OSD 121: Where the rules are made up and the points do matter
Millions of gun owners compete for a high score on the ATF’s new game.
The ATF released a worksheet this week (PDF) to go along with its incoming new position on pistol braces. This has been on the horizon for a few months, but it’s not every day that a spreadsheet gets the power to determine how many millions of people are felons. Some powerful Excel skills over at the ATF.
The sheet defines a number of attributes of a gun and its brace, and each attribute is worth 0-4 points. If either the gun or the brace score ≥4 points, possession is a felony punishable by ten years in federal prison. These are guns that are in the wild by the millions.
This idea of felony-by-spreadsheet is pretty creative. Normally, to commit a crime, a person has to do something. But now for millions of gun owners to commit a crime, all it takes is for someone at the ATF to do something.
Back in December, the ATF announced and then (temporarily) rolled back a move against braces. We saw some people falling into a trap in the way they talked about this. Today’s a good time for a reminder (from “OSD 96: The frog jumps out of the pot”):
The temptation here is to start litigating the specifics of each pistol brace design. The ATF even mentions that in their statement, listing things like length of pull, the surface area of the back of the brace, and what kind of sight picture you can get when using the brace at arm’s length.
But to dive into that debate is a) to grant the underlying premise of the law being enforced here (the NFA of 1934), and b) to let that law define the rules of what is right or wrong. Let’s take those one by one.
First, (a) is self-evidently a fairly barbaric anachronism. This is a law from 1934, and it’s casually pro-imprisonment in a way that today is usually considered embarrassing. The premise of the law is simple: a 16” barrel is fine, but a 15” barrel without ATF permission is punishable by 10 years in federal prison. Would you grant that as a starting point for a discussion?
Second, (b) is inevitably a losing game. If you start from false premises, anything can be “proved” true — so if you’re interested in the truth, agreeing to a false premise means agreeing upfront to abandon the very thing you’re after. It is not acceptable that a 15” barrel is a crime. So why spend time playing a game about exactly which guns with 15” barrels are or aren’t crimes.
Braces are awesome, they’ve created millions of new gun owners. It’s important to push hard to keep that going. But the ultimate goal is to do away with the silliness of a 15” barrel being a crime at all. If you find yourself in a discussion where you need to justify pistol braces, you won’t succeed by justifying pistol braces. You’ll succeed by inverting it and making them justify crime-by-measuring-tape.
This week’s links
Our own Chuck Rossi talked to The Guardian for this piece.
This transparency is great to see.
Great story about the legendary screenwriter. (Side note, check out Milius, the documentary about his life. To name a few highlights: he wrote Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, and Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech in Jaws, and he wrote and directed Red Dawn. He was also the inspiration for Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski.)
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