Since it is unlikely that any gun control legislation could get through the existing congress the Obama administration is seeking to restrict the import of certain shotguns by having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to change the rules. As we saw in Part 1, the tool is a study entitled "ATF Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns." The study cites the history of gun control laws and resulting regulation. In short, firearms must meet one of four tests to be imported, and the most common of those is the rule is the sporting purpose test.
the Attorney General shall approve applications for importationwhen the firearms are generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes (the “sporting purposes test”).
The study then spends a lot of time showing that hunting, trap and skeet, and target shooting are sports, but plinking and practical shooting sports are not REALLY sports, and therefore guns that are particularly suitable for, or readily adaptable to those sports shouldn't be allowed into the country.
In Part 2 we looked at the characteristics that the ATF study determined were not sporting. We also looked at how a number of those features made the shotguns under consideration for regulatory ban made those shotguns particularly suitable for home defense.
But there is a far more basic objection that must be raised to this new attempt at regulatory gun ban- Nowhere in the constitution of the United States is there anything about a "sporting purpose." The second amendment says:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Like all rights of Americans, the rights exist because you are a person. The Constitution is a contract we have with the central government to protect those rights against all enemies, foreign and domestic. One of the enumerated rights is the right to keep and bear arms. Nary a "sporting purpose" in sight in the entire document. So where did it come from?
The Gun Control Act of 1968 was a simplistic answer to complex times. In a span of five years we had experienced the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, and Bobby Kennedy. There were riots in over 100 American cities that year, some race riots, others protesting the war in Viet Nam. (While the term "Chicago Riots" usually conjures up the image of the riots during the Democratic National Convention in August of that year, there had been a Chicago race riot in April of that year that left a number of people dead.)
Moreover, just as Viet Nam was the first televised war, the domestic unrest of the 60s was our first experience with mass media riots. We can see a few grainy black and white photos of the Chicago race riots of 1919, but in the 1960s the violence first came into our living rooms, and joined us at the dinner table. It wasn't the instant communication we have now, but it was a radical change made possible by civilian active communications satellites, which had first been launched when JFK was in office. Day after day, protests, riots and crime stories made us wonder if America was coming apart, and what could be done.
Enter the Gun Control Act of 1968. In addition to reasonable restrictions like banning drug addicts and criminals from owning firearms a wide variety of weapons were banned with the collusion of US gun makers, who used a push to "control crime" as a way to eliminate competition. Most military surplus weapons from overseas were banned, and we began to hear about the infamous "Saturday Night Special," a term applied mostly to cheap, poorly-made handguns from overseas, which was often the only gun a poor person could afford for self defense. The Act included a point system for importability, small size, small caliber, and fixed sights were some of the things that counted against a gun.
On the flip side, high quality expensive guns that were ruled suitable for "sporting purposes" could still be imported. There were characteristics that were considered "good" for sporting purposes such as adjustable target sights and target grips. Ever wonder why every Glock has finger grooves on the grip? That makes it a target grip, which is worth 5 points. Indeed, at one point Glocks were imported into the US with click adjustable sights, suitable for target work, in order to meet the point count. Once the guns were in the country the target sights were replaced by the fixed sight that Glock owners know and love (or hate) today.
In the end, the Gun Control Act of 1968, supposedly passed to deal with issues raised by the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK didn't deal with any of the weapons used to kill Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy. Instead it protected the domestic market for US gun makers and controlled the guns most likely to be used by poor blacks to defend themselves. Corporate welfare takes many forms, and protectionism is one of them. Public hysteria, corporate greed, and the need of politicians to appear to be doing something combined as they so often have to curtail our liberties.
The US Supreme Court decided in District of Columbia v Heller:
1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
Many jurisdictions pointed out that the District of Columbia is a special case, and that the ruling did not apply to the states. In McDonald v Chicago the Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment did apply to the states. This leads us to our current situation. We have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The ATF, despite their stated mission to protect us from "the illegal use and trafficking of firearms" actually determines what the legal use and legal way to buy, sell, import and export are. That is, the ATF exists to limit our rights, and is being used by the current administration to remove rights from us.
In the final installation of this series we'll look at how a ban on importing certain shotguns that look mean and nasty can be used to work backwards to restrict access not just to the weapons that you can no longer bring into the country, but weapons you may already own. This is not limited to shotguns. The current attempt to regular shotgun imports has implications for all sorts of firearms.
Cross Posted from Beregond's Bar.