I put this together to try to explain gun laws to a couple of buddies and figured I would share. I realize this is a simplified view and that are some nuances and caveats to the info shown, but hopefully it helps someone.





This doesn’t actually prove a point to anti gun people. They could easily look at this and say “wow that scary black gun is legal? We should have laws that more effectively ban these types of weapons!”


Rifle= Barrel length (16″ and up). Overall length (26″ and up). If you’re shorter on either measure, or both, you’re either an sbr (with a rifle stock) or a pistol (buffer tube or brace). Hopefully that makes sense.

Agree. The audience I shared this with was pro gun/new to guns.

This may come off as stupid but what differentiates a rifle from a pistol?

Back during the prohibition era, there was no way to do background checks on people, so the feds tried to regulate guns commonly used by gangsters.

To this end, the federal government created a variety of categories of firearms: Rifle, Short-barreled rifle, Shotgun, short-barreled shotgun, Pistol, Firearm, and AOW (any other weapon)

These categories were defined largely based on ordinary usage vs. usage by gangs, with greater requirements for registration/taxation the more likely the firearms were to be used by gangsters. It should also be noted that the $200 tax required for some of theses weapons was, in 1930, designed to be prohibitively expensive and a de-facto ban on the weapons.

So, here’s what the categories mean:

Rifle: barrel over 16″, overall length greater than 26″, has shoulder stock.

Short-barrel Rifle: barrel less than 16″, has shoulder stock.

Shotgun: Barrel greater than 18″, no twisting barrel rifling.

Short-barrel Shotgun: Barrel less than 18″, no twisting barrel rifling.

Pistol: Barrel less than 16″, length less than 26″, no shoulder stock.

Firearm: component of any above with serial number but no barrel or stock, firearm with overall length > 26″ but barrel less than 16″ and no stock, a few other things.

AOW: mostly items not included above such as pen guns, cane guns, shotguns with no shoulder stock, and (notably) pistols with vertical forward grips.

Now you can see from above that there are a lot of categories with very specific definitions. Not only that, but there are HUGE legal distinctions between these categories:

Pistols and rifles and “firearms” are generally the least restricted, although laws on interstate sales differ considerably, as well as age requirements.

SBR and SBS require substantial paperwork, background checks, and a $200 tax stamp which must be purchased (as mentioned earlier, this was originally supposed to prevent anyone from owning these firearms).

AOW is a weird category where some items are prohibited and some require a smaller $5 stamp.

So, if you have a firearm in a safe category, and you modify it (by changing the barrel/stock/grip/etc.) into a more restricted category, then you have created a prohibited firearm without having the necessary manufacturing permit or license.

And, it’s REALLY easy to accidentally make an illegal firearm. Notably, since the laws of the 1930s, steel and manufacturing techniques have gotten a lot better, and many people now have light rifles that can operate at very high pressures which means they don’t need as long of a barrel to accelerate a bullet to a high velocity. A shorter barrel means more accuracy and a lighter and more portable firearm, so many rifles are now made to the legal limit of 16″, and a desire to go even shorter has led many to either obtain a short-barrel rifle stamp, or cheat an make a “pistol” instead to avoid the extra cost and paperwork.

The game changed a few years ago when an Iraq war veteran got approval for a pistol “arm brace.” These pistol arm braces are technically supposed to be used to stabilize a pistol on a person’s forearm, but many people have realized they can function just like a shoulder stock as well. ATF realized they screwed up in approving the arm brace, so they sent out a letter trying to scare people away from using an arm brace as a shoulder stock (hence the bottom right category of the image).

TL;DR: In 1930 the federal government created a bunch of classifications of firearms based on common usage in 1930 with huge cost/penalty differences between the categories to punish organized crime. Today, the most desired firearms for non-criminal use all crowd the intersection of these categories and it’s very easy to move from one to the other with only minor changes to a firearm, with potentially huge legal consequences for that reclassification.

It’s not a felony to shoulder an arm brace FFS.

Oh ok I got ya. So according to ATF pistol vs rifle is determined by the part that doesn’t shoot (if it doesn’t meet the length requirements) How dumb.

30 caliber magazine clips

I think it’s just boogeyman shit.

without boogeyman shit, the only thing left for gun forums to talk about would be 9mm vs 45.

