Yesterday, the Obama administration announced two firearms related executive actions that add to the original 23 gun control actions released on January 16, 2013.
After swearing in Todd Jones as the new Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Vice President Joe Biden announced two new executive actions.
Closing the National Firearms Act Loophole
The first executive action would close a so-called "loophole" in process for acquiring items controlled by the National Firearms Act.
Under current policy the lawful acquisition of automatic weapons, short barreled rifles and shotguns and suppressors fall under the National Firearms Act (NFA). Purchasing one of these so-called "NFA items" involves a complex and time consuming applications process. The process involves submission of either a ATF Form 1 or ATF Form 4. This form, and ATF Form 5330.20, certifying eligibility, written approval from the chief law enforcement officer where you live, two fingerprint cards and a $200 tax fee must be submitted. Individual applications must undergo a criminal background check. Overall the process can take from 7-9 months.
Since NFA item may only be possessed by the holder of the BATFE issued certificate, simply letting someone else shoot your gun could be considered a "transfer". Unlawful transfer is a felony under the NFA. In order to avoid legal difficulties, many have formed something called an "NFA Trust".
These trusts allow the trust to 'own' the NFA item. Multiple people can be named as beneficiaries of the trust and persons allowed to use the firearms can also be named. Additionally, most trusts provide for the transfer and disposition of the NFA item should a beneficiary of the trust die. The trusts help insure that family members do not unwittingly run afoul of the law since most transfer violations under the NFA are felonies.
The new regulations proposed by the Obama administration would require that individuals associated with the trusts must also undergo background checks as if the weapons were registered to them as individuals. According to yesterday's White House press release, this is to "ensure that machine guns and other particularly dangerous weapons do not end up in the wrong hands."
Unfortunately, it is clear that the author of this policy does not understand how current law works and does not take into consideration the realities of how criminals illegally acquire firearms.
Let's consider a few facts. According to attorneys that are writing NFA trusts, the vast majority are used to acquire suppressors. Since suppressors can be detached from a gun and used on another gun, there are obvious advantages to a trust where lawful users can be named. Think about a recreational shooting company that puts on corporate events involving 'shooting adventures' involving automatic weapons and suppressed weapons. Some flexibility in who can use the firearm is highly desirable.
What about the bad guys? Can't they circumvent the process? Thinking about this logically, all dealers will do a background check on any purchaser of any firearm. State and federal law require it.
Logically, would a convicted felon form a trust, notify the ATF of a planned purchase, wait 9-12 months to receive the firearm, pay a $200 tax and then pay anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase a legal machine gun? Or would they simply go out and acquire one illegally with no record and no wait?
This change is clearly about making it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to legally acquire machine guns, short barreled rifles or shotguns and suppressors. It has a net zero effect on criminal acquiring firearms.
Banning the Reimportation of Surplus Military Weapons
The second executive action would ban the re-importation of military-grade firearms that had been previously exported by the U.S.
Under current law, whenever the U.S. Military provides military firearms to its allies, either as direct commercial sales, through foreign military sales or using military assistance programs, those firearms may not be imported back to the United States without U.S. government approval. Since 2005, over 250,000 reimportation requests have been granted.
Under the Obama administration's executive action, those requests for reimportation of military-grade firearms will be denied if the requestor is a private entity. Very limited exceptions will be granted for organizations like museums.
According to a White House press release published yesterday, the rationale offered for this change is that it will "help keep military-grade firearms off our streets".
The scope of this executive action in actual practice is limited. The only 'military-grade' firearms that are being reimported in any numbers are the M1 Garand, which was used primarily during the WWII and the Korean war. The rifle is very popular in the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), which is a U.S government chartered program that promotes firearms safety. Members of CMP affiliated clubs can purchase military surplus rifles, like the M1 Garand. The M1 Garand is a semi-automatic rifle with a 8 round capacity. It fires a .30-06 caliber cartridge. The function, caliber and ammo capacity of this rifle is comparable to the rifle an average deer hunter might use.
While these two executive actions appear to have little direct impact, they demonstrate an alarming trend to restrict lawful firearms ownership by executive fiat instead of proper legislative action. Many view this as another example of executive overreach that is so prevalent in the Obama administration and wonder if his incremental approach to gun control can be compared to "death by 1000 cuts".
Some have suggested that increased taxes on guns and ammo or an outright ban on the importation of foreign made guns and ammo might be in our future. It would not be the first time that importation of certain firearms or firearm components have been instituted.
All the while, the Obama administration relies on a "nothing to see here, just move along" approach to firearms regulation. If gun owners aren't diligent about protecting their rights and condemning the actions of the Administration, we might one day wake up and find that we have been 'regulated' out of our Constitutional rights.