Moving Semi-Auto Rifles into the National Firearms Act

I’m a long time responsible gun owner and enthusiast who, like many, would like to see more controls on semi-automatic rifles; particularly, what many refer to as “assault rifles”. Indeed, I’m well aware of all the Kool-Aid on both sides surrounding assault weapons, and I think both sides have some rather questionable notions about them. The extreme left seems to have developed an irrational fear and hatred of all guns and the extreme right believes the only solution to guns are more guns (the recent shooting in Las Vegas has shown that “more guns” couldn’t have saved anyone). I used to drink the gun rights Kool-Aid. I’d spent over 15 years shooting and smithing guns, gotten the NRA certifications to supervise ranges and to carry concealed weapons, and have been an avid long range shooter. Up until a few years ago, when I sold the rights to it, I produced the #1 ballistics computer in the App Store, and made a very comfortable revenue off of the gun community with just a few hours a month of coding. I’ve watched both the community and the ranges change dramatically over the years, and the current state of extremism in this country has become more than evident.

I’ve spent over 15 years in the gun community total, bumped elbows with the gun industry on several occasions, listened to all of the political arguments surrounding “assault weapons”, and have met some intelligent people. What’s bothered me is that I’ve met even more ignorant and zealous people, who don’t even know how their firearms work let alone have any sense of the world, diplomacy, or a sense of serving something greater than one’s self. In place of the values I’m used to seeing, I instead see fear mongering and propaganda from the gun industry – effective propaganda, even though it doesn’t hold any water.

If we really believe that guns are keeping the government in check, for example, then they’ve quite failed at that task. If guns supposedly make for a more peaceful society, then why is our country’s gun violence worse than most third world countries, and why are virtually all other first world countries statistically safer on a high order of magnitude? Perhaps if more gun owners traveled and saw how other societies lived – many without the distrust and predisposition to violence that we hold even towards our own neighbors – they might see how sorely mistaken this mindset has been all this time. Instead, the multi-billion dollar gun industry continues to sell a militia image that unfortunately many are too weak minded to see through. The fact remains that the world isn’t as vicious and violent as they’re told it is by the NRA, the top marketing agency for the gun industry.

Sandy Hook was really the point of no return for our country. As we watched our government and gun owners’ non-response to the murder of 20 school children, I knew then and there that we’d never do anything meaningful to control mass murder in this country. Sandy Hook was the day many demonstrated they had no soul.

Different From Any Other Rifle?

One of the key points the gun industry (and the NRA) have put forth is that an assault rifle is functionally no different than any other rifle – this is fundamentally flawed. They are quite different, as are other rifles that have been designed as weapons systems for combat. AR-15s, as is the case with many other types of infantry weapons, are designed as modular weapons systems in order to make parts easily field-replaceable, and can be easily modified into many different configurations, making them very difficult to define by features, but also very easy to modify into more lethal (and often outlawed) forms. They are chambered for high velocity, lightweight bullets (5.56 NATO, later domesticated to .223 Remington) originally designed to wound at medium range rather than kill (because a wounded soldier is more expensive than a dead one), but also over-penetrate at close-range (making them terrible for home-defense). Most such rifles are designed to cycle quickly to allow for rapid fire, and like most infantry weapons, do so without a significant risk of overheating. This, unlike hunting rifles, which often overheat after a small number of rounds, and lose accuracy quickly. Infantry rifles have barrels that are designed to dissipate heat faster to withstand rapid fire without degrading. Techniques such as chrome-lining help further lengthen life and reduce the corrosion and wear caused by high rates of fire and subsequent overheating combined with the high pressure of the round. Hunting rifles often don’t incorporate such processes, because it diminishes accuracy slightly, increases weight and cost, but mainly because hunting rifles aren’t designed for prolonged rapid fire. Lastly, assault rifles accept a detachable magazine that allows for quick reloading in combat, but serves no practical purpose elsewhere. In spite of the propaganda to the contrary, military rifles have quite different characteristics from your average rifle, and if they weren’t more deadly than a hunting rifle, there wouldn’t be such an abundance of rednecks running out to panic-buy them to overthrow their government or society some day, or defend against imaginary societal problems that we haven’t had in this country for over 130 years.