I’m here from /sub/all and know absolutely nothing about guns aside from video games. Can you explain the differences in the pictures? What makes certain setups legal vs. illegal?

You forgot something. 27″ OAL AR pistol with a vertical foregrip.

They’ll could charge you with one, though being successful in getting a conviction is a conversation for a judge, some attorneys, and a jury.


Edited to untwist the panties of those that were offended by those letters.

I can think of a few other things.

AKs aren’t accurate ARs are jam machines M14 is the greatest/worst rifle ever (take your pick) 5.7x28mm = .22 LR Tacticool home defense guns will get you arrested for some reason (I guess that’s sort of boogeyman shit)The list goes on.

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The Winchester Model 1905

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The M1 Garand

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The M-14

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The AR-15

Guess which fires the smallest, least deadliest bullet? ;)

Semi-automatic Rifle:

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The M1 Garand

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The M-14

Semi-automatic Rifle:

The AR-15

Guess which fires the smallest, least deadliest bullet? 😉

They’ll charge you with one

Will they though? Because to my knowledge it hasn’t happened, and until it does I think it’s just boogeyman shit.

If you want to err on the side of caution that’s fine, but it’s legally horse shit.


Hi and welcome to /sub/guns! Most of us are chill.

I just want to point out really quick for anyone unfamiliar with guns that none of the rifles shown in the post are automatic (machine guns / assault rifles). U.S. law essentially banned those in 1986. What we’re looking at is a semi-auto clone built for civilian use, firing one shot per trigger pull. This is not an obvious fact to the uninitiated, and I want to make it clear, since these rifles look exactly like military weapons.

From a technical standpoint, all these rifles are not only the same as each other, but also the same as most other civilian rifles (e.g. hunting rifles). However, perception seems to matter the most in gun laws, so we have not only the complex rules depicted in the post, but also the “assault weapons” political shit storm – which is based entirely on the fact that some civilian semi-autos look dangerous and some do not.

European taking a deep breath and commenting (I would never usually, but it showed up on my/sub/all!).

This post was genuinely really interesting. I don’t see ‘scary black guns’ when I see this (well to someone who isn’t used to members of the public being allowed to have this kind of weapon it kind of is obv, but that’s a general aside!) – it allows me to get a better idea of what kind of legislation is already in place in the US and therefore understand each side of the debate a little better.

He designed a bull-pup conversion kit for a M1a (got like 85ish% of it designed) that was intended to look like a halo battle rifle. He 3d printed some parts for the main body of the kit. And clearly these parts would never actually hold up to a test fire. They were just test parts to see how they fit together. Somehow, no body in the class is actually sure how, someone found out what he was designing. I can only assume it was some college liberal “my fee-fees are more important than anything and guns are basically Satan” kind of person that managed to find out through some unknown means. But somebody must have alerted the ATF and they proceeded to crawl up his paraplegic ass even though there was nothing they legally could do about it cause of our states laws on guns and personal gun manufacturing.

*edit: On the day of his final presentation on his bull-pup kit, a couple of ATf reps or some shit stood at the back of the room to make sure he didn’t shoot us all or some shit. From this brief experience with the ATF I can safely say they are basically the soccer moms of regulations that buy their kid GTA and then go bitch about how graphic it is and that it is the game designers fault that their child played such a game and not their ignorant slut selves.


Surely Mosin-Nagant is greatest rifle ever?

A shorter barrel means more accuracy

You sure about this tid bit?

Indeed comrade

Indeed comrade

27″ OAL AR pistol firearm with a vertical foregrip.





The ridiculous thing is that not even pistols are designed to be fired with one hand.


Just to add to the ATF being a heaping pile of stupid, they seem to think my friend is the face of terrorism… He’s in a power chair and can only kinda move his hands and arms. And all cause he designed a bull-pup conversion for a M1a on our schools computers. Did I also mention it is legal to conceal carry on said school? And that at least half our machining department is making parts for their guns. And that it is also legal to make anything gun related in our state, without dealing with the feds, that has a bore diameter smaller than 1.5″ as long as it stays in the state and isn’t being sold. But the handicapped guy is apparently the face of terrorism according to the ATF.


Ahh, with the title “gun law stupidity” thought it was trying to prove something.

What is does the law say about having the parts but not having them installed? Or having another gun where you could take parts from (ex real butt stock on rifle that could be moved to pistol)?

