March 03, 2023
(Tombstone, Arizona, February, 2023) The NFA National Firearms Act, which “taxes” and regulates machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and other “dangerous weapons,” is an unconstitutional mess and should be repealed, as should the Gun Control Act. That said, no bill to repeal the NFA or GCA is going to move an inch in this Congress or the next, even if Republicans were to gain super-majorities in both houses and capture the presidency. Full repeal is just not politically feasible in the foreseeable future. Hopefully that will change, or the Supreme Court will finally step up and rule the whole mess unconstitutional, as they should have done back in 1939, when the first case challenging an aspect of the NFA came before them, but we shouldn’t just sit on our hands and wait for that to happen.
Right now, the American firearms community is stuck with this complex, convoluted, and expensive intrusion on our rights. Since full repeal is not a currently viable option, we need to be looking toward reforms that are legislatively possible, such as calling out, and finally repealing the most ludicrous provisions of the Acts, and redefining terms, to make the law easier to understand and fairly enforce.
We’ve recently seen the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, BATFE, redefine “machine gun” (or is it “machinegun?” Or even machine-gun?” All three terms appear on the BATFE web site) so as to include devices like bump stocks. They are doing the same with forced-reset triggers. Now we’ve got the nonsensical new rule defining pistols with attached arm braces, as “Short-Barreled Rifles,” even though the agency has previously, on multiple occasions, declared these braces to be legal accessories – as they had done with bump-stocks, and forced reset-triggers. Every one of these actions is a gross overreach of bureaucratic authority. We hope the courts will eventually shoot down, but we shouldn’t wait for the courts. We need to at least initiate reform legislation right now.
We all know that this President and this Congress will do nothing to rein in the BATFE or fix the bad laws they enforce, but “unwinnable” legislation serves several important purposes. First, it introduces ideas into the discussion to be refined and improved, and serves as a rallying point and recruiting tool. It also serves as a tool for grading politicians and building support among sitting politicians and up-and-coming candidates, helping to garner specific pledges of support for future use.
Yes, some shifty politicians will use unwinnable legislation as a way to pretend to be more supportive of our cause than they actually are, but promises to “support the Second Amendment” mean little without specific legislation to point to.
One problem we face as a movement is significant divisions among our members. It’s difficult to get everyone on-board in support of any single piece of legislation. Not since my father introduced his “Gun Decontrol Act,” which eventually became known as the Firearm Owners Protection Act [originally without the democrat-amended machine-gun ban on newly-made machine guns], back in the late ‘70, has our side introduced legislation to address many aspects of gun control all at once. It’s no coincidence that this was also the last time that most of the Gun Lobby all got on the same page in support of a piece of legislation. The beauty was that there were things in the bill that appealed to almost everyone in the movement, not just a single issue that only struck a chord with a narrow cross-section of gun owners.
So, let’s do that again. Let’s not just address pistol braces, or tricky triggers, or suppressors… Let’s address all of the laws that are the most problematic.
Let’s start with the definition of a “Firearm,” and do away with all of the unnecessary complications that have been added on to that definition. A firearm is a firearm is a firearm. It launches a ballistic projectile through the ignition and burning of a propellant explosive. How big or small, long or short, revolver, single-shot, or auto-loading, should not be treated differently. Accessories that do not meet the definition of a firearm, should never be incorporated into firearm restrictions. We probably can’t do away with the distinction between full-auto and semi-auto, but we should be able to remove expanding definitions regarding Short-Barreled Rifles and Short-Barreled Shotguns, and we should be able to remove restrictions on accessories such as stocks, braces, mufflers, and fancy triggers.
With a simplified, accurate, and understandable definition of the word “firearm,” we could then move on to remove anything from federal statutes and regulations that doesn’t fit or goes beyond that clear definition, and apply the same definitions and rules in both the NFA and the GCA. The only distinctions between the two being the unavoidable distinction between full-auto and semi-auto, and maybe – maybe – limits on bore diameter. There would have to be some concessions made in order to pass something like what I’m proposing, it’s unlikely we could get everything we want in the first attempt, but we should start with the low-hanging fruit, and reach as high as we can, including repeal of the Hughes Amendment. Shortening a rifle’s barrel or adding a shoulder stock or forward grip to a pistol, should never have been an issue. Rather than creating, and defending, technical workarounds, let’s push for a return to sanity and removal of the idiotic, thoroughly useless restrictions that inspire the workarounds.
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