My gun collection is a lot smaller than it used to be. I’m down to a bolt action rifle, a shotgun, a lever rifle, and a handgun. I used to own several of the AR-15s I’m referring to, as well as AR-10s (the .308 version of an AR-15). Some people buy them either because they’re ex-military and comfortable with the platform, but many more mistakenly for home defense, or for various domestic war scenarios (militia, civil war, invasion, disasters, and other paranoid delusions – you’re kidding yourself if you think you can go up against an entire SWAT team with an AR). I bought mine because they’re fun to shoot at the range, and I was fascinated by the platform. I have extensive experience with how they work, how they don’t work, how to rebuild one, how to be safe with one, and even how to disarm someone being reckless at the range with one. Unfortunately, most assault rifle owners aren’t this well versed when they purchase an infantry rifle, and probably don’t know very much about them, or how to be safe with them. Just like someone expressing their First Amendment right looks like an idiot if they haven’t learned how to exercise restraint and communicate well, someone expressing their Second Amendment “right” is very much an idiot if they haven’t learned how their firearms work or how to be responsible and demonstrate restraint with them. I still shock many AR-15 owners when I explain to them that their ARs can fire out of battery and kaboom if they don’t run wet.

Small arms in general (even fully automatic ones) aren’t any good for “defending” a country against a tyrranical government, in spite of what the fear mongering gun industry has sold for an image. Our government has taken down countries with armies of full automatics, ground to air missiles, and much heavier weaponry than civilians own in the US. Our military swats those armies like flies. American gun owners today have bought into the marketing image by the gun industry that somehow assault weapons will prevent another genocide… yet, as we’ve seen just this past few weeks with Puerto Rico, all the government has to do to wipe out a class of people in 2017 is to simply pull the plug on humanitarian aid – passive genocide. Whether it’s through advanced weaponry or simply establishing economic dependence, the government today has become far greater at deciding who lives and who dies, regardless of your guns.

Obviously I don’t hate guns, but I do hate that any deranged person can easily get access to them. I don’t believe that having sensible controls on access to firearms constitutes tyranny, nor will lack of controls prevent it. I do believe that the nature of society will dictate how much control needs to be applied. Ben Franklin (who gun owners love to misquote), once said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Much to the chagrin of gun owners, many of our founding fathers would not have supported the notions that access to weapons should be given to the vicious that roam society. Franklin would be rolling over in his grave if he saw the narrative of today’s NRA. We’ve become a vicious society. We’ve been caught by surprise to be quite different today from many other societies in that regard, who are more peaceful. We’re driven by the greed and self-centeredness of our capitalist system, and bought into the notion of “me” as greater than “we”, and that’s trickled down into how little we regard human life or concern for our brother. Meeting violence with even more violence has now created an arms race in our society that’s begotten more violent generations, and more ignorant people who think that guns are the solution when they’re really a big part of the cause.

Many argue that assault rifles are statistically insignificant. It’s quite true, the number of people killed with rifles is much lower than handguns. What the statistics don’t show, however, is the ratio of random homicides between handguns and rifles. Handguns are at the top of the list of homicides in general, but I suspect a lot of the reason for this is simply that it’s what drug dealers and gangs are using to kill each other, and the vast majority of other gun crimes that involve either suicide or murder of someone the subject was targeting. When it comes to random domestic mass murders, however, more and more of these seem lately to involve an assault rifle – and these random massacres are what we should be analyzing, not the majority of other homicides that have no bearing on the public at large.