That’s more babysitting than I would ever tolerate at a range.

That’s because it was settled, mosin nagant is the greatest rifle ever.

Gangsters in movies rarely use lever action shotguns so they are safe to own.

Why 27″? Go for 26.1″ for an extra bit of absurdity.

Meh, I’m pro gun-laws, but I’m also pro gun. This was both funny and informative. Reminds me of when Jon Stewart used to just report about something with zero commentary, and let the very fact of its existence ridicule itself.

they are basically the soccer moms of regulations that buy their kid GTA and then go bitch about how graphic it is and that it is the game designers fault that their child played such a game and not their ignorant slut selves.

Being huge with video games (and not so much on guns) this pretty much explains the situation entirely for me. I’m glad that video games don’t have half the problems guns do.

I’ll tell you which one is the deadliest. It’s the one you can attach a flashlight to.

Add a picture of a DIAS.

Regulation for the sake of “doing something” is a terrible idea.

Most of those definitions come straight from Congress and the ATF just enforces them.

Don’t get me wrong. The ATF is still bonkers on a lot of shit but they do have to deal with a lot of shitty laws passed by Congress.



Frustrating trying to keep all this shit straight. They all fucking shoot bullets, if you can own one at all you should be able to own any other one.

Between their gun laws, censorship of media, and anti-car culture and anti-motorcycle laws I see no reason at all to live there… Pretty much everything I like would be gimped by their pansy-ass nanny state bullshit.

Don’t go to Australia then.


Australian gun laws: 5 round pump action shotgun illegal. 5 round lever action shotgun legal.

I would be fine with more detailed and universal background checks as long as there were no restrictions on what guns you could buy, and there was no form of a registry.

I am also in favor of teaching gun safety in public school.

(Full disclosure, I currently have no guns as I live in Manhattan.)

Should make one with just tan guns and gauge the reactions from people.

Please do it and upload the video

Hello felony!

For extra fun ATF letters of opinion are enforced as law until thrown out by a court. There was that 3 year period where a shoe string, 14 inches long with a loop at both ends was legally considered to be a machine gun.

Well, when it doubles as a; spear, oar, shovel, bat, hammer, etc, it’s hard not to say it’s the greatest rifle ever.

I’ll add. I have stamps for all my nfa items. And no laws were broken when making the “chart”

No stock and designed to be fired with one hand makes it a pistol. That’s why adding the vertical foregrip is bad. It makes it so you use two hands and now you’ve mad an “any other weapon”

This here ghost gun can shoot out 3,000 rounds per second. To put that into perspective…

Think of the children! /s

All illegal in NJ…. Fuck I hate this state.

whhhaaat? 😀 it’s a clip, it’s for 30 cal rounds, and it actually goes in a magazine 😀

don’t hate me because i’m beautiful, hate me because i’m just that damn beautiful.

and because i’m right.

Although I think the atf is insane…they’ve stated that shouldering it redesigns it into an sbr. Possession of an unregistered SBR is a felony. I’m guessing the likelihood of prosecution is low (since you’d have to go shooting with an atf agent present), but still a possibility. Unless there’s new info?

Just one little nit-picky correction, the NFA was signed into law in 1934, not 1930. Other than that, really good break down.

An interesting fact about the short barreled classes: The early drafts of the NFA listed pistols as a restrictive class due to their concealablity. SBR/SBS were added to prevent people from cutting down their rifles and shotguns to get around the pistol restriction. In the final draft, pistols were removed a restricted class, but SBR/SBS were left in.

So shouldering and firing my 1911 turns it into an SBR?

It’s not generally true. There certainly are barrel lengths that are ideal. But as a general rule? Nope.

It basically comes down to arbitrary laws set forth by the ATF.

You misspelled 10mm

We’ve got more than enough retardation in the Firearms Act to make up for it, though.

The ATF gets to interpret the laws congress passes; that means that they get to decide what the laws mean. Congress never passed any laws regarding holding an AR pistols, or any pistol for that matter, up to your shoulder during firing. And for a long time it was fine.

This further highlights the utter absurdity of the NFA and the ATF’s existence.

Yes they did:

Any person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA.

From what I understand you can own all the parts but the illegal part is when they are assembled into an illegal form without paperwork. Idk what legally assembled together is either.

A $20,000 piece of metal.

