In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats in Congress are quietly pushing a mammoth gun control bill that would, among other things, ban “assault weapons,” mandate a license to purchase a firearm and ammunition, prohibit private firearm transfers, and effectively destroy the firearms industry.
With President Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of the Senate, most federal gun control bills and policies are dead-on-arrival (with one notable exception: RIP bump stocks). But Republicans only hold a slim majority in the Senate, and national polls give presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden a 6-point edge in the presidential race.
Gun owners don’t have to worry about the “Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act” now, but if Democrats emerge victorious in 2020, the bill gives us a troubling window into what our future could hold.
“The Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act will save lives and make our country safer – without infringing on any law-abiding individual’s right to own firearms,” Johnson said in a news release issued as the bill was filed. “This comprehensive bill is a compilation of the best ideas to create a workable set of laws that will strengthen life-saving background checks, protect communities with bolstered enforcement, improve mental health services and fuel research to make guns safer.”
The bill is a monster, 112-page compendium of all the most radical gun control proposals of the last three years. Here are a few of the worst:
License to Own Firearm and Ammunition
The bill requires a federal license to own both firearms and ammunition. To be eligible for a license, the prospective owner must be 21 years of age, pass a safety course, and complete a background check.
Worst of all, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms can at any time petition a court to remove someone’s license if, among other things, there is evidence of “existing factors that suggest that the individual could potentially create a risk to public safety.” The bill does not define what those “other existing factors” might be.
Universal Background Checks
This portion of the bill requires a background check for all firearms transfers but makes exceptions for transfers between close family members. It also includes a provision, however, that prohibits transfer between family members if the transferor has “reason to believe” that the transferee
- Will use or intends to use the firearm to commit a crime;
- Is a prohibited person;
- Has committed domestic violence;
- Is subject to a protection order.
In other words, if an uncle gives a rifle to his nephew, and that nephew uses it to commit a crime, the uncle may be subject to investigation.
“Assault Weapon” Ban
The bill makes it unlawful to “import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.” It makes an exception for those who owned the illegal weapons before the bill took effect, but it does make federal funds available to state and local jurisdiction to institute “buy back” programs.
Consumer Product Safety Commission
This one hasn’t received much attention, but it could be among the most damaging provisions to the firearms industry.
Under current federal law, firearms are not subject to regulation by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Congress specifically excluded firearms from the CPSC’s jurisdiction in 1976 because they feared that unreasonable standards would lead to the bureaucratic removal of constitutional rights. (Firearm safety is regulated by Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI)).
Gun control advocates want to transfer oversight to the CPSC to implement standards that, as one academic told the anti-gun outlet The Trace, “save lives by changing gun designs.” If that’s not a recipe for instantly banning all non-“smart guns,” we’re not sure what is.
The Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act includes a wide variety of other provisions, including:
- requires law enforcement agencies to be notified following a firearms-related background check that results in a denial;
- creates a statutory process for a family or household member to petition a court for an extreme risk protection order to remove firearms from an individual who poses a risk of committing violence;
- restricts the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices;
- restricts the manufacture, sale, transfer, purchase, or receipt of ghost guns (i.e., guns without serial numbers);
- makes trafficking in firearms a stand-alone criminal offense;
- requires federally licensed gun dealers to submit and annually certify compliance with a security plan to detect and deter firearm theft;
- removes limitations on the civil liability of gun manufacturers;
- establishes a community violence intervention grant program; and
- promotes research on firearms safety and gun violence prevention.
The bill has been assigned to committees in the House and the Senate, and may be taken up when Congress reconvenes after the COVID-19 outbreak.