Ask people about the current state of firearms ownership in the United States, and you likely will get two very differing opinions. Some will say the federal government is overly intrusive and abusing, if not outright violating, the Second Amendment. Others might say federal, state and local governments do not do enough to curb firearms violence, and many with such an opinion flat out want to abolish the Second Amendment and ban firearms ownership altogether.
Yet, there was a time when high-profile violent acts spurred federal action to do exactly what many anti-gun liberals and others want done today. Way back in 1929 on St. Valentine’s Day, Al Capone sent some men disguised as police officers into a Chicago-area garage to gun down a rival gang leader. The gang leader didn’t show up, but seven other victims did in what became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. That criminal act, and many others during the “gangster era” of the 1920s and 1030s spurred the federal government to enact the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).
The NFA mostly targeted the more popular tools used by criminals of the day, including submachine guns, like the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and Thompson. The NFA originally taxed machine guns, along with rifles and shotguns with barrels shorter than 18 inches in length, suppressors and “firearms mufflers.”
The tax was a relatively steep $200 per item, which made it much more difficult for law-abiding citizens to afford to buy such firearms. Anyone who did buy an item and paid the tax had to register it with the federal government. Criminals like Clyde Barrow just stole them from National Guard armories and did not bother with registration.
The $200 tax remains the same amount to this day, but the NFA has changed in scope. A rewriting of the NFA in 1968 ensures citizens cannot register existing firearms. It also bans firearms with bores exceeding 0.5 inches.
Another complementary act, the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 banned private citizens from possessing machine guns manufactured after that date. That was great news for those who already legally owned machine guns, because that greatly increased their value.
Currently, the NFA regulates:
· Machine guns, which fire more than one round per trigger pull.
· Firearms with buttstocks and barrels shorter than 16 inches.
· Short-barreled shotguns.
· Destructive devices, such as grenades.
The NFA is a very powerful tool that gives the federal government and the President a great deal of leverage over firearms owners. The recent banning of bump stocks as firearms accessories is a perfect example. That came after Stephen Paddock used one or more during the deadly mass shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, during an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
Many anti-gun politicians want the federal government to “do something” whenever a mass shooting occurs, or other violence happens involving firearms that gets a significant amount of media attention. The most recent example is the Virginia Beach workplace shootings done with two handguns, at least one of which was equipped with a suppressor.
Despite suppressors not truly “silencing” a firearm, popular media and Hollywood movies would have us believe they virtually do exactly that. Instead, they are about as silent as a very loud rock concert – lasting a very short duration. Yet, many politicians are now considering banning suppressors as firearms accessories that are not protected by the Second Amendment.
Even Pres. Donald Trump has said he might consider such a move, just as he did with bump stocks. Bump stocks now are banned by the ATF, and suppressors might be next.
The NFA is a powerful tool for regulating firearms within reason. But the “common sense” to which many anti-gun politicians often refer is too lacking when the NFA becomes a tool for eroding the Second Amendment. With suppressors now in the forefront for the recent use of at least one in a mass shooting, yet more pressure has risen to use the NFA to erode gun owner rights.
Eventually, a liberal will win the White House. It might not be in 2020, or even four years later. But it will happen. That liberal very likely will have enough support to modify the NFA further via legislation, as well as by presidential order. Some say that is the situation now, with President Trump. How he handles suppressors might reveal the truth.