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#1
Old 11-07-2008, 05:36 AM
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Is a mass driver/railgun/coilgun legally considered a gun?

This is just out of sheer curiosity, honest.

I know it probably depends upon state (I'm in Arizona) but I'm wondering generally, non-US country definitions welcome too.

Most legal definitions I can find specify an explosive propulsion mechanism of some sort. Now I have no doubts that if I (somehow) managed to build a feasible projectile-firing railgun, coilgun, or any other electromagnetic propulsion device and carry it around the cops aren't going to particularly CARE what the legal definition is, but it's really hard to find anything on this. My searches all return research stuff from various universities, and "Mass Driver weapon legality" returns... stuff about driving in Massachusetts and cops.

My guess, so you know my reasoning in order to correct me/confirm me: Anyone arguing the case worth his salt is going to point out that "explosion" doesn't necessarily include gas expansion and temperature increase, but rather that excessive magnetic pressure is a perfectly valid form of explosion ("magnetic explosion"). But I'm not sure that's what they had in mind when they actually wrote the law, which is what is leaving me scratching my head.

Final Thought: Does explosive mean anything that creates an explosion or does it have a much more specific substance definition when dealing with demolitions/firearms?

Bonus Question: If it IS a gun... well I'm still confused. From what I understand, in the US you have to be over 21, not convicted of any felonies, and wait a small waiting period in most (all?) areas... but that's purchasing a firearm. If I'm making a physics experiment non-typical gun from scratch, is there any special provision as far as that goes?

I have no idea what made me think of this question (and no, I know NOTHING about gun regulation making my post confusing as hell, sorry 'bout that), but fire away. -snerk-
#2
Old 11-07-2008, 06:54 AM
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It would be a "firearm" in Canada, as set out in the definition in the Criminal Code, which doesn't require any explosion:
Quote:
"firearm"
«arme à feu »


"firearm" means a barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person, and includes any frame or receiver of such a barrelled weapon and anything that can be adapted for use as a firearm;
#3
Old 11-07-2008, 08:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
Bonus Question: If it IS a gun... well I'm still confused. From what I understand, in the US you have to be over 21, not convicted of any felonies, and wait a small waiting period in most (all?) areas... but that's purchasing a firearm. If I'm making a physics experiment non-typical gun from scratch, is there any special provision as far as that goes?
I don't think that it makes it legal if you make it yourself. I recall a case a while back ( I can't find a link to the story ) about a guy who made a fully automatic weapon from ( among other things ) chainsaw parts; it was confiscated because civilians aren't supposed to have machineguns, homemade or not.
#4
Old 11-07-2008, 08:33 AM
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You need a Class II license to make your own firearms. Fortunately, rail guns are not firearms. Go have a blast.
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#5
Old 11-07-2008, 09:15 AM
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I don't know about the BATF, but if you discharge an electromagnetically propelled weapon the FCC will be all over your ass.



Si
#6
Old 11-07-2008, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
You need a Class II license to make your own firearms. Fortunately, rail guns are not firearms. Go have a blast.
Class II is for NFA weapons. For non-NFA weapons, I believe Class I is sufficient.

FWIW,
Rob
#7
Old 11-07-2008, 09:36 AM
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The BATFE generally does not require you to have a license to make a firearm provided you are not making it for sale. Cite.
The key point for this discussion is what the terms firearm and gun mean.

The BATFE defines a firearm as
Quote:
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.
Cite. (PDF)

Sometimes there are peculiarities in the laws. Blackpowder rifles, shotguns, and revolvers aren't legally considered guns for purposes of commerce. They can be freely bought and sold without a background check, purchased mailorder, over the web, and so on. Check the Dixie Gun Works website for a metric assload of examples.

For purposes of criminal law, a blackpowder revolver is just as much a weapon as a Glock.

So, you don't need a license to build a railgun. BATFE doesn't define it as a firearm. If you illegally shoot somebody with it, you'll be in just the same trouble as if you'd used a conventional gun.
#8
Old 11-07-2008, 09:44 AM
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I don't know, but if you managed to design and build a man-portable mass driver/railgun/coilgun/gausegun, I'm sure you'd be able to retire wealthy on fat defense contracts.
#9
Old 11-07-2008, 09:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Trihs View Post
I don't think that it makes it legal if you make it yourself. I recall a case a while back ( I can't find a link to the story ) about a guy who made a fully automatic weapon from ( among other things ) chainsaw parts; it was confiscated because civilians aren't supposed to have machineguns, homemade or not.
Civilians aren't supposed to have unregistered machine guns. Unfortunately, the registry was closed in '86, so civilians are restricted to buying from the limited pool of machine guns that're already registered.

