It's time to overhaul the National Firearms Act of 1934 - and your vote could make it happen
Some laws grow stale with age and the National Firearms Act (NFA), at 84 years old, is one of those laws that needs complete overhaul, if not repeal.
The 1920s and 30s were a period of sensational headlines dealing with interstate bandits and mobsters. You know the names as Hollywood has glorified these thugs in many films over the years: "Baby Face" Nelson, John Dillinger, "Machine Gun" Kelly, "Ma" Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, etc. Then you had the more sedentary gangsters like "Scarface" Al Capone and "Bugs" Moran in Chicago, "Lucky" Luciano and the mobsters of NY City, etc. These thugs all have one thing in common - crimes against our citizens that led to a crime against our Constitution...The National Firearms Act of 1934.
The NFA of 1934 was the first big Federal nationwide infringement on our right to keep and bear arms. For the first time the federal government defined what you could and could not have. They regulated overall length of firearms, barrel lengths on rifles (16 inches) and shotguns (18 inches), etc. Realizing there would be a Supreme Court challenge that they would likely loose if they outright banned fully-automatic weapons, they chose to hit them with a hefty tax and onerous regulations to own, including waiting periods, permission from local law enforcement, finger printing, etc. The $200 tax placed on a machine gun may not seem that punitive today, but in 1934 when you could buy a 1928 Thompson sub machine gun for $200 you just doubled the cost to $400. While that may not have prohibited the gun from possession, it certainly curtailed the legal desire to acquire the gun.
Putting a $200 dollar tax on a noise suppressor that cost $7-10 nearly killed that industry all together. Cartridge cane guns and other firearm oddities like pen guns were also regulated by this law.
All of this was done in the name of getting the gangsters under control. One could argue that a better-organized FBI under J. Edgar Hoover would have been more effective in combating the gang element, as thugs continued to use whatever weapons they wished with impunity, and do to this day.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobbaco, Firearms and Explosives' (BATFE or ATF for short) own website admits that the desire of the 1934 NFA law was to try to curtail or eliminate the making of full-auto firearms for civilians. In other words, they admit by design this statute was an infringement of the right. The first place this is admitted is with this quote:
“While the NFA was enacted by Congress as an exercise of its authority to tax, the NFA had an underlying purpose unrelated to revenue collection. As the legislative history of the law discloses, its underlying purpose was to curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms.”
Further down in the same paragraph,
“The $200 making and transfer taxes on most NFA firearms were considered quite severe and adequate to carry out Congress’ purpose to discourage or eliminate transactions in these firearms.” This mission statement admission on their own website alone should have the act thrown out in any objective Federal court.
The next big federal infringement was the Gun Control Act of 1968. This defined our reason to own a firearm as for sporting purposes, and the size of importable handguns. The Act killed the import and sale of military surplus firearms. From that point on firearms had to be sold via a federally-licensed dealer (FFL) and the interstate sale of firearms became heavily regulated. Gone were the days of mail order gun sales. Ammunition had to be registered at point of sale and retailers had to keep a log book of ammo sales. The ATF had an amnesty allowing people who had unregistered full-auto weapons in their possession the chance to register their guns and pay the $200 tax. This thirty day amnesty period was not widely known, hence many missed the notice and the deadline to get their machine guns registered.
An attempt to correct some of the problems with the '68 GCA came in 1986 via the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986. The proposed law was beneficial and desire to see it pass was high. It resumed the import of the military surplus arms collectors desired and it offered protection to gun owners as they traveled the country, among other things.
In a flawed attempt to stop the passage of the FOPA, the late Rep. William Hughes (D-NY) tacked on a measure called the Hughes Amendment, that sought to ban the new manufacture of new machine guns for civilian sale. This passed on a dubious voice vote that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who was presiding over the vote, deemed sufficient. You can watch the video of that night and draw your own conclusions about whether passage of this onerous measure was legitimate or not.
In the end, the amendment was tacked on to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. Because the Hughes Amendment flaw was a big concern. President Ronald Reagan considered vetoing the measure over the machine gun ban, but the NRA, convinced that the U.S. Supreme Court would throw that measure out as unconstitutional, convinced him to sign it and let the Court correct the defect in the new law. Thirty-two years later, the defect remains law.
