LAUNCHERS AND THE LAW
Firearms laws are complicated and vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That said, we are unaware, as of the writing of this document (11/2013), of any local or Federal law that regulates 37mm launchers. The BATF has ruled: Section 5845(f)(3) excludes from the term "destructive device" any device which is neither designed or redesigned for use as a weapon and any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device. The definition of "destructive device" in the GCA (18 U.S.C. section 921(a)(4)) is identical to that in the NFA. ATF has previously held that devices designed for expelling tear gas or pyrotechnic signals are not weapons and are exempt from the destructive device definition However, ATF Ruling 95-3 specifically states:
37/38 mm gas/flare guns possessed with cartridges containing wood pellets, rubber pellets or balls, or bean bags are classified as destructive devices for purposes of the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, and the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C. Chapter 53.
Adaptors to allow the use of different caliber ammunition with 37mm launchers are widely available. If you use any "real" ammunition (ie. lead projectile rounds or shot) you are likely violating ATF rules. You may disagree and there is an easy way to find out: ante up $10,000 for legal fees and be prepared to spend a few nights in durance vile. Maybe you are right. We don't think it is worth the effort to find out. See the ATF determination below.
May 4, 2006 BATF Determination: FLARE INSERT – ANY OTHER WEAPON ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) is aware of an insert/sleeve designed to be installed in an Orion 25mm/12 gauge flare launcher that allows the use of conventional ammunition in these flare launchers. FTB was contacted by Orion, who indicated that these flare launchers are not designed to accept standard ammunition, and that the use of an adapter in conjunction with conventional ammunition would likely result in a catastrophic failure of the flare launcher. There are two sizes of inserts available; one size for a 12 gauge flare launcher and one for a 25mm launcher. These insets are smooth bore and capable of accepting a variety of different types of conventional ammunition. It is the determination of FTB that if these inserts are installed in a flare launcher or are possessed with a flare launcher they would be classified as an “Any Other Weapon,” which is a firearm subject to the provisions of the National Firearms Act (NFA). 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) states that it is unlawful to receive or possess an NFA firearm which is not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Violation of the cited section by an individual is a felony subject to a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000. In the case of a violation by an organization, the maximum penalty is a $500,000 fine. In addition, 18 U.S.C. §2 provides that a person who knowingly aids and abets another person in the commission of an offense is also responsible for the offense. Thus, the sale of components in violation of § 5861(d) may place the seller in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2, as well.
There are also, doubtless, various statues around the country that relate to shooting distress flares over water when there is no emergency. As with most things, know the law and don't do anything foolish.
Be aware of and observe local and federal laws when purchasing and using ammunition for your launcher! Know where your rounds are going and wear eye and ear protection.!
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