Regardless, your example isn't really relevant to a non-fully automatic mass driver since machine guns are given special treatment under the law. The ATF gets really upset when it comes to illegal machine guns.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sweeteviljesus View Post
Class II is for NFA weapons. For non-NFA weapons, I believe Class I is sufficient.
Class I is an importer of NFA weapons. Class II is a manufacturer of NFA weapons. Class III is a dealer of NFA weapons. All of the class designations refer to the Special Operations Tax (SOT) specifically for dealing with NFA stuff.

What you're looking for is a type 7 FFL. That's a regular manufacturer.

Also, I believe there are provisions to allow a private individual to manufacture their own firearm. I don't recall the details since I wasn't paying too much attention, but I've heard people talk about being able to legally buy a parts kit and then building their own receiver from sheet metal.

I vaguely seem to recall that the important distinction to make it legal is that the individual does not do this with the intent of selling the firearm. I believe they can sell it at some arbitrary point in the future if they decide to get rid of it, they just can't build it with the intent of selling it. Also, I believe they have to stamp their name and a serial number of the receiver as the builder. However, you should not attempt this based on my vague information -- consider this just enough casual advice to know that it may be worth reading up on.

Regardless, this is getting away from the mass driver issue. I'm not sure that the ATF would even consider it a firearm, which makes the federal issue moot. It'd depend on their definition, though.

Edit: And it looks like Scumpup answered the definition issue. Thanks.

Last edited by Erasmus Darwin; 11-07-2008 at 09:54 AM. Reason: Addendum
#10
Old 11-07-2008, 09:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erasmus Darwin View Post
Civilians aren't supposed to have unregistered machine guns.
Der Trihs lives in California.

FWIW,
Rob
#11
Old 11-07-2008, 11:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
Final Thought: Does explosive mean anything that creates an explosion or does it have a much more specific substance definition when dealing with demolitions/firearms?
An explosive is any substance that is capable of combusting at faster than the bulk speed of sound in that material. Gunpowder is more accurately an energetic material, as even under confinement it generally doesn't explode, it deflagrates. The way I understand it, deflagrations are more consistent at generally accepted manufacturing tolerances; it would be too expensive to manufacture a round using actual explosives (not to mention how sturdy you would have to make the breech!). I believe the primer, on the other hand, is actually a primary explosive, though.
#12
Old 11-07-2008, 11:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
It would be a "firearm" in Canada, as set out in the definition in the Criminal Code, which doesn't require any explosion:
Does a railgun have an actual barrel, though?
#13
Old 11-07-2008, 11:26 AM
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"(D) any destructive device."

So, hammers are firearms? I did not know that.
#14
Old 11-07-2008, 11:39 AM
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In California...

I don't think it would be a gun. I am going on my recent experience on a jury. The case involved an item that was for all intents and purposes a hand gun. It looked like a hand gun; a police officer testified that he made his arrest assuming it was a hand gun; it fires metallic projectiles at high velocity; it was used (purportedly) to shoot out car windows.

But, the lawyers and the judge were very careful to never ever call the thing a gun. Why? Because the propellent was CO2, not powder.

It made for terribly awkward sentences.
#15
Old 11-07-2008, 11:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethilrist View Post
"(D) any destructive device."

So, hammers are firearms? I did not know that.
If you go to the link I provided, BATFE also define what they mean by the term "destructive device." For their purposes, a hammer is not a destructive device.
#16
Old 11-07-2008, 01:48 PM
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The definition of 'Destructive Device' includes
Quote:
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
This raises the question of whether or not electricity is considered a propellant. And no, they don't define propellant.
#17
Old 11-07-2008, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
Does a railgun have an actual barrel, though?
We'll have to see Jragon's specs for his new invention before we can judge it.
#18
Old 11-07-2008, 05:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scumpup View Post
If you go to the link I provided, BATFE also define what they mean by the term "destructive device." For their purposes, a hammer is not a destructive device.
Unless you tie it to a hand grenade.
#19
Old 11-07-2008, 07:14 PM
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Pellet guns and airsoft guns are not considered firearms, whether they are powered by air, CO2, springs, or motors.

Spud guns are not considered firearms, and you can make them yourself, even though most of them do use flammable chemical propellant.

Flare launchers are also not considered firearms.
#20
Old 11-12-2008, 01:38 AM
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So, from what I'm getting, "No... just don't shoot someone in the face with it."

