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Antique serial numbers?
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September 8, 2017 - 12:39 am
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ATF on the firearms section of their website has a “what’s new” section where they publish and discuss new regulations and protocol. If ATF has changed the criterion they have used since 1968 to determine the date of the manufacture of Winchesters they could make the information known to the public with one simple statement. For some reason they have avoided discussing the topic. The failure by ATF to address any change over the past 50 years could lead one to surmise, right or wrong, that ATF has not changed their manner of dating Winchesters since 1968. I certainly would not sell a gun I could confirm to have been made after 1898 as an antique, but ATFs silence on the matter does cause confusion by collectors and dealers.

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September 8, 2017 - 2:00 am
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It is obvious that when the Gun Control Act of 1968 was initiated, antique firearms were designated as being 70 years old or greater–e.g., pre-1899. Isn’t it high time that antique be updated to, if not a firearm 70 years old (pre 1948), at a minimum 100 years of age (1917 and before?).

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September 8, 2017 - 2:28 am
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Another FYI. Last year I went to a major gun show and ATF had a table set up with 2 firearms division agents answering questions. I discussed the polishing room/Madis numbers with them. They both stated that they had not heard or received any information from ATF that the antique status of any Winchesters had changed by serial number in any way from how they had been determined in the past. It could be that ATF is thinking ” After all these years, they came up with new serial number information. Next year they may come up with new different numbers, pre-polishing room numbers, or whatever. Let’s just keep the numbers we have been using for 50 years, it has worked fine”. The fact that ATF has not mentioned in any way wavering from how they have dated Winchesters for the past 50 years, and the fact that firearm division agents have no knowledge of any change in how ATF dates Winchesters, gives credibility to the “lets leave it like it has always been” theory.

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September 8, 2017 - 3:00 am
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wolfbait said

Not going to happen. Too many “shoot’em up” type guns sought by criminals in that pre-1917 time period.  

Not to mention the most incompetent, undisciplined, Republican majority in the history of Congress.  Such “easy” things to do as lifting Obummer’s ban on the importation of the thousands of M1s the S. Koreans have been trying to sell to US importers for the last 8 yrs, which would require no more than an executive order, can’t be accomplished; “pathetic” doesn’t begin to describe the situation. 

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September 8, 2017 - 6:00 am
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wolfbait said
Another FYI. Last year I went to a major gun show and ATF had a table set up with 2 firearms division agents answering questions. I discussed the polishing room/Madis numbers with them. They both stated that they had not heard or received any information from ATF that the antique status of any Winchesters had changed by serial number in any way from how they had been determined in the past. It could be that ATF is thinking ” After all these years, they came up with new serial number information. Next year they may come up with new different numbers, pre-polishing room numbers, or whatever. Let’s just keep the numbers we have been using for 50 years, it has worked fine”. The fact that ATF has not mentioned in any way wavering from how they have dated Winchesters for the past 50 years, and the fact that firearm division agents have no knowledge of any change in how ATF dates Winchesters, gives credibility to the “lets leave it like it has always been” theory.  

Your alleged discussion with those two agents only proves that they (individually) are not aware of the correct source of information in regards to Winchester serial numbers.  My discussions with the Special Agent in the BATF Tucson office were completely the opposite of your alleged conversation.  You can go on falsely believing that the BATF owes YOU an education, but in the end, they have no obligation to tell you (or anyone else) anything about what sources of information they use to investigate a criminal case until you are sitting in the courthouse.  You can also go right on believing that they have the attitude “Let’s just keep the numbers we have been using for 50 years, it has worked fine”, but I know better.

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September 8, 2017 - 1:29 pm
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I can’t legally give legal advice. Neither can those two agents at the gun show. I can advise you to contact an attorney (preferably one who no longer does trial work) and ask him how much it costs to “tell it to the judge” in federal court. I’m betting an antique “deluxe” 1886 in 90% condition would be cheaper and a heck of a lot more fun.

Bert has proven the old adage about leading a horse to water.

