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ATF's purchase reporting requirement gives lie to 'military features' test

It goes bang--that's a 'military feature'
It goes bang--that's a 'military feature'
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea noted last month that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is apparently hoping to expand their requirement that all sales within five days of two or more semi-automatic, detachable magazine-fed rifles over .22 caliber be reported to the federal government. Now "only" required of gun dealers in the four southwest border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, the BATFE appears to hope to expand the requirement nationwide. Since then, this column has pointed out how well this illustrates the "slippery slope" approach to ever more oppressive gun regulation, and that the new, expanded proposal features a startling omission, that appears to impose the reporting requirement even when the two rifles are purchased by different buyers.

There is another point to be made, and it applies equally well to the requirement as originally proposed in 2011 and the current one. The idea, remember, is ostensibly to thwart gun traffickers smuggling so-called "assault weapons" to the brutal, bloody drug cartels in Mexico. Let's look at the text of the proposals, focusing on the specific description of the rifles in question. From 2011:

(a) Semi-automatic; (b) a caliber greater than .22 (including .223/5.56 caliber); and (c) the ability to accept a detachable magazine . . .

And the new proposal:

(a) Semi automatic; (b) a caliber greater than .22; and (c) the ability to accept a detachable magazine.

So in terms of the description of the affected firearms, the only difference is that they now no longer seem to think it necessary to explicitly state that .223/5.56 is greater than .22. What neither proposal says is anything about "military features" (pistol grip, bayonet mount, barrel shroud, collapsible or adjustable stock, flash suppressor, etc.) on the rifles.

As this column has observed before, though, "gun control" advocates have long argued that it's these "military features" that make "assault weapons" so much more "deadly" than other semi-automatic rifles. Hence the Brady Campaign tells us:

Assault weapons have distinct features that separate them from sporting firearms. While semiautomatic hunting rifles are designed to be fired from the shoulder and depend upon the accuracy of a precisely aimed projectile, the military features of semiautomatic assault weapons are designed to enhance their capacity to shoot multiple human targets very rapidly.
. . .
This contradicts the National Rifle Association's ("NRA") assertion that there are only "cosmetic" differences between the guns affected by the assault weapon ban and other firearms.

And from the Violence Policy Center:

The assault weapons threat is exacerbated by the fact that the weapons are difficult to define in legal terms. Legislators and members of the press have proposed placing increased restrictions on all semi-auto firearms, which would include some hunting rifles. Whether these proposals are merely the result of ignorance of the wide variety of firearms that are semi-automatic, or misguided efforts in the face of definitional problems, they only lend credence to the gun lobby's argument that restrictions on assault weapons are merely the first step toward banning all semi-automatic guns.

Of course, when California lawmakers decided to ban all semi-automatic, detachable magazine-fed rifles, no "military features" necessary, the anti-gun groups suddenly went dead silent about such features, with the Brady Campaign in fact bitterly chastising Governor Jerry Brown's veto of the ban (a rabid gun-grabber, that ban was a step too far even for him).

Similarly, New York's offensively misnamed "SAFE Act" has also drawn criticism--from "gun control" advocates--because by virtue of its definition of "assault weapons" as having at least one such "military feature," it fails to ban all semi-automatic, detachable magazine-fed rifles, when the difference is merely cosmetic (just what we've been saying all along).

The only "military feature" that gun ban groups really care about is that military arms are expected to fire when the trigger is pulled. That's what they want banned, and the BATFE stands ready to enforce that ban.

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