The Assault Weapons Ban

The question, of course, is how you can control access to assault weapons and do it effectively, and in a way that will matter in light of all of the panic-buying that occurs after every tragedy. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was a miserable failure, primarily because democrats are, by nature, terrible at writing firearms legislation. Future attempts to renew the ban were just as embarrassing, watching our country’s representatives completely fail to even explain the scary features they were banning. As a result of the AWB’s poor construction, gun manufacturers ended up designing slight variants of the popular firearms covered in the ban. For example, an AR-15 with a muzzle brake instead of a flash hider, fixed stocks, and without a bayonet lug. While the legislation may have cut back on drive-by-bayonetings, it did virtually nothing to remove any of the firearms it banned from circulation. Magazine bans were a similar embarrassment. Due to loopholes in the legislation, large caches of 30rd magazines (and 90rd drums) were easily imported and sold in virtually every gun shop during the ban. During the entire period of the AWB, gun owners sat comfortably with either pre-ban AR-15s or post-ban XM-15s that were identical in functionality, and with a safe full of legally owned 30rd magazines, laughing at the senators who wrote the legislation, who wouldn’t know an assault weapon if they sat on one. Should the same ban be reinstated today, things like magazine bans are even less likely to succeed with 3D printing, and the industry has become much wiser in how to skirt around the “scary features” laws.

Therein lies the core issue: there’s no legal definition for the term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle”; it’s difficult to define, too, because of their modular platform. Outside of the legal world, gun rights activists will tell you that this term is exclusive to machine guns, but even this is simply not true. Consider the AR-15 again: While the “AR-15” is the semi-automatic version of the popular full-auto M-16 rifle (the AR actually stood for “ArmaLite”, the original manufacturer), the military also got quite sick of their soldiers wasting so much ammunition (without hitting anything), and began issuing rifles with either tri-burst mode (instead of “full” auto) or in some cases exclusively semi-auto, along with teaching better marksmanship. All three configurations have been used in combat, and all three are assault rifles by any reasonable definition. Other than minor variations between manufacturers, the only parts that are mechanically different are the fire control components: an auto-sear, an M-16 bolt, and the spur (“J” hook) on the trigger. These components determine whether you get one bullet per pull, tri-burst, or a spray. Gun owners often seek out the Colt 6920 because it’s closest to the milspec of the M-16, and even has the cutout in the lower receiver for an auto-sear, to be converted to fully automatic. To call one of these an assault rifle and not the others because of its configuration is childish, and more Kool-Aid circulated among gun owners.

The Challenge

As I said, my main point is that those who are the most opposed to assault weapons are also the people who know the absolute least about them, and that has led to terrible legislation in the past, that has only ended up banning “scary features” that can easily be restored to a modular weapons system like the AR-15. Now I will propose a more effective means to control them; if you’ll allow an assault weapons owner to help you draft something that could actually be effective, I think perhaps we might reach some intelligent legislation.

The biggest issues we have in terms of access to assault weapons, or really firearms in general are:

  • Very little identity collected about buyer and/or false identities
  • Very little background required to pass a NICS check
  • Nearly instantaneous turnaround
  • No record of private transfers
  • Ban legislation is not retroactive (won’t affect panic buying, 3D printing, or 80% receivers)
  • Don’t want to accidentally ban certain hunting/sporting rifles

The issue with assault rifles isn’t so much ownership; it’s a matter of who’s owning them. There are certainly a large number of responsible gun owners out there who are not committing mass murders. At the same time, there are many disturbed individuals, probably many of whom are already under investigation, or have been in and out of mental institutions, indoctrinated by conspiring militia groups, or have other issues that most of society wouldn’t think should have access to an assault weapon. A handgun to protect themselves? A shotgun? A bolt action? Perhaps (depending on a case-by-case) – but an assault rifle? That’s in a different class of its own…. yet we don’t treat it like it is.

A Class of Its Own

And that’s the problem: Firearms like the AR-15 really aren’t in a class of their own, from a legal perspective, like machine guns are. The same person who can buy a shotgun for home protection can also buy an AR-15 – a combat rifle (with the exception of the full auto) – capable of killing a lot of people much faster than a shotgun.

In the 1920s and 30s, it was legal to simply buy a machine gun off the shelf, and you could order rifles out of the Sears catalog… organized crime had adopted machine guns like the Thompson Submachine Gun, and they were used in a number of violent massacres, the most famous being the Valentine’s Day Massacre, which killed seven people. This was addressed with a piece of legislation called the National Firearms Act (NFA). This was augmented over time, including in 1968 (with an import ban), and again in 1986 (banning newer registrations). Essentially where things stand now are that you can legally purchase a machine gun manufactured prior to 1986, but must go through a rather rigorous process to demonstrate that you are a law abiding citizen, allow certain information to be collected about you, obey certain transportation rules, and essentially register the firearm with BATFE. Wikipedia does a good job explaining the process:

