First, the requisite disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, an attorney. Do not under any circumstances consider anything you are about to read as any sort of legal advice more binding than something scrawled on a public restroom wall and signed “Guido.” But I am a professional firearms instructor and gun owner, with decades of exposure to the ongoing battle for gun rights. I am also an American who believes that my country’s Second Amendment right to bear arms is fundamental to the freedom and prosperity that we all enjoy, whether we support that right or not. Right? Right. To quote Gary Gilmore, let’s do it . . .
For many folks, me included, the most beautiful words of the U.S. Bill of Rights have to be the first five from the First Amendment which say, “Congress shall make no law . . . ” Of course, Congress makes laws anyway. Lots and lots of them. Entire forests have died so that Congress’ laws may be printed.
A common statistic thrown around in gunnie circles references the 20,000 or so gun laws on the books. If I tried to write about all the gun laws in the United States, I’d need several lifetimes. Instead, I’ll just give my list of three of the dumbest American gun laws.
I know: there are thousands upon thousands of state gun laws that are really stupid. Readers from California are right now looking at their computer screens and screaming things like “Bullet Button!” or “off-list receivers!” Right now, I’m limiting it to just three laws, or to get technical, sections of laws, and focusing only on Federal laws, and not dumb state laws.
Section 922(r) of Chapter 44 of the U.S. code
(r) It shall be unlawful for any person to assemble from imported parts any semiautomatic rifle or any shotgun which is identical to any rifle or shotgun prohibited from importation under section 925(d)(3) of this chapter as not being particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes
If you do a quick google search on 922r, you’ll find lots of hits on web sites like Saiga12.com or the FALfiles.com and AK47.com . This law is a hurdle for those who like to build semi-auto guns out of parts kits, or install pistol grips on their Saiga rifles and shotguns. There are several other regulations closely related to this law, like Title 27 Section 178.39. or the fairly recent barrel importation ban, but they all wind up causing the same problems for rifle builders.
Why this law is dumb: Besides being another exercise in the onerous “sporting purposes” clause, this particular law is dumb because it forces anyone building a semi-automatic rifle out of an imported parts kit, or modifying a Saiga to a pistol-grip configuration, to throw away several perfectly good foreign-made parts and then replace them with identical US-made parts.
Several years ago, I built a FAL out of an Austrian parts kit. If I just used all the original parts with the kit, I would have wound up with an eeeevil, illegal rifle. However, because I threw away the Austrian-made hammer, trigger, sear, handgrips, charging handle, and a few others, and replaced them with identical-looking US-made hammer, trigger, sear, handgrips, charging handle, etc, I had a perfectly acceptable, legal rifle.
Foreign parts bad. US parts good.
This law can also get you into trouble depending on which magazine you may or may not stick into the rifle you have made. Where the magazine came from might alter the number of foreign-made vs US-made parts. It gets so ridiculous that you can even get into legal trouble depending where the floorplate of your magazine was made. You can find many Internet sites out there dedicated to the “parts count boogie” danced to the 922r beat.
National Firearms Act of 1934 (amended a few times over the years)
This law created the words like “Class III,” and “short-barreled rifle” and “tax stamp” for gun owners and shooters. I think a good case could be made that the whole National Firearms Act is pretty dumb, but instead of taking on the NFA in its entirety, I’d like to focus on parts that I think are particularly stupid–the sections focusing on silencers or suppressors .
26 USC Sec. 5845: Wherein silencers are defined so that a tax of $200 on their transfer can be established on them.
Why the law is dumb: Guns are loud.
They are even louder if you shoot them in an enclosed space, like a tactical shoot house at a firearms training school, or in a barn like the one on my property.
Firing a .22 pistol at a rat in my barn, which I have done before, can instantly and permanently damage your hearing if you shoot the gun without wearing hearing protection.
Silencers and suppressors should be widely and freely available to protect people’s hearing.
They should be widely and freely available to keep peace between neighbors.