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September 8, 2017 - 1:50 pm
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Bert H. said

Your alleged discussion with those two agents only proves that they (individually) are not aware of the correct source of information in regards to Winchester serial numbers.  My discussions with the Special Agent in the BATF Tucson office were completely the opposite of your alleged conversation.  You can go on falsely believing that the BATF owes YOU an education, but in the end, they have no obligation to tell you (or anyone else) anything about what sources of information they use to investigate a criminal case until you are sitting in the courthouse.  You can also go right on believing that they have the attitude “Let’s just keep the numbers we have been using for 50 years, it has worked fine”, but I know better.

Bert  

ATF does not owe me an education. But if they change the manner in which they classify antique Winchesters after 50 years of using a different criterion then they do owe collectors and dealers an acknowledgement of the use of new criterion so that collectors and dealers can obey the law. Failure to advise the public of a change in procedure like this could cause innocent people to unknowing violate the law, that is not the objective of law enforcement. Common sense would dictate that, and the information could be presented on their “what’s new” section of their website where they continually present, update and discuss new procedures and protocol. They have not addressed the topic, and have not mentioned any change in procedure. Their website certainly gives the impression that they strive to keep the public informed of any relevant new information. They do not seem to share your opinion that they have no obligation to inform the public of new policies and procedures that would assist the public in obeying the law.

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September 8, 2017 - 2:36 pm
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TXGunNut said
I can’t legally give legal advice. Neither can those two agents at the gun show. I can advise you to contact an attorney (preferably one who no longer does trial work) and ask him how much it costs to “tell it to the judge” in federal court. I’m betting an antique “deluxe” 1886 in 90% condition would be cheaper and a heck of a lot more fun.

Bert has proven the old adage about leading a horse to water.  

The 2 ATF agents were at the gun show for the sole purpose of advising attendees in how to legally buy, sell, and transfer firearms. They answered peoples questions on the legal transfer of firearms, and handed out detailed ATF brochures explaining the legal procedure for buying and selling firearms. Explaining the proper procedure for dating an antique Winchester is not giving legal advice. Consulting with an attorney on an issue like this is poor advice. In every court case one attorney loses, and one attorney wins. Only ATF can advise collectors and dealers what source they are using to date antique Winchesters. On one side we have the ATF accepted for 50 year numbers provided in widely distributed books by respected experts in the field like Madis and Flayderman, and the same numbers provided on the Winchester Firearm site and countless other collector and dealer publications for generations. On the other side we have new, never officially discussed, polishing room numbers. Chatter on the internet is of no consequence. Only a clarification by ATF is relevant.

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September 8, 2017 - 2:44 pm
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This subject keeps popping up frequently and it seems like no one convinces anyone to change their original opinion.  There are only a few thousand old guns (no one knows how many no longer exist) that fit into the Madis – Polishing Room serial number range in a universe of billions (maybe trillions) of guns.  I’m sure the BATFE is not wasting resources monitoring what happens when one of that handful of Winchesters changes hands.

I suspect the real reason there is any issue at all are the gun dealers who are trying to get a few $$$ more when they sell a gun by claiming that it is pre-1899 when it isn’t.  I’m a collector, not a dealer.  Every Winchester I’ve ever purchased is still in my possession.  If I ever sell one of my rifles I’ll use the Polishing Room serial numbers.  On the other hand, when purchasing a gun, if the seller wants to use the Madis numbers I’ll only worry about the PR serial numbers if it has an effect on the asking price.

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September 8, 2017 - 3:13 pm
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wolfbait said

ATF does not owe me an education. But if they change the manner in which they classify antique Winchesters after 50 years of using a different criterion then they do owe collectors and dealers an acknowledgement of the use of new criterion so that collectors and dealers can obey the law. Failure to advise the public of a change in procedure like this could cause innocent people to unknowing violate the law, that is not the objective of law enforcement. Common sense would dictate that, and the information could be presented on their “what’s new” section of their website where they continually present, update and discuss new procedures and protocol. They have not addressed the topic, and have not mentioned any change in procedure. Their website certainly gives the impression that they strive to keep the public informed of any relevant new information. They do not seem to share your opinion that they have no obligation to inform the public of new policies and procedures that would assist the public in obeying the law.  

