Tom Diaz

Feinstein Assault Weapon Bill: Is It a Little Bit Pregnant?

In bad manners, Bushmaster assault rifle, Ethics in Washington, Guns, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION, politics, Running Fire Fight, Semiautomatic assault rifles, Tired Old Republicans on January 23, 2013 at 3:23 am

473px-Dianne_Feinstein,_official_Senate_photo_2

George Bernard Shaw: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?

Actress: My goodness, Well, I’d certainly think about it

Shaw: Would you sleep with me for a pound?

Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!

Shaw: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

(This exchange is also attributed to Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, and Mark Twain. Take your pick.  They are all good.)

In a perfect world, the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” being circulated on the Hill by Senator Dianne Feinstein would be … well, perfect.

One problem.  This is not a perfect world.

It is certainly not a perfect world in the comfortable little set of nesting boxes that defines politics as usual on Capitol Hill — tired old convention, horse-trading, and selling out are the currency of the realm.

Is Feinstein’s bill a “sellout?”  Thinking…thinking.  Well, it depends on whether you believe in the concept of being only a little bit pregnant.

At first blush (and pending further analysis) the late draft of the Assault Weapons Regulatory Act of 2013 I have seen is a case of something “progressive” politicians have proven themselves masters of time and again, namely, preemptive surrender.

no pasaran2

“No pasaran!”–they shall not pass.

Sure, the NRA will scream and shout, “they shall not pass!”  But if Wayne LaPierre is on his meds, he’s going to love this start. His lobbyist surgeons will get busy slicing, slicing away at the weak points in this bill until they give it a complete radical orchiectomy.

The “pro-gun regulation” (aka, the “gun safety,” the “gun violence prevention,” the “nubbins,” anything but the “gun control”) side has started out by giving away half its best cards.

If you’re a betting person, put the mortgage down on the square that reads “another NRA victory.”

Here is what the draft has given away out of the blocks:

What the law taketh, the law giveth back: The draft I have seen “grandfathers” in all assault weapons legally owned as of the date of enactment. This was one of the major defects of the 1994 “ban.”

Here is the operative text from the bill:

SEC. 3. RESTRICTIONS ON ASSAULT WEAPONS AND LARGE CAPACITY AMMUNITION FEEDING DEVICES.

(a) In General.—Section 922 of title 18, United States Code, is amended— (1) by inserting after subsection (u) the following:

“(v)(1) It shall be unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.

“(2) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to the possession, sale, or transfer of any semiautomatic assault weapon otherwise lawfully possessed under Federal law on the date of enactment of the Assault Weapons Regulatory Act of 2013.

“(w)(1) It shall be unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a large capacity ammunition feeding device.

“(2) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to the possession of any large capacity ammunition feeding device otherwise lawfully possessed on or before the date of enactment of the Assault Weapons Regulatory Act of 2013.

But…wait: the law proposes also to bring these guns under the National Firearms Act.  So, isn’t that good…or good enough?  Close enough for nubbin work?   Bringing the guns under the NFA would indeed require a more extensive background check than the Brady Law and registration in a central registry. Here is what the summary describes:

Requires that grandfathered weapons be registered under the National Firearms Act, to include:

  • Background check of owner and any transferee
  • Type and serial number of the firearm
  • Positive identification, including photograph and fingerprint
  • Certification from local law enforcement of identity and that possession would not violate State or local law
  • Dedicated funding for ATF to implement registration

Well, gosheroonee, that sounds good.  (And I have written before that this could be one of a number of good ways to deal with the existing stock of assault weapons.)

But why would you go directly to this option instead of insisting on an outright ban, which is actually the best option from the point of view of public health and safety?

Why would you not make the other side come to you for a concession?

No pasaran…

Okay, let’s say Senator Feinstein is trying to be “reasonable” (in a Third Way kind of way) and reassure gun owners that no one is going to take their guns away.  This is exactly what the summary (full text of the summary at the bottom of this post) implies:

Protects legitimate hunters and the rights of existing gun owners by:

  • Grandfathering weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment
  • Exempting over 900 specifically-named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes and
  • Exempting antique, manually-operated, and permanently disabled weapons

None dare call this pandering.

[Cue, off-stage, left: Here is where a “gun safety” nubbin stands up and dutifully says, “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  Check that.]

Prowler-Trap

That ATF funding? Piece of cake. Boehner signed off on that.

But this bill precisely hinges on a perfect legislative outcome on its solution to the grandfathering issue.  Not just a good outcome.  A perfect outcome.  A carrier landing in a freezing rain.

The “solution” of requiring that all these existing assault weapons be registered under the National Firearms Act depends on their being “dedicated funding for ATF to implement registration.”   In other words, somewhere, someone, somehow, is going to have to come up with the m-o-n-e-y, the funding to make this huge task of registration work.

Hmm…what could go wrong? The House of Representatives is going to drop its bitterly partisan fiscal trench warfare and throw a whole bunch of money at ATF? Call me cynical, but I tend to doubt that.

Why would you not ask for a total ban and then use agreement on funding as a bargaining chip to fall back to NFA registration?

Private law enforcement sales.  If this provision creates an exemption for private sales to individual cops, it just a bad, bad idea.

4) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to—
“(A) the importation for, manufacture for, sale to, transfer to, or possession by the United States or a department or agency of the United States or a State or a department, agency, or political subdivision of a State, or a sale or transfer to or possession by a qualified law enforcement officer employed by the United States or a department or agency of the United States or a State or a department, agency, or political subdivision of a State for purposes of law enforcement (whether on or off duty);

That would assume that law enforcement officers are generically and genetically eradicable “good guys.”

On that count, please check (for a start) “Las Vegas police officer kills wife, son, himself,”
http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/01/22/284974/las-vegas-officer-kills-family-himself/.

This is all hot off the samizdat press and requires further analysis.  More to come after a closer read.

Here is the summary sizzling fresh out of Feinstein’s office:

Summary of Feinstein Assault Weapons Regulatory Act of 2013

Bans the sale, transfer, importation, or manufacturing of:

  • Approximately 150 specifically-named firearms
  • Certain other semiautomatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic
  • Semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds
  • Semiautomatic rifles that are shorter than 30 inches in length

Strengthens the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and state bans by:

  • Moving from a 2-characteristic test to a 1-characteristic test
  • Eliminating the easy-to-remove bayonet mounts and flash suppressors from the characteristics test
  • Banning firearms with “thumbhole stocks” and “bullet buttons” to address attempts to “work around” prior bans
  • Adding a ban on the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines
  • Eliminating the 10-year sunset that allowed the original ban to expire

Bans large-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.

Protects legitimate hunters and the rights of existing gun owners by:

  • Grandfathering weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment
  • Exempting over 900 specifically-named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes and
  • Exempting antique, manually-operated, and permanently disabled weapons

Requires that grandfathered weapons be registered under the National Firearms Act, to include:

  • Background check of owner and any transferee
  • Type and serial number of the firearm
  • Positive identification, including photograph and fingerprint
  • Certification from local law enforcement of identity and that possession would not violate State or local law
  • Dedicated funding for ATF to implement registration

Bans the transfer of grandfathered large-capacity ammunition feeding devices

 Allows states and localities to use Byrne JAG funds to conduct a voluntary buy-back program for grandfathered assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices

Imposes a safe storage requirement for grandfathered firearms

Requires that assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices manufactured after the date of the bill’s enactment be engraved with the serial number and date of manufacture of the weapon

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