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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

27 CFR 555.11: MEANING OF TERMS

ATF provides guidance on two situations involving structures and whether they are "inhabited buildings" as defined in 27 CFR Part 555.

ATF Rul. 2005-3

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has received inquiries from explosives industry members as to the meaning of the term "inhabited building" under 27 CFR 555.11.

The Federal explosives laws, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 40, require all persons to store explosive materials in a manner in conformity with regulations issued by the Attorney General. 18 U.S.C. 842(j). The Attorney General has delegated his authority to administer and enforce the Federal explosives laws to the Director, ATF. 28 CFR 0.130. Regulations in 27 CFR Part 555 implement the provisions of the Federal explosives laws. Storage regulations in 27 CFR Part 555, Subpart K, provide that outdoor magazines in which high explosives are stored must be located no closer to inhabited buildings, passenger railways, public highways, or other magazines in which high explosives are stored than the minimum distances specified in the table of distances for storage of explosive materials in section 555.218 of the regulations. 27 CFR 555.206.

The regulation at 27 CFR 555.11 defines the term "inhabited building" as "[a]ny building regularly occupied in whole or in part as a habitation for human beings, or any church, schoolhouse, railroad station, store, or other structure where people are accustomed to assemble, except any building occupied in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosive materials."

In Scenario A, an explosives licensee leases explosives magazines to an individual who uses the magazines for storage of goods other than explosive materials. The magazines are located adjacent to magazines used by the explosives licensee for the storage of explosive materials. The magazines used by the lessee are not separated by the minimum distances required for the separation of magazines from "inhabited buildings" as required by the regulations in 27 CFR Part 555.

The magazines are visited regularly by the individual who stores property in the magazines, but no additional persons accompany the individual when he is present at the magazine. However, the individual hires contractors to repair equipment stored in the facilities from time to time, and 1-3 employees of the contractor may occasionally be present for short periods of time at the storage site. However, such visits occur no more than 3-5 times per year. In addition, an employee from the water company visits the storage site once a month to read the water meter, an employee from the power company reads the power meter once a month, and other vendors may be present at the site for short periods of time for other legitimate purposes.

In Scenario B, a licensed manufacturer of explosives X leases a unit in an industrial park that shares a common wall with a unit leased by licensed manufacturer Y. Both licensees store explosives in magazines located inside and outside the units. The magazines of Manufacturer X and the building used by Manufacturer Y are not separated by the minimum distance prescribed in 27 CFR Part 555 for the separation of magazines and inhabited buildings. Likewise, the magazines of Manufacturer Y and the building used by Manufacturer X are not separated by the minimum distance prescribed in 27 CFR Part 555 for the separation of magazines and inhabited buildings. In both structures, employees and contractors are regularly present during work hours for purposes of carrying on the manufacturing and distributing businesses of the two licensees. This includes personnel who work in the manufacturing plant, those who work on the loading dock to load and ship explosives products to customers, and those who work in the office taking orders, sending out invoices, and handling other clerical work for the businesses.

Applying the law and regulations to the facts of Scenario A, ATF concludes that the leased structures used by the individual to store items other than explosives are not being used as a habitation for human beings and are not buildings occupied in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosive materials. Accordingly, the sole issue remaining is whether the structure is one where people are accustomed to assemble.

Noteworthy, the regulation uses the term "people," which is the plural version of "person." Thus, ATF believes that more than one person must "assemble" at the structure for it to be an "inhabited building." In addition, the word "assemble" is defined, in part, as "To bring or gather together in a group or whole." The word "assembly" is defined, in part, as "A group of persons gathered for a common purpose." The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982. It is clear that the presence of one person at a structure or location cannot be an assembly of any sort. Accordingly, in situations where one person is present at a particular structure, whether on a regular or infrequent basis, such a structure is not an "inhabited building" as defined in 27 CFR 555.11.

Likewise, occasional visits to the storage facility by mail delivery persons or employees of public utility companies for brief periods of time would not be an "assembly" that would make the facility an inhabited building. However, if 2 or more repair persons are present at the facility to make repairs to equipment stored there, such persons would be there for a common purpose, and would have "assembled" at the structure. However, the structure would be an "inhabited building" only if it is a structure where people are accustomed to assemble. The word "accustom" is defined as "To familiarize, as by constant practice, use, or habit: accustomed himself to working long hours." The word "accustomed" is defined as "Usual, characteristic, or normal: worked with her accustomed thoroughness." The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982. These definitions indicate that a structure will be one where people are accustomed to assemble only if there is some degree of continuity, regularity, or frequency to such assembly.

Infrequent, occasional visits to the storage site by 2 or more repair persons would not make the storage facility an "inhabited building," because such intermittent visits would not be "customary." Only where 2 or more persons are present at the site for a common purpose and on a regular basis would the building fit within the definition of "inhabited building."

To address Scenario B, it is apparent that the building leased by Manufacturer X is exempt from the definition of "inhabited building" as to the magazines of Manufacturer X, and the building leased by Manufacturer Y is likewise exempt as to the magazines of Manufacturer Y. This is because both buildings are occupied in connection with the manufacture, transportation, and storage of explosive materials. Clearly, the employees of both licensees are aware that explosive materials are present on the premises and they assume the risk of any such operation. A more difficult question is presented by the buildings of Manufacturer X and the magazines of Manufacturer Y and vice versa. ATF cannot assume that all employees are cognizant of the activities of their neighbors in the industrial park. Thus, it cannot be assumed that the employees are knowingly assuming the risk of explosive materials stored in magazines owned by the other licensee.

Given the plain language of the regulation, however, ATF does not believe it is appropriate to deny the coverage of the regulatory exemption to adjoining licensees on the basis of an assumption of the risk analysis. The current regulatory definition excludes from the definition of "inhabited building" any building occupied in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosive materials, regardless of the knowledge of the building's occupants. Accordingly, ATF concludes that the industrial units occupied by Manufacturer X and Manufacturer Y are both exempted from the definition of "inhabited building" as to the magazines of each other as well as to their own magazines.

Held, a structure used to store items other than explosive materials that is visited on a regular basis by one individual is not an "inhabited building" as defined in 27 CFR 555.11, because it is not a structure where people are accustomed to assemble. Where 2 or more persons are present at the structure to repair equipment stored therein and such visits to the site are occasional and infrequent, the structure is not an "inhabited building" because the visits are not "customary." However, where 2 or more persons make regular visits to the structure for a common purpose, the structure is an "inhabited building," and explosives magazines may not be stored closer to the structure than the minimum distances specified in the regulations in 27 CFR Part 555.

Held further, buildings occupied by licensed explosives manufacturers in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosive materials are not included within the definition of "inhabited building" as to magazines located on their own premises. In addition, buildings occupied by licensed explosives manufacturers in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosives are not included within the definition of "inhabited building" as to magazines located on property owned by another licensee.

Date approved: November 25, 2005

 

Carl J. Truscott

Director