“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.” — president Barack Hussein Obama, Jan. 6, 2016.
President Obama’s calm assurances earlier this year were met with not-unreasonable eye rolling from the pro-gun community. The President made a valiant attempt, but by now we’ve figured out that every time he promises us we can keep something or assures us there isn’t a conspiracy, he’s lying.
Unlike some of their other policies, Democrats are pretty clear when it comes to guns: they’d rather not let us have them. Hillary blatantly supports another assault weapons ban (despite the fact it wasn’t effective—more on this later) and believes the Supreme Court got it wrong when they upheld the individual right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment has, more or less, kept the anti-gun community in check thus far, but rest assured—the end goal of “common sense gun control legislation” is the disarming of the American people.
If “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” the gun community better stay on its toes, especially in light of the current and potential Supreme Court vacancies. If Obama is allowed to fill Scalia’s seat and Hillary wins the Oval Office, the highest court in the land will be anti-2A for decades to come.
So to prepare for the future, let’s look at the past. What is the history of banning guns in the United States? What excuses has the Fed used to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding American citizens? What was the effect of those bans? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it hits on a few major laws, including one that newer gun owners might not recognize: the ban on cheap firearms.
First, the elephant in the room. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, AKA, the “Assault Weapons Ban,” prohibited the “manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapons.” “Assault weapon” sounds scary enough, but how exactly did president Clinton and Congress define the term? From the bill, it is “a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of– a folding or telescoping stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to; accommodate a flash suppressor; and, a grenade launcher.”
It’s unclear how pistol grips and folding stocks contributed to crime, but Clinton wasn’t about to let that stop him. He described his motivations for passing the bill in stark terms: “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools,” he said. “Every day, we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder.”
Somehow, Clinton assured us, banning semi-automatic rifles with bayonet mounts would remove gangs and drugs from schools, and keep criminals from getting away with murder. To be fair, the law included a variety of other provisions meant to stop crime, but if less than 1% of incarcerated criminals used an AR-15 in their offense, how would banning AR-15s prevent crime in the future?
As you’re probably aware, it didn’t. Democrats couldn’t get enough support to renew the law, and it expired in 2004. That year the University of Pennsylvania released a study that summarizes the ban’s effectiveness: “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”
Supporters of a new ban blame the original law’s “loopholes,” claiming that a stricter ban could do what the Clinton law didn’t. Here’s the problem: “assault weapons” account for so few crimes in the United States that even if the law were 100% effective, it still wouldn’t reduce the overall crime rate. (And, if the San Bernardino shooting is any indication, even the strictest ban couldn’t be 100% effective.)
So much for scary rifles with flash hiders. But what about the other menace threatening our nation’s existence—cheap guns?
Cheap handguns—colloquially termed “Saturday Night Specials” (SNS)—have been a favorite target for gun banners since 1879, when Tennessee banned the sale of any pistol except the most expensive “army or navy pistols.” Unlike the arguments in favor of banning assault weapons, the arguments in favor of banning cheap guns have at least the semblance of logic: if criminals in lower-income neighborhoods tend to use cheap handguns, banning these handguns will reduce crime. At least, that’s the argument.
This line of thinking eventually led to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which included provisions intended to stop the importation of SNSs [18 U.S.C. 925(d)(3)]. Among these provisions was the “sporting purposes test,” which forced many overseas manufacturers like Glock, Walther, and Beretta to either modify their pistols or stop selling their firearms in the U.S. altogether. To get around the importation restrictions, these companies had to open U.S.-based facilities, which is how we’re able to access these excellent firearms today. The federal government has yet to institute a domestic ban on cheap guns, but it’s something the gun community needs to know how to fight.
Towards that end, here are a few points of information, courtesy of an excellent fact sheet published by the NRA-ILA:
- “SNSs are involved in only about 1-3% of all violent crimes.” — “Most handgun criminals do not use SNSs, and most SNSs are not owned or used for criminal purposes. Instead, most are probably owned by poor people for protection.” (Criminologist Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, 1997; Point Blank, 1991.)
