Feds Dropping Weapons Charges To Keep Regulations On The Books

U.S. Attorneys have quietly dropped at least two cases against individuals charged with illegally possessing a lower receiver after two different federal judges ruled that the lower receivers do not meet the federal definition of a firearm, according to a new CNN story. The first case was back in 2016, and involved a convicted felon named Alejandro Jimenez who bought a lower receiver in an ATF sting operation. After a judge ruled that the receiver wasn’t an actual firearm under federal law, the case against Jimenez was dropped.

Earlier this year, according to CNN, federal prosecutors also dropped similar charges against a California man named Joseph Roh, who was accused of running an illegal gun factory outside of Los Angeles. While the judge in the case ruled that Roh was guilty of selling finished firearms without a license, the judge also decided that the ATF had improperly ruled that 80% finished receivers as well as the finished receivers themselves were firearms.

He rejected the prosecution’s argument that the ATF’s interpretation of the regulation describing a receiver could reasonably be applied to the device at issue in Roh’s case.
“There is a disconnect,” the judge wrote.
Selna added that the combination of the federal law and regulation governing the manufacturing of receivers is “unconstitutionally vague” as applied in the case against Roh.
“No reasonable person would understand that a part constitutes a receiver where it lacks the components specified in the regulation,” Selna wrote.
Therefore, the judge determined, “Roh did not violate the law by manufacturing receivers.”
Instead of accepting the judge’s ruling, the U.S. Attorney handling the case ended up offering Roh a plea bargain that would keep him out of prison, and keep the judge’s ruling from being used as an argument in future cases.
Following Selna’s tentative order, the prosecution and defense agreed to a deal in which Roh would plead guilty to the charge against him, but would be allowed to withdraw that plea if he stayed out of trouble for a year. Prosecutors would then dismiss the case. If Roh abides by the deal, he will have no criminal conviction and serve no time behind bars.
Sources familiar with the agreement said prosecutors wanted to strike a deal in order to prevent Selna’s order from becoming permanent, drawing publicity, and creating case law that could hamper ATF enforcement efforts.
Roh accepted the deal to avoid a permanent conviction — and possible prison time — for dealing firearms without a license.
This is not only going to be an issue for the ATF and U.S. Attorneys around the country going forward, but gun control groups could see some of their preferred policies stymied as well. If, in fact, lower receivers don’t meet the federal definition of a firearm, what does that mean for New York Attorney General Letitia James’ recent order to more than a dozen companies to stop selling unfinished receivers to New York residents. Under the existing definition of a “firearm” in federal code, not only are the unfinished lower receivers not firearms, finished lower receivers aren’t guns either. Can James really ban the sale of a block of metal to New York residents? I’m not an attorney, but it seems beyond a 2nd Amendment challenge there’s a Commerce Clause challenge waiting to be made.
In the meantime, it seems as if the DOJ is continuing to prosecute these types of cases, but will back off if a judge issues a ruling that puts their interpretation of the ATF regulations in jeopardy. Rather than change their regulations to comply with the federal definition of a firearm, it seems like they’re taking this on a case-by-case basis and hoping to avoid any “problematic” rulings in the future.