The Sounds of Silencers

In case you haven’t noticed, Washington D.C. is a sieve on a sinking ship whose life rafts have holes in them. And I’m not talking about Donald Trump. No, it’s the ATF, also known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explsives, aka BATFE. But they’re going with ATF, and so are we.

On January 20, 2017–the day the Donald was inaugurated–Ronald Turk, Associate Deputy Director (Chief Operating Officer), issued a white paper, titled “Options to Reduce or Modify Firearms Regulations.” Right there on the coversheet, immediately below the words White Paper is the following warning: (Not for public distribution).

For those from another planet, those words mean “Not for public distribution.”

Anyway, here we are two weeks and three days later, and you’re reading about the white paper on my blog. Now you’re going to get to read a few actual paragraphs from the paper. But first I should quote the following, again, from the paper:

Note: The opinions expressed within this white paper are not those of the ATF; they are merely the ideas and opinions of this writer. They are provided for internal use within ATF and DOJ and not intended to be public. They are also general thoughts that cannot be taken as exacting language regarding policy or quotable specifics. Additional specific details can be provided to further these general discussions.

The men and women of ATF are overwhelmingly a fantastic group of hard working civil servants who look to reduce violent crime and ensure public safety. The focus on combating gun violence is key. Fairly regulating the firearms and explosives industries is also important. As the firearms conversations take place over the next few months and years, this paper is offered to provide informal insight on potential productive ways to limit regulation and continue to protect our Second Amendment freedoms, while focusing on ATF’s mission to protect our nation. (Italics and bolding in the original)

As Mr. Turk makes even clearer in the paper’s Executive Summary:

ATF is the only Federal law enforcement agency with a primary mission that directly involves an Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, our actions and policies are appropriately subjected to intense review and scrutiny. This paper serves to provide the new Administration and the Bureau multiple options to consider and discuss regarding firearms regulations specific to ATF. These general thoughts provide potential ways to reduce or modify regulations, or suggest changes that promote commerce and defend the Second Amendment without significant negative impact on ATF’s mission to fight violent firearms crime and regulate the firearms industry. This white paper is intended to provide ideas and provoke conversation; it is not guidance or policy of any kind.

ATF’s enforcement and regulatory efforts are focused on reducing violence and increasing public safety. Positive steps to further reduce gun violence through enforcement or regulation are extremely important but are not the focus of this paper. (Emphasis supplied)

Mr. Turk proceeds to list and discuss 16 items he feels  are worth looking at with the intent of possibly making some changes to the way the ATF fulfills its mission. For purposes of this post, item or paragraph #8 is the most interesting. I’ll quote it in full here:

Silencers: Current Federal law requires ATF to regulate silencers under the NFA. This requires a Federal tax payment of $200 for transfers, ATF approval, and entry of the silencer into a national NFA database. In the past several years, opinions about silencers have changed across the United States. Their use to reduce noise at shooting ranges and applications within the sporting and hunting industry are now well recognized. At present, 42 states generally allow silencers to be used for sporting purposes. The wide acceptance of silencers and corresponding changes in state laws have created substantial demand across the country. This surge in demand has caused ATF to have a significant backlog on silencer applications. ATF’s processing time is now approximately 8 months. ATF has devoted substantial resources in attempts to reduce processing times, spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA processing. Despite these efforts, NFA processing times are widely viewed by applicants and the industry as far too long, resulting in numerous complaints to Congress. Since silencers account for the vast majority of NFA applications, the most direct way to reduce processing times is to reduce the number of silencer applications. In light of the expanding demand and acceptance of silencers, however, that volume is unlikely to diminish unless they are removed from the NFA. While DOJ and ATF have historically not supported removal of items from the NFA, the change in public acceptance of silencers arguably indicates that the reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated.ATF’s experience with the criminal use of silencers also supports reassessing their inclusion in the NFA. On average in the past 10 years, ATF has only recommended 44 defendants a year for prosecution on silencer-related violations; of those, only approximately 6 of the defendants had prior felony convictions. Moreover, consistent with this low number of prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings. Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating NFA classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the GCA.

