On Friday July 22, 2016, the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) released a letter issuing guidance on the requirement of firearm manufacturers and gunsmiths to register with DDTC under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”).
There has been constant discussion on the internet regarding whether an individual who has obtained a federal firearms license (“FFL”) is required to register for ITAR. Some of the Industry Operations Inspectors (“IOIs”) have taken it upon themselves to inform Type 07 FFLs that they must register for ITAR without any guidance from DDTC. There are certain instances where an FFL does not need to register for ITAR.
22 C.F.R. § 122.1 discusses the registration requirements for ITAR.
(a) Any person who engages in the United States in the business of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing defense articles, or furnishing defense services, is required to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls under § 122.2. For the purpose of this subchapter, engaging in such a business requires only one occasion of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing a defense article or furnishing a defense service. A manufacturer who does not engage in exporting must nevertheless register.
The crux of the registration for ITAR (for most FFLs) lies within the definition of manufacturing. DDTC has not promulgated a definition for manufacturing which is the source of a lot of confusion and misinformation.
DDTC’s letter states that individuals who “do not actually manufacture ITAR-controlled firearms (including by engaging in the activities described below, which DDTC has found in specific cases to constitute manufacturing) need not register with DDTC – even if they have an FFL from ATF.” This is because the requirements for obtaining an FFL are separate and distinct of the requirements for registering under ITAR.
As DDTC does not have a definition for the term “manufacturing”, it relies on “the ordinary, contemporary, common meaning of the term.”
DDTC’s guidance is only in relation to “domestic (U.S.) activities involving firearms (as defined in Category I(j)(1) of the United States Munitions List (USML) (22 CFR § 121.1)) and related ammunition that are .50 caliber (12.7 mm) or smaller – i.e., firearms in Category I, paragraphs (a) and (b), related items in paragraphs (e)-(h), and ammunition in Category III(a) for those firearms. Activities involving items elsewhere on the USML, including Category I, paragraphs (c) and (d), are not included in the scope of this guidance.”
DDTC has found that the following instances do not require registration.
a) Occasional assembly of firearm parts and kits that do not require cutting, drilling, or machining;
b) Firearm repairs involving one-for-one drop-in replacement parts that do not require any cutting, drilling, or machining for installation;
c) Repairs involving replacement parts that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or other aspects of firearm operation;
d) Hydrographic paint or Cerakote application or bluing treatments for a firearm;
e) Attachment of accessories to a completed firearm without drilling, cutting, or machining—such as attaching a scope, sling, or light to existing mounts or hooks, or attaching a flash suppressor, sound suppressor, muzzle brake, or similar item to a pre- threaded muzzle;
f) Cosmetic additions and alterations (including engraving) that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or other aspects of firearm operation beyond its original capabilities;
g) Machining new dovetails or drilling and tapping new holes for the installation of sights which do not improve the accuracy or operation of the firearm beyond its original capabilities; and
h) Manual loading or reloading of ammunition of .50 caliber or smaller.
The guidance goes on to clarify that “[a]ctivities limited to the domestic sale or resale of firearms, the occasional assembly of firearms without drilling, cutting, or machining, and/or specific gunsmithing activities that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or operations of the firearm beyond its original capabilities (as described above) are not manufacturing within the context of the ITAR. If you are not manufacturing, exporting, temporarily importing or brokering defense articles or services, you are not required to register with DDTC.”
Which then begs the question, what does DDTC require the registration under ITAR for?
DDTC states that if you are engaged in any of the following you are required to register for under ITAR.
a) Use of any special tooling or equipment upgrading in order to improve the capability of assembled or repaired firearms;
b) Modifications to a firearm that change round capacity;
c) The production of firearm parts (including, but not limited to, barrels, stocks, cylinders, breech mechanisms, triggers, silencers, or suppressors);
d) The systemized production of ammunition, including the automated loading or reloading of ammunition;
e) The machining or cutting of firearms, e.g., threading of muzzles or muzzle brake installation requiring machining, that results in an enhanced capability;
f) Rechambering firearms through machining, cutting, or drilling;
g) Chambering, cutting, or threading barrel blanks; and
h) Blueprinting firearms by machining the barrel.
Of particular interest is the guidance that now offering barrel threading services will result in an FFL being required to register for ITAR. This will certainly put a financial burden on the smaller gunsmiths who are threading barrels as registration for ITAR is $2,250 a year.
Additionally, the penalties for violating ITAR are significant and able to be applied retroactively. Penalties for each violation of ITAR can result in up to $1,000,000 in fines and 20 years imprisonment. 22 U.S.C. § 2778(c)
DDTC does allow for voluntary disclosures of violations.
“The Department may consider a voluntary disclosure as a mitigating factor in determining the administrative penalties, if any, that should be imposed. Failure to report a violation may result in circumstances detrimental to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and will be an adverse factor in determining the appropriate disposition of such violations.” 22 C.F.R. § 127.12.
Lastly, DDTC does have a mechanism for an individual or company to inquire whether the activity they are engaging in requires registration under ITAR. This is an area that myself and Attorney Joshua Prince have experience in. It is certainly advised that a determination from DDTC is sought prior to engaging in the activity (if it is unknown or questionable whether it would require registration under ITAR) in order to mitigate any potential penalties.
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