Alright then! *Gets out the screwdriver*

[[Disclaimer: I am fully aware of attempts to make a feasible railgun and the associated complications, I am not about to attempt to do what probably several hundred military funded researchers could not, good day.]]
#21
Old 11-12-2008, 02:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Santo Rugger View Post
An explosive is any substance that is capable of combusting at faster than the bulk speed of sound in that material. Gunpowder is more accurately an energetic material, as even under confinement it generally doesn't explode, it deflagrates. The way I understand it, deflagrations are more consistent at generally accepted manufacturing tolerances; it would be too expensive to manufacture a round using actual explosives (not to mention how sturdy you would have to make the breech!). I believe the primer, on the other hand, is actually a primary explosive, though.
How does that definition coexist with the common groupings of high explosives (detonates, nitroglycerin) and low explosives (deflagrates, smokeless powder)?
#22
Old 11-12-2008, 02:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 26 U.S.C. § 5845(f)(2)
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
Wait a second. Does this mean that any weapon that has a barrel with a bore of less than a half-inch in diameter does not qualify as a destructive device? Sounds like they're perfectly willing to listen to Reason...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Neal Stephenson
REASON
Version 1.0B7
Gatling type 3 mm hypervelocity railgun system
Ng Security Industries, Inc.
PRERELEASE VERSION-NOT FOR FIELD USE
DO NOT TEST IN A POPULATED AREA
-ULTIMA RATIO REGUM-
#23
Old 11-12-2008, 09:43 AM
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Explosive Definitions

Quote:
Originally Posted by mks57 View Post
How does that definition coexist with the common groupings of high explosives (detonates, nitroglycerin) and low explosives (deflagrates, smokeless powder)?
The definition santo rugger is correct by not universal depending on area being discussed. "Energetics consist of explosives, pyrotechnics, and propellants". A spot you'll find this definition is in TM 9-1300-214, Military Explosives.

Transportation and storage - wise; explosive definition is anything [substance, article, or device] that functions by explosion (i.e., an extremely rapid release of gas and heat) or which, by chemical reaction within itself, is able to function in a similar manner even if not designed to. This includes pyrotechnic substances. Your explosives and explosive devices are in Class 1 with six divisions based on the principal hazard from an incident. A compatibility group letter is also assigned to further breakdown the hazard (this takes into account initiation potential, physical characteristics of device, packaging, safety devices, multiple components, additional hazardous materials present, etc...). This comes from CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 49, Subpart C 173.50 and other sections dealing with air, vehicle, and rail.

You have DOT groupings; Class A, Class B, and Class C explosives related to the hazard of the items. Generally Class A explosives are Hazard Class/Division 1.1, 1.2, 1.5, and 1.6 (detonation hazard commonly called High Explosives). Class B explosives are generally HCD 1.3 (usually the propellants, propellant loaded devices, and large pyrotechnics called Low Explosives), and Class C explosives are HCD 1.4 (usually small propellant devices and small arms ammunition and components). Note the liberal use of "generally" and "usually".

Your division of high vs. low explosives divided by the rate of decomposition into deflagrate and detonate is used in military terminology and instruction as well. The rate of decomposition determines the split. Detonation is decomposition at rates faster than the speed of sound which proceed through the substance. Materials which detonate are your high explosives (TNT, PETN, RDX, etc...). When decomposition is slower than the speed of sound, it's deflagration. Also the reaction proceeds only at the surface of the material. These are low explosives; typically propellants, black powder, most pyrotechnics.

Classification complications arise from characteristics like density, configuration, shape, degree of confinement, ambient temperature, physical state, physical dimensions, means of initiation, and others. An example is TNT. Considered a high explosive in most uses; it will only deflagrate (burn) if initiated in a loose state not packed too densely, not too deep, over a small surface area, by a flame. Some propellants are classed as high explosives. Some pyrotechnic compositions always detonate versus deflagrate. Lots of special cases.

Maybe next year after retirement I'll do an "Ask the ammo guy" thread about military ammunition and explosives.
#24
Old 11-12-2008, 09:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
You need a Class II license to make your own firearms. Fortunately, rail guns are not firearms. Go have a blast.
I'm confused: if you have a blast, isn't technically a firearm?
#25
Old 11-12-2008, 10:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mks57 View Post
How does that definition coexist with the common groupings of high explosives (detonates, nitroglycerin) and low explosives (deflagrates, smokeless powder)?
What smithsb said, especially this:
Quote:
Originally Posted by smithsb View Post
Your division of high vs. low explosives [is] divided by the rate of decomposition into deflagrate and detonate...
The detonation velocity (speed at which the detonation front propagates), power (most importantly detonation pressure), brisance (shattering effect) are all considered. As smithsb pointed out, it depends on the configuration; the distinction is made for the general case.

