ATF and the Can(‘t) Cannon

Banned in Boston -- and everywhere else.

Banned in Boston — and everywhere else.

ATF’s Firearms Technology Bureau continues to showcase its enthusiastic participation in “a-pen-and-a-phone” government. Their latest strike has been to declare the X Products Can Cannon (which we have had sitting around, and haven’t shot) to be a very, very weird and risky neither-fish-nor-fowl, embedded in the limbo between categories, and threatening every owner with decades of incarceration from an unwitting malum prohibitum violation.

The Can Cannon is not a Title 1 firearm, and it is not a Title II firearm either — until you attach it to an AR lower. Do that, and per ATF you have committed the unlicensed manufacture of a Title II National Firearms Act Firearm, except in one very narrow circumstance.

You see, if one were to dismantle the Can Cannon, he would have a very short smoothbore barrel that might fire a ball round. (It probably would, but not safely; in any event, ATF does not seem to have actually tried this). Therefore, while it itself is not a firearm (just like, say, an XM177E2 upper is not a firearm), putting it on an AR lower “manufactures” a short-barreled rifle, just like putting an XM177E2 upper on an AR lower would. Since a SBR is an NFA firearm, congratulations! You have just “manufactured a Title II firearm without a license,” a serious felony punishable with a decade or two in Club Fed.

Ah, but what if you put it on a pistol? The short barrel would be of no consequence, then; pistols are supposed to have short barrels. The ATF says in that case you’ve created an “Any Other Weapon” — and it’s still an NFA weapon and a “manufacturing without a license” felony. As they explain it, the barrel of the Can Cannon (which is intended for blanks) is smoothbore, and that makes it an AOW.

It seems clear that ATF began with an a priori determination that the Can Cannon led to people having the wrong kind of fun, and therefore It Must Be Banned. To do this, Kingery, the Jerry Sandusky of firearms analysis, had to molest the law until it was practically unrecognizable.

This is not new behavior from ATF. In 1996, and again in 2004, the ATF classified a 14″ shoelace as a machine gun. (In 2007, in the face of mounting ridicule, they withdrew the rule). In 2010, they attempted to ban Chore Boy scrubbing pads. Each of these ridiculous ban letters was written by a different Firearms Techology Branch head or acting head.

What This Means To…

X Products: They need to redesign the Can Cannon to resolve ATF’s loopy classification. They have done this and have resubmitted to Kingery for further disapproval.

We are submitting a revised design to address the issues in the B.A.T.F.E’s determination letter. We will update our customers throughout this process.

They really don’t have any choice but to keep doing this until something happens, whether it’s Kingery or his minions approving the changes, them being replaced in an administration change or it becoming clear that “examination” by FTB of this weapons accessory is the 21st Century equivalent of a Jim Crow literacy test, where everybody had to show they were literate by reading a newspaper headline, but blacks got the headlines in the Chinese newspaper.

Can Cannon Owners: It means if your CC is on a lower right now, you’re a felon, dude, so take it  off straightaway and don’t install it again until X-Products and ATF are done antler rattling. There is one exception: if you have a licensed SBR lower, you can install the Can Cannon upper on that. (We put a toe tag on ours last night, “install only on Colt serial number…..”)

The ATF: Well, it’s one more thing you can arrest somebody for, to draw attention away from the fact that you’ve provided more guns to cop killers than any single entity in history. (But hey, most of the cops were only Mexicans, so who — at ATF — cares?)


(bear with us, we’ll add these real soon now).:

XProducts customer leter, PDF:

BATFE Determination Letter, PDF:

Various earlier FTB determination letters, as JPG after the jump:

The second (2004) shoestring determination letter (we know we’ve got the first one around here somewhere, but can’t lay hands on it), signed by then-FTB head Sterling Nixon.

ATF string letterTo the best of our knowledge no one was ever prosecuted under this ruling, but it was (and is) used to make the ATF look like bozos.

The ATF’s 2007 backdown from the inane classification of a shoelace as a machine gun, signed by Acting Chief of the FTB Richard Vasquez. (Now it’s only a machne gun if you use it to make a firearm fire automatically). Reportedly this was a reaction to the ridicule that even field agents and (especially) Industry Operations Inspectors were encountering on their daily rounds.

