United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Thompson/Center Arms Company
LOCATION:Mississippi Governor’s Office

DOCKET NO.: 91-164
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

CITATION: 504 US 505 (1992)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1992

James A. Feldman – on behalf of the Petitioner
Stephen P. Halbrook – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 13, 1992 in United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 08, 1992 in United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

The first of the two cases is United States v. Thompson/Center Arms, No. 91-164.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Respondent, Thompson/Center Arms, manufactures a pistol called the Contender and for a brief period also manufactured a kit that could be used to convert the pistol either to a carbine riffle with a 21-inch barrel or if the pistol barrel was left on to a short-barreled riffle with a 10-inch barrel.

Unlike the pistol or the longer riffle, a sp-called short-barreled riffle is regulated under the National Firearms Act with the consequence that making such riffle is a taxable act.

We granted certiorari in this case to resolve a conflict between the Circuits about whether a short-barreled riffle actually must be assembled in order to be made and, hence, for that act to be taxable within the meaning of the statute.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court and in which the Chief Justice and Justice O’Connor join, we conclude that it need not be assembled and that some disassembled aggregations of parts are included in Congress’ definition.

We conclude that an aggregation of parts that would serve no useful purpose except the assembly of a regulated firearm would constitute the making of a firearm within the meaning of the Act.

We find Congress’ language ambiguous however, as to those aggregations of parts that would have utility in permitting to assemble of unregulated firearms as in the case before us.

Although the case arises in a civil setting, the statute has criminal consequences and we, therefore, apply the rule of lenity to conclude that in packaging, the pistol and conversion kit together, Thompson/Center had not made a short-barreled riffle within the meaning of the Act.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justice Thomas joins; Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Blackmun, Stevens, and Kennedy join; Justice Stevens has also filed a dissenting opinion.