High explosives are also divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary are extremely easy to set off (i.e. the primer of a cartridge), secondary explosives (usually) require a primary to initiate detonation (dynamite, TNT, C-4, etc.), and tertiary require a secondary to ignite them (ANFO). Tertiary are usually used in mining, because they're cheap per unit energy. Primary explosives are relatively weak, and are generally only used as detonators.

As smithsb said, given the right conditions one can force an explosive to deflagrate or force a pyrotechnic to explode (conditions include the ones he listed: confinement, shape, temperature, etc.).
#26
Old 11-12-2008, 07:43 PM
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Bear in mind, just because something isn't legally considered a "firearm" or a "destructive device" doesn't mean it's not considered a weapon. Being allowed to own something doesn't mean you can carry it around with you in public - for instance NH allows you to own, but not carry, certain types of knives. I can walk down my street openly carrying a machine gun - but not a dagger. (Hmmm, do bayonets count as daggers?)
#27
Old 11-14-2008, 10:54 PM
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I think legally the firearm litmus test would constitute muzzle energy.

A railgun has record levels of muzzle energy, currently constituting 10 megajoules... soon to be ramped up.

If it has a muzzle and energy then I think it is a firing arm.
#28
Old 02-12-2014, 05:49 AM
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In Australia, anything is a gun...

I'm new here, this is my first post, i'm digging up an old thread, but i can clear up some myths (maybe).
Well i've been hunting up and down the net with the same intentions as the OP...
I've got the intentions to R&D some coilguns, but have no idea on their legality.

I live in Australia, and well, now i know... As do any Australian users.

Quote:
“firearm”
Includes any lethal firearm and any other weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet, or other missile can be discharged or propelled <Basically any "gun".>
or which, by any alteration in the construction or fabric thereof, can be made
capable of discharging or propelling any shot, bullet or other missile <Basically converting things into guns.>
but does not include anything that is prescribed in regulations under the Weapons Act 1999 to be a prohibited weapon or a controlled weapon. <WTF? Exceptions?>
So i looked up the Weapons Act and fount this:
Quote:
Electromagnetic weapon
An article made or modified to be used to emit electromagnetic radiation so as to injure or disable a person.
So this raises questions: It states that an electromagnetic weapon is one that uses EM to DIRECTLY damage the target, but not one that uses EM to accellerate a projectile?
Even then i can conclude that coilguns ARE ILLEGAL in Australia, as the law is thorough enough to instate that ANY item which can accelerate a projectile is a weapon.
But that's just the law, in writ.
A judge in court will most probably laugh at the coilgun and it's creator, and slap with a fine and confiscate the coilgun...
Plus, unless waving the coilgun about like a douche, nobody will find or even KNOW about it if your'e responsible, and add the benefit that coilguns are silent, so testing them is no problem.

PatriotGrrrl, Bayonets count as Daggers. At least according to the Weapons Act...
Quote:
Dagger
A sharp pointed stabbing knife having —
(a) a flat blade, exceeding 8 cm in length with non-serrated cutting edges along the length of both sides; or
(b) a needle-like blade, the cross section of which is elliptical or has 3 or more sides,
and includes a bayonet.
#29
Old 02-12-2014, 12:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by msmith537 View Post
I don't know, but if you managed to design and build a man-portable mass driver/railgun/coilgun/gausegun, I'm sure you'd be able to retire wealthy on fat defense contracts.
TV Tropes call this one Cut Lex Luthor a Check.



And, just for fun, here is the science fair project scene from Joan of Arcadia, where the rail gun... goes off the rails.
#30
Old 02-12-2014, 02:47 PM
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I'm not sure what the OP is referring too. There is a bolt gun used to put down injured horses or livestock. Vets often carry them. It fires a metal bolt that enters the horse's skull and then retracts back into the gun.
http://fao.org/docrep/003/x6909e/x6909e1i.jpg
http://livestockhealthsystems.com/Blitz.html
It could kill a human if you could get them to stand still. It has to be held directly on the forehead. The bolt only extends out a couple inches.

I think they are considered guns and regulated like any gun. Some don't look much like a gun. They are just round like a big pipe.

Last edited by aceplace57; 02-12-2014 at 02:51 PM.
#31
Old 02-12-2014, 02:59 PM
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The advantage to a bolt gun is safety. They can be used in barns, stockpens and farms without fear of a stray bullet hitting anybody.

