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Monday, 05 May 2014 08:12

US Government Should Not Allow Civilians to Buy Machine Guns, Silencers and Grenades

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M2 machine gun(Photo: US Navy)

Perhaps a reader's first reaction to the headline of this commentary, "US Government Should Not Allow Civilians to Buy Machine Guns, Silencers and Grenades," is alarmed shock that non-law enforcement and military personnel can even legally purchase such weapons. 

Yet, since 1934, the National Firearms Act has allowed US citizens to buy and own crime-syndicate-associated firearms (including short-barreled shotguns) and explosives. The 1934 law, it should be noted, requires a permit that is a bit more rigorous then just stopping by a gun store. Among the requirements are approval by the local chief of police, a background check, fingerprinting and a $200 tax for each of the weapons. Nonetheless, there are currently an estimated 500,000 legally registered machine guns in the United States, with Virginia leading the nation with 30,000 registered.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for processing what are technically known as Title II firearms applications. Traditionally, the ATF - despite pressure from the NRA and other gun advocacy groups - has been appropriately cautious in approving applications for private ownership of fully automatic firearms, silencers and explosives (such as grenades) - and some police departments will not sign applications as a matter of policy (given, one can speculate, that more such weapons on the street will create more potential violence and also threaten the lives of police personnel).

In addition, some states severely restrict or prohibit the private ownership of Title II weapons and explosives. (In an interesting but tragic irony, some states - such as Michigan - allow the ownership of machine guns, but do not allow the private purchase or possession of tasers.)

Fast-forward from 1934 to 2004, and you'll find that the gun lobby is frustrated that there are still "too many" obstacles to obtaining military weaponry. As The New York Times recently reported, entities known as "gun trusts" have been popping up. Gun trusts allow an individual to bypass the law enforcement and fingerprinting requirement - and, depending on the gun dealer, perhaps even a background check at the time of purchase.

The NationalFirearmsTrust.com web site lures customers with assurances, such as:

A Gun Trust can streamline the process of purchasing Title II firearms. 1) No Fingerprints are required because the trust itself will be purchasing the firearm. 2) Our NFA Trust enables you toby-pass the signature requirement, which normally requires Chief Law Enforcement Officer’s approval....

Creating an NFA Firearms Trust allows you to choose who the authorized users of your firearms will be. If you purchase Title II firearms without a trust, you alone are authorized to use it. Our document allows you to legally designate multiple people, people you trust, as authorized users. You do not need to be present when they use your firearm.

Yes, that's right, the site asserts that once an individual becomes a gun trust member, that person can legally specify other users of the machine gun, silencer, grenade, etc.

On Sunday, May 3, The Guardian reported that the Obama administration is trying to eliminate the gun trust loophole:

A plan by President Barack Obama to close a loophole which allows Americans to buy weapons such as machine guns, grenades and sawn-off shotguns without undergoing background checks is set to be delayed, due to intense opposition from the NRA and other anti-gun-control activists.

An executive action announced by the White House last year said that all members of legally certified trusts buying or receiving federally regulated weapons would need to identify themselves by submitting photographs, fingerprints and a signed approval from a local law-enforcement chief to US authorities....

The number of gun trusts has risen sharply in recent years. Almost 41,000 applications to register restricted weapons to trusts or corporations were filed with the ATF in 2012, according to the agency - more than three times the number,12,900, in 2009.

The pro-gun lobby quickly created obstacles to the implementation of the executive order to close the loophole by inundating the BATF with objections during its open comment period.

As The Guardian stated:

In any case, the implementation of the new rule appears to have staved off for the time being by the vehement opposition lodged with the ATF. Williams, of the American Silencer Association, said he and colleagues had been told by senior ATF officials in a meeting in Nevada in January that “they received more comments than they anticipated, and because of that, the final ruling likely won’t be issued until next year."

Yes, you read correctly, there is an American Silencer Association (ASA) advocating for broader ownership of the noise suppressing gun accessory known as a silencer - and most closely associated with organized crime hits and assassinations. On its site, the ASA announces: "For the first time in the commercial suppresor industry's history, individual manufacturers, distributors, and dealers are formally banding together to collectively advocate for the suppressor industry." The ASA boasts that "2014 promises to be a banner year" for legalizing silencers in more states. 

Meanwhile, a fractious group of militias - all no doubt composed of "law-abiding" US gun owners - threatened to fire upon US law enforcement officials and local police in defense of the illegal actions and anti-government pronouncements of Cliven Bundy. Since then, they have commandeered the roads surrounding Bundy's ranch and are apparently assuming some de facto police powers.

Beyond the annual gun death toll of nearly 30,000 people a year in the United States, the Cliven Bundy posse comitatus army of sedition should be enough reason to not only eliminate gun trusts, but also to prohibit private ownership of machine guns, silencers and military explosives altogether.

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