Based on your previous written messages on this topic, you most certainly and very clearly do expect the BATF to educate you (colloquial).

This is probably going to fall of deaf ears, but I will state this one more time…The BATF has not changed “the manner in which they classify antique Winchesters” nor are they “using a different criterion” to determine what is “antique”.  Accordingly, they have not created any new “policies and procedures” concerning what is or is not an “antique” Winchester.  The federal regulation (law) on what qualifies as an “antique” has not changed, nor is the BATF trying to change it.  The only thing that has changed (and apparently not all BATF agents are aware of it), is the specific source of the date of manufacture information they will use to prove that you (colloquial) have violated federal law.  They do not own or control that source of information, but they do know where to go to get it… just like you do!  It is not the BATF’s responsibility to inform you (again colloquial) that they are using the correct (verifiable) date of manufacture information that is available to ALL of us.  The dealers & collectors out there that intentionally (or unintentionally) choose not to use (ignore) the records available to them, and instead rely on the proven inaccurate information published by a former Winchester collector/dealer, are asking for their own legal demise.  What I really want to know at this point, is why YOU (not colloquial) are so adamant that the BATF should spend time & resources to educate Winchester dealers & collectors (who should be the experts on this subject) about the source of information that they will use in a court of law to prove that a violation of federal law was committed?  Again, that source of information is available to everyone who wants to use it.

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September 8, 2017 - 4:25 pm
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Bert H. said

Based on your previous written messages on this topic, you most certainly and very clearly do expect the BATF to educate you (colloquial).

This is probably going to fall of deaf ears, but I will state this one more time…The BATF has not changed “the manner in which they classify antique Winchesters” nor are they “using a different criterion” to determine what is “antique”.  Accordingly, they have not created any new “policies and procedures” concerning what is or is not an “antique” Winchester.  The federal regulation (law) on what qualifies as an “antique” has not changed, nor is the BATF trying to change it.  The only thing that has changed (and apparently not all BATF agents are aware of it), is the specific source of the date of manufacture information they will use to prove that you (colloquial) have violated federal law.  They do not own or control that source of information, but they do know where to go to get it… just like you do!  It is not the BATF’s responsibility to inform you (again colloquial) that they are using the correct (verifiable) date of manufacture information that is available to ALL of us.  The dealers & collectors out there that intentionally (or unintentionally) choose not to use (ignore) the records available to them, and instead rely on the proven inaccurate information published by a former Winchester collector/dealer, are asking for their own legal demise.  What I really want to know at this point, is why YOU (not colloquial) are so adamant that the BATF should spend time & resources to educate Winchester dealers & collectors (who should be the experts on this subject) about the source of information that they will use in a court of law to prove that a violation of federal law was committed?  Again, that source of information is available to everyone who wants to use it.

Bert  

Your comment makes a lot of sense, Bert.  I don’t know if it is possible, but it seems like the closest to a solution would be for sources such as Fjestad to stop publishing dual serial number dates and only use Polishing Room numbers, where available.  The same would apply to the Winchester website.  Obviously, the old publications can’t be changed but current web data and future publications can be corrected.

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Bert H. said

Based on your previous written messages on this topic, you most certainly and very clearly do expect the BATF to educate you (colloquial).

This is probably going to fall of deaf ears, but I will state this one more time…The BATF has not changed “the manner in which they classify antique Winchesters” nor are they “using a different criterion” to determine what is “antique”.  Accordingly, they have not created any new “policies and procedures” concerning what is or is not an “antique” Winchester.  The federal regulation (law) on what qualifies as an “antique” has not changed, nor is the BATF trying to change it.  The only thing that has changed (and apparently not all BATF agents are aware of it), is the specific source of the date of manufacture information they will use to prove that you (colloquial) have violated federal law.  They do not own or control that source of information, but they do know where to go to get it… just like you do!  It is not the BATF’s responsibility to inform you (again colloquial) that they are using the correct (verifiable) date of manufacture information that is available to ALL of us.  The dealers & collectors out there that intentionally (or unintentionally) choose not to use (ignore) the records available to them, and instead rely on the proven inaccurate information published by a former Winchester collector/dealer, are asking for their own legal demise.  What I really want to know at this point, is why YOU (not colloquial) are so adamant that the BATF should spend time & resources to educate Winchester dealers & collectors (who should be the experts on this subject) about the source of information that they will use in a court of law to prove that a violation of federal law was committed?  Again, that source of information is available to everyone who wants to use it.

