Can we live with regulating home-made guns? The answer is yes. Californians have lived with detachable magazine regulation through the “bullet button.” All it takes is a little ingenuity. To solve this puzzle, though, we just need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we really need?’
The answer is, we need to maintain a robust market in tools, components and techniques to make ever more new guns. That’s it. That’s all that’s necessary.
In a worst-case scenario (mandatory registration of home-made guns) we will have lost the completed receivers we’ve made in the past…while retaining our tools, access to raw materials, and accumulated technique, craftsmanship skills and experience.
How do we weave that into a negotiating strategy?
The thing we need to avoid — the hill to die on, so to speak — is prohibition of the “making” of guns without a full-fledged manufacturer’s FFL. Making a firearm for personal use is not gun manufacturing nor is it part of interstate commerce.
There’s a distinction which we should observe in our own rhetoric. Making is not for resale. Manufacturing is for resale. We must hold that the right to keep and bear arms includes the right to make our own arms.
The courts have ruled (in cases like Ezell v Chicago, Teixeira v Alameda and IAFR v Chicago) that the Second Amendment includes the right to acquire firearms. Acquiring a firearm includes the right to make your own, as it has since before America was founded.
We can and will comply with “reasonable” regulatory measures, but we will not suffer the loss of our right to practice craftsmanship. At worst, we could tolerate a token FFL classification akin to the C&R FFL.
The next thing to strive to avoid is the serialization and paperwork of 80% receivers. Under such a regulation, there would be no marketplace for 80% receivers. That’s the goal of the ATF’s proposed rule. Manufacturers might as well complete 100% of the process and sell finished receivers.
Today’s market has ample sales in both 80% unserialized and 100% serialized receivers. Our argument here is that there is that no clear-cut, bright line distinction exists between what is relatively incomplete and relatively complete. We have already established and accepted criteria defining (in the ATF’s own opinion) what is euphemistically called an “80% receiver.”
We are living with this now. We can continue to live with this. There’s no reason to try to re-invent the standard to create something like a 75% or 50% or 25% receiver. If there’s any legitimate regulatory objective to be achieved, let’s identify that rational objective and design a regulation to meet it.
Presumably, that legitimate objective is ostensibly to be able to identify the maker of a home-made gun in case it should be found at the scene of a crime. That’s simple enough to accomplish. Just apply the standards applicable to Form-1 NFA weapons. The maker must engrave his name, city and state and a serial number on a home-made NFA weapon.
Problem solved. If you make your own gun at home, you can easily do the same. No need for a form 4473 or a NICS check. With these engraved on the receiver, there’s nothing more to be accomplished by a 4473 or a background check. Just enforce existing felon-in-possession laws, whatever the source of the gun found at the time.
Should a home-made gun be discovered at the scene of a crime, the police would have a direct path to the maker. No need to contact the ATF, run a trace from the manufacturer to the distributor to the dealer, simply to identify the first retail buyer.
Should an investigation discover an “amateur” gunsmith with 123 finished receivers without engraved maker’s marks, there is a reasonable basis to charge him with the crime of unlicensed manufacturing, plus the crime of failing to engrave the receivers.
If the “amateur” has engraved his maker’s marks on them, the prosecutor will have to infer whether he is an industrious amateur or unlicensed industrialist. This proposed rule (engraving a maker’s mark) would serve the purpose of discouraging unlicensed manufacture.
Moreover, the rule has the advantage of admitting to retroactive application. Owners of existing home-made guns could be required to engrave their marks on all such existing guns within, say, five years.
Avoiding the 4473 form for home-made guns is highly desirable. No 4473 form, no wholesale roundup of all guns.
Nothing will prevent confiscation if it ever comes to that, whether targeted or wide-spread. That is always a possibility. What we must not surrender, though, is our capacity to make new guns after the pogrom.
We can stockpile receiver blanks, fire control groups, barrels and the like. We can build our inventory of tools. Most importantly, we can maintain our gunsmithing skills. These must not be allowed to atrophy.
I anticipate the absolutists’ argument that we should not concede even a single inch of ground. That’s is a losing proposition. Some sort of regulation of “ghost guns” will be hard to defeat politically. If any bill passes both chambers of Congress, it’s certain to be onerous. And by “onerous” I mean it will largely kill off a robust market in tools, components and techniques to make ever more new guns.
Once the 80% receiver market is regulated identically to the 100% receiver market, the 80% receiver blank will disappear and our tools and techniques will become useless.
Yesterday, Democrats introduced HR 3299, which would, among other anti-gun measures, regulate “ghost guns” by mandating serialization of kits (the text of the bill hasn’t been published yet). Our best chance to kill a such a bill is to dilute it to the point that it no longer serves the gun-controllers’ agenda.
Suppose we get Republicans to introduce a competing bill or offer an amendment to the Democrats’ bill. The proposal would clearly serve the legitimate objective of bringing ghost guns into a regulated framework.
There will likely be at least a few Democrats who need to cover their gun-owning voter flank (think Manchin, Tester, Sinema, etc.). They will be tempted — maybe even forced — to abandon the Democrats’ version of the bill and join with the Republican alternative.
Once the gun-controllers realize that they can’t have what they want and can only get what won’t really serve their objective, the enthusiasm for any ghost gun bill may die. Or so we hope.