October 1, 2020

Is It Reasonable? National Firearms Act

As many know, I am a strong believer and supporter of the words found in the 2nd Amendment, in particular “Shall Not Be Infringed”. I will concede that these words were written in a different society at a completely different time… but so was the 1st amendment, the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, and so on and so forth.

Is it reasonable?

National Firearms Act

As many know, I am a strong believer and supporter of the words found in the 2nd Amendment, in particular, “Shall Not Be Infringed”. I will concede that these words were written in a different society at a completely different time… but so was the 1st amendment, the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, and so on and so forth.

We consistently hear the anti-gun lobby talk about reasonable restrictions. The issue here is that they don’t have the slightest clue as to how firearms work or what laws are already on the books. In order to have a discussion on what is or isn’t reasonable for any subject, subject matter experts (SME) are required. Without them being involved in the discussion, nothing reasonable can come out of said discussions.

For no other topic do we rely as much on the opinions on non-experts as we do with firearms. Think about it… when was the last time the government sought the opinion of a plumber on if the D.o.D’s budget was sound in logic?

Today I’ll be going over if the National Firearms Act is reasonable; bar machine guns and destructive devices. With how long winded this one is you’re going to appreciate that.


What does the NFA do?

The National Firearms Act, or NFA, is something that nearly every anti-gun person has forgotten exists. In fact, a lot of firearm owners don’t know about the NFA and in turn, unknowingly commit felonies.  At the time it was supposed to be the end-all-be-all to ending “gun violence”. For some reason or another, politicians have forgotten that this legislation has existed for 85 years now.

The National Firearms Act added regulations and fees to many aspects of the firearm’s world. It imposed a tax for those wishing to import or manufacture firearms and it added regulations to specific types of firearms.

The firearms regulated by the NFA include AOWs (any other weapon), Short Barreled Rifles (SBSs), Short Barreled Shotguns (SBSs), machine guns, and silencers (suppressors). Handguns were originally on the NFA but were taken off before adoption.

Before we start to dig in, we have to seriously think about the era that this legislation was originally enacted. It was mid-1930’s, average take-home monthly income was about $450, and new vehicles were around $500. The National Firearms Act imposed a fee in order to have any of the above-mentioned items for $200 in the form of a tax (yes, it’s deductible).

Fortunately, the fee did not climb as prices inflated, otherwise we would be paying nearly $4,000 for a tax stamp today. This doesn’t change the fact that at the time the NFA not only broke the 2nd Amendment, but it arguably broke the 10th Amendment.

So, why was the National Firearms Act written? It was written because of gang activity, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, and a failed assassination attempt on FDR. The original intent of the NFA was to heavily restrict any and all concealable weapons to the point that your average citizen could no longer purchase them.


Definitions for Regulated Items

I am not a lawyer and the definitions I put in this article are coming directly from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive’s website or my own interpretation of. Before performing any potentially legal definition changing modifications to your firearm, always consult with the BATF.

On the docket today, we will specifically be talking about the firearms/accessories that the act regulated and how they were regulated. I will not be covering any of the other regulations and fees imposed in the National Firearms Act.

Short Barreled Rifles: Short Barreled Rifles are rifles that have a barrel shorter than 16 inches in length, or have an overall length shorter than 26 inches. Below you’ll see a handy “field guide” to the NFA in regards to rifles specifically. I am unaware of anything similar for shotguns.

Short Barreled Shotguns: Short Barreled Shotguns are shotguns that have a barrel shorter than 18 inches in length, or have an overall length shorter than 26 inches.

“Any Other Weapon”: Any Other Weapon is a classification of firearm that has a lot of people befuddled… The basics are, if it’s concealable and doesn’t fit into a traditional firearm definition it’s an AOW. This includes stuff like pen-guns, knife-guns, wallet guns, etc. For a more in-depth understanding of them check out this video from The Gun Collective.

 

Destructive Devices: Destructive Devices per the BATF’s website is “any type of weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary or his delegate finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes; . . .”
For more information on destructive devices and what may or may not be excluded from regulation, check out this out.

Suppressors/Silencers: Legally coined silencers are devices that reduce the sound intensity and muzzle flash when a firearm is discharged. It can be a detachable accessory to, or an integral part of, the muzzle or barrel.