All NFA items must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Private owners wishing to purchase an NFA item must obtain approval from the ATF, obtain a signature from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) who is the county sheriff or city or town chief of police (not necessarily permission), pass an extensive background check to include submitting a photograph and fingerprints, fully register the firearm, receive ATF written permission before moving the firearm across state lines, and pay a tax.[22] The request to transfer ownership of an NFA item is made on an ATF Form 4.[23] Many times law enforcement officers will not sign the NFA documents. There have been several unfavorable lawsuits where plaintiffs have been denied NFA approval for a transfer. These lawsuit include: Lomont v. O’Neill,[24] Westfall v. Miller,[25] and Steele v. National Branch.[26] In response, fourteen states have enacted laws which require the CLEO to execute the NFA documents, including Utah, Kansas, Arizona, Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maine.[27][28][29]

In other words, there is already a system in place to perform stringent checks of individuals looking to own firearms that were at one point considered too dangerous to arbitrarily just sell to anyone at a gun shop. The NFA also applies to silencers, sawed off shotguns, and other types of firearms.

The alleged bump-fire components used in Las Vegas were, at one point, controlled by the BATFE under a 2006 decision labeling one such device (the Akins Accelerator) as a machine gun. Why the BATFE didn’t continue to aggressively pursue these newer devices as such is a mystery. When the Akins Accelerator was ruled a machine gun, BATFE went after the customer list and owners were forced to surrender the springs that made them work. Because it’s such a modular platform, however, any new devices to assist with fully automatic fire can easily be developed and attached to an otherwise semiautomatic rifle; 3D printing makes it even easier to create such a bump-fire device. The problem at the core of controlling full automatic fire, then, is to control semi-automatic fire.

The NFA provides the groundwork for what could serve as a central point of regulation of semi-automatic firearms, and once in place for semi-autos, could be built upon to impose better background checks or other much needed inspections.

Banning vs. Reclassification

Instead of banning any firearms, classifying any semi-automatic long gun under the blanket of the NFA would cause the same NFA process to be mandated in order for gun owners to own or possess them. If you wanted to be more specific, infantry rifles should be identified with these characteristics:

  • Long gun
  • Semi-Automatic fire control components
  • Accepts either [a detachable magazine] or [ a fixed magazine holding more than five rounds ]
  • Centerfire (optional)

You may also choose to only include centerfire rifles, rather than rimfire (such as little .22 plinker guns). On the other hand, a .22 is all too often treated like a toy when it is lethal as well. There are too many gun owners, in my opinion, who treat .22 like a lollipop and let their kids shoot them in the backyard, when in reality they can do a lot more than put an eye out.

Resolving the Shortcomings of Another AWB

Going the NFA route instead of a ban would resolve the shortcomings of assault weapons legislation. You wouldn’t be banning scary configurations of the same rifle, or trying to fit firearms into a specific taxonomy (which we know is a futile effort). Instead, we’d address the problems of ownership:

  • Very little identity collected about buyer and/or fake identification

Under NICS, you provide only very basic info, and it’s easy to get around a background check if you use a fake ID. Since the gun shop is responsible for taking that information down, fake identification goes a long way. But even if they’re not using a fake identity, there’s very little information given; no fingerprints, no photo – the only thing that goes to NICS is a name and address (even social security number is optional).

Under NFA, you also submit a photo, fingerprints, have an extensive background check to either purchase an assault rifle, or to register an existing one during an initial “amnesty” window. In many cases, one would also require a letter from the chief of police etc). To help ensure that the identity is not fake, there is also a transfer fee which requires a payment, and so a check, credit card, or other paper trail will have to exist tying to the individual’s identity.

Here is the link to the ATF Form 4 and the FD-258 fingerprint card.

  • Very little background required to pass a NICS check

The NFA system is more extensive, but can be made even more so on background checks by opening up mental health records and tying into a number of federal databases that NICS presently isn’t very well tied into. NICS checks only go to the feds for long guns purchases, and goes to the state for handguns. This is why you can buy a long gun in any state, but can only buy a handgun from your home state. Information sharing isn’t so great between the two, from what I’ve heard, and there have been attempts to rectify that.

