I’ve been getting a lot of search hits lately regarding SKS Muzzle Brakes, Grenade Launchers, Aftermarket stocks etc. These are apparently in reference to my posts about pimping my SKS.
I recently ran across Survivor’s SKS Boards
While there, someone asked about an SKS they were purchasing from a dealer. The dealer was insisting that they were selling the SKS as a Curio and Relic but it had an aftermarket T-6 stock. The prospective purchaser was inquiring about the legality of the transaction.
There were many assertions about the applicable laws bandied about. Some of them made sense, some of them did not. In order to help clear the air somewhat, I did some research. Not only did I find that some of the assertions were incorrect, but that I had an inaccurate understanding of the law myself. I feel this is important so I am posting my findings here as well:
First of all…legal disclaimers: I am not a lawyer. This is simply my reading and interpretation of the laws, ATF Regulations, rulings and decisions that I have available to me. Nothing I put out is the offering of legal advice, I am not attempting to practice law in any way shape or form. I do not give advice, legal or otherwise, I only provide the basic information and my interpretation of it, do with it as you will at your own risk. Secondly, this discussion only addresses Federal Firearms Laws, not State or Local. Check your State and Local laws as well as Federal before doing anything.
Now that that’s out of the way.
Some people seem to have a “removable magazine will send you to prison” fetish regarding the SKS. I’ve also seen some comments that indicate the Grenade Launcher on a Yugo SKS is problematic.
Although there is some truth to those contentions, they aren’t as clear cut as those people seem to think.
First of all. the problem is not necessarily encoded in the law itself. Since the timely death of the scary looking firearms ban in 2004, there is no prohibition against “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” or “grenade launchers” in and of themselves.
Where those come into play is in the “sporting purpose test” espoused by the ATF which I will address momentarily.
For purposes of this discussion, unless otherwise specified, when I refer to a “Section” of the law, I am referring to a Section of Title 18, US Code, Chapter 44.
Section 925 states:
“(d)The Attorney General shall authorize a firearm or ammunition to be imported or brought into the United States or any possession thereof if the firearm or ammunition-…
(3)is of a type that does not fall within the definition of a firearm as defined in section 5845(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 and is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes, excluding surplus military firearms…
(e)Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, the Attorney General shall authorize the importation by any licensed importer, of the following:
(1)All rifles and shotguns listed as curios or relics by the Attorney General pursuant to section 921(a)(13), and
(2) All handguns listed as curios or relics by the attorney General pursuant to section 921(a)(13), provided that such handguns are generally recognized as partucularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”
Basically, the Attorney General MAY approve the importation of surplus military firearms or firearms not suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purpose, but MUST approve the firearms set forth in this section, and MUST approve those recognized as Curios or Relics.
Currently, the ATF (under delegated authority of the Attorney General) authorizes for importation firearms that meet the “sporting purpose” test. This test is derived from a study conducted in 1989 which resulted in the “1989 Report”
The criteria chosen by the ATF for the “sporting purpose” test comes directly from this report. If a semi-automatic rifle has ANY of the following features, it is considered to have failed the “sporting purpose” test:
Bayonet or ability to attach a bayonet (ie lug or mount)
A detachable magazine is also listed by the report but is not (to my knowledge) included in the sporting purpose test because many sporting rifles have detachable magazines.
Therefore, since an SKS exibits some of these characteristics, it is banned from importation under section 925(d)(3). However, subsection (e)(1) of the same section allows for its importation because of its current designation as a Curio and Relic (the 20th item down on this list:).
This section, by itself, only applies to importation, once it is in the country, Section 925 no longer applies.
HOWEVER, this section is referred to in Section 922(r) which states:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to assemble from imported parts any semi-automatic rifle or shotgun which is identical to any rifle or shotgun prohibited from importation under section 925(d)(3) of this chapter as not being particularly suitable or readily adaptable to sporting purposes except that this subsection shall not apply to… “[emphasis added] (the exceptions are not germaine to this discussion)
Current ATF rulings hold that any modification of a military surplus C&R firearm from its “original military configuration” voids its status as a C&R firearm. Current ATF rulings also indicate that virtually ANY modification to a firearm can be construed as “assembly” of a new firearm.
Since the Yugo SKS exibits two of the features (three if your model has the flip-up night sights) ANY modification voiding its C&R status could constitute “assembling from imported parts” a rifle “identical” to one banned from importation under section 925(d)(3). In other words modifying it IN ANY WAY may be construed as a violation of Section 922(r).
Removable magazines are not any more egregious than replacing the stock, even if the new stock does not have a pistol grip and is not folding or telescoping. The newly furnished SKS is no longer a C&R, it has a grenade launcher, a bayonet, and possibly night sights; therefore, it may be considered “identical” to a firearm banned from importation under section 925(d)(3); therefore, when you “assembled” it, you may have violated section 922(r).
So, how do we modify our rifles and stay legal?