ATR String letter backdown 2007

Here’s one of the Chore Boy scouring pad letters (there are at least two different ones kicking around). Apologies for the low quality:

ATF chore boy letter

And as an extra added bonus, the ATF slams the ban hammer on oil filters, (if you own one of those prison-bait “oil filter adapters”). This one is signed by Acting Chief John R. Spencer, and it is notable for being the only one that identifies intent as germane to the ownership of everyday items that some Clever Hans might assemble into a firearm silencer.

ATF oil filter


29 thoughts on “ATF and the Can(‘t) Cannon

  1. Doug

    But what is it really?
    A short large gauge shotgun barrel?
    A blank firing pistol barrel with a large diameter flash hider?
    A mortar barrel on an automatic rifle receiver?
    A fun projectile lobbing adults toy?
    A F#&k you to TPTB that they are just figuring out the joke is on them?

    Or is it something the sonofabitches are afraid could be used against them for what they are doing to us?

    Or…are all the federal agents involved in running guns across the Mexican border to the drug cartels in order to create a crisis as a means to justify a false narrative to create more diktat to create the illusion of legitimacy they have the “lawful” power to disarm the American people, now have no agenda to justify for their bosses at the moment, and this is make-work for the sake of just harassing people on general principle you got to find something to make into a felony just because you can?

    (…All of the above :-)

    1. Jim Scrummy

      From my count, G, all of the above. ATF, TSA, and host of other gubmint agencies and departments are USELESS waste of space. There is no talent in these particular agencies (ATF & TSA in particular), just mineless drones…all of them.

      1. Doug

        Your repeating yourself. Like I was.
        Lets just say what they are and what they do has nothing to do with legitimate acts of what is honoring the law of the land.
        If they did respect and abide by the law, the only law they would be required to enforce is the one that mentions something about the right of the people to posses arms shall not be infringed.

        1. S

          The people still have their arms, for the most part. One right, one left, though this too should be corrected: universal arms, so no arm feels discriminated against; especially the left ones, since they’re under-utilised through no fault of their own.

          1. Doug

            Now your being a raaacist.
            Diversity in Arms now!
            You have to bake a left arm wedding cakes.
            And issue left arm marriage licenses.
            Left arm up… Don’t shoot!
            Left arm lives matter!
            Old dead white left arms don’t matter

  2. Raoul Duke

    What’s funny (and encouraging) about the current state of NFA rules is that silencer transfers and NFA ownership numbers are at an all-time high, despite arcane laws, inefficient paperwork, and spiteful enforcement stunts like this one.

    Once, NFA owners were a tiny, strange, ill-understood sub-group of the gun culture, that even the NRA shunned and maligned. Now the mainstream gun press routinely runs silencer reviews and gun manufacturers all stock silencer-ready firearms.

    I’ll call that progress.

    1. CJ

      Inflation helped quite a bit, too. $200 doesn’t buy what it once did – but it’ll get you a tax stamp.

      1. Doug

        The reality of all this stupid weapons regulation is we all comply with it.
        By giving our consent collectively we legitimize what isn’t legitimate to begin with.
        If the ATF expects us to comply with the “law”, then why aren’t they complying with the rule of law as proscribed in our governing document?
        Or even their own laws. Which by the way, how can their administrative diktat be a law if it was never ratified by congress to begin with?
        If anyone who gets a paycheck from the federal government can create a “law” out of thin air for anything they choose, it kind of defeats the whole idea of rule of law. It is more like rule by whatever law I like at the moment that applies only to those I deem are required to comply. And pay for the privilege or be thrown in chains if the do not comply.

        What kind of laws are those then?
        Sounds like a mind blowing double standard to me.

  3. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    So fuck them, use a milsurp rifled barrel, lengthen the tube, put a rail top and bottom and ad a 203 leaf sight. Offer accessories like a reel for projecting line and a fruit slicer for seed distribution-imagination is the only limit here.

  4. archy

    Hey, how close would one of these can launchers come to fitting and tossing an M18 smoke grenade? That would seem to make it a *pyrotechnic signaling device*.

    18 USC 921
    (a) As used in this chapter—
    (3) The term “firearm” means
    (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;
    (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon;
    (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or
    (D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.
    (4) The term “destructive device” means—
    (A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
    (i) bomb,
    (ii) grenade,
    (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
    (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
    (v) mine, or
    (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;

    (B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and

    (C) any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.

