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ATF’s Proposed Rules on Firearms, Receivers [Guide]

We take a look at the ATF's recent proposals redefining firearms and receivers and help you understand what it all means.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced a new proposal redefining firearms, following President Biden’s Executive Actions in April.

The 115-page set of proposals takes a stab at reclassifying a firearm’s “frame or receiver.” Additionally, it sets out requirements for identification of firearms.

Fully Modded P80 PF9SS (Glock 43)
The new proposals could spell trouble for this fully modded P80 PF9SS (Glock 43).

If approved, these changes could lead to frustration for the firearms industry and headaches for law-abiding gun owners.

Legalese is sometimes difficult to parse through, so let’s break it down for you in layman’s terms.

We’ll outline each of the ATF’s proposals and tell you what you can do to combat them.

Table of Contents


Redefining the Frame

So what are these proposed rules, and why should you care?

Essentially, these rules aim to ensure every single component of a firearm will have a serial number and must be purchased through an FFL.

Gun Laws

The biggest change to the proposed rules is the redefining of a “frame or receiver.”

Instead of what we currently know and love to be a firearm receiver – the part that contains the trigger and actual firing mechanism — the new definition would include anything necessary to start, complete, or continue a firing sequence.

Not such a big deal, right?

80% Arms GST-9 Parts
80% Arms GST-9 Parts

Except everything from a hammer, bolt, bolt carrier, cylinder, trigger, and firing pins are necessary for a firing sequence under these rules.

Essentially, if all of these components are considered necessary, anything containing the components will be defined as a “frame or receiver” and require a serial number.

A standard AR-15 lower would still keep its serial number, but the upper portion would need one too — so long as it contained one of the “necessary components.”

Lots of AR-15 Uppers
Lots of AR-15 Uppers

Buying a frame or receiver requires going through an FFL.

If all firearms components were to require serial numbers, then you can say goodbye to having uppers shipped directly to your doorstep.

DIY & 80% Kits

For those of you thinking you’ll just assemble your own firearms using parts kits for upper receivers… hold up.

The ATF has some thoughts on that too.

80% Arms GST-9 Parts
The ATF has some thoughts on 80% kits.

Parts kits with partially completed frames or receivers and parts that can be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to fire ammo would need to have the frame or receiver serialized also.

80% Arms GST-9 Pin in Frame
If you make it, the government wants a serial number on it.

So, you’ll be able to buy the parts kit online as before, but the actual upper will require going through an FFL.

The proposal also states consumers would need to serialize any components re-defined as frames or receivers within 60 days of the rules being finalized.

Potential Pitfalls

There are some potential problems the proposed rules may run into. One such issue is that the definition of “frame or receiver” would mean a firearm could have multiple frames or receivers.

According to the proposed rule, if there ends up being more than one frame or receiver under the new definition, the ATF will determine for you whether a specific part of your firearm is considered a “frame or receiver.”

atf 16inch meme
Yeah these guys get to make that call…

Of course, a rule that says you need to ask for an opinion on what something is isn’t actually a rule.

And if this were actually finalized, 2A attorneys will hopefully be ready to argue against enforcement of an arbitrary rule.

Another issue centers on existing DIY guns. The proposals require that reclassified frames or receivers be serialized if the rules are enacted.

80% Arms GST-9 Shooting Tan Front
You’ll have to serialize that gun IF the proposals turn into regulations.

Anything defined as frames or receivers without serialization would be illegal under the new measures. And it doesn’t matter if the guns were created before the rule went into effect.

Making something illegal because of a new law when it was previously legal is the very definition of an ex post facto law — clearly forbidden under the U.S. Constitution.

US Constitution
Oh yeah, this little thing.

You know, that document from over 200 years ago that our Founding Fathers signed, spelling out the rights of the people and the limits on the government. Yeah, that one.

What This Means for Gun Owners

While all of this seems like another attempt to infringe on 2A rights, there isn’t a need to panic yet.

Technically, these are just proposed rule changes by the ATF. Before anything can be made into law, the proposals must be published in the Federal Registrar and the public granted a 90-day comment period.

That comment period expired August 19, 2021, at 11:5pm EDT, so now we wait and see…

Gollum Listening
The ATF reading the comments…

For those who strongly oppose these potential revisions, there’s no better time to join and support a 2A advocacy group.

Consider donating money or joining the National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Firearms Policy Coalition, or even a state/local gun group. Just get involved!

FPC Logo
The Firearms Policy Coalition is one such group that fights for 2A rights.

Sitting back and hoping for the best will not preserve our rights. Supporting these groups will help make our voices heard.


The ATF’s proposals seek to redefine what makes a firearm a firearm, but again, these are just proposals. They haven’t been passed into law.

So while we wait to see what comes of this, we suggest you support your favorite Second Amendment advocacy groups so they can continue the fight.

80% Arms GST-9 Complete
80% Arms GST-9 Complete

Stay tuned to Pew Pew Tactical as we will be sure to provide updates as the situation evolves.

Stay tuned to Pew Pew Tactical for more on this evolving story. To learn more about Biden’s Actions, Braces, 80% Kits, and Red Flag Laws, check out our guides:

Biden Targets Braces & 80% Kits with Executive Actions

Or want to check out our top picks?

*Article updated August 20, 2021 at 4:07 p.m. EDT.

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18 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    This isn't that hard if they want to eliminate the 80% ghost gun market. Do you trust yourself to machine a barrel? Can most machinists easily machine a barrel? Serialize the barrel. No Barrel = no gun.

