Guns that look like toys

pkbites, you are failing at reading the section you quoted. Maybe this abridged version will help:

[it is] unlawful to manufacture…any firearm: (1) which is not…detectable…by walk-through metal detectors… or (2) of which any major component…does not generate an [xray] image that accurately depicts the shape of the component.

This bans 2 things: guns that don’t set off a metal detector, and gun parts that don’t look like those parts on an x-ray machine.

The section you quoted doesn’t make any stipulations about how the gun looks visually (not under xray). So it’s irrelevant to a discussion of whether guns that look a certain way are legal.

I didn’t quote it. I was responding to it from another post.

Sorry, my mistake.

And that complies with the law. It doesn’t have to look like a gun under the x-ray. When broken down it has to look like each “major component.” A major component is:

(B) the term “major component” means, with respect to a
firearm, the barrel, the slide or cylinder, or the frame or
receiver of the firearm.

USC 922 (p) (2) (B). So as long the barrel looks like a barrel, the slide or cylinder looks like a slide or cylinder, etc. then the gun is legal. It is legal to look like a pile of parts as long as those components look like those components.

It also says “frame”. I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of a folding gun, but given that the overall structure is specifically designed to look like something else, I don’t see how that fits. Handgun frames definitely have a gun-like aspect to them that the cell-phone gun does not.

At any rate, my original point wasn’t that these guns are obviously illegal. It’s that the definitions are fuzzy and depend on the ATF interpreting them in a certain way (which I asked about and haven’t gotten an answer to). Read a certain way, the law can’t ban any guns, since every component looks like it’s supposed to under an X-ray. The frame of a gun disguised as a toaster is shaped like the frame of a gun disguised as a toaster, even under X-ray. But that seems unlikely to be the intent of the authors of the law.

That is a good point, and it seems poorly drafted, but IIRC, they called it the “plastic gun” ban at the time after the misconception came about that Glocks were undetectable. There weren’t plastic guns then and aren’t now.

My WAG is that when drafting the bill, they told the lawyer drafting it that they wanted to ban plastic guns and also ban plastic major components of guns. Keeping up with the WAG, imagine in a world with a two man terrorist team wanting to get a gun on the plane. The lower serialized receiver or frame is made of plastic and is undetectable and the rest is metal.

One guy can put the metal stuff in his carry on and tell the gate minder (not TSA at the time) that he is simply transporting gun parts to sell at his destination. The other guy can carry his plastic frame/receiver through undetected. Then they get on the plane, go to the lavoratory and reassemble a functioning firearm.

I guess when you write a law outlawing magic pixie dust, it really doesn’t make much sense.

ETA: Re-reading the law, it doesn’t say it has to look like a traditional component. It says that when placed under an x ray, it doesn’t “generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component” “The component” not “how a regular gun component looks.” So, on my read, I see that as, hold toaster gun up beside the x-ray pic. If the two images are the same, then good. If the images are different, then bad.

But I am unsure how the BATFE reads it.

Right. But that’s always going to be true if the gun is made from metal. And in that case the second part of the law is almost redundant, since if the toaster gun were made from plastic it wouldn’t set off the metal detector.

I feel like the intent of the law is pretty clear, given that it’s titled the Undetectable Firearms Act. Of course, that has little to do with what it actually accomplishes or how it’s interpreted. It does seem plausible that the ATF has decided they’ll interpret it as weakly as possible, which would lean toward the idea that you can disguise a firearm however you want as long as it matches the disguise under X-ray. But it would be nice to see some validation of that theory.

Not really. The first part is basically: you can’t make a whole gun out of plastic, and the second part is: you can’t make a major component or a part of a major component with plastic. The second part, far from being redundant, seems to keep wanna be lawyer smartasses from saying that they didn’t make a plastic gun, they just made some of it plastic.

How would you read that text to make the law “stronger” especially given the “the component” language?

It’s as you said earlier: read it as a traditional component. It doesn’t say that specifically, but it can be pretty strongly inferred based on the intent of the law. The goal is to give TSA workers (or their 1988 predecessors) a chance to discover weapons hidden in luggage via the X-ray machine. That’s not possible if the gun components can be shaped like literally anything.

The Wikipedia article agrees with the “traditional” interpretation:

The general effect of this legislation is a ban on the manufacture, possession and transfer of firearms with less than 3.7 oz (105 g) of metal content. The bill also requires handguns to be in the traditional shape of a handgun. The Act excepts from its prohibitions the federal government and its agencies, and may offer a safe harbor for licensed manufactures testing to determine if their firearms meet the Act’s criteria.

Unfortunately, their claim is not cited, so I can’t tell you where they got that.

That’s fair. I disagree with that interpretation, but I can see where it is plausible.

I’d agree that all of these interpretations fall within the spectrum of plausibility, even if they fall outside the intent of the law. So the question is just how the ATF does actually interpret it in practice.

Unfortunately that can fall victim to politics without any new legislation
being passed.

For 2 decades the BATFE certified and documented that bump stock type devices were not firearms in and of themselves, and did not make a firearm they were attached to a machine gun. Along comes Trump with his political strong-arming and voila, suddenly an inert piece of plastic is a machine gun whether it is attached to a firearm or not.

Except that cartridges still look like rounds of ammo.

The purpose of the law is not to outlaw guns that do not look like traditional guns, but guns designed to get through TSA. aka the mythical “plastic guns”, which can join the “cop killer bullets” with unicorns and mermaids.

Mind you, it is not impossible that some gun company would try to fill the “get a gun and ammo past TSA” niche so that law wasn’t stupid, I guess. You might be able to make a single shot gun that did that.