    The term “destructive device” shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684 (2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Attorney General finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes.

    1. Miles

      Close, but it’s that smooth bored barrel that, with minor modification can chamber and fire a live round that is the main part of the problem.

      The Firearms Technology guys at ATF have, of late, been pretty expansive with their definition of just what a firearm is, not what isn’t a firearm.

      Elections mean things and when you have a certified anti-gunner in that catbird seat, he can appoint likeminded individuals to important posts and the attending bureaucracy is nothing if not a bunch of brown nosing, suck up bastards vying for more cushy, higher paying positions by imitating Renfield, or Igor.

  5. redc1c4

    well, so much for taking ours to the range this weekend…

    you just saved Resident Evil & myself a whole lot of grief we don’t really need.

  6. Miles

    One bit of correction.

    On a BBS with an abundance of very astute NFA posters, it is noted that when the upper is put on a AR rifle lower, ATF states, per a parsing of the determination letter, what you have made is a Short Barreled Shotgun, not a Short Barreled Rifle, and if you DO have a SBR, it still requires all the Form 1 goodness since modifying one kind of NFA firearm to another is seen as making a ‘new’ firearm.

    1. Miles

      I hate working with HTML almost as much as I hate the federal bureaucracy.
      The italics should be close after ‘very’ and opened before ‘still’.


    2. Hognose Post author

      Oh, fantastic . The actual letter says SBR, IIRC, but it wouldn’t be the first time ATF botched interpreting their own regulations.

  7. redc1c4

    the latest from the Can Cannon web page:

    “We are currently designing the following accessories for this product:

    Grappling Hook (In Pre-Production)
    Net Launcher (In Sketch)
    Dog Training Toys For Duck Hunting and Retrieval
    T Shirt Launching
    Lawn Darts

    Please note in the Can Cannons current configuration it is considered an SBR Short Barrel Rifle when placed on a rifle receiver, and an AOW Any Other Weapon when installed on a pistol. For information on the ruling visit: B.A.T.F.E Determination Letter”

  8. Brad

    I wonder if redesigning the can cannon to use only the rimfire blanks which are used for powder nail guns would be the easiest way to get around the ATF restrictions?

  9. Brad

    Another example of why the ATF should be abolished.

    I know many think the FBI would do an even worse job with firearm laws than the ATF, but we won’t know unless we try. I think the FBI would give low priority to firearm regulation, just as they did to counter-espionage, because of all the tasks which compete for FBI attention.

    1. Doug

      Why do we need the government in the first place?
      The original law concerning firearms spelled it out pretty clear.
      Shall not be infringed.
      What part of that is hard to grok?
      I mean really, where in shall not be infringed is there anything about barrel length, or what a trigger does when it is pulled? Or what gets attached to what. Except for arms attached to the hands that bear those arms of course.

      Not for nothing, we are all looking at this wrong.
      If we are to be held to the rule of law as the governed, those who are entrusted to protect that rule of law as governors, are especially obligated to honor that rule of law to a much higher and loftier standard. That kind of sets a moral precedence of unassailable virtue, legitimacy, and trust among all parties involved.
      If this isn’t so, there is no rule of law. Nor any laws.
      That trust is predicated on consent of us the governed.
      Its a compact, a contract really.
      If one party breaks that sacred covenent, no contract exists any longer which is binding.
      But the federal government has this thing about how it’s “power” binds you, but not them. That’s not law, or anything else but downright dictatorship.
      And we go along with it.
      Something is very wrong with this picture.
      Somebody explain to me, that to top all this off, we have to send the sonofabitches $200 for the privilege of being held to standards, those charging us the 200 bucks aren’t held to.
      That is called extortion if we imposed the same standard on the government.

      Ban the ATF?
      How about we abolish the whole government and start again?
      Wasn’t that clause about shall not be infringed established just for that purpose?

  10. S

    A NATO spec flash hider is pretty much a grenade launcher anyway…..merely the inner mating surface for an Energa bullet-trap rifle grenade aka spigot mortar, custom made for infantry monkey to stick big-boom-thing onto lesser boom-thing to make bad things over there go big-boom. Ok, the can launcher is practical in that it mates the standard AR15 to standard coke-can size receptacles….but then, PSE makes a crossbow attachment to fit AR15 lowers (and rather a nice soundless thing it is, too….), and there are other sizes one can use to make a grenade launcher….which if one intends, one will do anyway, regardless of whether batfe approves or not. In fact, it might be simply easier to reverse-engineer an Energa, which smart monkeys are likely doing anyway, because the time where naughty batfe monkeys go boom is rapidly approaching, and gee are they in for a surprise. Like, since calibre determines effectiveness of Monroe-effect charges, why limit one’s-self to the Coca Cola company’s logistics parameters…’s not like boom-monkey expects repeat business……….