Bert  

The point is that if ATF uses recently changed serial number information, Madis numbers/PR numbers, to date antique Winchesters, changed from the information provided by Winchester for generations, changed from information previously supplied by Cody from records, common sense says they should inform the people it effects. The use of that information is completely within ATFs purview for enforcement, and ATF is the only entity that would use that information to take criminal action against a person. Why ATF, the only enforcement entity involved, would not inform the public, or make known to all of their firearm division agents, if Winchester serial number information defining antiques has changed I do not not know. Like I said repeatedly, on their website and in their bulletins they do in fact take the “time & resources”, which you so abhor, to publish and discuss all new information and protocols that effect the public concerning the legal transfer of firearms. Particularly when the change in information used can make felons of people who have not read the discussion of the topic on the internet, a topic of which has been completely devoid from official sources. The general public is not going to send for factory letters on all their Winchesters to determine when they were made. Never having heard of new polishing room records they are going to consult the widely distributed, and accepted for generations by ATF, numbers published by acknowledged experts in the field. ATF certainly knows that. The law has not changed. The serial number information ATF now uses to determine antique Winchesters may have changed. Only ATF can tell you what criterion they are using, and what enforcement procedure they are using. Information on the topic has been left to unreliable internet banter.

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September 8, 2017 - 7:31 pm
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Wincacher said
This subject keeps popping up frequently and it seems like no one convinces anyone to change their original opinion.  There are only a few thousand old guns (no one knows how many no longer exist) that fit into the Madis – Polishing Room serial number range in a universe of billions (maybe trillions) of guns.  I’m sure the BATFE is not wasting resources monitoring what happens when one of that handful of Winchesters changes hands.

I suspect the real reason there is any issue at all are the gun dealers who are trying to get a few $$$ more when they sell a gun by claiming that it is pre-1899 when it isn’t.  I’m a collector, not a dealer.  Every Winchester I’ve ever purchased is still in my possession.  If I ever sell one of my rifles I’ll use the Polishing Room serial numbers.  On the other hand, when purchasing a gun, if the seller wants to use the Madis numbers I’ll only worry about the PR serial numbers if it has an effect on the asking price.  

This right here!!!  No need to dance around the subject…..Dealers will use Madis’ dates to make more money on any sale.  

And just like any other Gubment Agency, they will not “completely” inform the public as to what laws are updated/changed. Just look at the IRS or DOL.  A notice will go out on the website that “such and such” reg has been updated/change.  But they will never tell you what the changes are. You have to look for yourself.  And unless you are lawyer, most of these regs are written in such a manner that no ordinary person can understand them   Just another way for them to trap you into having to pay fees/fines.  It seems to me the only time the ATF would be of any concern would be with Short Barreled rifles (when it pertains to antique/curio winchesters).

Now play nice boys!

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September 8, 2017 - 8:06 pm
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wolfbait said 

