I don’t usually waste anyone’s time with reactions to editorials or other commentary on the gun business because everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “we are all entitled to our own opinion but not our own facts.” And every once in a while someone published an opinion that is so at variance with the facts about guns that I feel it almost to be a civic duty to set the facts straight. This is the case with an editorial published in the Brietbart News calling for the Republican-led Senate to repeal the “burdensome and frivolous” gun control law of 1968 which, according to the editorial’s author, prevents Americans from going to other states, purchasing a handgun and returning with the gun to the state in which they live.
According to the author, A.W. Hawkins, the 1968 Gun Control Act is a “burdensome and unnecessary” law because while at allows residents o one state to travel to another state to purchase a rifle, it prohibits the same kind of transaction as regards handguns. The author goes on to state that, “the arbitrary nature of the ban is evident in the fact that by law, a law-abiding citizen from one state can walk into a retail store and buy an AR-15, AK-47, or shotgun in another state.” Not only does this rob consumers of the opportunity to support a “national” consumer market for small arms, but is an example of a “freedom-crushing law” that the Republican majority was elected to remove or change.
Let me break the news gently to Mr. Hawkins. The prohibition on interstate sales of handguns was not the handiwork of the Gun Control Act of 1968, it was codified in the National Firearms Act of 1938, which amended and extended provisions of the original National Firearms Act of 1934. The latter statute was passed to control the transfer and sale of automatic weapons, like the so-called ‘Tommy Gun’ that was used by the Capone mob and other gangsters during the Prohibition era, and then became props in all those Hollywood shoot-‘em-ups about Ma Barker, Alvin Karpis and Pretty Boy Floyd.
The 1938 National Firearms Act made it illegal for guns to move across state lines unless they were shipped from one gun dealer to another, a prohibition that covered all firearms and, for the first time required such dealers to acquire a license for interstate traffic in guns from the Treasury Department for the grand total of one dollar per year. The 1938 law also for the first time created certain categories of “prohibited persons.” Like felons and fugitives, who could not own guns. The only problem with the 1938 law was that it required dealers to record the sources of all firearms shipped to them from other states, but did not create any kind of regulatory process to verify or validate that dealers were actually maintaining such information.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 closed some of these loopholes by bringing all activities of gun dealers under the regulatory authority of the ATF. For the first time, dealers not only had to maintain records of the sources of their inventory, but also were required to utilize the Form 4473 for recording detailed personal information about individuals to whom they transferred guns. The dealer had to verify the gun recipient’s personal information by dint of a driver’s license or other standard type of ID. Most important, the ATF could visit any dealer, inspect these records, and therefore have access to information about everyone who purchased a gun.
I’m not saying that GCA1968 is a perfect law. Far from it. But at the very least it does codify the idea that certain types of people simply should not be allowed to get access to guns. The Brietbart editorialist isn’t against laws per se; he’s just doing what the pro-gun folks usually do whenever the discussion turns to guns -reduce the debate to the lowest, dumbest denominator because that’s the argument which the NRA can always win.