If such a change were to be considered, a revision in the definition of a silencer would be important. The current definition of a silencer extends to “any combination of [silencer] parts,” as well as “any part intended only for use in” a silencer. Compared to the definition of a firearm, which specifies the frame or receiver is the key regulated part, any individual silencer part is generally regulated just as if it were a completed silencer. Revising the definition could eliminate many of the current issues encountered by silencer manufacturers and their parts suppliers. Specifically, clarifying when a part or combination of parts meets a minimum threshold requiring serialization would be useful. (Emphasis and underlining added)

Have you ever shot a gun that had a silencer (aka suppressor). I have. Once. A 22 caliber handgun. Ffffft! Ffffft! Fffffft! The sound resembled a feral kitten defending itself. Ffffft! Ffffft! And just about as harmless. Surprisingly quiet, but then, why not? A 22 caliber handgun or rifle is pretty quite with or without a silencer.

A silencer on my 357 magnum? That’s another sound altogether. For the uninitiated, silencers don’t really silence anything. They simply suppress sound. Yes, James Bond uses a silencer to “eliminate” the sound of his kill. Hunters and marksmen, on the other hand, use silencers/suppressors to reduce the firearm’s retort so as to protect their ears. And the suppressor just barely does that job, reducing the sound to just below the number of decibels OSHA allows in the workplace. In other words, with the possible exception of the smallest caliber firearms, suppressors still allow for a big enough bang to damage a shooter’s ears over time.

And yet the knives–no guns for these folks–are already out, wielded by people who’ve seen one too many Bond flicks and whose motto is there’s no regulation too strong and too ineffectual for the gun industry.

Good news is, it’s sounding like the ATF might be thinking of listening to more rational people. Let’s hope so. Could save you $200 on your next suppressor purchase.

One Word: Neat – Silencer Shop’s Kiosks for NFA Trust Paperwork

I wrote about Silencer Shop’s kiosks a few months ago. Here’s a video that demonstrates how they work. The title of the video is a bit misleading. You don’t set up or buy an NFA firearms trust on the Kiosk, rather you initiate the government-required paperwork–your Form 4, for example– so you can use your trust to purchase an NFA item.

Justice Breyer’s Abortion Reasoning as Applied to Gun Control

STOP_signSupreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the court’s majority opinion today in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case in which the plaintiff challenged the “admitting-privileges” and “surgical-center” requirements that were part of legislation enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Those requirements, the Legislature said, were to ensure safer practices by Texas abortion providers and prevent atrocities of the sort carried out by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a physician convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania because of his abominable–there’s no other word–abortion practices.

I won’t dwell on the Gosnell case. He’s now in jail, as he should be. What’s interesting to me is a bit of reasoning Justice Breyer used to answer the dissent in the Hellerstedt case. His discussion of Gosnell begins on page 27 of his opinion. After a brief, quite sanitary catalogue of Gosnell’s crimes, Bryer writes:

Gosnell’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.

Now imagine, if you can, Breyer writing the following:

Omar Mateen’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.

I can’t imagine it. Even though the constitutional right to abortion had to be “found” in the Constitution, while the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is explicitly stated in the 2nd Amendment, the first right is in favor, the second is not. Therefore, though there is little if any evidence–and that, disputed–that additional background checks, secret terrorist watch lists, and assault weapons bans would have prevented recent mass shootings or will prevent future ones, those proposed “extra layer[s] of regulation” will withstand judicial scrutiny, if Justice Breyer has anything to say about it. At least that’s how I’ll be betting.

