Extend the NFA
We Know How to Do This--We Did It Before
The gangster era of the 1920s, its high profile bank robbers, and the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, are all associated with the Thompson Submachine Gun. The nearly 11 pound Thompson depicted in the movies of that era has, since then, rarely been seen in the hands of civilians. The Thompson only appears in proper military use in movies of World War II and Korea, not as a street weapon. That’s not because the Thompson Submachine Gun is illegal for civilians to own. I was recently reminded of this when an old friend back East introduced me to his Tommy Gun. My friend assured me that he is in full compliance with the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA): He purchased the historic weapon (now worth around $20,000) from a registered and authorized dealer. He paid the one-time federal $200 fee and complied with the federally required background checks and paperwork through the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). More than a year following the purchase of his Thompson he was finally able to take possession of it. There are even a few gun ranges in his area that are equipped to have him to properly bring his Thompson and fire it, burning up $20 worth of .45 calibre ammunition in a matter of seconds by simply holding down the trigger.
The 1934 National Firearms Act succeeded in getting the Thompson Submachine Gun out of the hands of criminals, but it still allows law-abiding, detail oriented citizens to own and enjoy (yes, enjoy) the ownership, display, and careful use of the weapon. Take note that the 1934 NFA regulates not only the Thompson and all full automatic weapons (one trigger pull, more than one round fired), but a slew of other weapons that were designed primarily to kill people. Those include certain short barreled (“sawed-off”) shotguns and rifles, pistol-grip shotguns, pen-guns, knife guns, cane guns—and silencers. (If you want to dive into the weeds on what is covered click here and go to chapter 2.)
In 1934 we faced a crisis of crime based in part on these weapons—and we, through our federal government, passed legislation that works—legislation that is still enforced today—in spite of the efforts of the current NRA, firearms manufacturers, and the Supreme Court. Every Republican I can think of, including Eastern Washington’s U.S. Representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (CMR), has worked and is working to chip away at the provisions of the National Firearms Act—but they only want to advertise their actions to their gun-crazed constituents, not the rest of us.
Yes, mild-mannered McMorris Rodgers is, once again, a proud (but quiet) co-sponsor of the current Congress’s Hearing Protection Act, H.R.95 (2021-22), an act that would repeal the 1934 National Firearms Act’s provision requiring registration of silencers. Imagine, for a moment, the additional number of elementary school students and teachers who might have died in Uvalde, if the killer’s assault weapon’s discharge had been muffled, his initial shots not much noticed and harder to localize. Then think of McMorris Rodgers’ co-sponsorship of the disingenuous “Hearing Protection Act” quietly marketed to her assault-weapon-wielding supporters. If you are not yet angry, you should be. McMorris Rodgers isn’t just dragging her feet, she is moving backwards—even as she offers “thoughts and prayers”.
Current “bi-partisan” legislation under discussion in the U.S. Congress might be marginally useful, but, compared to what is required to make a dent in this slaughter, these Congressional efforts are a cruel joke: funds for “hardening” schools, incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws, ensuring that juvenile records can be accessed in deciding whether an 18-21 year old can buy an assault weapon, and some token funding for mental health care.
Read what a former police officer, still current NRA member, and some time gun salesman Michael Farrone has to say in an opinion piece entitled “Here's the reason people tell me they want to buy an AR-15. And it's simply ludicrous”. Mr. Farrone first argues for a ban and buy-back scheme like that in Australia, but with the 1934 National Firearms Act we already have a workable template for what needs to be done. This is what Mr. Farrone has to say about it:
If banning them outright seems like too extreme a solution to be politically palatable, here's another option: Reclassify semi-automatic rifles as Class 3 firearms.
That would mean that someone wanting to purchase an AR-15 would have to go through a background check, fingerprinting and review by an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- a process that takes anywhere from 12 to 16 months. And since Class 3 weapons can't be purchased by anyone younger than 21, it would solve the issue of emotionally unstable 18-year-olds buying them.
A Class 3 firearm reclassification would also make those who are approved to purchase these weapons subject to an annual check that they are complying with federal regulations regarding secure storage of the firearm, and to confirm their licensing and other paperwork is up to date. All of these hoops and hurdles are sure to reduce the civilian demand for these weapons.
As a gun owner I might quibble over whether to include all semi-automatic rifles. Semi-automatic hunting rifles with limited magazine capacity and non-detachable magazines would be logical exceptions—but leaving them in would still be a small price to pay to start reducing the painful toll of carnage.
The latest wave of mass murders in this country didn’t come about overnight. Our national obsession with people-killing weaponry in civilian hands has been fed by the modern NRA, gun manufacturers, and the anti-government, fear-mongering Republicans they own for more than forty years. We won’t turn that around with the minor tweaks currently discussed in Congress.
As a country we dealt with a wave of mass murder before—in 1934. The NFA kept (and still keeps) some of the deadliest of that era’s people-killing machines out of the hands of irresponsible people. Let’s update the NFA to account for the newer people-killing technology. We know how to do this.
Keep to the high ground,