The point is that if ATF uses recently changed serial number information, Madis numbers/PR numbers, to date antique Winchesters, changed from the information provided by Winchester for generations, changed from information previously supplied by Cody from records, common sense says they should inform the people it effects. The use of that information is completely within ATFs purview for enforcement, and ATF is the only entity that would use that information to take criminal action against a person. Why ATF, the only enforcement entity involved, would not inform the public, or make known to all of their firearm division agents, if Winchester serial number information defining antiques has changed I do not not know. Like I said repeatedly, on their website and in their bulletins they do in fact take the “time & resources”, which you so abhor, to publish and discuss all new information and protocols that effect the public concerning the legal transfer of firearms. Particularly when the change in information used can make felons of people who have not read the discussion of the topic on the internet, a topic of which has been completely devoid from official sources. The general public is not going to send for factory letters on all their Winchesters to determine when they were made. Never having heard of new polishing room records they are going to consult the widely distributed, and accepted for generations by ATF, numbers published by acknowledged experts in the field. ATF certainly knows that. The law has not changed. The serial number information ATF now uses to determine antique Winchesters may have changed. Only ATF can tell you what criterion they are using, and what enforcement procedure they are using. Information on the topic has been left to unreliable internet banter.  

The “point” you are desperately clinging to is full of errors on your part.  First, the BATF is not using “recently changed serial number information”.  The information contained in the PR records has existed as far back as the year 1885 (when George Hertel created that recording keeping system).  Various authors (Herbert Houze, Ned Schwing, and Roger Rule) used it in their reference books as early as the late 1970s.  I became aware of it when the then Curator David Kennedy personally showed me the original records books (down in the vaults near the McCracken Research library) in the summer of 2004.  The CFM records office has been using the PR dates since 2006, and for the 30-years prior to that, they used the warehouse ledger records (which also do not support what Madis published).  Do any of those dates qualify as “recent” to you?

As for your “common” sense argument, it is quite apparent that you have no understanding of how government run entities operate.  The information that the BATF does publish on their website deals with new or modified regulations and laws enacted, or new directives from legal sources.  You keep erroneously stating this over and over “if Winchester serial number information defining antiques has changed”.  The fact is, that it has NOT changed.  The historical Winchester serial numbers have not ever changed.  The records are unaltered, and still have the exact same information in them that they did in December 31st, 1898. 

This entire discussion (disagreement) that we are having is solely the result of one man publishing bad information more than 50-years ago, and nearly everyone since that time blindly believing it and copying it, including the so called “Winchester” company (which is actually the Browning Arms company).  I truly do not understand why you (and a substantial number of other dealers & collectors) are so resistant to accepting the true facts as it applies to historical Winchester serialization and warehouse records?

As for the BATF doing anything that you suggest they do, I would not recommend hold your breath.  If you truly feel so strong about it, go get involved and write them about your concerns.  As for me, I will simply adhere to the regulations, and use the existing records available to me… I strongly suggest that you do the same.

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September 8, 2017 - 10:46 pm
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I am not debating the actual date of manufacture of Winchesters, assuming the polishing room records, which were hidden from common knowledge for so long, are not in the future corrected by some newly found information. My point is that if ATF is using the polishing room records to date manufacture, knowing that virtually all of the information available to collectors and firearm dealers through books and on the internet indicate different numbers identifying a pre-1899 antique, they, being the agency that would enforce any violations, should make public on their site (where they have a question and answer section dealing with questions such as this) and in their ATF bulletin the true source that should be used to date Winchesters. That would be very simple, a few sentences, and would assist collectors and dealers to obey the law. That should not be asking too much, as they are certainly aware of the volume of misinformation, almost exclusive, regarding Winchester dating from the many publicly accepted sources available, and they are the agency that would have to prove a case and show intent in court. Perhaps the people on this forum are not aware of how few collectors and firearm dealers know about polishing room numbers. I mention the PR numbers to guys at gun shows. They take out Flayderman’s and the Winchester Dates of Manufacture book, look on the Winchester site listing the same numbers, and tell me to go away. We have 6 gun shops in town, they sell used and antique guns. Not one has heard of the PR numbers, when I ask how they date an antique Winchester they plop that same Flayderman’s or Winchester Dates of Manufacture book on the counter. Today I finally got through to an ATF District Supervisor and discussed antique Winchesters with him. He had never heard of polishing room numbers, and recommended that I refer to “published references” to date a Winchester. He agreed that it is to ATFs advantage, and the advantage of collectors and firearm dealers, for ATF (the primary agency that would take legal action on the matter) to inform the public of the proper way to determine if a Winchester is a legal antique.