The obvious answer is to remove all items that make it “identical to any rifle or shotgun banned from importation under section 925(d)(3)…” That means, remove the grenade launcher, remove the bayonet AND MOUNT, and remove the night sights if it has them. Also, avoid bipods and folding or collapsible stocks as they instantly turn your modified SKS back into an illegal model…unless you opt for playing the “ten or less game”.
The ten or less game is enshrined in 27 CFR, Chapter II, part 478.39:
“(a)No person shall assemble a semi-automatic rifle or any shotgun using more than 10 of the imported parts listed in paragraph (c) of this section if the assembled firearm is prohibited from importation under section 925(d)(3) as not being particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purpose.”
(c) For purposes of this section the term imported parts are:
(1) Frames, receivers, Receiver castings, forgings or stampings
(3) Barrel Extensions
(4) Mounting Blocks (trunions)
(5) Muzzle Attachments
(7) Bolt Carriers
(8) Operating Rods
(9) Gas Pistons
(10) Trigger Housings
(16) Pistol Grips
(17) Forearms, Handguards
(18) Magazine Bodies
The point is, if your newly “assembled”, non C&R Yugo SKS is comprised of ten or less of the listed imported parts, is no longer considered to have been “assembled from imported parts” but is considered of US manufacture. If you can successfully play the ten or less game, your rifle is Home grown and you can “Bubba” it to your heart’s content…including installing a removable magazine, bipod, pistol grip etc.
In keeping with playing the “ten or less game” we’ll analyze which parts pertain to the SKS and what we can do to get under the magic number.
The SKS contains the following parts from the list:
1) Receiver. 2) Barrel. 3) Bolt. 4) Bolt Carrier. 5) Operating Rod (gas piston extension). 6) Gas Piston. 7) Trigger Housing. 8) Trigger. 9) Hammer. 10) Sear. 11)Disconnector (some contend that there are actually two disconnectors so, to be safe, this is counted as #12 as well). 13) Buttstocks. 14) Forearm/handguard. 15) Magazine Body. 16) Follower. 17) Muzzle Attachment (Yugo only…grenade launcher).
The only US manufacture replacement parts currently made are the Operating Rod and Gas Piston, the Buttstock and Forearm/handguard, Muzzle attachments (muzzle brake to replace the Yugo grenade launcher), and removable magazines. All of these parts can be obtained from.
That leaves us with an “imported” parts count of:
1) Receiver. 2) Barrel. 3) Bolt. 4) Bolt Carrier. 5) Trigger Housing. 6) Trigger. 7)Hammer. 8) Sear. 9) Disconnector. 10) Second (disputed) Disconnector.
The only problem with this is the fear that some enterprising young ATF agent may interpret the Bayonet and mount as a “Muzzle Attachment” so to be truly safe, the bayonet should be removed and the mount ground or cut off.
I’ve been asking around to see if any of the machine shops that make gun parts might be interested in manufacturing a US made trigger, hammer and/or trigger housing for compliance purposes but have had no takers so far. If enough SKS owners start asking for these parts, I’m sure someone somewhere could be convinced that it would be worth the effort. The lower the “imported” parts count, the less chance that the ATF could creatively interpret some other feature as a counted “imported” part. I’m sure some would like to leave the original fixed box magazine in place versus using duckbill mags of suspect quality and effectiveness which is another reason to come up with more US made compliance parts.
Now, after clarifying all that, I get to the part where I answer the original question. The law precludes importation of banned rifles and it precludes assembly of rifles that would be “identical” to those banned. It says nothing about possessing them, and it says nothing about selling them. That means that it is perfectly legal to own or sell one AS LONG AS YOU WEREN’T THE IMPORTER OR ASSEMBLER…and…AS LONG AS YOU DON’T TRY TO SELL A MODIFIED SKS AS A C&R.
In other words, in answer to the original question, the dealer trying to sell an SKS with an aftermarket stock as a C&R is probably breaking the law. The purchaser should not be as long as they can document the fact that they purchased the rifle modified and didn’t “assemble” it themselves with more than ten of the listed imported parts.
In summary: The best bet is to leave your SKS stock. If you purchase a modified SKS, make sure the bill of sale or receipt clearly identifies it as a non C&R, modified rifle. If you feel you must modify it (or purchased it modified but can’t prove that you didn’t do it yourself), to ensure that you stay legal, you can either remove all of the features that make it fail the sporting purpose test (grenade launcher, night sights, bayonet and lug), OR replace enough parts with US manufacture parts to get below the magic number of ten “imported” parts.
With all that said. I would point out that I’ve never heard of anyone being charged with owning an illegally modified SKS (and I see them at the range all the time) so take all this with a grain of salt. If you want to be absolutely sure that you are staying within the letter of the law, hopefully this will help you do so.
If any of the actual lawyers out there (or anyone else for that matter) finds any problems with my analysis, logic or interpretation, or knows of any case law that might shed more light on this issue, PLEASE let us know about it in the comments.