Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gun Laws and Gunnie Risks

Including a Retraction

I talked about risk the other day: the everyday risks we shooters are used to. There is one risk I didn’t cover, legal. Yesterday, I posted on my take on repealing laws, now I plan to talk about risks laws impose on us gun nuts.

Gun laws are arcane and easy to break accidentally. A seemingly innocent transaction can violate Federal law and put your butt in a jail cell for ten years. State laws are plentiful and carry serious penalties not the least of which can bar you from firearms ownership for life with no opportunity to restore those rights. Many are paperwork violations that involve no intent to harm another person.

Take a look at the CNN flap (this page has all the links you'll need to get up to speed on the story). The gist is that CNN might have broken one or more Federal gun laws when they did a story on .50 caliber rifles. The latest word is that CNN may have manipulated the story, but not broke any laws. The jury, so to speak, is still out and this will be an unfolding story for quite some time.

I bring it up to point out that many bloggers, including attorneys, had to parse and apply Federal gun laws to this situation. It took a certain amount of debate to determine if one or more Federal laws may have been broken based on how CNN described its transaction.

There are also many state laws that gunnies can violate. Further, an activity may be completely legal in one state, but get you busted in another. When Bill and I moved from Texas to Massachusetts, we were skating on thin ice when dealing with licensing issues in Massachusetts. State guns laws are the biggest reason we live in New Hampshire today.

Gunnies face legal risks when they buy a gun, transport one, or shoot one depending on how they do these activities. The laws are too complicated for most laymen to read with any degree of precision and yet the ATF, prosecutors, and police prosecute us on laws that are so poorly written that one wonders if they are written that way on purpose.

Here is a sample of Massachusetts state law:
(b) A Class B license shall entitle a holder thereof to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry: (i) non-large capacity firearms and feeding devices and ammunition therefor, for all lawful purposes, subject to such restrictions relative to the possession, use or carrying of such firearm as the licensing authority deems proper; provided, however, that a Class B license shall not entitle the holder thereof to carry or possess a loaded firearm in a concealed manner in any public way or place; and provided further, that a Class B license shall not entitle the holder thereof to possess a large capacity firearm, except under a Class A club license issued under this section or under the direct supervision of a holder of a valid Class A license at an incorporated shooting club or licensed shooting range; and (ii) rifles and shotguns, including large capacity rifles and shotguns, and feeding devices and ammunition therefor, for all lawful purposes; provided, however, that the licensing authority may impose such restrictions relative to the possession, use or carrying of large capacity rifles and shotguns as he deems proper. A violation of a restriction provided under this paragraph, or a restriction imposed by the licensing authority under the provisions of this paragraph, shall be cause for suspension or revocation and shall, unless otherwise provided, be punished by a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $10,000; provided, however, that the provisions of section 10 of chapter 269 shall not apply to such violation.

Hmmm…. I can read it; I can even understand it, but wading through page after page of this text (about 18 pages in an ATF publication) and not going crazy is an admirable feat. Also, you have to know laws exist to find and read them (thank heavens for the Internet). This arcane nature of guns laws leads to two things:
1) Shooters violate laws because they do not know the law and open themselves to prosecution, and;
2) A shooter becomes “law shy” and misses out on activities that are actually legal.

Here is an example of the latter and a retraction to at least part of this post in which I talked about Massachusetts forbidding use of human-shaped targets by other than members of law enforcement in the line of duty. Many commercial ranges and gun shops don’t offer human-shaped targets for this reason.

A reliable source told me that while there is such a law in Massachusetts, the restriction on paper targets is limited only to “a licensed shooting club.” Such a club is where one member gets a Class A license and loans guns to other club members who shoot under the licensee’s supervision, among other possible activities. If you own a commercial range or gun shop and want to offer human-shaped targets, you can. Remember, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (click here for the law—paragraph beginning “The colonel…”). If a cop demands you remove the targets, that cop probably doesn’t know the law either. Incidentally, any business dealing with guns in Massachusetts should have a lawyer on speed dial.

This example is just one problem with today’s gun laws. Other examples can be named. A small gun part like an auto-sear is legally considered the same as a machine gun. The part is smaller than a business card and incapable of doing anything other than proving gravity, but owning an unregistered one will put you in jail. Shipping a gun you bought on a hunting trip can result in a felony depending on how you do it.

Yesterday’s post (linked above) talked about repealing gun laws. I also strongly advocate the rewriting of gun laws to make them readable by laypersons. Triggerfinger has some ideas on how we could change gun laws.

It shouldn’t take three years of law school to stay out of jail. Laws shouldn’t be so plentiful and so arcane that people are scared of doing something that is completely legal. It is time for reform.

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