While we’re at it, let me share another item from the news. The other day I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show as I drove south on I-15. They were discussing gun control in light of the recent tragedy in Orlando. The host read the following e-mail from a listener in Texas

We have another email also from Brandy in Texas, who writes, many shooters, including the Orlando shooter, had domestic violence in their past, and most victims of mass shootings are women and children shot in domestic violence incidents. Can we pass a federal law to prevent domestic violence offenders from getting or keeping guns?

I almost wrecked. The e-mail captured what for me is the most frustrating thing about the gun control debate: Those in favor know little or nothing about existing gun control laws. Fortunately, Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA who is in favor of some new gun control measures, took advantage of this particular teaching moment:

Yes, we do have federal laws already on the books to stop domestic abusers from possessing firearms. You can, if you are subject to domestic violence restraining order, under federal law, then you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. You can also have your firearm taken away from you on a temporary basis after what’s known as an ex parte hearing. That’s a hearing in which the person who’s effected does not get a say or does not have representation.

And so, we do have laws in effect. I believe that in the current situation with regards to Orlando, and I could be wrong about the facts, but my understanding is is that he was never charged and convicted with any crime of domestic violence.

And was not subject to any kind of domestic violence restraining order. So, it might not have caught him, but it is right to point out that when there are certain kinds of violence, that if we see evidence of, we should take the guns away from that person because they’re likely to engage in more serious forms of violence with that firearm.

Winkler is correct. Section 922 (d)(8)-(9) and (g)(8)-(9) does exactly what Winkler says: People who have been charged with domestic violence, including harassment, stalking, threatening, and the like, AND who have at least had an opportunity for a hearing AND who, as a result, either are subject to a court order related to that behavior or have been convicted CANNOT possess firearms.

Of course, that brings us full circle. According to Breyer–and Breyer’s correct in this–“Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures [such as laws against stalking and domestic violence], are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by [Section 922 or by] a new overlay of [gun control] regulations.” And that’s the problem gun control can’t solve.

41 F: Fingerprints and Photographs Quick as a Wink – Somebody’s Taking Care of Their Customers

WqrSS-660x657ell, somebody’s on the ball. The people at Silencershop.com just announced some new technology they developed that will make complying with ATF 41F much easier for the responsible persons of trusts and entities to submit their fingerprints and photographs.

Sometime before July 13th, when ’41F’ finally takes effect, Silencer Shop will ship out 300 fingerprint-scanning kiosks to select Silencer Shop ‘Powered By’ dealers across the country. Then, after July 13th, when a customer purchases a suppressor from the Silencer Shop website, they select their local dealer of choice, submit payment for both the suppressor(s) and NFA transfer tax(es) and if necessary, uploads their trust or LLC documents. In return, Silencer Shop will email each customer a unique QR code that they can take to those select Powered By dealers to scan and then follow the instructions to use the kiosk to capture an FBI-approved set of fingerprints. (Certain restrictions apply and will be outlined prior to launch.)

The customer’s prints are then securely transmitted to Silencer Shop’s headquarters and stored offline. All of your information is then submitted along with the BATFE Form 4 to initiate the transfer application process. The result is that customers and if needed, their ‘responsible persons’ (we’ll get to that part) will only have to be fingerprinted once no matter how many silencers they buy over the course of months and years to come. And since individuals no longer require a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) sign-off, both individuals and entities will also be able to utilize the kiosk system.

The photograph requirement will be addressed by a custom Silencer Shop App for iOS and Android that will take passport-sized images that will also be transmitted to Silencer Shop HQ. Per the BATFE rules, every two years the photographs will be need to be retaken. Customers will simply use the Silencer Shop App to grab another selfie.

Sounds cool to me. Free enterprise at its best–in spite of the obstacles.