  • Nearly instantaneous turnaround

NFA takes 6-12 months on average, so your new assault rifle will just have to wait at the gun shop until you receive your stamp. This is what happens with machine guns already when purchased from class-3 dealers. Those planning terrorist attacks, such as in Orlando, are going to have to plan well in advance.

Since the NFA system doesn’t run at light speed, like NICS does, the time is there to interface with investigatory agencies so that they are made aware when someone on a terrorist watch list is looking to purchase an assault weapon. This would also result in a mandatory waiting period for assault rifles, but not affect other firearms.

I won’t attempt to address the debate about whether those on terrorist watch lists should be allowed to buy an assault weapon; there are good arguments on both sides. One thing is for certain, reclassifying semi-autos as NFA items would provide the freedom to treat them as more highly controlled, and deny purchases to those under investigation (perhaps with a judge’s approval) without preventing them from purchasing other firearms for protection. Even if you don’t use the terrorist watch list at all, though, the time for the NFA process to conclude would give investigative agencies enough of a heads-up that they could act on whatever evidence they do have, or step up their efforts to prevent another tragedy. Love it or hate it, this is what the FBI did with the Playpen/Tor investigation; they feared some subjects were imminently going to act on murdering or raping children and decided to make arrests.

At the moment, NICS is insufficient for information sharing: it’s instantaneous, giving no preparation time, and in many cases, the law forbids the information from NICS to be forwarded to investigative agencies.

  • No record of private transfers
  • Ban legislation is not retroactive (doesn’t affect panic buying)

The Assault Weapons Ban made the mistake of grandfathering rifles. When the NFA first went into effect, however, machine gun owners were given a window where they could register their machine guns. Once that window closed, any unregistered MGs were considered illegal, and there are stiff penalties for possessing an unregistered machine gun. You can’t even bring such a gun to the range because you have to carry it around with the ATF form and a stamp. Many ranges check these if they see a machine gun, and there are also a number of ATF stings / monitoring going on at many ranges. In other words, that gun will have to move completely underground, and most gun owners hate that idea. Within half a generation, unregistered assault weapons will end up in the hands of the owners’ children, but they will be in the same boat – subject to prison if they do not turn it in or have it destroyed. This also snuffs out private sales of unregistered assault weapons, as there would be no legal way to register it outside of the initial registration window. In other words, once that window closes, if you don’t register a rifle, it turns into a stolen car – it’s a hot item, and very few are likely to touch it. There is a significant financial incentive for gun owners to register existing firearms, in this case, as all of their panic buying will lose considerable value otherwise.

An all-out ban does nothing to address the millions of firearms already owned, however going the direction of the NFA forces all of them to be accounted for, or the owner risks the change of criminal prosecution if they’re ever caught with an unregistered “assault weapon”.

As personal, private transfers go, those of machine guns are also illegal, unless they go through the NFA process for the new owner. In other words, there’s a paper trail now any time an assault weapon is sold, and the government is aware of who is in possession of it, as well as has their prints, photo, and other information. Today, you aren’t required to give any account for where a gun came from, whether it was purchased legally, whether a background check was done – a gun could literally show up on the street, and there is no accountability at all.

3D Printing and 80% Builds

As far as 3D printing and 80% builds go, today pretty much anyone can legally build their own semi-automatic rifle today. The gun industry manufactures 80% receivers, which are lower receivers without final machining, just to keep them legal enough to where they don’t constitute a firearm. They can be purchased over the counter (or mail order) without pesky criminal background checks, then completed into final firearms with minor machining. All of the other components of the rifle can then be purchased and assembled into a working rifle, skirting NICS or any other safeguards in place, just like a private sale. They have the added benefit of not needing to be registered (or even engraved with a serial number) unless you sell them; only when you sell them do they require an ATF Form 1. Gun owners have stocked up both on complete lower receivers (which are traceable and engraved) as well as 80% receivers (which are not usually traceable or engraved) in the event of an all out “ban” to eventually build out into complete rifles.

