OSD 112: Unbrace yourself

The NFA is pro mass incarceration. A history of why gun control has seemed like the thing that smart, kind people are supposed to think — and why that's changing.

As expected, the ATF is going to be redefining what they consider legal and illegal with 80% receivers and pistol braces. They’ll be announcing details over the next 1-2 months, but the main effects will be:

  • An immediate slate of lawsuits that may or may not succeed in blocking the redefinitions

  • More attention on the ATF’s definition of what a receiver is in the first place. AR lowers are not covered by the current definition (disclaimer: this isn’t legal advice!), and several defendants have gotten their charges dropped by pushing that issue in court. People on all sides have avoided talking about that, because it’s not especially in anyone’s interests to open the “let’s redefine the fundamental rules of what constitutes a receiver” can of worms. But that may not be avoidable for much longer.

  • Several million brace owners will suddenly be guilty of NFA violations punishable by ten years in prison. That’s the National Firearms Act, the law from 1934 that makes it so that long guns are legal, short guns are legal, and medium guns are extremely illegal. Unless you pay a $200 tax, fill out a piece of paper, and wait a few months, in which case they’re legal again.

(There’s more background in OSD 95: Schrödinger’s gat — the ATF and Polymer80 and OSD 96: The frog jumps out of the pot.)

It’s that last bullet point we want to focus on this week. Around the announcement of these executive orders, there’s been a push to brand pistol braces as the new boogeyman. (We’d refer you here, as ever, to “The Submarine”, Paul Graham’s classic essay about how PR campaigns work.)

That tactic has been smart. If you’ve ever explained barrel length laws and pistol braces to a newbie — we have, many times — you know that the modal response is something like, “Well that’s the dumbest law I’ve heard of in a long time. Why should anyone go to jail over that?” So in polite society, one can’t argue from scratch that a pistol brace should send you to prison for ten years. Instead, you have to present a pistol brace ban as an innocuous extension to a law that people don’t even think to question.

Here’s the general principle:

A pistol brace ban is the proximate mistruth. But the foundational lie is the NFA itself. Consider the following two statements:

  1. The NFA is an 87-year-old gun law, and pistol braces are dancing around the edges of it. The ATF should scrutinize pistol braces for compliance with the law.

  2. The police should take you to prison for ten years if your gun’s barrel is 15” long instead of 16”.

Those are the same statement. One sounds reasonable and one sounds medieval. But people are being allowed to appear in public and say #1 without confronting the fact that they’re also saying #2.

The reason, as we explained in “OSD 110: What smart people are supposed to think”, is that this is a game of mood affiliation (the term is a Tyler Cowen-ism). To understand barrel length laws, you have to spend dozens of hours reading about the technical nuances. Most people don’t have time for that, so most people don’t understand these issues. But we have to think something about them, so we take a shortcut. The shortcut is that we just believe whatever seems like the polite thing to believe.

This seems insurmountable: how can you get through to people who don’t have time to learn the details? Well, mood affiliation is a two-way street. Because all information about guns used to filter through a handful of TV channels and newspapers, gun control has long enjoyed a complacent monopoly on “this is the polite thing to think”.

But that is slipping away in real time. Contrary to popular belief, gun rights have been getting nearly-monotonically more popular for 25+ years. The installed base of AR-15s is ~50x what it was at the time of the ‘94 ban, and its growth is only accelerating (numbers in the same link from the previous sentence). And most importantly, despite the best efforts of centralized content crackdowns, empirically it has never been easier to learn about guns than it is today. Still not even close to as easy as we’d like, but it has undeniably never been easier.

Over the next few weeks, there’s going to be a lot of discussion about pistol braces. Don’t run away from it — embrace, expand, and amplify it. Every mention of a pistol brace ban should be embraced and expanded into what it is — a proud endorsement of a decade in prison for a 15.9” barrel — and then loudly amplified. If somebody wants to tie their name to the philosophy of mass incarceration, they’re free to do so. In 2021, we’ll see who still thinks that’s the polite thing to believe.


This week’s links

Comment from a reddit thread on the gun-related executive orders this week

You’re thinking in terms of the written language of the law. They’re not trying to amend the law. They’re monkeying with ATF’s interpretations of the law which are already arbitrary, often secret, and subject to change at any time. They’re sick of us finding ways to comply with the law and still have stuff. Opacity is a feature, not a bug. If you’re not already, subscribe to /u/opensourcedefense newsletter. They discussed how this is going to work back in December.

They’re also a very positive, lucid, and thoughtful group that’s looking to rehabilitate the image of gun owners. I’m never hesitant to pass on anything of theirs to friends and family like I am with other sources.

Including that not to toot our own horn (ok, maybe a little), but to underline that last sentence: “I’m never hesitant to pass on anything of theirs to friends and family like I am with other sources.”

We should all be pushing to hit that bar every day. The power of a network grows as the square of its number of nodes. To grow the number of nodes, the people in the network have to be proud to spread the word to newbies. Aggressively extinguish all sources of hesitation that people might have about that.

Jagerworks milling an RMR cut on a Glock 19

Sixteen minutes of zen, with a Haas VF-4SS doing its thing.

@metarmsandarmor: “Explore the armorer’s art through the collection and expertise of The Met’s Department of Arms & Armor”

Turns out there is essentially an “oper8ors through the ages” collection at arguably the finest art museum in the world. Based.


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