A little-known law, passed as part of the Gun Control Act of 1968 offers the Trump administration a powerful lever in its stated goal of rationalizing America’s firearms laws. It would be an effective way of rolling back some of the Second Amendment infringements of the National Firearms Act of 1934.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) is an ill-conceived, poorly-written omnibus gun control law passed by an ascendant Roosevelt administration. It was designed to outlaw the possession of handguns through the imposition of draconian taxes and regulations.
The $200 tax stamp it imposed for a single item was equivalent to a year’s income for an average laborer at the time. Thrown in the mix were machine guns (just to add some pizazz…they weren’t a real problem), silencers (for no known reason), and sawed-off rifles and shotguns (apparently because it made no sense to outlaw handguns, when anyone could make a handgun from a rifle or shotgun with a hacksaw and 15 minutes).
Fortunately, outlawing handguns at the time was a bridge too far for Congress. What was left was passed as a sop to Roosevelt. After all, it only applied to machine guns, silencers, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns that crossed state lines. Few people owned or used those items anyway. Even fewer took them across state lines.
Not many people paid attention to the law. There was no provision for those who failed to register their items during the initial grace period to register them afterward. A few registrations trickled in during the following decades under lenient Treasury Department tax policy. The law become a bigger problem, though, with the Supreme Court decision Wickard v. Filburn in 1942. In that decision, the court expanded federal law to apply to items that didn’t cross state lines.
When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, Congress concurrently passed a bill to allow an amnesty for people who still had unregistered NFA items. No fingerprints or tax was required. Fill out a form and send it in, and your NFA item was registered.
The initial amnesty was for 30 days. The law contained a provision for further amnesties at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. They only needed to be announced in advance in the Federal Register.
From PUBLIC LAW 90-619-OCT. 22, 1968, found on page 1236 of United States Statutes at Large Volume 82.djvu/1278:
(d) The Secretary of the Treasury, after publication in the Federal Register of his intention to do so, is authorized to establish such periods of amnesty, not to exceed ninety days in the case of any single period, and immunity from liability during any such period, as the Secretary determines will contribute to the purposes of this title. TITLE III — AMENDMENTS TO TITLE VII O F THE OMNIB U S C R I M E CONTROL A N D S A F E S T R E E T S ACT O F 1968
I don’t believe this statute has ever been repealed or superseded. Back in 1968, there was an expectation that amnesties would be a common occurrence used to bring unregistered NFA items into the legal fold.
Many gun owners believe the NFA should be repealed, as an obvious infringement on the Second Amendment. That may, however, be a step too far for the Trump administration for the first term. But the NFA is terribly flawed legislation and is ripe for reform.
It’s insane to regulate silencers at levels far more strict than it’s done Europe. In New Zealand any child with the money can walk into a hardware store and buy one for $20. It is insane to regulate short barreled rifles and shotguns more strictly than handguns.
In 1986, in a nasty legislative maneuver, the Democrats managed to place a ban on the future production of strictly regulated machine guns for civilian ownership. It was added as an amendment to the 1986 Gun Owner Protection Act. This punished legal owners of machine guns, who were already highly regulated by the NFA.
Never mind that no citizen had murdered anyone with a legally owned machine gun in the 54 years of the NFA. Future ownership of highly regulated machine guns had to be banned.
The Hearing Protection Act would change the regulation of silencers from being treated the same as machine guns to being treated like rifles or shotguns.
Short-barreled rifles or shotguns should be eliminated as a special class. Instead, handguns should be re-defined as any firearm that is designed to be fired in a configuration shorter than 26 inches. Twenty-six inches is the current standard for short-barreled rifles and shotguns.
The ban on highly regulated civilian ownership of machine guns made after 1986 should be repealed. The amnesty provision offers the lever to accomplish these reforms.
If Democrats want to filibuster the Hearing Protection Act, offer a 90 day amnesty on the registration of silencers for the NFA. No tax, no fingerprints, just fill out a form and send it in. If the Democrats refuse to relent, just rinse and repeat. Pound the new media and Twitter with the insanity of the current law. One hundred million gun owners will appreciate the Trump administration’s defense of the Second Amendment.
The same thing can be done for reform of the insane short-barreled rifle and shotgun provisions and the repeal of the 1986 ban on manufacture or licensing of machine guns under the NFA.
These tactics can be used sequentially or concurrently. The NFA infringements can’t be logically defended. They will, of course, be emotionally attacked. But the power of the establishment media to define and control the debate has been broken.
Trump supporters are Second Amendment supporters. They work. They organize. They vote. Their support is committed. It is deep and strong. Most of them voted for Trump, but some were uncertain and hesitant because of statements President elect Trump made 15 years ago. These reforms will make President Trump a hero to Second Amendment supporters.
Opponents of these reforms are billionaires and the usual gun control suspects who want to disarm the public. They have deep pockets, but their popular support is shallow and weak, propped up by their cash and the establishment media. They will never support a Trump presidency, no matter what.
Besides, what Democrat could be against an amnesty that brings formerly illegally owned items into the regulatory fold under existing law?
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.