Last edited by aceplace57; 02-12-2014 at 03:00 PM.
#32
Old 02-12-2014, 06:44 PM
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Heads or tails?, friendo.
#33
Old 02-13-2014, 02:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
I'm not sure what the OP is referring too. There is a bolt gun used to put down injured horses or livestock. Vets often carry them. It fires a metal bolt that enters the horse's skull and then retracts back into the gun.
Mass driver
Railgun

AFAIK there no such thing as a man-portable version of either one. And they are pretty much completely unlike a bolt gun (many orders of magnitude difference in destructive power).
#34
Old 02-13-2014, 07:07 PM
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The real question is, can they kill *zombies*?
#35
Old 01-22-2017, 11:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
You need a Class II license to make your own firearms. Fortunately, rail guns are not firearms. Go have a blast.
No that is incorrect, thewre is no such thing as a "class 2 Liscense" You need a type 7 standard FFL. And as long as you aren't manufacturing for sale you can build whatever the hell you want. Actual firearms need only be of legal proportions. Shotguns 18 inch barrel, 26 inch Overall length. Rifles 16 inches and agains an OAL of 26 inches. Any shorter and you've manufactured an SBS/SBR And are subject to the National Firearms Act. Please in the future remember to do your research.
#36
Old 01-22-2017, 05:57 PM
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You can make a railgun in pretty much any size. A man-portable railgun wouldn't be very practical, but then, the larger ones aren't very practical, either.
#37
Old 01-23-2017, 08:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Komiyan View Post
I live in Australia, and well, now i know... As do any Australian users.

So i looked up the Weapons Act and fount this:
The definitions in an Act are for the purposes of that act.
Another act may import the definition, "As defined in Section 3 part 2 of <act>".
Or "if then" it based on the act ". "if section 3 part 2 applies to the device of <act>, then it is a gun". That sort of import...

But its not to be treated as english language definition.

What I think the Weapons Act 1999 is, is the Western Australia *state* law that moves the use of higher powered rifles and machine guns into the Weapons Act. The prohibited ones would be Machine Guns and full auto "assault rifle" and controlled ones might include all lesser rifles - for example.

So the point is that it moved higher powered guns from "guns act" to "weapons act". It meant that the higher powered guns are called weapons and that the weapons act applied to them. ( It doesn't mean to say that that the higher powered guns are not in the english language meaning of "Gun" .. just that you use Weapons Act not Firearms Act for guns in the Weapons Act prohibitions and controls. Worse is that the WA Weapons Act doesn't define the weapons, it leaves that to regulation, which the minister can modify in a moment tomorrow.

So you cause a problem with your rail gun, eg demo it in a park, and the minister makes it illegal in 5 minutes.
#38
Old 01-23-2017, 08:52 AM
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Canada also has a law against "possession of a dangerous weapon". AFAIK it covers just about everything - you can even get this charge if you have a hockey stick or baseball bat and threaten to use it in a dangerous manner. I suppose a real lawyer can pipe up, but it seems to me that possessing something that has no practical use other than as a dangerous weapon obviates the need for the prosecutor to show intent to use as a weapon?
#39
Old 01-23-2017, 09:51 AM
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Most states have adopted the federal definition of firearm, which is the same one cited by Scumpup above (though his link no longer works). The language is taken from 18 U.S.C. § 921. Most states (and the feds) do not define the term "gun."

In Florida, a railgun would presumably come in under the definition of an “electric weapon or device,” which means:
Quote:
Originally Posted by § 790.001(14), Fla. Stat.
[A]ny device which, through the application or use of electrical current, is designed, redesigned, used, or intended to be used for offensive or defensive purposes, the destruction of life, or the infliction of injury.
#40
Old 10-09-2017, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
You need a Class II license to make your own firearms. Fortunately, rail guns are not firearms. Go have a blast.
You need a class II license to sell a firearm you made. There are no licensing requirements on home made guns (they don't even need a serial number) .

A non-licensed person may make a firearm, provided it is not for sale and the maker is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms (such as a convicted felon). (18 U.S.C., Chapter 44; § 922 (d).) Federal law imposes none of the same restrictions on non-licensed possessors, and as a result, homemade guns need not be registered and the owner need not undergo a background check.
#41
Old 10-09-2017, 01:22 PM
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No "Destructive Devices" require a propellant.
#42
Old 10-09-2017, 04:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slackhaus View Post
You need a class II license to sell a firearm you made. There are no licensing requirements on home made guns (they don't even need a serial number) .

A non-licensed person may make a firearm, provided it is not for sale and the maker is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms (such as a convicted felon). (18 U.S.C., Chapter 44; § 922 (d).) Federal law imposes none of the same restrictions on non-licensed possessors, and as a result, homemade guns need not be registered and the owner need not undergo a background check.
This thread has been bumped several times since that was said 9 years ago.
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