We now find ourselves in 2018, and I find myself in a rather unique place in life. I am both a Republican Party Chairman for Clinton County, Ohio and I am also a Director for the Ohio Gun Collectors Association. In this position, people from a broad spectrum frequently come to me for advice and guidance on a variety of things. With President Trump having won office with the support of the nation’s gun owners and the active support of the National Rifle Association, some folks expected and prayed to see some pro-gun reforms. I am often approached with an uneasy question - variations on the same theme, with only the details changing a bit:
An uncle, cousin, father, grandfather, brother etc. fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, etc. They brought back a machine gun as a war trophy. How do they get that registered and legal?
This is never an easy conversation, as I do not have an answer they want to hear. They are putting a great deal of trust in me to even ask it. They usually, but not always, know that having the machine gun is illegal. Some think its a gray area...that it’s legal, if only one simply registers it and pays the tax. The confusion is understandable, because while machine gun ownership is legal, it’s just not well understood. And you can’t rely on the news media, as they are, for the most part, clueless on the situation, often thinking all machine guns are illegal.
So here we are in this delicate situation. They have entrusted me with this information about the gun. And I am forced to respond that the gun is contraband, that possession is a felony, and that there are heavy penalties for having it. I explain that there has not been an amnesty in 50 years. The expression on their faces is always the same - disappointment and concern.
However, I do try to lift their spirits a bit. I make them aware that there is a bill that has been introduced several times now called the Veteran’s Heritage Act. I point out that the bill would rectify this issue, but that it never gets out of committee. I then explain the political reality. The President can not change this on his own - it's up to the legislature. While the GOP currently has the majority in the U.S. House and a very slim majority in the U.S. Senate, it's not really a working majority in the Senate. These days, because of the filibuster, you have to have at least 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done. With only 51 Republicans there is not much point in passing a bill in the House that will be filibustered by the Democrats in the US Senate. With the rabidly anti-gun Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) leading the Democrats in the Senate, any pro-gun bill will be filibustered, that is just the sad reality.
In recent days we saw a news story about another veteran being prosecuted for having a illegal machine gun. Sadly, this story is not unique. Veterans and their family members who inherit their relics face horrid legal jeopardy. But it need not be that way.
Election day is upon is, and if enough of us get out and vote, we could change things for the better. I know the odds of the GOP making gains in this election are not looking good, according to pollsters. But two years ago these same pollsters told us Hillary Clinton was a lock to win the Presidency in a historic wipe out. So all is not lost. If, by some miracle, conservative Republicans make gains, the time would be perfect for reforming the gun laws. I think reform is way overdue. It is time to push for another amnesty on machine guns.
Across this country there are many veterans and their families who have these relics - good people facing great jeopardy. Family members frequently have no idea that the gun grandpa brought back from WWII or Korea can land them in so much trouble. After 50 years, it is time to give these folks the chance to register these arms and make them legal. It's a win-win, really. The vets and relatives get to make these pieces of family history legal. The government gets their precious revenue at $200 a piece, and they find out where these guns are. What does the government have to lose? The guns are out there and already in private hands. The fact they are not being used in violent crimes shows they are already not an issue. So it makes sense to do an amnesty.
Honestly, if I had my say, I would repeal the NFA of 1934 altogether. I believe it is unconstitutional on its face. The words of the Founders make clear they intended us to have military pattern arms to keep both foreign enemies and domestic tyrants in check. For the uninformed who would argue that history limits us to a musket, I point out that the Founders knew what repeating arms were. The British Puckle gun, introduced in 1718, existed a good five decades before our Revolution.
However, reality being what it is, I will be content to see an amnesty. It would allow good people to get on the right side of the law and protect their family heritage. To make things even more attractive, I would tag the Hearing Protection Act to this issue, so this important health care issue can finally be solved. It is time to take moise suppressors out of the NFA and save the hearing of America’s gun owners.
So there you have it my friends. It's up to you to get involved and help us fix things. Get out and vote, and then make contact with your elected representatives in Washington D.C. to make this much needed reform happen.
Tim Inwood is a Benefactor Member of the NRA and Life Member of the OGCA, a member of the Board of Directors of the OGCA, Chairman of the Clinton County Republican Party, and a volunteer for Buckeye Firearms Association.