand grip so that a stock may not be attached is held to be a pistol.

Revenue Ruling 54-455, C.B. 1954-2, 34, revoked.

Shoulder-stocked pistols have always been available. They were in common use before the NFA was passed. They were never “dangerous and unusual” weapons.

The ATF has recognized this fact by placing the aforementioned Luger and Mauser shoulder-stocked pistols into the “Curio and Relic” category, nullifying the poor judgment shown about those particular firearms with the rule change in 1961.  The placement of Luger and Mauser pistols, made with shoulder stocks, before 1946, into the Curio and Relic category, appears to have been made in 1981. Here is a letter reproduced from a Luger forum:

Dear Dr. :

This refers to your letters of March 13 and March 30, 1981, in
which you ask that certain Luger and Browning Hi-Power pistols
equipped with reproduction shoulder stocks be considered for
removal from the provisions of the National Firearms Act.

It is not the policy of this Bureau to render a classification on
a shoulder stock which in and of itself is not subject to the
provisions of the Gun Control Act or the NFA. However, as you are
aware, certain Luger and Browning Hi-Power pistols when accompanied
by original shoulder stocks have been removed from the purview of
the NFA.


Another letter on the forum references Mauser pistols.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) was a botched disaster from the beginning. Reading the transcripts of the Ways and Means Committee hearings is like a re-run of gun control hearings of today. The same mix of arrogance and ignorance is displayed.

The original disaster of the NFA should not be compounded by the recently proposed rule to declare pistols with arm braces to be short-barreled rifles, subject to the $200 NFA tax stamp. It would be better to remove short-barreled shotguns and rifles from the NFA altogether.

Because of the Gun Control Act of 1968, removing them will take an act of Congress.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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