Original ATF AR-15 Classification Refutes Claim that Rifle ‘Not Meant’ for Civilians

So much for the argument that this rifle was never intended for the civilian market. Now a FOIA production of the original classification letter proves even ATF agreed at the time. (“A 1963 Colt AR-15 Advertisement”/Soldier Systems.)

U.S.A. – -(Ammoland.com)- “This responds to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request … concerning the following: 1. All classification letters (or if classification letters were named in some other way, those records) regarding Model R6000 Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter Rifle, Serial No. GX4968 which was approved in approximately 1963; and 2. All classification letters … for AR-15 platform rifles predating the submission to the ATF for the Colt AR15 SP1 Sporter Rifle,” Adam C. Siple, Chief Information and Privacy Governance Division, notified attorney Stephen Stamboulieh in a Nov. 22 response (see below). “In response to your request, we have processed a total of 2 pages of responsive material.”

That referenced FOIA request was sent in May on behalf of firearms designer Len Savage and resulted in the production of a Dec. 10, 1963, letter from what was then called Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division to Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Inc.  This is the first such classification for the AR-15 and has not been published before.

The FOIA request itself was prompted from a Nov. 2017 article in The Atlantic in which the magazine, unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with its anti-gun bent, attempted to bolster a claim that “these rifles were meant for the military, not civilians.”

“Colt sent a pilot model rifle (serial no. GX4968) to the BATF for civilian sale approval on Oct. 23, 1963. It was approved on Dec. 10, 1963, and sales of the ‘Model R6000 Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter Rifle’ began on Jan 2, 1964,” one critic of the article contended. “The M16 wasn’t issued to infantry units until 1965 (as the XM16E1), wasn’t standardized as the M16A1 until 1967, and didn’t officially replace the M14 until 1969.”

So, they were being sold to civilians first?

“There are several things that are interesting,” Savage told AmmoLand News about the classification letter. “One, it shows pre-Gun Control Act ATF policy on the AR-15 system,” He noted. “It also shows why the most likely reason an AR lower is considered a ‘frame or receiver’ is that from 1962-1968 Colt marked the lower receivers with the information (flat surface as the upper is round). Meaning the regulatory scheme used by ATF  1968 to present is based on what Colt marked pre-1968 and not the statute. Willfully and knowingly.”

“Len hit the nail on the head,” Stamboulieh weighed in. “The current notice of proposed rule-making reads as if there was just no way the ATF could have known that the AR-15 split modular design was a thing. Back in 1968, the agency promulgated the definition of frame or receiver, post-dating the classification letter of the AR15, and that shows why they should have originally known what they were making a definition for.”

He and Savage also cleared up a point of potential confusion on why the classification letter refers to the AR-15 as an “automatic rifle.”

“It is because (my thoughts) that they sent two rifles,” Stamboulieh offered. “One was an automatic rifle, and the other was the modified rifle made to be not a machinegun (a semi-automatic version). So the ATF said, yes, this modified ‘automatic rifle’ is not a firearm under the NFA (therefore, not a machinegun and in other words, a semi-auto).”

“Bingo!” Savage replied. “They sent an ‘Unserviceable’ M16 so ATF could compare it and the new rifle and were told it was still considered an MG even if unserviceable since it was not properly destroyed. I laughed when Colt was told ‘file a Form 2’ in order to get it back… Wonder if it is still in National Firearms Collection?”

“In 1968 firearms industry terminology ‘automatic rifle’ means the same as ‘auto-loading rifle,’ i.e., a rifle that loads itself for the next shot,” he recalled. “Even in 1979-1980 when I took my hunters’ safety course the State of Michigan used the two terms interchangeably throughout the course.”

The FOIA response is embedded below. The actual 1963 classification letter — with redactions to withhold third-party information — begins on the third page.

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About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

David Codrea

AmmoLand.com

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