Even in the rural area I live in, some folks don’t like the sound of gunfire in the morning, or closer to nightfall. Sometimes, those are the only times I can practice on my backyard range, I should be able to go buy a suppressor at a hardware store so that my shooting practice doesn’t bother my neighbors.
There is no good reason at all for my desire to protect my hearing, my family’s hearing, my pets’ hearing, for my wish to not annoy my neighbors with loud noises to cost me an extra $200 tax, several pieces of government paperwork, and a waiting period while the paperwork is approved by a federal agency.
The funniest bit is that suppressors don’t make guns totally quiet. That’s a myth perpetuated by Hollywood movies. Suppressors are NOT super-secret gangster assassain’s tools that make guns totally and completely silent.
They are basically exactly like the muffler on your car, just smaller to fit on a gun barrel instead of a tailpipe. Is your car totally silent because of that muffler?
Even suppressed guns can be fairly loud. If you ever get a chance to go to a machine gun shoot, or some public demonstration of suppressors, you might be shocked and amazed to discover that suppressed rifles still pop almost like firecrackers.
Suppressors should be cheap, and for sale in every big-box retailer’s sporting goods department, not subject to tight controls, background checks and high taxes.
The now-extinct “Assault Weapons Ban” of 1994
Also known by its Orwellian Doublespeak title “The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act,” the “Assault Weapons Ban” or AWB was so stupid and dumb as to almost defy description.
It did not ban one single actual “assault rifle.”
The term “assault weapon” was a term created by the anti-gunners as propaganda specifically to confuse non-gunnies into thinking that semi-automatic rifles were actually machine guns. It also banned all detachable magazines of more than 10 rounds capacity made after the ban’s enactment, but only for us lowly peasant civilians. Law enforcement and the military could still get brand new normal-capacity magazines after the ban.
But not even those were the really stupid parts. Why the law was stupid: It banned guns based only on cosmetics.
No, seriously. The law created a list of eeeevil features that included a detachable magazine, a telescoping or folding stock, a pistol grip, a flash suppressor, a grenade launcher, and a bayonet lug.
If a rifle was semi-auto, and used detachable magazines, and had at least two of the other prohibited features, der rifle vas VERBOTEN und eeeeeeevil!
So a semi-automatic rifle in .223 with the three of the evil features was an eeeevil assault rifle, and a semi-automatic BAR in .300 Winchester Magnum without the evil features was fine. (If you don’t know how much more powerful .300 Win Mag is than .223, start googling)
Of course, manufacturers and importers who wanted to comply with the stupid law just removed the features.
I own an AR-15 made back during the AWB days. It is totally compliant with the AWB in that it has neither a flash suppressor (which helps the shooter from going instantly blind if shooting the gun in the dark) nor a bayonet lug.
It still shoots exactly like an AR with three or more of the evil features, but it was totally legal back then.
In fact, if I showed that old AR to a group of gun newbies, along with an AR with the evil features, and asked them to pick out the gun banned by the AWB, I wonder how many could get the answer correct?
This law did, thank goodness, sunset in 2004, but that didn’t stop some politicians from trying to reinstate it. Check out Carolyn McCarthy’s infamous “shoulder thing that goes up” comment as she talked about trying to bring back an even more draconian version of the AWB above.
So why did I put a dead law on my list? Because it keeps threatening to rise from the dead. Congress tried to resurrect it a few years ago. Sen. Diane Feinstein has ominously stated with the past year that she will choose appropriate time and date to bring it back to life in Congress.
When Barack Obama was elected, he had the reinstatement of this ban listed on his Change.gov site, and even on his White House web site, until it was pulled just a little while ago.
Click here for the link to a cached version of his Change.gov site, so you can read for yourself. “They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.”
That’s three of what I think are the dumbest Federal gun laws.
Please send links to what you think are your state’s dumbest gun laws to email@example.com. Once I get enough, I’ll start writing a little bit on each state’s dumbest laws.