After more than two years of relative quiet regarding gun-control issues, the Obama administration, through its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, has begun laying the groundwork for a massive gun ban.
Last week the ATF released a "study" discussing the suitability of certain "non-sporting" shotguns for importation and sale in the U.S. The "study" suggests that shotguns with military-type features are not suitable for sporting purposes and therefore do not qualify for legal importation.
Unfortunately this "sporting purpose" language appears in several places in federal gun laws. These laws have been used successfully to ban several specific styles of shotguns in the past – not just banned from import or banned from sale, but banned from possession without special government permission and taxes.
The Armsel Striker and its various derivatives, for example, were little-known, repeating, 12-gauge shotguns capable of firing 12 shots as fast as the shooter could pull the trigger. In 1994 the ATF declared that these shotguns and their clones were not suitable for sporting purposes.
The National Firearms Act, or NFA, and Gun Control Act, or GCA, say that, with the exception of shotguns that are generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes, any firearm with a bore greater than one half inch is a "destructive device." A destructive device, or DD, is restricted almost exactly like a machinegun. To own one you must undergo a background investigation and get the permission of your local chief law enforcement official and also pay a special $200 transfer tax.
By declaring that the Striker was not suitable for sporting purposes, ATF removed the guns from the shotgun exception, automatically relegating them to DD status. People who already owned these guns were given a window during which they were required to register them, destroy them or turn them over to ATF.
With this new ATF "study," the Obama administration appears to be lining up dominoes in preparation to knock more down. As ATF pointed out in their reclassification of the Striker, the "sporting purpose" language in the NFA and GCA is virtually identical to the definition of destructive device, and therefore reclassifying a gun to a DD for import purposes also reclassifies it for GCA and NFA purposes.
While the telegraphed message from ATF is, "Prepare for new import restrictions on military looking shotguns," the message gun owners and respecters of the Constitution should be hearing is, "ATF is about to ban military-looking shotguns!"
Any such ban will be retroactive and could require all current owners of any shotgun on the ban list to go through all of the investigation and permitting processes and pay the $200 tax if they wish to keep the guns, though it is likely that they would wave the tax to help encourage compliance.
By re-opening this Pandora's Box of "sporting purpose" tests for shotguns, ATF could easily trip into the issue of "pistol-grip" shotguns as well. Shotguns with no shoulder stock but only a pistol grip have become very popular home defense and wilderness utility firearms.
Over a decade ago ATF relabeled these guns as "pistol-grip firearms" rather than shotguns, because under the legal definition in both the GCA and NFA a shotgun is designed to be fired from the shoulder and these guns are clearly not. So even though the actions and capabilities are the same, because the shoulder stock is removed, the official ATF classification of these firearms is no longer "shotgun." This is particularly significant in light of the direction ATF is going with their "study," because if shotguns with pistol-grips and no shoulder stock are not "shotguns," then they are by default, under the definitions of NFA and GCA and the logic of ATF, "destructive devices."
Reclassifying a few thousand Striker and similar shotguns is one thing. Reclassifying the several hundred thousand military-look shotguns likely to fall under the pending import ban would be a pretty massive undertaking. But reclassifying and dealing with all of the paperwork and necessary enforcement action for the millions of pistol-grip shotguns would be completely impossible without something akin to martial law.
The conclusion of all of this ATF posturing and preparation is hard to predict, and it could take years for it all to play out, but in the meantime ATF and the Obama administration have successfully instigated a new consumer rush for military-looking shotguns in anticipation of a ban and dramatically increased prices.
For over two years gun owners and rights advocates have been ridiculed and denigrated by the press and pundits for demonstrating an irrational and baseless fear that Barack Obama was going to "take away their guns." These ever so reasonable and rational journalists and commentators would virtually roll their eyes as they reported on the crazy paranoia fueling record gun sales. They would go on to repeat comments from Obama during the campaign and as president expressing his belief in, and support for, the Second Amendment. Some would even dredge up a clip of Vice President Joe Biden declaring that his running mate wasn't going to take peoples' guns – including Biden's own Berretta shotgun.
What was most astounding about these reports was how the talking heads would often segue directly into a story about the Brady Campaign Against Guns being frustrated that Obama had failed to live up to campaign promises to restore the Clinton ban on "assault weapons."
Apparently, to the media, "taking away your guns" is an all-or-nothing matter. They seem to think that gun owners and supporters of liberty would only have reason for concern if the president and Congress were trying to take away all guns from everyone (except, of course, government enforcers) and that banning "assault weapons" or "cheap handguns" or private transfers of firearms does not constitute "taking your guns away."