    January 29, 2022 11:26 am
    • Commenter Avatar


      February 3, 2022 3:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Charles coisman

    I’m wondering if any group has had a lawyer right a wordsmithed comment thats free to plagerise? I can make an articulate argument but I’m not a professional.

    May 22, 2021 5:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      An original articulated argument is better than a copy and pasted one. You do you! No one is grading it.

      May 22, 2021 5:51 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I have tried 21 times to leave a comment. I did NOT get thru the title for the changes. What exactly must be written to comment on the proposed changes ?

    May 13, 2021 7:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul Yen

      Hi Chuck, I'm not sure what you mean by the title for the changes, but you'll be able to leave a comment online via the link in the article. Make sure you check out the "Requirements" section on that linked page to include all the information that they ask for when making your comment. Also keep in mind the proposed rules may not actually be available for comment online yet, so you may need to give them a few more days. Hope that helps!

      May 13, 2021 9:02 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Charles Teasley

        Followed all of the links. The "Submit Comment Online" link on the ATF website, sent me to the regulations.gov website, but not to anywhere I could make a comment. It took me to the front page. A "Welcome" banner, and a "What's Trending" section is there with proposed fishing regulations, etc. I checked the original link, and it does have a complete path, but the page doesn't seem to exist. If you search the website, there is nothing. Irritating at best.

        May 17, 2021 2:00 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          Hi Charles, the regulations.gov website appears to now have an entry on the proposed rules regarding the new definitions and is accepting comments. If it isn't one of the topics on the front page, you can use the search bar to search for "definition frame receiver" and that should get you to the ATF's proposed rules. Hope that helps!

          May 21, 2021 6:34 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    So just a simple statement. How does a non governing or elected organization make laws/ regulations for citizens. Who do these abc groups think they can overwrite the constitution. We need to stand up against the tyranny.

    May 13, 2021 5:02 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Ok, just relax. No "abc" groups overwrite the constitution. Every group in the government puts forth proposals for recommended changes. These are only proposals. The DEA will come out with proposals for changes in classification of certain drugs. This goes to congressional committee, who can drag the fight out until they actual vote to maybe move it to the floor........... and so on and so on. So relax, the President just wanted to say, "see, I'm doing something".

      May 13, 2021 5:58 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        What happened to bump stocks then? I don't remember legislation making them illegal or legislation being passed (at the federal level) that made them illegal. Yet thousands of them were confiscated from the manufacturer. Sounds to me like an "ABC" organization ran rough shod over the Constitution.

        May 13, 2021 8:46 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          President Trump, after the Las Vegas shootings, told the AG's office to investigate the legality of bump stocks. The main issue was did they turn a legal firearm into an illegal machine gun. The AG's office determined that because a trigger only had to be pulled once, this qualified it as illegal under the existing laws. And just a side note, on March 25, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban.

          May 14, 2021 8:38 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      First - the ATF is not making any laws. They make recommendations for rules and laws concerning firearms.

      Second - as much as it looks like it to some people there is no tyranny going on here. Whats going on is a president who wants to enact some draconian measures based upon inaccurate, incorrect, and flawed information because he used this promise to get elected so he is doing things to appease that sector of voters so he can say "I tried, it was those damn " - in other words pretty much what every president has done for any niche crisis they created with words with them being the only one that can solve the niche crisis problem while campaigning for the office of president including Trump (which by the way was going to enact some gun control if he had been re-elected, not like Biden but some.).

      Third - after some research I've discovered this has a chance someplace between there being a snowball in hell and pigs flying. Its not just the ATF coming up with rules. These rules are a change to law because ATF rules are codified in law, as such it will need to pass a congressional committee then make it to the floor via vote the go for a vote in the house and senate. In the long run, the democrats do not have the number of votes to get it through all that simply because they do not have the numbers and would need republicans to join them and enough republicans are not going to join the democrats on this in enough numbers to make it pass. Republicans have elections coming up and another presidential election is four years and they are not going to risk alienating almost 2/3's of the voters in this country when those 2/3 own guns and believe in the second amendment and their right to have guns and exercise the right unburdened by government infringement. Even if it some way or another miraculously it gets through all that voting and gets codified in law its going to meet opposition in the courts and eventually the SCOTUS and more than likely go down in flames because there is so much wrong with this legally aside from the constitutionality issue.

      May 14, 2021 3:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    So I have several uppers for my AR-15 rifles, and several lowers. All the lowers have serial numbers, but if I do not put a serial number on the uppers within 60 days of the "rules" going into effect then my guns are illegal?

    May 13, 2021 10:43 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul Yen

      Hi John, based on the proposed rules, everyone will be required to put identifying information (i.e. serial numbers) on their frames and receivers within 60 days of the rules being finalized, which would include uppers and lowers. If you don't do so, you would be in violation of the rules, and the ATF may decide to pay you a friendly visit.

      May 13, 2021 6:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Ok, i'm still a little unclear on a couple of things. so under the "proposed" rules I can't buy a lower parts kit (not the lower, just the internal bits like hammer, springs, etc...) unless I go through an FFL?

    May 13, 2021 10:31 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Hi John, the proposed rules only apply to the parts that are a "frame or receiver," so only the outer portions of the firearm would likely fall into this category and would require purchase through an FFL. The guts of the firearm like the hammer and springs could still be purchased the same way as before.

      May 13, 2021 1:54 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Thanks Paul :)

        May 13, 2021 2:51 pm
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