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United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Co.

504 U.S. 505 (1992)

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United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Co.

United States Supreme Court

504 U.S. 505 (1992)

Facts

Section 5821 of the National Firearms Act (the act) imposed a $200 per unit tax on every company that made firearms. The act defined the term make to include manufacturing, putting together, or otherwise producing a firearm. The act defined firearm in a way that included short-barreled rifles—rifles with barrels less than 16 inches long—but excluded pistols and rifles with barrels 16 inches long or longer. The act also specified that rifles were guns intended to be fired from the shoulder. Any company that failed to comply with the act could be subject to fines, criminal penalties, or both. Thompson/Center Arms Co. (Thompson/Center) (plaintiff) manufactured a convertible pistol called the Contender along with a conversion kit that included a rifle stock and 21-inch barrel. With the rifle stock, the gun became a 10-inch rifle that was considered a firearm under the act. With the 21-inch barrel, the gun was not a firearm under the act. In 1985 the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the bureau) (defendant) advised Thompson/Center that the Contender pistol with the conversion kit was a firearm under the act because the gun could be converted into a short-barreled rifle. Thompson/Center paid the $200 per unit tax on each Contender pistol with conversion kit it produced. After filing a refund claim with the bureau that went unanswered, Thompson/Center filed a lawsuit in the United States Court of Claims seeking a refund and arguing that the Contender pistols sold with conversion kits were not firearms made within the meaning of the act because Thompson/Center itself did not assemble the short-barreled rifles from the kit. The claims court denied the refund request and granted summary judgment for the bureau. Thompson/Center appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the claims court, holding that Thompson/Center did not make a firearm under the act because Thompson/Center did not assemble the short-barreled rifles. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Souter, J.)

Concurrence (Scalia, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (White, J.)

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