Using Amnesty to Roll Back Second Amendment Infringements

A little known law, passed concurrently with the Gun Control Act of 1968, offers the Trump administration a powerful lever. That lever can be used to roll back infringements on the Second Amendment that exist in the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) is an ill-conceived omnibus gun control legislation passed in 1934. It was poorly written by an ascendant Franklin Roosevelt administration. It was designed to outlaw the possession of handguns through draconian taxes and regulation. The tax stamp for a single item was equivalent to a years income for a laborer. Thrown in the mix were machine guns (to add some pizazz, they were not a real problem), silencers (for no known reason), and sawed off rifles and shotguns (because it made no sense to outlaw handguns, when anyone could make a handgun from a rifle or shotgun with a hack saw and 15 minutes).

Outlawing handguns was a bridge too far for Congress.  They were taken out of the bill.  What was left was passed as a sop to Roosevelt. After all, it only applied to machine guns, silencers, and short barreled rifles and shotguns that crossed state lines. Few people owned or used those items anyway.  Even fewer took them across state lines.

Not many people paid attention to the law.  There was no provision for people who failed to register their items during the initial grace period to register them afterward. A few registrations trickled in during the following decades under lenient Treasury department tax policy.  The law become a bigger problem with the Supreme Court decision Wickard v. Filburn in 1942. In that decision, the court expanded federal law to apply to items that did not cross state lines.

When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, the Congress concurrently passed a bill to allow an amnesty for people who had unregistered NFA items. No fingerprints or tax was required.  Fill out a paper form and send it in, and your NFA item was registered.  The initial amnesty was for 30 days in 1968, from October 2nd to November 1st. The law contained a provision for further amnesties at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. They only needed to be announced beforehand in the Federal Register. From PUBLIC LAW 90-619-OCT. 22, 1968, found on page 1236 of United States Statutes at Large Volume 82.djvu/1278:

(d) The Secretary of the Treasury, after publication in the Federal Register of his intention to do so, is authorized to establish such periods of amnesty, not to exceed ninety days in the case of any single period, and immunity from liability during any such period, as the Secretary determines will contribute to the purposes of this title. TITLE III — AMENDMENTS TO TITLE VII O F THE OMNIB U S C R I M E CONTROL A N D S A F E S T R E E T S ACT O F 1968

I do not believe this statute has ever been repealed or superseded. It appears to be effective law.  In 1968, there was an expectation that amnesties would be a common, regular occurrence to bring unregistered NFA items into the legal fold.

Many people believe the NFA should be repealed, as an obvious infringement on the Second Amendment.  That may be a step too far for the Trump administration for the first term. But the NFA is terribly flawed legislation and is ripe for reform.

It is insane to regulate silencers (gun mufflers) at levels far more strict than Europe.  In New Zealand any child with the money can walk into a hardware store and buy a silencer for $20.

It is insane to regulate short barreled rifles and shotguns more strictly than handguns.  If the law is going to differentiate between long guns and handguns, a simple size difference would make sense. Anything over 26 inches is regulated as a long gun. Anything less than 26 inches is a regulated as a handgun. No separate draconian taxes and regulations for a shotgun with a 17 inch barrel.

In 1986, in a nasty legislative maneuver, the Democrats managed to place a ban on the future production of strictly regulated machine guns for civilian ownership. It was added as an amendment to the 1986 Gun Owner Protection Act. This punished legal owners of machine guns, who were already highly regulated by the NFA. Why? Because no citizen had murdered anyone with a legally owned machine gun in the 54 years of the NFA!  There had been no problems. Therefore future ownership of highly regulated machine guns had to be banned!

All three of these provisions are ripe for reform.

The Hearing Protection Act changes the regulation of silencers from being treated the same as machine guns to being treated like rifles or shotguns.

Short barreled rifles or shotguns should be eliminated as a special class. Instead, handguns should be re-defined as any firearm that is designed to be fired in a configuration shorter than 26 inches. 26 inches is the current standard for short barreled rifles and shotguns.

The ban on highly regulated citizen ownership of machine guns made after 1986 should be repealed.

The Amnesty law offers the lever to accomplish these reforms.

If the Democrats want to filibuster the Hearing Protection act, offer a 90 day amnesty on the registration of silencers for the NFA.  No tax, no fingerprints, just fill out a form and send it in. If the Democrats refuse to relent, rinse, and repeat. Pound the new media and twitter with the insanity of the current law. 100 million gun owners will appreciate Donald Trump as a defender of the Second Amendment.

The same thing can be done for reform of the insane short barreled rifle and shotgun provisions.

The same can be done for the repeal of the 1986 ban on manufacture or licensing of machine guns under the NFA.

These tactics can be used sequentially or concurrently, whichever is considered wiser.  The NFA infringements cannot be logically defended.  They will be emotionally attacked. But the power of the establishment media to define and control the debate has been broken.

Trump supporters are Second Amendment supporters.  They work. They organize. They vote. Their support is committed. It is deep and strong. Most of them voted for Trump, but some were uncertain and hesitant because of statements President elect Trump made 15 years ago. These reforms will make President Trump a hero to Second Amendment supporters.

Opponents of these reforms are billionaires who want to disarm the public. They have deep pockets, but their popular support is shallow and weak, propped up by their billions and the establishment media. They will never support a Trump presidency, no matter what.

Amnesty is the lever than can overcome the anti-Second Amendment opponents.  Those in the middle will see the obvious benefits to making the law more rational. What Democrat can be against amnesty, that brings formerly illegal items into the regulated fold, under existing law?

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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