By Dan Shea
In 1934 the United States Government managed to circumvent the Second Amendment of the Constitution, utilizing a tool that was becoming ever more popular at the time. These are harsh sounding words, but they are factual, and lead us to the root source of the so-called “National Firearms Act” weapons of today; the taxed and registered machine guns, silencers, short barreled weapons and Any Other Weapons. Congress had been advised that there were many things that they could not do- one of these things was to ban any class of firearms. Yet, they found themselves needing a path to “Righteousness”- a good dose of early days “Symbolism over substance”.
Brother Clinton would have been proud. Congress wanted to ban certain military type firearms from civilian hands, to make a stand against “gangsters”. The courts had found that the Federal government could do almost anything it wanted, if it could find a “Nexus” to either “interstate commerce”, or tax collection. In the case of the firearms that they wished to ban, taxation was the tool that was chosen. It worked on many other subjects that the Federal government was told they had no authority over- marijuana, child labor, etc. Whether we agree that these things need regulation or not is not the issue, it is whether the federal government has jurisdiction over
them. The use of the taxing authority became a way to gain control over an issue.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 imposed a tax on the transfer of ownership or manufacture of certain firearms. In the course of collecting this tax, it was determined that a “Registry” would be needed to record the tax information. This Registry is commonly referred to as the NFA Registry, although the more correct initials are NFRTR.
An almost punitive tax of $200 (Think about $200 in 1934!) was imposed on all transactions, and all transactions and ownership information were required to be sent in to the Registry. The history of the changes that the Registry has gone through is quite amazing, and will be dealt with at other times in SAR. For our purposes here, it is sufficient to mention only these several things:
1- Very few people took the registration laws seriously, and the government’s own estimate of the unregistered to registered machine guns ratio was ten unregistered to every one registered. Most war veterans were especially cool to the idea of registering firearms- they had seen the results of an unarmed populace in the wars they came home from, and there were countless thousands of MP-40’s, Greaseguns, Maxims and Brownings up above the floorboards in attics around America.
2- Due to the above situation, and riding on a wave of hysteria fostered by a combination of rising crime, anti-Vietnam War riots, race riots and the assassinations in the United States during the mid 1960’s, it was decided that the NFA weapons must be accounted for and an Amnesty was included in the Gun Control Act of 1968. All firearms that would have fallen under the definitions in the NFA-34, and the new category of “Destructive Devices”, had an amnesty period of an effective 30 days for the owners to register them. The stated purpose of the GCA 68 was to help the states to control their crime problems, but the actual outcome of this law was the creation of a massive bureaucracy that regulated the interstate commerce in firearms.
It would be an error, and an affront to a lot of good public servants for this author to leave that statement to stand alone. Many criminals have been caught, prosecuted, and the ensuing crimes they would have committed have been eradicated before happening. These people should have our undying thanks, and this author will not denigrate their sacrifices.
Here’s the “But”. But, there have been a lot of innocent people whose lives have been turned upside down, their families terrorized, financially ruined, all because of a violation of a tax statute, or even worse, because of inaccurate record keeping. The recent public airing of a private video tape address by the “Former” head of the National Firearms Act Branch, BATF, a Mr. Thomas Busey, has wreaked havoc on the legitimacy of the records in the Registry. That will be covered in later issues of SAR, by other Reasonably Knowledgeable Individuals who have been involved with the legal investigations of errors in the Registry. The accuracy of this Registry is a matter of great public interest.
This author has worked for many years to bring the Statistics of the National Firearms Act Activity to the public. These are public documents, but are not readily available. Each year since the late 1980’s, I have tried to get these published (usually with success) and the main vehicle was Machine Gun News.
The Small Arms Review will now pick up that torch.
These 5 charts are very intense. There is a lot of information in them. Most of it can be understood by comparing the activity from year to year- this means going and finding your old back issues of MGN.
Each chart requires individual study. If you take the time to look them over, you will be able to see what the course of transfers has been like over time, and what is going on in your state. Shifts in large inventories show up each year- the sale of collections, etc. One note is that the Destructive Device numbers are inflated by the requirement that all “Distraction Devices” or what is more commonly referred to as “Stun Grenades” must be in the Registry as well. The recent proliferation of these devices in law enforcement inventories, and the fact that many agencies do not bother reporting the destruction of these devices, leaves the accuracy of the Destructive Device part of the Registry in tatters. Many have suggested a separate Registry for these devices as a method of cleaning up a part of the problem.
We welcome your comments and observations regarding these charts.
MG: Machine Gun
SR: Short Barreled Rifle
SS: Short Barreled Shotgun
DD: Destructive Device
AW: Any Other Weapon
F1: Form 1, manufactured by an individual
F2: Manufactured by a licensed manufacturer
F3: Form 3 Transferred between Special Occupational Taxpayers
F4: Form 4 Transferred to or from an individual, tax paid
F5: Form 5 Transferred to or from a government agency, to a lawful heir, for repair, or “Other” reasons
F6: Form 6 imported
F9: Form 9 exported
F10: Form 10 into or registered by a government affiliated organization such as a police department or museum- these can not be transferred to other than government related operations
LTR: Letter, some transfers and registrations have been allowed on letters
4467: Form 4467, registered during the 1968 Amnesty- this is the original form used in the Amnesty.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N1 (October 1997)|