The items above were regulated via a $200 tax. In conjunction with paying $200, the items have to be registered, and the filer has to fill out paperwork for the ATF to approve. There are different requirements depending on how you are applying for the $200 tax stamp whether as a trust or as an individual. Every individual on the trust, or just applying for themselves, has to supply a photo, fingerprints, and they have to fill out a Responsible Person’s questionnaire.
(Once paid the tax stamp is non-refundable. There are exemptions for paying the $200 tax stamp.)

The above is just a rough simplification of the process. There is even stuff that follows after having an NFA item approved though. Whenever you travel out of state you have to contact and get approval from the BATF before leaving. You also have to notify them when you return. You also have to be cautious because not all NFA items are legal in all states…because somewhere along the lines state law began to trump federal law…and federal law began to trump the Constitution.


Let’s talk about if the National Firearms Act is reasonable…

The tax imposed by the National Firearms Act was completely unreasonable. When the act was adopted the tax stamp was half of an individual’s monthly income. This kept select firearms and accessories out of the hands of the average citizen. This legislation still largely affects lower income earners today and as such only gives the well-off the ability to exercise one of their unalienable rights as a human being.

This issue alone makes the entire act unreasonable. If there were any reasonable parts of this act they are automatically voided by prohibiting individuals from practicing their rights due to their financial background.

The regulated firearms seem to be clearly defined but they really aren’t. There are many instances where inquiries have to made to the BATF. For instance, an AR-15 with an overall length of 26 inches might be an AOW or an SBR even though the ATF’s website says it isn’t regulated.  The laws are about as clear as mud.

If you are unsure and email the ATF, whatever they email you back is your personalized law. Whatever they email your neighbor for the same question is their personalized law; it doesn’t matter if the answers were different. Meaning, yes, the BATF is more or less allowed to interpret and enforce laws as they see fit.

This is why it’s strongly recommended that you keep your paperwork with your NFA items at all times, or even the email responses from the ATF if they deem it as not being an NFA item. Why? Because answers vary from agent to agent. Without the email, the agent can turn it into an investigation, and those above the agent can change the decision that you originally got.


Now we will tackle the big reasons why 4/6 of the regulated items are ridiculous. Two of the six are going to be saved for later installments.

1. Suppressors:
Suppressors were added to the National Firearms Act for two suspected reasons. The first one being a myth, that myth being that suppressors make firearms “movie silent”.
“A man can murder his family in his home and nobody hears it.”
A couple of things here. 1. Even with unsuppressed firearms, you aren’t going to be able to hear it (or at least tell what it is) in your home if shots are fired in your neighbor’s house. 2. As you can see in this article I did, even the quietest suppressed gun is louder than a motorcycle when shot.

The second reason was people were starving. The NFA was passed during the Great Depression and people were starving. The government didn’t want the public to begin poaching wildlife to feed their families. Their way of making it harder was to strictly regulate suppressors. The really disturbing thing about this is, it goes along the lines of “The King’s Deer”… If you aren’t familiar with the King’s deer, take a quick second to Google that.

1.1 Why it’s unreasonable: Suppressors or silencers are nothing more than hearing safety devices for firearms. Suppressors in conjunction with hearing protection bring decibel levels close to OSHA’s designated hearing safe zone. Some countries even require suppressors by law due to the noisy nature of firearms. Other countries don’t regulate them at all.
*Isn’t it interesting how OSHA requires hearing protection and other forms of noise cancellation for other occupations, but not suppressors for those who shoot for a living?


2. Short Barreled Rifles/SBRs: Initially short barreled rifles were added because the government didn’t want individuals concealing rifles. Beyond this, I’m unaware of any other reasons. Today we have seen this portion of the law making no real difference in terms of violent crime.

2.1 Why it’s unreasonable: Having a rifle with a shorter barrel makes no real difference in terms of how deadly the rifle can be. Short barreled rifles are extremely beneficial to have in a home defense situation, even more so when a suppressor is added to the end of it. That being said, decreasing barrel length decreases the effective range of the firearm and increases the noise level.

