Firearms Industry Overview Regulations


One common refrain echoed by anti-gun advocates is that the firearms industry is unregulated. To most people, this sounds alarming. How can the gun industry have no oversight or government regulation? The truth is the gun industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries. It is not, however, regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 1976, the Consumer Product Safety Act was amended. In part, the amendment reads, “The Consumer Product Safety Commission shall make no ruling or order that restricts the manufacture or sale of firearms, firearms ammunition, or components of firearms ammunition including black powder or gunpowder for firearms.”

This exemption for firearms and ammunition was necessary because anti-gun advocates, namely Handgun Control, Inc., (now the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence) petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission in June 1974, to adopt “a rule banning the sale of bullets for handguns.”

Since it was not the intent of the Consumer Product Safety Act to empower the Consumer Product Safety Commission with the authority to ban ammunition, the petition was denied. The commission, in response to the petition, said, “The commission does not believe that Congress, in establishing the commission and in transferring to it the authority to administer the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, intended to confer upon the commission the authority to ban handgun bullets.”

Other industries are also exempt from the CPSA. For example, tobacco, motor vehicles, pesticides, aircraft, aircraft engines and boats are all exempt from the CPSA. Are these industries unregulated? Clearly not. A host of laws and regulations govern the manufacturing of these products. In a similar manner, numerous laws and regulations govern the firearms industry.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the most prominent regulator of firearms. For example, in order to sell firearms, an individual must be licensed with ATF as a Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer. An FFL holder is required to keep meticulous records of all firearms acquired and sold. These records include the firearm’s serial and model number, the manufacturer, the caliber and type of firearm, the date of the transfer and the person to whom the firearm is sold. These records must be kept in a bound volume and ready for inspection by ATF agents.

Additionally, federal laws govern how and under what conditions a firearm may be sold to an individual. For example, every gun purchaser must complete an ATF form 4473. On this form, they must provide verification of identity and answer questions regarding any criminal history, mental competency and drug use, among other things.

Many firearms and firearm-related products are banned under federal law. For example, it is illegal to manufacture and sell to the public: sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and armor-piercing ammunition.

Federal law also requires manufacturers to include an indelible serial number on all firearms. The manufacturer must keep records of the serial number, date of manufacture, type of firearm and to whom it was sent. The ATF routinely traces firearms used in crime by contacting the manufacturer and recreating the chain of distribution.

Other agencies and regulatory bodies also regulate the firearms and ammunition industry. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration has regulations regarding transporting firearms on aircraft. Shipping regulations and package labeling requirements promulgated by the Department of Transportation regulate how ammunition must be shipped. With a few specific exceptions, firearms can only be shipped across state lines between federally licensed FFL holders. Individuals cannot buy firearms through the mail.

In total, an estimated 20,000 federal, state and local gun laws are on the books. Some of these laws cover individual buyers; some govern what can be made and sold. Others regulate how and under what terms and conditions firearms and ammunition can be distributed throughout the country. Firearms and ammunition, while exempt from the CPSA, are subject to the same product-liability laws as other products. As such, the firearms and ammunition industry is dedicated to the manufacturing of quality, safe products for use by responsible, law-abiding citizens.

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) was founded in 1926 at the request of the U.S. government to create safety and reliability standards for the design, manufacture, transportation, storage and use of firearms, ammunition and components.

SAAMI is also an accredited standards developer for the ANSI. As such, SAAMI’s standards for industry test methods, definitive proof loads and ammunition performance specifications are subject to ANSI review and various ANSI criteria.

According to ANSI, “approval of an American National Standard requires verification by ANSI that the requirements for due process, consensus and other criteria for approval have been met by the standards developer.”

Standards are developed when the governing body, SAAMI, proposes a new standard and circulates the draft to canvassees. Canvassees for each standard include government agencies (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Customs Service), non-SAAMI member companies and interested parties (such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology). Once the draft standard has been reviewed and returned to SAAMI with comments or corrections, the canvass group votes on whether or not to accept the standard. If there is disagreement and a canvassee opposes the standard, but the standard is accepted by the other members of the canvass group, an ANSI appeals process decides the matter.

It is ANSI and SAAMI policy that every five years the standards be revised or reaffirmed. Even if the standards remain the same, they must go through the approval process outlined above. Simply stated, the standards accepted by ANSI and promulgated by SAAMI are reviewed and accepted by outside experts, and every five years the validity of the standards are reaffirmed.

SAAMI has been audited by ANSI and received high marks for technical expertise, professionalism and competency. The audit concluded that “SAAMI staff is competent and knowledgeable concerning the SAAMI standards process and ANSI requirements. The standards are processed in a professional manner.”