The way that NFA restrictions are structured, it prevents gun owners from arbitrarily building their own restricted firearms (for example, machine guns or short barreled rifles) without approval from the ATF (and only manufacturers are ever allowed to build new machine guns). By classifying semi-auto rifles under NFA, the same restrictions get applied to AR-15s (or other semi-automatic rifles), forcing registration of existing, complete stripped lowers, and banning home-brew builds without registration. All that poor-man’s panic buying will have served no little purpose, as every lower receiver will ultimately need to be registered just as a complete rifle would, otherwise it becomes a worthless, unsellable unregistered firearm that the owner can’t even take to the range.

  • Don’t want to accidentally ban certain hunting/sporting rifles

The BATFE has the ability to issue rulings and make exceptions for specific hunting / sporting rifles they don’t want to consider assault weapons. Their ruling process occurs in writing and they’ve handed down a number of specific rulings as new products are introduced. For example, a butt-stock with a spring was once productized to use the recoil from “bump fire” to “legally” make a rifle fully automatic without modifying its fire control components. The ATF eventually ruled these as machine guns and forced owners to remove the springs.

Paying For It and Funding Mental Health

The NFA originally started the same way most controls in this country does: taxes. A $200 transfer tax is paid when a machine gun is transferred… every time. If even a $100 tax was assessed per transfer, and a registration window were opened, the revenue generated from retroactive taxation of registration would likely be more than enough to pay for the additional resources. Since the system is already in place, it’s really more of an expansion of personnel than anything.

Future revenue from this could be used to help fund mental health, another big piece of the puzzle in America that’s been starving for decades.

Would it Have Mattered?

Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, bought 33 guns in the 12 months leading up to the shooting; some reports suggest he made a bulk purchase in 2016. The NFA process is slow and often takes six months or more to obtain a single tax stamp; along with a $200 tax stamp fee, fingerprints for every application, extensive background check, and other delays, it’s likely Paddock would have been able to only transfer one, maybe two semi-automatic rifles within that time frame assuming he passed all checks and wanted to go through the hassle. He obviously didn’t want to go through the hassle, though: Paddock chose a low budget means of obtaining full auto fire; a means that the ATF had flirted with outlawing, but didn’t follow through on. He could have purchased real (and more reliable) full auto machine guns under the NFA, but he didn’t. Had he made several purchases, it would have put him on BATFE’s radar. Instead, he stayed off the grid by “hacking” together a less reliable, and slower fire version of a full auto. If semi-automatic rifles had fallen under the NFA program, there’s a good chance he would have had the same aversion to the NFA process as he obviously had with buying machine guns and not purchased semi-auto rifles. His goal was obviously to avoid detection.

Even if Paddock had decided at some point to go through the NFA process, it would have been considerably expensive. Paddock was a millionaire, but that sheer quantity of firearms could have totaled up to significant expenses – also leaving a financial trail that could be detected. In many other cases of mass shootings, the shooter wouldn’t have been able to afford the semi-automatic assault rifle, nor would many have likely bothered with the NFA process. During and after machine gun registration under NFA, the prices of those firearms were driven up substantially to 10-20 times their original price. A full auto machine gun today costs anywhere from $10,000 – $20,000 to purchase simply due to supply and demand. Semi-automatic rifles, had they fallen under the NFA, would have fallen to the same economics of supply and demand, and been exceedingly expensive. This would have likely dissuaded Paddock from purchasing 33; he may have just moved on to other firearms that would not have been able to cause as many fatalities in such a short period of time.

Because Paddock’s behavior seems to have been completely unpredictable, there’s no way to guarantee whether or not the NFA would have stopped the mass shooting – but it would have definitely frustrated it and possibly minimized the number of fatalities significantly. It also would have put Paddock on BATFE’s radar. The NFA would have unquestionably prevented several other mass murders from occurring, including (in my opinion) Sandy Hook, based on the circumstances we know about.

Summary

Until our country cares enough about people being murdered daily, and has the humanity to ban semi-automatic rifles, a random shooter who carefully plans for years will always be a risk to some degree, however the NFA can help both minimize the extend of the damage as well as provide BATFE with enough insight into potential threats. It also provides one central means of regulation, requiring background checks in order to transfer (even to a relative), submission of fingerprints, signatures from a local chief of police, and many other requirements that help both deter and inform.

