By Dan Shea
“There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.” – Thomas Sowell
And thus, if you’re reading this, the brilliant Mr. Sowell has handed you the key to better understanding our current firearms laws.
I’ve often noted that the anti-firearms ownership advocates want one law: No one may have a firearm. (Exception: Themselves, their bodyguards and their version of government). On the flip side, we hold the view most of the firearms community has – we need one law – commit a violent crime with a firearm, go to jail for a very long time.
If it’s so simple, then how did we end up with over 20,000 assorted firearms laws, and a bureaucracy that can barely keep up with the endless, convoluted and arcane laws as well as the burdensome regulations they evoked? Situations where people go to jail for laws that even top lawyers can’t figure out? There are enough “High IQ” people out there who’ve gone to jail by gaming the firearms law system and thinking they could parse the language, let alone the ones who really couldn’t figure out what was legal, and what was not.
Smart people did this to the laws. People with agendas other than upholding the Constitution, or the agendas they tell their constituents. Take the 1968 Gun Control Act: basically, three assassinations of high profile Americans – Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. The common thread was that supposedly the assassinations were committed with firearms bought mail-order over state lines. Thus, a system of Federal Firearms Licensees who would be the only ones who could deal in firearms interstate was established as the keynote of the GCA-68, to keep a record of who, what and where firearms went. The Commerce Clause was invoked as a source of authority for the federal government to do this. Yet, a lot of other things were put in that law as well. Smart people in the firearms industry who had their own agenda managed to block importation of inexpensive military surplus firearms and small self-defense firearms, leaving excellent business opportunities for their companies. In the process, they ended up blocking the individual American’s freedom of choice in these firearms.
Downstream from that, the “Sporting” tests they created on importation were applied to shotguns like the USAS-12 and Striker-12, and they were banned from importation as “Non-sporting.” Since the potential importers did not fight this, the rulings were left standing, and in 1993 Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury unilaterally declared that the domestically made variants of these shotguns were “Destructive Devices” requiring registration with the NFA Branch, and requiring a $200 tax stamp and signature from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the owner’s area. While the government thought this was about 18,000 affected firearms, it turned out to be over 80,000, and over a ten-year period of being allowed to register these, not even close to all were registered. And for the first two years, “smart people” on the firearms ownership side (yours truly included) negotiated that the owner had to get that CLEO signature for this property he legally owned, and for the first two years, “smart people” on the firearms ownership side negotiated that Type 10 Manufacturer of Destructive Devices could accept these firearms in and register them on a Form 2, because so many owners could not get a CLEO signature and this was unfair. Then, miraculously, the ATF decreed that these could be registered by the owners without the CLEO signature, creating animosity between the Type 10 manufacturers who had registered these firearms for people, and the owners who wanted to take them back and file their own Form 1 to “make” these into the NFRTR. Well, if they were already registered by the Type 10 FFL, in order to remove them from the NFRTR they had to have the barrel removed, and the owner could not receive the original barrel on registering his shotgun with the Form 1. Thus, the citizen incurs the costs of a new barrel, and installation, and his firearm is no longer original.
All because people with high IQs parsed some language and bent things to their agenda, using the 1968 act, add the 1980s rulings, and a confusing 1993 firearms categorization ruling by a newly installed Secretary of the Treasury who was hell-bent on doing SOMETHING against firearms owners. Anything.
This mess continues today. The current fiasco of the “NFA Trust” situation was brought to us by smart people (Once again, yours truly included) who back in the early 1990s tried to resolve the problem of reluctant CLEO signers, then there were “smarter” people who figured out how to game the system and explained wholesale online how to “get machine guns without background checks” and then finally, due to the high visibility of the aforementioned blogging, the “Even smarter” component of the current administration slammed it all down, creating discord and mayhem in the firearms community.
Wouldn’t all be simpler if we had one law, perhaps something backed by our Constitution, maybe “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” And, if you committed a violent crime with a firearm, you went to jail for a long, long time.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N3 (June 2014)