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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Down thread I mentioned I am working on two letters to ATF for determination of status of certain cannons. I just finish one I started this morning. Here is what it looks like.

I post it here to show you how simple it is to write. When you write one of these letters you should already have some idea what ATF needs to know in order to make a decision. The key argument I have seen in the debate is that muzzle loaders are exempt. It is the crux of my letter.

As soon as I get a response, I will share the result here.

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November 4, 2011
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
Firearms Technology Branch
244 Needy Road
Martinsburg, West Virginia 25405 USA

Dear Sir or Madam,
I moderate an Internet discussion board for blackpowder cannon and mortar enthusiasts. We have a clear mandate that allows only the discussion of blackpowder muzzle loading cannons and mortars that were made before 1899 and replicas thereof. We do not allow nor offer interpretation of the GCA or NFA. We refer, anyone asking, to ATF for the proper interpretation of those laws.

One type of cannon that we frequently have inquiries about is a bowling ball mortar. People want to know if they are legal to build. We always refer those inquiries to ATF for an answer.

Most frequently the design inquired about replicates a Stokes mortar designed in 1914.

The mortar is constructed from a high pressure gas bottle. The bores size is 8.815 inches. The bottom end of the pressure bottle is cut off and a powder chamber is made to go in the neck of the bottle. The bottle is attached to a base plate and legs are attached to support the upper barrel like the Stokes. Base plates and legs can be actual surplus T&E equipment or fabricated. The gun is fired by loading from the muzzle, a blackpowder charge into the chamber, then lowering a bowling ball down the barrel from the muzzle over the charge in the chamber. The gun is fired by a standard cannon fuse.

Some argue that the bowling ball mortar made to replicate the Stokes design is exempt as it is a muzzle loaded mortar. To resolve this issue I am writing for a determination of the status of the Bowling ball mortar replicating a Stokes design. How is it classified under GCA/NFA?

Once I receive your response, with your permission, I will post the letter on our discussion forum for future guidance.
Sincerely yours,


Douglas B Dickens

Cut Bank, MT 59427
 

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I would be inclined to include reference to the Russian mortars (shorter tube but with two long support legs) to balance the Stokes (just in case the folks at BATF were looking for precidence).

But, having said that, THANKS for putting the pen to the paper.

Come to think about it, I have seen a late-1800's Austrailian design that had a round baseplate that might also be used for precidence.

It will be most interesting to see the response.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Cat said:
I would be inclined to include reference to the Russian mortars (shorter tube but with two long support legs) to balance the Stokes (just in case the folks at BATF were looking for precidence).

But, having said that, THANKS for putting the pen to the paper.

Come to think about it, I have seen a late-1800's Austrailian design that had a round baseplate that might also be used for precidence.

It will be most interesting to see the response.
The bowling ball mortars in question have all been replications of the Stokes.

The Russian tripod mortar is just that a tripod with a mortar on top, a typical of the era grenade mortar. I don't think any one is going to make a bowling ball version of that one.

I haven't seen this Austrian mortar you refer to, nor any mortar claiming to replicate it.

The real issue here isn't the replication of the Stokes. We know that is a no go. ATF will always say- NFA and permits required. They might also say the bowliong ball mortars don't replicate the Stokes.

The issue is muzzle loading. Some folks argue that because this mortar is a muzzle loading it is exempt. If it is exempt, the replication of Stokes is irrelevant. We will see.
 

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I fail to see the difference between the design of the muzzle loading Stokes mortar or other modern mortars (most all mortars were/are designed to be loaded from the muzzle) and bowling ball mortars of the design being made from oxygen or other gas cylinders. Bowling ball mortars made from gas cylinders appear to more closely resemble the Livens Gas Projector of WW1, which also used oxyacetylene tank tubing for the barrel.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Max said:
I fail to see the difference between the design of the muzzle loading Stokes mortar or other modern mortars (most all mortars were/are designed to be loaded from the muzzle) and bowling ball mortars of the design being made from oxygen or other gas cylinders. Bowling ball mortars made from gas cylinders appear to more closely resemble the Livens Gas Projector of WW1, which also used oxyacetylene tank tubing for the barrel.
Agreed, the bowling ball mortar replicating a Stokes is simply a larger caliber Stokes. I think that ATF will agree.

That is why I think the real issue is, is there an exemption for muzzle loading guns. Some places around the internet you will see claims that the Stokes style bowling ball mortar is is exempt because it is muzzle loaded. I have seen the exemption for GCA-50 caliber and under muzzle loading firearms, but not NFA-over .50.

We will see.
 

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The big difference between a Stokes mortar and a Bowling ball mortar is this A Stokes or Brandt style morter uses FIXED ammunition the primer and propelling charge is attached to the projectile, wheather it be training munitions, smoke, HE etc.... a Bowling ball mortar using a powder chamber a ball and and a seperate ignition system do not compare to the Stokes or Brandt mortar..... Now if you had a Gas cylinder with a fixed firing pin in the base and a metal canister fixed to a bowling all with a priming system attached to the bottom and were able for fire mutiple rounds this way out of said Bowling ball mortar I think ATF would sit up and take notice......[/color]
 

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Double said:
...
I haven't seen this Austrian mortar you refer to, nor any mortar claiming to replicate it.
...
Australian not Austrian.


Allen - interesting point. Namely is the distinction of the replica more concerned with the type of ignition or in the details of outward appearance.

Tune in tomorrow.
 

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Just speculating here, but I think that the definition will be confined to the method of ignition.
Definitions based upon outward appearance would quickly descend into arguments about artistic merit.
There's no way to legislate how accurate a replica should be.