Required Reading, Then and Now

Jefferson LCBTwo things interest me about the two quotes below: First, that original material was written in 1764–in Italy–by Cesare Beccaria in his treatise On Crimes and Punishments. Yes, I know. It sounds like something right out of an NRA press release in response to yet another move by the [name your president] to implement by executive order more “common sense” restrictions on firearms. But no, Beccaria was a political philosopher of some renown, whose work many of the Founders thought important enough to use as source material for the founding documents of this nation. Jefferson, for one, copied the passage below into his Legal Commonplace Book, a sort of journal the author of the Declaration of Independence used to keep track of important ideas–I assume his and of others. Jefferson entered the Beccaria quote into his journal in the original Italian. The first quote below is the English translation of Italian, which appeared in in 1809 and which Jefferson owned.

That brings me to the second interesting thing: The two quotes are essentially the same quote from Beccaria, the first an 1809 translation, the second a 1963 translation. You can find the second all over the Internet. (I originally found it in a book I’m reading, That Every Man Be Armed by Stephen P. Holbrook, an excellent history of the Second Amendment, going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans.)

So you can easily notice the differences, I’ve color keyed the corresponding words in each translation. (And yes, I realize that the second translation has an ellipsis.) I prefer the second, newer, and I’d say more elegant translation. Whatever your preference, Becarria offers up some good food for thought, even today.

“A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniencies, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, who dares say to reason, ‘Be thou a slave;’ who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.

The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? and does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.”

Though you can find the following translation of the quote by Paolucci in a number of places, I found it here.

False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes….Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

For those who would prefer practicing their Italian, here’s the quote in Italian, as it appeared in Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book:

“Falsa idea di utilità è quella, che sacrifica mille vantaggi reali, per un inconveniente o immaginario, o di poca conseguenza, che toglierebbe agli uomini il fuoco perchè incendia, e l’acqua perchè annega; che non ripara ai mali, che col distruggere. Le leggi, che proibiscono di portar le armi, sono leggi di tal natura; esse non disarmano che i non inclinati, nè determinati ai delitti, mentre coloro che hanno il coraggio di poter violare le leggi più sacre della umanità è le più importanti del codice, come rispetteranno le minori, e le puramente arbitrarie? Queste peggiorano la condizione degli assaliti migliorando quella degli assalitori, non iscemano gli omicidi, ma gli accrescono, perchè è maggiore la confidenza nell’assalire i disarmati, che gli armati. Queste si chiaman leggi, non preventrici, ma paurose dei delitti, che nascono dalla tumultuosa impressione di alcuni fatti particolari, non dalla ragionata meditazione degl’inconvenienti, ed avvantaggi di un decreto universale.”

Shipping Firearms: It’s Complicated

What follows is an attempt to clarify a confusing area of firearms law–the issue of private, unlicensed persons mailing firearms. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether an unlicensed person–that is, a person without a Federal Firearms License or FFL–can mail or ship firearms to another unlicensed person. Before we attempt to cut through the confusion, we offer this little caveat: the discussion below does not take into account state firearms laws, which vary. What follows concerns federal law.

So, can an unlicensed person mail or ship a firearm to another unlicensed person without an FFL as an intermediary?

Short Answer

Legally, yes, if intrastate. Practically . . . it’s complicated. Fed-ex

Longer Answer

Legally, an unlicensed person in, say, Wyoming, can ship a firearm to another unlicensed resident of Wyoming, so long as the transferor “does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the transferee is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under federal law” (B1 and B7, pg. 197, ATF Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, 2014 (Reference Guide); see also the citations to the USC and the CFR at B1 and B7). In other words, unlicensed persons or non-FFLs can legally ship firearms INTRASTATE to other non-FFLs. However, if that same unlicensed transferor wanted to ship that same firearm to someone in Utah or Florida–that is, INTERSTATE–s/he would have to ship the firearm to an FFL in Utah or Florida. The law and commentary I’ve cited above is pretty clear on this point–though apparently not to everybody.

Where things get confusing is on the practical side. Practically speaking, if we’re talking about shotguns or rifles–long guns, if you will–a Wyoming resident can mail to a Wyoming resident without an FFL. If it’s a handgun, though, that unlicensed person in Wyoming is probably going to have to ship the gun to an FFL in Wyoming as well–or have a face-to-face meet up with the buyer/transferee–because, as I said, it’s complicated.