I’ve heard the argument about “if cars killed people, would you be regulating them?” Well, they do often kill people, which is why we require registration of cars, licenses for people to use them, proficiency tests to ensure they know how to use them, a tracking system for every single sale of them, and even insurance for any harm they cause to others. If you want to parallel guns to cars, then the NFA is a pretty good way to introduce some equilibrium to that cognitive dissonance.

A good starting point for legislation would be to define an assault rifle as any long gun with a semi-automatic fire control, and either [ a detachable magazine ] or [ a fixed magazine holding more than 5 rounds ], perhaps centerfire only. This would avoid a majority of semi-auto hunting rifles and plinker guns, but also classify just about every other semi-automatic rifle (as it should). Perhaps this can be fine-tuned. I say five rounds because many fish and game rules limit hunters to 3 or 5 rounds. Again, we’re only talking semi-automatic long guns here – pump shotguns, bolt rifles, lever guns, and most other hunting firearms are largely unaffected.

The end result is that you are not denying gun owners what they perceive as their right to own these firearms, nor do you have to care about all of the panic buying that happens every time there is a massacre. It can be made fully retroactive, make no attempt to force confiscation (which would fail miserably), and give gun owners a window to decide whether they want their assault rifles enough to submit to reasonable accountability.

The far right in the gun community will argue that this is tyranny, and that the government doesn’t have the right to know who owns an assault weapon. I disagree. We are not living in Hitler’s Germany, and if you’re going to possess an infantry rifle, you ought to be subject to some accountability. The gun community has enjoyed a long history of freedom from accountability in this country, however it has also evolved from responsible gun owners into an anarchist organization. More people have died from gun violence in this country than in all of our major wars combined. This means more people have died /because/ of “gun rights” than all the people who ever fought /for/ gun rights. I find that unacceptable. What’s more unacceptable is that it only took the murder of seven (7) individuals in the Valentines Day Massacre to get the ball rolling for the NFA and its sweeping gun legislation… yet 58+1 died in this most recent massacre, with hundreds more wounded, and we’ve lost whatever humanity we once had to even bat an eye. I do believe it’s time to start holding people to at least more accountability for purchasing a semi-automatic firearm than we do to buy over-the-counter Sudafed. If the gun community were effective at educating their own, and creating a generation of non-violent gun owners, they would have done so by now. If the answer to guns was really “more guns”, we would be a safer country today… it is very clear that this has not been the outcome.

This is not tyranny under any definition, nor is it a potential infringement on rights like an all-out ban would be. As a gun owner, I personally support this legislation, and I believe many other gun owners would. This will not create a Hitler-esque roll, as there are still plenty of other firearms out there that are not so heavily controlled. Just as we control access to prescription medication vs. over-the-counter, there are some firearms that require tighter controls.

Additional Thoughts

I’ll add to this my personal belief that any NICS or NFA check should also require that the buyer has completed a gun safety course in the last ten years, and this could probably help us reduce the number of ignorant gun owners that both sides hate to see out there. This would help address another core problem: accidental deaths. Rifle safety classes are offered by NRA, Sig Arms, and many other non-government organizations. Similar classes are required in order to obtain your concealed carry permit in some states, so the infrastructure is already there, along with a list of approved classes. You can obtain training from a number of private organizations you choose, and only need provide a certificate. If you’re going to own a semi-automatic rifle, you ought to be educated in how to be safe with it, unlike the vast majority of owners I’ve seen at the range who are beyond ignorant. If the “well regulated” in the 2nd Amendment simply means “proficient”, as many gun rights activists claim, then there’s even a constitutional basis to expect that gun owners will be educated.

This article covered assault weapons specifically, but I still believe wholeheartedly that the much broader problem with gun violence requires us to heavily fund mental healthcare in this country, and with deep pockets. A majority of all gun deaths are still suicides, or murder-suicides. While we must do something to prevent the string of massacres we’ve seen with assault rifles over the past few years, we’d be sorely mistaken not to address the grave mental health problem in our country. This is a separate issue from domestic terrorism, but is definitely where this discussion needs to go.