I think a case in point is the Ruger Old Army revolver; it's not an accurate replica of any antique revolver, but it is mechanically the same, and thus legal.

I understand wanting to have an ATF letter to be on the safe side, but there is the potential to put an awful lot of people in a position where they have to destroy their cannon...
 

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I agree that the wording could be better if you want a ruling that the BB mortars are ok-- the word "design" has a specific meaning to them that may not be what is desired. I'd go with something like this--

"These mortars have the outward appearance of the Stokes mortar, but are loaded and fired identically to a pre-1898 muzzle-loading mortar ie: a powder charge is loaded from the muzzle, then, separately, the projectile is loaded from the muzzle. The powder charge is later ignited by a fuse and touch-hole through the breech area."

The way it's written now, the could easily come back with "replicating the Stokes design would be an NFA weapon", and ignore the rest. hopefully not, but you never know.

The other thing is you're asking for a blanket approval/disapproval based on limited information that may vary considerably from example to example. For any bureaucracy, the default there is 'disapprove', since they might not see all the angles and want to CYA. A letter along the lines of "I wish to construct a mortar according to [these specific design details]... would it be covered by the NFA?" would not provide a final ruling, but has a better chance of succeeding IMO.

Best of luck in any case.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
flagman1776 said:
I honestly do not think it is right to describe a gas-cylinder BB mortar as resembling a Stokes in any fashon. I think muzzleloading BB mortars which are base supported... ie Spigot mortars... in every sense of the word are fairly described as a pre-1898 design.
Are we seeing some with an external base plate & adjustable bipod arms? Is this the basis for classification? I do not think it is but to avoid confusion if I had such an interest, I'd not use an external support. It's just not worth it.
A Stokes uses self contained ammo... so it is a poor comparison on that basis.
The question very quickly does become "how authentic" a replica must be? I admit I'm not into building replicas from modern gas cylinders... but is it fair to condemn a cannon just for building it from scrap materials available?

The way this draft of the letter is written, it begs to be denied.
This letter isn't about all bowling ball mortars, it is about one specific style of bowling ball mortar.

The mortar I am describing has a base plate and support legs, often surplus T&E equipment from a Stokes mortar. It replicated the Stokes design.

We have had them posted here in the past and we still get an occasional reference to them.

Truthfully now, what do these mortars look like to you. http://1919a4.com/showthread.php?24351-Having-fun-with-the-bowling-ball-mortar...I don't see a pre 1899 design anywhere.

As long as the mortar replicates a pre 1899 design there is not issue.

The letter isn't going to be denied. We aren't asking for approval or denial. We are asking for a determination of status. We will have the determination in response to this letter.

I have no doubt they are going to say the Stokes design is NFA regulated. What I am hoping they say, is because it is muzzleloading it is exempt. That is the key issue I am looking for.

I am in a quandry on how you get a bowling ball spigot mortar to work?Stick the tube up a finger hole?
 

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I still suggest that in ATF lingo, the BB mortars do not replicate the Stokes design. They have the outward appearance of a Stokes, and even can use a number of Stokes parts, but the internals and mechanism are very different. People on the street use 'design' to mean 'appearance', but ATF does not.

From: http://www.atf.gov/firearms/faq/firearms-technology.html
Please note that the foreign parts kits that are sold through commercial means are usually cut up machineguns, such as Russian AK-47 types, British Sten types, etc. Generally, an acceptable semiautomatic copy of a machinegun is one that has been significantly redesigned. The receiver must be incapable of accepting the original fire-control components that are designed to permit full automatic fire. The method of operation should employ a closed-bolt firing design that incorporates an inertia-type firing pin within the bolt assembly.
Outwardly these firearms are virtually identical to their full-auto origins, but in ATF terms are "redesigned".

That's what's key to the ATF the internals and workings-- a firearm can look like a flowerpot for all they care, but if it's designed to fire more than one bullet per trigger pull, it's NFA.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Your interpretation shred, not ATF's, and it is and apples and oranges comparison. The is no replica provision in ak parts related laws. There is a replica provision in the pre1899 definition of antique firearms. No AK will replicate any antique weapon.

If you can come up pre 1899 mortar design that use Stokes style T&E equipment , please do let us know.
 

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The ATF is very consistent on what they use the term 'designed' for, across all their rulings, and it's not outward appearance. But, anyway that appears largely irrelevant to the issue at hand--

Poking around the ATF site a little more finds this in the NFA handbook. It's all around the method of ignition for non-cased ammo.

http://www.atf.gov/publications/download/p/atf-p-5320-8/atf-p-5320-8-chapter-2.pdf
Section 2.2 Antique firearm. Firearms defined by the NFA as “antique firearms” are not subject to
any controls under the NFA.22 The NFA defines antique firearms based on their date of manufacture
and the type of ignition system used to fire a projectile. Any firearm manufactured in or before 1898
that is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional center fire ignition with fixed
ammunition is an antique firearm. Additionally, any firearm using a matchlock, flintlock, percussion
cap or similar type ignition system, irrespective of the actual date of manufacture of the firearm, is also
an antique firearm.
[italics mine]

Focusing on the ignition method and non-fixed-ammo aspects of the BB mortar may pay off. Note this is also NFA and may not reflect everything in the GCA.
 

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So, this is the first approval of the Stokes and is now up for discussion on the forum, based on an 'antique' style of ignition. That's wonderful news!! I feel like this is another WIN for the good guys! Thanks DD!!!
 
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