U.S. v. Thompson/Center Arms Co., - U.S.- (1992)
This is another recent examination of the meaning of the language of the NFA by the Supreme Court, along with Staples. Neither involves constitutional law. In this case the court was called upon to decide what constituted a short barreled rifle. T/C wanted to market a kit consisting of one receiver for their Contender gun, a 16"+ barrel, a >16" barrel, a pistol grip and a shoulder stock. This kit could be used, as intended, to assemble a rifle or a pistol, or it could also be used to assemble a SBR. As it could be so used, ATF decided it was a SBR. T/C made one unit on a Form 1, then sued for a tax refund, claiming it wasn't subject to the NFA. This is the way to challenge such a classification. Doing the thing York or SWD did, in those cases, is an invitation to a prosecution. The Staples case will limit such things, but one can easily lose....Here all that was at stake was money. The court decided that the language of the definition of a SBR was vague, and gave it the reading most favorable to the taxpayer, T/C. They decided the kit was not a SBR, nor was any set of parts where they could be used for a legitimate purpose, even if they could also be used to assemble a SBR. However a SBR fully assembled was also clearly a SBR. Thus the other grey area was a SBR in parts form, like an Uzi carbine and a Uzi SMG barrel. A lower court had held in a prior case that that set of parts was a SBR. The court agreed; that if the parts had only one use, to make a SBR, and a person possessed them all that was a SBR also.
Read the ruling itself: http://www.titleii.com/bardwell/thompson.txt
The second and third paragraphs state:
JUSTICE SOUTER, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE
O'CONNOR, concluded that the Contender and conversion kit when
packaged together have not been ``made'' into a short-barreled
rifle for NFA purposes. Pp.3-13.
(a) The language of sec. 5845(i)-which provides that ``[t]he
term `make', and [its] various derivatives . . . , shall include
manufacturing . . . , putting together . . . , or otherwise
producing a firearm''- clearly demonstrates that the aggregation of
separate parts that can be assembled only into a firearm, and the
aggregation of a gun other than a firearm and parts that would have
no use in association with the gun except to convert it into a firearm,
constitute the ``making'' of a firearm. If, as the Court of
Appeals held, a firearm were only made at the time of final
assembly (the moment the firearm was ``put together''), the
statutory ``manufacturing . . . or otherwise producing'' language
would be redundant. Thus, Congress must have understood
``making'' to cover more than final assembly, and some
disassembled aggregation of parts must be included. Pp.4-7.