This ebook is the entirety of the National Firearms Act and Hearings, in a digitized 166 pages, from the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, starting on Monday, 16 April, 1934. It’s available from Google at no charge.
The hearings on the National Firearms Act provide an immensely valuable resource in understanding the intentions of the law and a good look at how the intricacies and provisions of the first really significant federal firearms law concerning individuals, came to be. The book is the official record of the hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee and of testimony given.
The most important point found here is that the law was most concerned with the effective registration and regulation of civilian ownership of pistols and revolvers. Machine guns, sawed off shotguns, and gun mufflers/silencers were of less concern.
There was near unanimous belief that machine guns could be taxed so as to make them virtually unavailable to the common man. As a practical matter, that was already the case because of their price. At the time, the only available sub machine gun was the Thompson. The retail price was $200 and they weren’t selling strongly. There was scant mention of other machine guns.
There was somewhat less agreement about sawed off shotguns. Sawed off rifles were added as an afterthought.
The hearings never touched on gun mufflers/silencers at all; no reason was given for their regulation. Machine guns were a concern, but they were few in number. The proponents mentioned they were being manufactured illegally by bootleggers.
It was clearly stated in the hearings that it was important to enact a “tax” to avoid a potential violation of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment had not yet been tested in the Supreme Court. The consensus was that states were not restricted by the Second Amendment.
The hearings give an excellent view of the maneuvering of the NRA. Caught somewhat off guard, they rallied and had a significant impact. The reality is considerably different from various rumors you may have heard over the last several decades.
It was the lobbying of gun owners around the nation, lead by the NRA, that killed the inclusion of pistols and revolvers in the bill. Registration of pistols and revolvers, at no fee, was offered, but that option was also killed. The proponents couldn’t give an adequate answer as to why registration was needed.
If a student of gun legislation wishes to understand the history and the antecedents of current legislation, this is an excellent place to start. Nearly all the arguments used today were presented in 1934.
For example, semi-automatics that could hold 12 or more rounds were initially defined as machine guns. Changing that definition to the current one, where a machine gun is a firearm that fires more than one shot per pull of the trigger, was one of the first NRA successes.
The ignorance of the people proposing the legislation is obvious. It is eerily reminiscent of the ignorance seen in the current debate. Most arguments were based on anecdotal evidence.
Today, there is the advantage of much more data and analysis. The arguments are essentially the same.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in firearms and legislation. It gives important insights into the current debate.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.