Previously, this correspondent wrote an essay on Incrementalism v. “all or nothing”. It was well-received:
Roland T. Gunner ~ “Mr. Weingarten, I take my hat off to you. This article is the best thing I have read in modern memory. Now, tell me, how do we get incremental movememt on reppealing the NFA? And for all you naysayers, sit down, shut up, or help us get it done.”
Incremental movement is happening to dismantle the National Firearms Act (NFA), bit by bit. The ultimate goal is repeal.
Here is how it is being done, and what needs to be done in the future.
Educate Gun Culture & The General Public
The first step is well underway. It is to educate the gun culture and the general public about the history and failure of the National Firearms Act. When people learn the history and the effects of the act, support for it evaporates.
When people understand the NFA is the result of a political compromise that did nothing to stop crime; but results in thousands of Americans being punished for peaceful acts, support for the NFA drops to politically irrelevant numbers. Support for the NFA is fairly wide, but very shallow, propped up by the dominant Media and their creation and proliferation of false narratives.
Overwhelm The NFA System With Compliance
The second step, again, well underway, is to overwhelm the system with compliance. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it has a strong and corrosive effect on the NFA. One of the insidious components of the NFA was to create extreme, prohibitive taxes to make the NFA an effective ban instead of regulation. When the Act was passed, the $200 tax was equivalent to $3,700 today. It was 40 times the cost of a Maxim silencer. In 1938, the first federal minimum wage was set at 25 cents an hour. In 1938 it would take 800 hours of minimum wage labor to pay the insane $200 tax. Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25, with 30 states having significantly higher minimums. With the growth of the Federal government and the debasement of the U.S. dollar over 80 years, the tax has been reduced from 800 hours of minimum wage labor to less than 28 hours of minimum wage labor. In 1934, the tax took almost two months pay for the average income; today the tax is about one day’s pay for the average income.
For decades, there were very few people who could afford legal NFA items. Today, the vast majority of Americans can afford the $200 tax. This has led to enormous increases in the numbers of people who have legal NFA items.
Virtually everyone who has to go through the insane loops required to obtain an NFA item is disgusted with the sheer idiocy of the law. With knowledge comes support for repeal of the NFA, in part or in all.
- In 1990, there were 399 form 1s (make your own NFA item) and 7,024 Form 4s (transfer/buy from someone else) processed.
- In 2020, there were 40,790 form 1s and 246,600 Form 4s processed, an increase of 100x for form 1s and 35x for form 4s.
Every person who takes a legal silencer to the gun club, contributes to the demise of the NFA. Every hobbyist who makes a Short Barreled Rifle legally, contributes to the demise of the NFA. There are now over 2.6 million legal silencers in the United States. In 1990, there were about 30,000 (estimated). Overwhelming compliance leads to normalization and acceptance by the gun culture and eventually the general public. Acceptance leads to the dismantling of the National Firearms Act.
Take NFA Apart Piece by Piece
The third incremental step is to attack the NFA part by part. The weakest link in the NFA is the tax and regulation of silencers. Silencers registered with the NFA have gone from relatively rare in 1968 (probably on the order of a couple thousand, records are difficult to find) to over 2.6 million as of May of 2021.
There are strong movements to remove silencers/suppressors from the NFA. There is significant evidence many inside the ATFwant silencers removed from the NFA.
The next weakest link is short-barreled rifles and shotguns (sbr/sbs). There is no logical reason to restrict these firearms more than handguns. Short barreled rifles and shotguns are generally harder to conceal than handguns; but handguns enjoy Constitutional protections, affirmed by the Heller and McDonald decisions. Removal of short-barreled rifles and shotguns to the same regulation as pistols is easily understood.
Automatic firearms will be the most difficult to remove from the NFA. A strong case exists to remove the 1986 ban on further manufacture for sale to non-government entities or to re-interpret the law to mean sale to non-government entities only required governmental permission instead of a ban. The current wording of the law is ambiguous enough for this interpretation.
Keeping the excise tax at $200, or alternatively, reducing or eliminating the tax, is key to reforming the NFA. With reform or re-interpretation of the 1986 freeze on sales of automatic firearms, the number will increase; normalization will occur, and processing for acquiring automatic firearms will become much easier, as has happened with silencers.
Legal owners of NFA items have shown themselves to be exemplary models of law-abiding citizens.
Experience will show legal ownership to be a non-problem, in the long term.
Reform of the NFA will be accelerated with action in the states
The irrationality of the NFA law is so conspicuous, state reforms for silencer law and SBR/SBS law are obvious incremental goals. The general pattern is this:
- Remove state bans on possession of the NFA items.
- Remove state bans on hunting with the NFA items.
- Remove state bans on the NFA item altogether.
- Ban state resources from enforcing Federal law restricting the NFA item. (NFA Sanctuary States?..<–you heard it here 1st)
These actions increase the use and normalization of silencers, short-barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns. Each part can be accomplished as an incremental act while maintaining the express goal of removing these irrational restrictions altogether.
As more and more states remove restrictions, the statistics will show how irrational the current laws are. IE: Think Marijuana Legalization.
This is precisely what happened in Texas, where local officials are now banned from enforcing federal law on silencers, and there is no local restrictions on silencer possession or use. Texas already has the highest number of legal silencers of any state in the nation, with over half a million. Florida is next with 175 thousand, Then Georgia with 130 thousand.
The final step should be the repeal of the NFA as antithetical to the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court is a follower, not a leader, in protecting the Bill of Rights. When activists and states make enough progress showing the insanity of the NFA, the courts will eventually follow. Unfortunately, that is reality as this correspondent sees it.
The actions are not necessarily sequential. Many can and should overlap and proceed concurrently.
The program for incremental reform/repeal:
- Massive Compliance
- State Action on Silencers/SBRs/SBSs, NFA Sanctuary States
- Removal of Silencers from NFA
- Removal of SBRs/SBSs from NFA
- Repeal/Reinterpretation of the 1986 ban on the production of automatic firearms for citizen ownership.
Last but not least: Repeal of NFA, or finding the NFA as unconstitutional under an invigorated Second Amendment with an originalist and textualist Supreme Court.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.