United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Co., 504 U.S. 505 (1992)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the federal circuit

No. 91-164. Argued January 13, 1992—Decided June 8, 1992

Respondent manufactures the "Contender" pistol and, for a short time, also manufactured a kit that could be used to convert the Contender into a rifle with either a 21-inch or a 10-inch barrel. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms advised respondent that when the kit was possessed or distributed with the Contender, the unit constituted a "firearm" under the National Firearms Act (NFA or Act), 26 U. S. C. 5845(a)(3), which defines that term to include a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches long, known as a short-barreled rifle, but not a pistol or a rifle having a barrel 16 inches or more in length. Respondent paid the $200 tax levied by 5821 upon anyone "making" a "firearm" and filed a claim for a refund. When its refund claim proved fruitless, respondent brought this suit under the Tucker Act. The Claims Court entered summary judgment for the Government, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a short-barreled rifle "actually must be assembled" in order to be "made" within the NFA's meaning.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

924 F. 2d 1041, affirmed.

Justice Souter, joined by The Chief Justice and Justice O'Connor, concluded that the Contender and conversion kit when packaged together have not been "made" into a short-barreled rifle for NFA purposes. Pp. 509-518. (a) The language of 5845(i)—which provides that "[t]he term 'make', and [its] various derivatives . . . , shall include manufacturing . . . , putting together . . . , or otherwise producing a firearm"—clearly demonstrates that the aggregation of separate parts that can be assembled only into a firearm, and the aggregation of a gun other than a firearm and parts that would have no use in association with the gun except to convert it into a firearm, constitute the "making" of a firearm. If, as the Court of Appeals held, a firearm were only made at the time of final assembly (the moment the firearm was "put together"), the statutory "manufacturing . . . or otherwise producing" language would be redundant. Thus, Congress must have understood "making" to cover more than final assembly, and some disassembled aggregation of parts must be included. Pp. 509-512.


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