The ATF says it’s a machinegun.

unless they really dislike you

So, everyone?

An interesting fact about the short barreled classes: The early drafts of the NFA listed pistols as a restrictive class due to their concealablity. SBR/SBS were added to prevent people from cutting down their rifles and shotguns to get around the pistol restriction. In the final draft, pistols were removed a restricted class, but SBR/SBS were left in.

That would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating.

rule of thumb is always keep .5″ margin. always. some tape measures aren’t 100% accurate, or the person checking isn’t holding it right, keeping the end in line with the end of the firearm, etc. but it’s usually considered to be within +- .25″, which gives you .25″ leeway. thus if you stick to .5 over, no concerns at all, ever.

well, save those idiots who wear a badge and think they know all gun laws ever because they wear said badge, but no amount of compliance will save anyone from those types.

I’ll take your word but you may want to still look into a good “pupper protection” program

I just moved to California…little nervous about the whole registering my guns things.

While “arbitrary laws” is a pretty good sum-up, it more specifically comes from the 1930s-era National Firearms Act (NFA). This was a response to media panic and was intended to (among other things) all but eliminate concealable weapons from civilian ownership. (The $200 tax, at the time, was prohibitive to all but the extremely wealthy.) It makes more sense when you know that pistols were originally supposed to be on the NFA, but were taken off at the last moment (phew).

They also put some other “scary” things on the list, such as fully automatic firearms and suppressors.

Laws for firearms seem very reactionary and based more on vague aesthetics rather than actual reasoning. I hope I’m not out of place asking but, from experienced gun owners, how do you think guns should be treated by law?

Wait, what happened?

22lr is clearly the superior self defense round. That shit bounces around in the skull causing more damage and won’t over penetrate.

There is also Constructive Intent.

If you have an AR Pistol with a carbine buffer tube, which is legal, and have extra carbine buttstocks laying around for your other rifles, that could be construed as constructive intent, as per one of their opinion letters.

I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not? They’re called Fudds. As in, Elmer Fudd. As long as they have their deer rifles and duck shotguns, they’re happy.

I’m glad that video games don’t have half the problems guns do.

Yet, but boy have the liberal Democrats tried spearheaded by Hilliary Clinton the first time back in the late 90s early 2000s.

This is why games have a rating system for parents to completely ignore.

This is also why many of us older gamers were ready for “their” bullshit when “gamer gate” happened. Its so nice that Gawker media is was taken down by the Hulkster.

That’s the point. They are trying to make the gun unwelcome so he will just leave it at home next time.

Carbines weigh less and maneuver easier.

Local indoor gun range posts an employee behind my right shoulder to make sure i don’t shoulder my AR pistol. They are worried about their licences, they are all decent people and they do it as precaution so i don’t hold it against them

Not really. These rules were mostly defined in 1934 by the National Firearms Act. There’s a great write-up elsewhere in the thread, but I’ll summarize:

Gangsters in the ’30s were really worrying people, and the public wanted action. Congress drafted a set of laws that would crack down hard on the weapons commonly used by organized crime: pistols, shortened rifles/shotguns, and automatics. They also tossed in suppressors for good measure. Some compromise happened, and pistols were removed from the final draft. The remaining rules made it illegal to own any of the restricted types without first paying the government an exorbitant fee for registration.

Fast-forward to the modern day. As anyone could have predicted, criminals still favor pistols, since they’re easily hidden and handled. But the NFA rules are still in full effect, so anything besides “standard rifle” and “standard pistol” will get you in trouble. The thing that made this complicated was the emergence of the “AR pistol”, a chopped-down AR-15 with no stock that legally counts as a pistol. Suddenly, the hypocrisy of allowing only pistols and long rifles (but nothing in between) was cast into light. The only difference between types within the AR-15 family is the presence of stocks, grips, and a few inches of barrel. The weapons still function the same. Yet the wrong combination of parts will land you in prison.

Your theory about banning certain combinations of parts as a desperation measure actually isn’t wrong – but it’s not on the subject of rifle vs. pistol weirdness. What you’re looking for is the Clinton “Assault Weapons” ban.

