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Letter to Department of Justice Regarding Proposed Regulatory Actions


Clyde H. Spencer

Sonora, CA 95370-9078

17 July 2000


Debbie Coffin, Analyst

Department of Justice, Firearms Division

P.O. Box 820200

Sacramento, CA 94203-0200

RE: Written Comments in Regard to Proposed Regulatory Action for Large Capacity Magazines and Assault Weapons

I’m beginning to feel that this is an exercise in futility since I have not had any responses to the specific questions in either of my two previous letters. Nor have I seen my suggestions implemented in your revisions. However, ever the optimist, I will once again provide you with input regarding your proposed regulations. Bear in mind that when your regulations are challenged in court that one of the challenges will most likely be ambiguity. If you make your definitions simple and general, and thereby continue to raise questions such as I have presented in this and previous letters, you strengthen the legal argument of ambiguity. As a taxpayer, I am disturbed that my tax money is going to be spent to defend what is predictably legally inadequate, ambiguous regulations.

Without an objective measurement of flash luminosity it is impossible to unequivocally determine if a device “functions to reduce..” muzzle flash. The portion of the definition that relates to redirecting “muzzle flash from the shooter’s field of vision” is still unclear as to what is really meant. As can be concluded from the included patent summaries on flash suppressors held by the U.S. government, their principle concern in applying suppressors is not revealing the position of the firer.

If literally interpreted, your proposed regulations would effectively prohibit the sporting use of a muzzle-brake or compensator on a detachable-magazine semiautomatic firearm. As you can see from the included patent summaries, both the U.S. Patent Office and the Department of Defense recognize flash suppressors to be different from muzzle-brakes and compensators. In the case of flash suppressors, the hot gas and unburned powder are seen as a problem, particularly for full-automatic firearms. The general solution is to disperse and cool the gas by diverting it from exiting exclusively from the muzzle. In the case of a muzzle-brake or compensator, the exiting gas is seen as a solution to a problem, namely recoil and muzzle-jump. Unfortunately, many devices are designed to do both functions, again especially for full-automatic firearms. In fact, even devices designed exclusively as a muzzle-brake also potentially create a flash suppression effect. The primary difference between the two devices (again see the included patent summaries) is that muzzle-brakes and compensators have to vent the gases unsymmetrically, while maximum flash suppression is achieved with symmetrical dispersion of the gas cloud. So, absent the original design specifications, the only clear, unequivocal evidence for a device being designed for flash suppression is a symmetrical dispersion without a bias for upward venting.

Therefore, you are still presented with the conundrum I raised in my first letter: How does one differentiate a muzzle-brake from a flash suppressor? How much incidental flash-suppression will be tolerated from a device designed to be a muzzle-brake or compensator? If a device apparently has been designed to achieve both functions, where will the legal emphasis be placed in a dual-function device? What judicial evidence will be accepted regarding the original design function? Will common names be resorted to regardless of obvious functionality? As you can see from the attached page from the website of Bushmaster Firearms, there are many devices that look very similar, and may even function similarly, that go by different names. How are law-enforcement officers supposed to know the difference? Can they reasonably be expected to know the technical differences and be familiar with all the different designs? Springfield Armory (Springfield, IL) is advertising that they have a “California Legal” muzzle-brake and stabilizer that has presumably been blessed by the BATF; is the DOJ willing to defer to the technical assessment of the BATF? If not, why not? Will you issue a list of muzzle-brakes and compensators that are exempt from being considered suppressors that gun owners can carry with them to prevent their arrest? If not, why not?

Lastly, I still find your definitions of a “forward pistol grip” and “thumbhole stock” to be inadequate. I would like to suggest that you add Small arms of the world : a basic manual of small arms by Edward Clinton Ezell to your collection of reference materials. Also, I believe that particular pages that are pertinent to the regulation definitions should be cited for the reference materials that you reference in your most recent letter. With respect to references, you might find it instructive to review the appeal judgement on U.S. v. Spinner (No. 97-3061, July 28, 1998) heard in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It relates to judicial proof for the definition of “conspicuously protruding’ and a “flash suppressor.” In that case, the expert witness called for the government could not identify whether the muzzle device was a flash-suppressor or muzzle-brake.


Clyde H. Spencer

Inc: Patent summaries US4024791, US5303634, US3971285, US5020416, US4879942,US3858481; Bushmaster Firearms muzzle devices illustrations

Cc: Steve Helsley

Recommend reading:  Assault Weapons


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And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms....The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William S. Smith in 1787. Taken from Jefferson, On Democracy p. 20, S. Padover ed., 1939

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