  11. staghounds

    But it’s muzzle loaded, and the inch and a half of “barrel” is solidly blocked when the cannon is installed.

    The easy fix is to drill the short “barrel” bit out to about half an inch, therefore having nothing that could be considered a barrel- just a chamber.

    1. Chris W.

      If you drill the short barrel out to above .50, won’t that make it something else illegal under another category? It escapes me right now, but I thought that >.50 = illegal. Could be wrong, might just be for rifled barrels.

      Still, this is just getting stupid.

      1. Hognose Post author

        The answer is to amend the NFA to exclude those categories of weapons little used in crimes (AOW, SBR, SBS), and simply prohibit possession of the weapons with intent to use in a violent crime. Bingo, no one needs to maintain SBR records, etc., and anybody who uses one to knock off a bank still runs afoul of the Federal law. Eliminates 100% of the paperwork being used to monitor boringly peaceable persons, and still lets AUSAs have their plea-inducing 10- and 25-year sentence felonies for use on actual felons. Win all round.

        That would require reasonable leadership at ATF (not going to happen), and allegedly pro-gun leaders in Congress like Orange John and Chinless Mitch to grow a pair (not going to happen), and allegedly anti-gun Congressthings to not shriek and fling poo (again, NGTH).

      2. Hognose Post author

        2nd reply to Chris — I seem to recall you’re overseas (Briton?) so the illogic of American law has to be puzzling to you. As you can see from this case, it messes us up and we think we understand it (and if we’re smart, we pay for legal advice before manufacturing thousands of problematical devices. There’s a reason the US has 10 times as many lawyers per capita as any other civilized country, but it’s not an especially good reason).

        Large-caliber weapons are classified as “destructive devices,” as are bombs — and explosive projectiles for those weapons. So if you have a 40mm grenade launcher, that’s one DD and one tax stamp. Each HE round is another DD and another stamp ($200 each and ~1 year wait for paperwork). Training (non-explosive) ammo was until recently not a DD, and now, depending on which ATF Region you’re under, it is or it isn’t. (As you can imagine, the line criminal investigators are not thrilled with having to go round up shells in the hands of licensed users. Most of them have investigations they’d rather work on).

        Because the US is a federal republic, we have 53 sets of state and territorial laws that sometimes gibe and sometimes conflict with federal law. For example, many states use old language for an explosive device, “infernal machine,” and have completely different sets of penalties.

        Often when an arrest is made, the arresting officers and federal and state prosecutors will confer and whoever can jail the guy for longest may take the prosecution (that’s usually the Fed) unless he’s too busy (in which case the State puts the guy away). Until the 20th Century the Federal government left most plenary police powers to the states, but LE is increasingly federalized.

        Still, the federal nature of the USA gives us a lab to conduct natural experiments, the most famous of which in gun policy is Florida’s 1980s shall-issue pistol permit law. Nowadays, about 30 states issue permits to all non-felons, about 7 issue them only to the connected, and the rest have some restrictions or other. Corrected for demographics, the shall-issue states have lower crime, but there may be non-legal, cultural reasons for this.

        If you ARE an American and know all this, I apologize for the lecture. Having the Pope come to the USA brings out the pontiff in me.

      3. redc1c4

        i’d have to go back and re-read the letter, but, IIRC, part of the problem is that the short “barrel”, which is the source of the problem, has a *removable* cap at the end.

        were they to change the design so that it wasn’t designed to be removable, and i can understand why they made it that way, might not the problem go away?

  12. archy

    ***If you ARE an American and know all this, I apologize for the lecture. Having the Pope come to the USA brings out the pontiff in me.***

    Would that be where the term *pontificating* came from? In strict Roman/Orthodox Catholic terms, it’s technically to officiate as bishop, especially at Mass, and the Holy Father/Patriarch is essentially a bishop elevated to his lofty perch.

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