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TXGunNut said
I’m thinking the instances of abusive tactics by BATFE are few and far between. I have very little confidence in the press getting the story straight and even less confidence in social media. As you point out the BATFE agents have their hands full with other higher-priority violations.   

 Yes they do:  https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/us/atf-tobacco-cigarettes.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.google.com/

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For the benefit of all (and this is published in “The RED BOOK of WINCHESTER Values”), this is the correct (verified) Winchester Antique serial number cut-off list by model. It is the exact list that I provided to Special Agent Brandt several years ago.  Please copy or print this list and use it as a ready reference.

Bert

TABLE 3
Winchester Serial Numbers
That Qualify as
ANTIQUE pre-1899
 
Henry All numbers
M-1866 All numbers
M-1873 1 – 525750
M-1876 All numbers
M-1883 Hotchkiss                                                         1 – 84551
M-1885 Single Shot 1 – 82381
M-1886 1 – 118646
M-1887 Shotgun 1 – 64842
M-1890 1 – 64748
M-1892 1 – 103328
M-1893 Shotgun All numbers
M-1894 1 – 53941
M-1895 1 – 19567
Lee Navy Straight Pull 1 – 13679 & 15000-20000
M-1897 34151 – 63867

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September 9, 2017 - 9:22 pm
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Many years ago, I recall it was not uncommon to see some Winchesters made after 1898 advertised for sale as antiques under the provision that they were chambered in obsolete calibers – that is, chambered for ammunition that was no longer manufactured, “and not readily available in the ordinary channels of commerce.”  One criteria is that the firearm had to have, “an identical antecedent manufactured during the antiquity period.”  An example would be a Winchester M1886 in .40-82.  I also recall 1894’s in all calibers except .30-30 and .32 spl. were advertised as antiques (even though they were manufactured after 1898.  For several years now, some of this ammunition that was, “obsolete” is certainly available (e.g. .38-55).  Also, for example, PMC made a run of .40-65.  Now, .38-70, .40-70, .236 USN (for a Win-Lee with a serial number in the 14,xxx range)… I think there remain some cartridges in pretty darn obsolete status.  Thoughts?

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steve004 said
Many years ago, I recall it was not uncommon to see some Winchesters made after 1898 advertised for sale as antiques under the provision that they were chambered in obsolete calibers – that is, chambered for ammunition that was no longer manufactured, “and not readily available in the ordinary channels of commerce.”  One criteria is that the firearm had to have, “an identical antecedent manufactured during the antiquity period.”  An example would be a Winchester M1886 in .40-82.  I also recall 1894’s in all calibers except .30-30 and .32 spl. were advertised as antiques (even though they were manufactured after 1898.  For several years now, some of this ammunition that was, “obsolete” is certainly available (e.g. .38-55).  Also, for example, PMC made a run of .40-65.  Now, .38-70, .40-70, .236 USN (for a Win-Lee with a serial number in the 14,xxx range)… I think there remain some cartridges in pretty darn obsolete status.  Thoughts?  

The availability of purchase of most any cartridge on the internet has virtually removed any cartridge from the obsolete/unavailable cartridge exemption. If you can buy it on the internet and have it sent right to your home, it is available in ordinary channels of commerce. It was never a very smart provision to include in the 1968 GCA. Right from the beginning it was ambiguous, and rife for causing misunderstanding and violation. I have never seen a court decision addressing this, but ATF agents I have discussed this with believed that black/smokeless powder would not be a distinction, even the availability of cases/bullets/powder/primer would be considered ammunition readily available.

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September 9, 2017 - 11:05 pm
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Wolfbait – I certainly agree with your points.  From the start, it was a set-up for ambiguity.  And then slowly, more and more cartridges that were once considered, “obsolete” progressively became available again.  Many smaller manufacturers now offer about any cartridge that ever existed.  And as you point out, if you factor in the availability of components, then anything is readily available. My main point is a remembrance of a time when this was an often-used caveat.

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