You see, there’s the USPS and then there are common carriers like Fed-Ex who service the public at large and contract carriers like trucking companies who service a short list of clients. The Reference Guide says common or contract carriers can transport handguns; the USPS can’t.USPS

Title 18 USC §1715, the law governing the US Postal Service and firearms, is quite explicit. Except in very limited circumstances,

Pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed on the person are nonmailable and shall not be deposited in or carried by the mails or delivered by any officer or employee of the Postal Service.  (Emphasis added)

However, our unlicensed person can mail shotguns and rifles to another unlicensed person in the same state via the USPS, subject to certain requirements. Both the ATF (see B6, pg. 197 of the Reference Guide cited above) and the USPS give thumbs up to the process. And handguns? Well, the AFT says that “a common or contract carrier must be used to ship a handgun” whether it’s INTRASTATE to an unlicensed person or INTERSTATE to an FFL (B7, pg. 197 Reference Guide).

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) at least the large common carriers are not so willing participants in the shipment of firearms–handguns or long guns. Both Fed-Ex and UPS clearly state that they will only ship if an FFL is at the receiving end, regardless of whether the shipment is INTRASTATE or INTERSTATE.UPS

Of course, Fed-Ex and UPS are not the only common carriers around. Check your local listings. If you find another, probably smaller or local carrier, they may allow an unlicensed person to ship both handguns and long guns to an unlicensed person who lives in the same state without the FFL intermediary. The law allows them to that. The question is do their internal policies? You’re going to have to ask around.

Contract carriers, trucking companies and the like? That’s a concern for another day.

One more point worth noting: Transfers between unlicensed persons that go through an FFL are subject to background checks–with few exceptions. Thus, given that

  • at least the larger common carriers require that all firearm shipments–intra and interstate–between unlicensed persons go through an FFL,
  • the USPS doesn’t ship handguns at all and requires interstate shipments go through an FFL,
  • Federal law requires that all interstate transfers between unlicensed persons go though an FFL,
  • even simple transfers–no money exchanged–between residents of different states must go through an FFL, and
  • at least 18 states and the District of Columbia require all or most intrastate transfers between unlicensed persons go through an FFL,

few firearms transfers legally escape background checks. And that includes online purchases through online outlets like Gunbroker.com that cater to private sellers. In fact, as explained in the Reference Guide:

An unlicensed person who is not prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms may purchase a rearm from an out–of–State source, provided the transfer takes place through a Federal rearms licensee in his or her State of residence. (B3, pg. 197)

Yes, some do escape and fall into the wrong hands. The law is not the only ass, after all.

To this end–the end of keeping firearms out of the hands of asses–the ATF encourages federal firearms licencees (FFLs) to work with private sellers to facilitate background checks on private buyers (see page 175-176 of the Reference Guide for more). Not a bad idea, especially if you–the private seller–are worried about bona fides of a potential buyer. Could save you and someone else a lot of heartache.

How about shipping to yourself? Well, as they say, that’s different. Federal law–remember, we’re talking only about Federal law–says that you can ship interstate to yourself for your own use to engage “in hunting or other lawful activity,” but according to question B8, pg. 198 of the Reference Guide:

The package should be addressed to the owner 1in the care of’ the out–of–State resident. Upon reaching its destination, persons other than the owner may not open the package or take possession of the firearm. (emphasis added)

Likewise, a gun owner moving from one state to another may “may transport or ship the firearm interstate” and if using a moving company, “must notify the mover that firearms are being transported” (B9, pg. 198).

And NFA firearms? Do the same rules apply? Of course, if any of the firearms you want to ship or transport are of the NFA variety, then you “must have prior approval from ATF.” The prior approval process does not apply to suppressors/silencers, by the way (CFR §478.28).

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