In the ’90s, public outcry over several high-profile mass shootings led to legislative action on gun control. Unfortunately, as usual, the facts of gun crime and the technical details of weapons were lost in a sea of fear and anger, and Congress ended up targeting military-style rifles (accounting for less than 3% of gun crime). The problem was, actual assault rifles had been NFA restricted since 1934 and essentially banned since 1986, and they were not in common ownership. So lawmakers created a new classification: “Assault Weapon”. This classification involved going through a list of guns and picking out the scary ones – anything that looked like an assault rifle or a machine pistol or even an especially beefy shotgun. Then, to make sure gun makers couldn’t just release new designs to skirt the ban, they added a list of prohibited “features” that would qualify a gun for the ban.

With full auto already banned and semi-auto irreversibly standardized, legislators chose features carefully so as not to anger the hunters and old-fashioned folk. This list read as follows:

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

Folding or telescoping stock Pistol grip Bayonet mount Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one Grenade launcher mountSemi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor Barrel shroud safety feature that prevents burns to the operator Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearmSemi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

Folding or telescoping stock Pistol grip Detachable magazineNone of the features listed made these firearms any more lethal, but that didn’t matter. The list would effectively kill off the “military style” weapons, and that would be a huge PR win and solve the problem in the eyes of the public.

The ban expired a decade later, and gun crime has continued to fall. It didn’t prevent mass shootings either. But it is a perfect example of how a desperation measure ended up being useless since it was driven by perception rather than fact.

Gun crime, both in the ’90s and today, is mostly done with handguns. The streets are crawling with stolen or straw purchased pistols. Thousands die to firearm suicides. But it’s hard to come up with a good solution for those issues. So politicians will continue to rail about “military style assault weapons” and gun owners will continue to protest this ignorance. Until this focus shifts, useful measures (like expanding background checks, funding better enforcement of firearm laws, and providing better education and training) will be left alone.

“pupper protection” program

More guns.

Intent plays little to nothing in the legal world

Unless you’re Hillary Clinton.

Length to a certain point is meaningless in accuracy, aside from velocity gains.

What affects accuracy is the stiffness of the barrel. This is why a bull barrel in the same length as a pencil barrel will be more accurate.

A short bull barrel can be just as accurate as a long pencil barrel.

Most of those arbitrary laws were passed by Congress. They don’t need the ATF to become fucked up.

You should come up to NY (or northeast USA in general)…all that is “illegal” haha

You should add a section for putting vertical grips on ‘firearms’ with an OAL of 26”.

Nah just pin the stock, muzzle device, and magazine and you’re good to go /s.

Adjusted for Inflation, $200 from 1930= $2750 today.

Same reason people want to drive fast cars, or build coin collections, or play extreme sports. They enjoy it.

So, you got a stamp for that puppy? You used the same lower in the sbr/rifle pictures and the same upper in the sbr/pistol pictures. That makes me question why you’d have a pistol with the brace and a sbr that have to share an upper.

Really?! Wow TIL! I always thought they were inherently different in design.

Nice info, but I’m going to need you to put it into meme form so I can post it on facebook. I’m too lazy to cut and past FOUR things.

The ATF disagrees, FFS.


If a rifle length could ‘get the job done just as well’, why would it even matter that we would prefer a shorter barrel in a legal sense?

You can’t attach a vertical grip to a pistol without making it an AOW, unless it’s OAL is over 26 inches, in which case it becomes a “firearm”

I promise not to call the ATF. I just want to see it.

Don’t forget don’t use hand loads for self defense rounds otherwise it’ll look like you were planning on killing someone.

.394 cal then lol

clip change speed


10mm is best mm

Was thinking this also lol OP better watch his 6 and check on the status of his dog

Vermont has incredibly lenient gun laws for any state.

Source: I own guns in Vermont.

Whether or not it has a stock is the only defining difference.

It’s over, nothing stuck. He still does his thing, but I’m not sure what became of his FFL business.

How legal it is is a question for a court to decide. The ATF thinks it is illegal and will arrest you and you can then spend tons of money and time defending yourself.

They didn’t say that. Their specific wording may be interpreted that way, but it certainly doesn’t plainly say it.

It’d also never hold up in court.

Until there’s case law supporting that conclusion, I say it’s internet blogger demagoguery and pay it little heed.

That’s a training difference, not a design difference. One handed pistol shooting was common before competitive pistol shooting popularized two-handed grips.

I tend to assume ignorance, then stupidity, then selfishness, over malice in most cases.

I don’t really think that’s the case with this one.

One of the few things Canada is not being silly about.




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