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Banning Guns by Changing Definitions, Part 4

The Obama administration is seeking to limit the importation of some shotguns via rulings made by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF.) ATF has issued a “Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns” which provides the logical underpinnings for a ban of some weapons. In Part 1 we looked at how the ATF defined “sporting purpose” to exclude the popular action and practical shooting sports. In Part 2 we saw how several features that would cause an imported shotgun to be banned are useful in home defense. In Part 3 we looked at how the unconstitutional Gun Control Act of 1968, which introduced the “sporting purpose” test for importation, came to be. In this final installation we’ll look at the implications of the current study on pistols, rifles, and domestic shotguns.

The Supreme court decisions in District of Columbia v Heller and McDonald v Chicago moved the earth under the feet of the ATF. The decisions clearly established that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, it can be exercised for any lawful purpose, and that it applies to the states.  This negates many of the firearms related parts of the ATF’s job. But like any good bureaucracy, ATF has its’ fingers in its’ ears and is shouting “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” while planning how to overcome this setback. Apparently the ATF’s plan is to say “The Supremes told DC, and told the states, but they didn’t tell ME! Besides, the ruling says that there is space for some regulation!” The current study certainly foreshadows some regulation.

Before the Heller and McDonald cases were decided it could plausibly (if incorrectly) be argued that the “sporting purpose” test that is applied to imports, and was part of the justification for the 1994 Clinton Gun Ban, was regulating a privilege and thus legal. That is no longer the case. The ATF is laying the groundwork to restrict what is undeniably a right. This goes beyond simple government overreach to the realm of violating the oaths of office for those involved.

But it’s not just imports that are in the crosshairs, as Jeff Knox points out in The Knox Update:

One of the most important things about this ATF “study” and proposed shotgun importation ban is that it lays the groundwork for much broader, general shotgun restrictions.  Importation is not the only place where federal gun laws apply this unconstitutional “sporting purpose test,” it is also found in the National Firearms Act (NFA), the laws dealing with machineguns and destructive devices.  Under the NFA, any firearm with a bore greater than .5 inch is a “destructive device” – in the same category as mortars and Howitzers.  The only exception is for “shotguns which the secretary finds are generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes.”  If the secretary (in this case Attorney General Eric Holder) finds that certain shotguns are not importable because they are unsuitable for sporting purposes he must then explain why virtually identical guns, with the same features, are considered suitable for sporting purposes with regard to the NFA.  How can he declare them non-sporting on the one hand and not declare identical guns as non-sporting on the other?

One factor that jumps out from the current ATF study is that it differs from the Clinton gun ban in a critical way. The Clinton ban looked at guns and said if it could accept a high capacity magazine and had any 2 other characteristics then it was banned. Thus you could have a magazine and a pistol grip, or a magazine and night sights, and still be legal. Few people missed having a bayonet lug, and grenade launchers and grenades had essentially been banned from civilian hands since the NFA became law in 1934.  The current study says that any ONE item on a list, including a magazine that holds more than five rounds or a place to attach a flashlight so you can see the burglar in your home, and the gun is banned.

So the problem doesn’t end with shotguns. The current study refers to the conclusions drawn in prior ATF studies of rifles in 1989 and 1998, and handguns in 1968. It also draws on the NFA and the GCA (Gun Control Act of 1968) to justify the “sporting purpose” test, and the narrow interpretation that the ATF places on the test. The justifications are all linked together, like a knitted sweater. Pull on the piece of yarn called “imported shotguns” and you find when it’s unraveled enough that you’re tugging on the “domestic shotguns” yarn. Only now the “imported rifle” bit of yarn is hanging loose, just begging for someone to tug on it. Unravel that a bit and you reach “domestic rifles.” A similar bit of unraveling is likely to happen with the piece of yarn labelled “handgun.”

In other words, this report lays the groundwork to impose by regulatory fiat an entirely unconstitutional gun ban more draconian than the Clinton gun ban that expired in 2004, and bypasses Congress and the Constitution to do so. It needs to be stopped now. The ATF is accepting comments on the report until the end of April, 2011. I urge you to comment, and to send a copy of your comments to your congressional representatives.

  • Comments may be submitted by e-mail to shotgunstudy@atf.gov
  • By fax to (202)648-9601.Faxed comments may not exceed 5 pages.
  • All comments must include name and mailing address.

This is not just an issue for gun owners. This is an issue of the Obama administration overreaching, and violating the Constitution in the process. Restricting our rights by regulatory fiat should concern every American.

Cross Posted from Beregond’s Bar.

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