Beyond their importance for defensive purposes, if you go by the intent of the regulation, it was to increase public safety against possible massacres like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Did it do that? I would say no… We have seen full sized rifles being used in school shootings, the Mandalay Bay shooter was able to get several full sized rifles into his hotel room, and the Pulse Club shooter also used a full sized rifle.

Furthermore, we now have pistol braces; which the ATF has approved of and has issued a statement saying that they can be shouldered. Below you will see an AR-15 “pistol” with a brace on it and yes, these braces can be used on shotguns like the Mossberg Shockwave.  If this doesn’t show the National Firearms Act as being a draconian law… I’m not sure what will.


3. Short Barreled Shotguns/SBSs: Short barreled shotguns were added to the National Firearms Act because of sawn-off shotguns. A sawn-off double barrel shotgun is extremely deadly in closer ranges. One of the fears was that a criminal (this is the funny part) could have a double barreled sawn-off shotgun pointed at his car door for when an officer approached the vehicle.

3.1 Why it’s unreasonable: The shotguns on the market are predominately tube fed, meaning the shorter the barrel, the less capacity you have (typically). Out of standard sized barrels, shotguns already have an extremely limited effective range (slugs being between 75yds with a smooth bore and 100-200yds with a rifle barrel). Decreasing the barrel length will decrease the effective range.
*I’m unaware of any magazine fed shotguns that were available when the NFA was written. so they are irrelevant when discussing the reasonableness of the NFA.

The length before becoming a short barreled shotgun is arbitrary and completely devoid of reason. A 16″ barreled shotgun is no more concealable than a 16″ barreled rifle. You can keep decreasing the lengths and until you get to single digit lengths…you really have no difference in concealability. Even at that point, the difference is marginal at best.  On that note for both SBRs and SBSs… if you have a concealed weapon license (Indiana makes no mention of what type of weapon you can carry) or even live in a Constitutional Carry state….?

Let me take a second to highlight something for all of these regulations. “A criminal might…” What makes a criminal a criminal? Right…they’re breaking the law. Does regulating barrel length prevent a criminal (a lawbreaker) from buying a full-sized shotgun and chopping the barrel? No, no it doesn’t. It becomes an add-on charge.


4. Any Other Weapon/AOWs: The point of AOWs was to regulate firearms that didn’t fall into any of the traditional firearm categories. Those categories being: handguns, shotguns, and rifles. We see things such as pen-guns, knife-guns, wallet holsters (with the gun inside), and more being regulated.

4.1 Why it’s unreasonable: Over time it seems like the BATF has distorted their interpretation of what an AOW is to fit their needs. The fact that the government agency in charge of enforcing the National Firearms Act cannot give a simplified clearly definable answer that everyone can understand shows the ridiculousness of it.

By the way, that vertical foregrip you have on your Glock? Yeah, it 100% turns you into a felon without a $200 AOW tax stamp. Remember, if you’re starting to go into what has been deemed as a “grey area” of AOWs by the community, the only group that can actually help you is the ATF. A lawyer can interpret the law, but their interpretation doesn’t carry the weight of law, the ATF’s does.


When it comes to the National Firearms Act, there’s another huge reason that it is unreasonable. Nearly everyone minus the most dedicated firearm enthusiasts aren’t aware that the National Firearms Act exists. Even a lot of the ones that are aware of it’s existence don’t know what the act does.

For this reason, the National Firearms Act is near impossible to enforce, to ensure that it is followed. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of citizens who don’t realize any of the above are strictly regulated. All of these people are doing no harm to anyone, but they are felons.

Sure, ignorance of the law isn’t a valid excuse for breaking it… but that ignorance in itself shows that these regulated firearms and accessories aren’t an issue because so many people have illegally made them unknowingly.


The National Firearms Act is a nightmare to a person with common sense. It’s even more of a nightmare for those with a basic understanding of firearms. Between an unreasonable tax, arbitrary measurements, and vague definitions I don’t think there’s any wiggle room to make the NFA seem reasonable.

If the NFA is never abolished there are several changes that could be made to it to make it less burdensome. I might do a spin-off article from this one that goes into details on the changes that I would make IF we couldn’t get it abolished.

Previous: Is it reasonable? Background Checks

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