My friend Ed was a United States Marine. Some would say he was an “ex-Marine,” but I’m not sure these guys are ever “ex-” Marines.
Ed lived in Connecticut. It’s my birthplace, but a state I left long ago. If I needed to be reminded why, my recent conversation with Ed’s widow would have done it.
“If my husband hadn’t died, I would never have known about this, and I would have become a criminal on January first,” Ann says.
Ed was active in the program of the federal Director of Civilian Marksmanship, back in the 1980s, helping law-abiding citizens acquire surplus government combat rifles “at cost” — a proper role for the federal government, which is required to “arm the militia” (and we’re still waiting for our quad 50s, by the way.)
He and Ann both filled out the forms and shot to qualify for one of the rifles. Ed purchased an M-1 Garand; Ann chose the little M-1 carbine, “because I’m short,” for $165.
The rifles arrived. The magazine was removed from the carbine. Then both rifles and the magazine went into the safe, where they’ve been ever since — 28 years.
But after Ed died, Ann had to have his firearms appraised “for probate.”
The subject of the new state law — passed in the aftermath of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary — came up as she was having Ed’s rifles appraised. “You’d think the state of Connecticut would have mailed me a little card or something, saying you own this carbine, which has now been declared an ‘assault rifle’ and you have to register it. But they didn’t.”
Weirdly, Ed’s Garand — a far more powerful semi-automatic rifle with its 30.06 cartridge, capable of aimed fire out to 800 yards and of firing nearly as many rounds per minute as the carbine (if you keep feeding it eight-round clips) – need not be registered, because it doesn’t have a “detachable magazine.” But Ann’s little World-War-Two-surplus semiautomatic carbine with its little pistol-caliber rounds, she discovered, had now been re-defined under this panicked state legislation as an “assault weapon, because the magazine holds 20 rounds or whatever.”
Not only did she have to register the rifle, she had to register the magazine separately.
“So if you had six magazines, they’d each have to be registered separately?”
“I think so, that’s what the gun owners were saying. But the magazines don’t have serial numbers, so how would they have known?”
A lot of people just ignore such registration schemes, I pointed out, figuring they’re only a precursor to seizure. Law-abiding citizens are actually more likely to be jailed for filling out the forms wrong than some scofflaw who stays “outside the system.”
“I thought of that, but I remember Ed talking about people who didn’t register their machine guns when that came in” (the National Firearms Act, 1934.) “After that they couldn’t sell them or transfer them, they were contraband, so what were they worth? At first I thought I was going to sell the guns by December, but then I thought ‘They’re investments. Why should I have to sell them?’ It just frosts my patootie that they think I’m Adam Lanza. If this law was going to save a single child’s life that would be one thing, but it’s not.”
Ann downloaded the registration forms Online. Then she needed to go down to the Town Clerk’s office to have her signature notarized. She no longer had duplicates of the money orders she used to buy her rifle from the DCM in 1986, so she had to have a separate affidavit notarized in which she set forth the facts of her legal purchase. “Then it said something about fingerprints so I figured I’d have to traipse over to the police station to get fingerprinted, but she said, ‘No, we can take your thumb-print here,’ so at least I was spared that trip. But I’m so mad I just want to spit,” Ann says. “My gun was legal on December 31st and it would have been illegal on January First.” (Some sources say Jan. 4.)
She mailed in all this rigmarole on Dec. 29, “and I’m glad I did. You know how people wait till the last minute? Well a lot of people mailed in their forms on December 31st. But the post office decided to close at noon on December 31st, so about half of the forms mailed on the 31st got postmarked January second, and the state said they weren’t going to accept them.”
“How did that finally work out?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if they have worked it out. They’re calling it an ‘amnesty,’ asking if people who mailed in their forms that afternoon should get an ‘amnesty.’ Then, right after I got my affidavits notarized, I asked where I had to go to change my voter registration.”
“You were at the right place.”
“I was. The town clerk is a Republican. She said ‘You want to change your party affiliation?’ and I said ‘Yes, I’m going to join your party,’ and she smiled. I’m a Social Justice Catholic so I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but this gun stuff, on top of this stomp-on-religion stuff, where they’re taking away people’s religious freedoms, I just can’t stand it anymore. These are our most precious rights that people fought for.”
Including a few Marines I’ve known.
# # #
In 1991 in the Rock Island Armory case the federal District Court dismissed an indictment under the National Firearms Act for failing to register a machine gun where federal law precluded registration. In doing so, the court explained that “Since its passage in 1934, the registration, taxation, and other requirements of the National Firearms Act (“NFA”) have been upheld by the courts under the power of Congress to raise revenue. . . . Congress has no enumerated power to require registration of firearms. However, since registration of firearms may assist in the collection of revenue, Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934 pursuant to its power to tax.”
In 1937, in Sonzinsky v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the NFA because it “is not attended by an offensive regulation, and since it operates as a tax, it is within the national taxing power.”
This is nonsense on its face. If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms believed its job was maximizing revenues from this tax, it would encourage the importation or new manufacture of hundreds of thousands of machine guns each year, setting up drive-through windows in mini-malls where purchasers could hand over their $200 in exchange for a registration certificate in less time than it takes to get a burger and fries.
Instead, as part of the purposely difficult and intimidating process to register a machine gun or anything similar, ATF rules have long required individuals, but not legal entities like trusts, to obtain a “law enforcement certificate” from their local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO), such as a sheriff or police chief, in which the top cops are asked to certify that the applicant is known to be an upstanding character who’d never do anything bad with a machine gun.
But ever since the Supreme Court ruled (quite properly) in 1997 in Printz v. United States that such chief law enforcement officers cannot be compelled by the federal government to perform federal functions like firearm background checks – especially in an era when any lawyer will tell you never to sign anything guaranteeing that ANYONE is safe and reliable and will never misbehave — many top cops now refuse to sign these machine gun “permission slips.”
Back in 2009, the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association asked the ATF to get rid of this requirement that people wanting to legally buy machine guns get a “permission slip” from their local police chief or sheriff.
Instead, the ATF decided late last year not merely to keep the “permission slip” requirement for individuals, but to extend that mandate to all “responsible persons” of legal entities – which critics warn could include “a newborn baby who is one of several beneficiaries” of a trust set up to hold a machine gun.
John Pierce, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, responds: “The ATF does not have the authority under the NFA’s taxing powers to shut off Americans’ end run around CLEO certification” because the ATF’s stated purpose of its proposed rule change is “to ensure that prohibited persons do not gain access to NFA firearms,” an exercise of general criminal power not delegated to the ATF by Congress. Additionally, ATF’s proposed rule will necessarily impede the transfer of NFA items and therefore hinder the collection of taxes — the only authorized purpose of the NFA — “because transferors will be substantially less able to find transferees who can obtain CLEO certification.”
Instead, Pierce urges the ATF to simply repeal the permission-slip requirement for individuals, in which case “use of legal entity ownership arrangements for NFA items will decline without hindering the collection of taxes under the NFA.”
That’s indeed what they should do. But since they won’t — because they’re lying about what they’re up to in the first place — the real solution is to repeal the National Firearms Act and shut down the ATF, entirely.