- Studies for the Justice Department have found that “There is no evidence to suggest that criminals prefer smaller caliber guns . . . or cheaper weapons” and that “The often-assumed criminal preference for small, cheap handguns is not confirmed.” (James D. Wright, et al., Under the Gun, 1983; Armed and Considered Dangerous, 1986.)
- A study for the Justice Dept. found that 68% of felons would switch to a “bigger, more expensive” handgun — 18% would switch to a “sawed off [rifle or shotgun].” (Wright & Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous, 1986.)
- A law against “Saturday Night Specials” would disproportionately affect poor citizens by reducing the availability of defensive handguns to low-income Americans. (Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, 1997.) The violent crime victimization rate is highest among people in households with annual incomes below $7,500. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization 1997, Changes 1996-97 with Trends 1993-97, Dec. 1998)
Here’s the bottom line: criminals don’t prefer cheaper handguns. Even if they did, restricting their access to cheap guns also restricts the greater number of American citizens who buy these guns for self-defense. Not only that, but criminals would likely acquire larger, more expensive handguns if government officials limited their access to cheap firearms.
Essentially, a ban on cheap firearms would result in better-armed criminals and more helpless victims. It’s tough to imagine a better recipe for disaster.
To conclude, many have noted the potentially racial nature of cheap gun bans, most notably anti-gun journalist Robert Sherrill, who said in his book 1973 The Saturday Night Special that, “The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks…” While racial minorities clearly make up the majority of lower-income households in the U.S., it isn’t true, as Senator Bernie Sanders would have us believe, that white communities “don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” The fact is that a ban on cheap guns would unfairly limit the self-defense capabilities—not to mention the constitutional rights—of law-abiding Americans of every race.
Suppressors and SBRs
Banning “assault weapons” and cheap guns doesn’t reduce crime, and, fortunately on the federal level, we don’t have to worry too much about them being enacted into law, thanks to a GOP-controlled Congress.
But what about a “ban” we’re more familiar with?
Suppressors, short-barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns have been strictly regulated in the United States since the National Firearms Act of 1934. The law was originally passed in response to gang violence, and has been somewhat revised by the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act (the barrel length of restricted firearms, for example, was shortened from 18” to 16”). The concept, however, has remained the same for the last 80 years: in order to own these items, individuals must jump through a series of hoops and pay a $200 tax.
Two-hundred dollars today is much less than it was in 1934 ($3,583), which allows many Americans to legally own and enjoy suppressors and SBRs. Despite this, the logic behind the NFA is often difficult to grasp. Twelve-inch barrels aren’t much easier to hide than 16” barrels, and one person can conceal quite a few large guns if they wear the right clothes.
But the law really begins to break down when it comes to suppressors. A firearm suppressor is nothing more than a muffler for a gun. We use them in cars to protect our hearing—why are guns different? Our draconian suppressor laws actually start to get embarrassing when compared to our European counterparts. In the UK, for example, it’s considered impolite to hunt without a suppressor, and they can be bought in gun shops for less money than in the United States.
Despite the lack of suppressed-gun wielding bandits in Europe and that fact that the “use of silenced firearms in crime is a rare occurrence” in the U.S., federal officials have opposed gun mufflers for decades. Fortunately, that may be about to change. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona recently introduced the Hearing Protection Act, which would remove suppressors from the NFA and allow thousands of Americans to more easily protect their hearing during hunting and shooting sports. It’s a great step towards securing our Second Amendment freedoms, and a good sign for the future of the gun community in the United States.
As you can see, those who value their right to self-defense have been forced to fend off government attacks almost since our country’s founding. Anti-2nd Amendment lobbies and legislators have come at us from all sides: from budget guns to popular rifles to SBRs to suppressors, they won’t rest until we’re a nation of victims. So far we’ve managed to preserve our individual right to keep and bear arms, but who knows what the future will hold? What do you think they’ll come after next?
(Editor’s note: This article was a submission from freelance writer Jordan Michaels.
About the author: Jordan Michaels is a new convert to the gun world. A Canadian immigrant to the United States, he recently became an American citizen and is happily enjoying his newly-acquired Second Amendment freedoms. He’s a communications professional, a political junkie, and an avid basketball fan.)