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We Already Have the Law to Get Weapons of War Off Our Streets
We've done it before...
Steven Spainhouer’s son worked at one of the stores in the Allen, Texas shopping mall chosen by America’s most recent mass shooter (as of Saturday: there were seven this weekend).
He arrived at the mall just after the neo-nazi murderer had slaughtered several people, sometimes ripping their bodies and faces into an indistinguishable mass of flesh with his military style ammunition.
The killer had moved on into the mall, Steven Spainhouer was probably thinking, when he saw a 5-year-old child.
“The first girl I walked up to was crouched down covering her head in the bushes, so I felt for a pulse,” Spainhouer, who is trained in CPR, told CBS News, adding that he then “pulled her head to the side and she had no face.”
Next, he found a dead woman who appeared to be lying across a young boy.
“When I rolled the mother over, he came out,” Spainhouer told CBS reporter JD Miles. “I asked him if he was OK and he said, ‘My mom is hurt, my mom is hurt.’ Rather than traumatize him any more, I pulled him around the corner, sat him down, and he was covered from head to toe.”
The child looked, Spainhouer said, “Like somebody poured blood on him.”
His mother’s blood. His dead mother who will never again hold or comfort that little boy for the rest of his life.
All because a white supremacist with a “Right Wing Death Squad” patch — commonly worn by Proud Boys — across his chest decided to shoot up a Texas shopping center with a mass-market version of the rifle the Army developed in the 1960s for hunting people in Vietnam.
In response to the unimaginable horror that weapon of war inflicted on these humans, Republican Congressman Keith Self — who represents Allen, Texas in the US House of Representatives — stepped up to a microphone and explicitly refused to say he’d do anything about the American slaughter:
“Our prayers are with the victims and their families and all law enforcement on the scene.”
Other Texas Republicans offered similar sentiments. Not even one of these cowards mentioned the word “gun” or promised to do a single damn thing.
Republican Governor Abbott minimized the tragedy, saying, “Our hearts are with the people of Allen, Texas tonight during this unspeakable tragedy.”
Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick might as well have spit on the corpses, asking Texans to, “Please join me in mourning the victims of the unspeakable tragedy in Allen.”
Republican Senator John Cornyn, as he has so many times before, ignored the AR15 that made such a quick and complete slaughter possible, saying instead,“I am grieving with the Allen community tonight…”
Republican Senator Ted Cruz slipped into his usual sanctimonious acceptable-to-the-NRA word salad: “Heidi and I are praying for the families of the victims of the horrific mall shooting in Allen, Texas. We pray also for the broader Collin County community that's in shock from this tragedy.”
Indicted bribe-taker and fraudster Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton also talked like this slaughter was the result of some sort of bizarre natural disaster, saying, “Pray for Allen, Texas. Pray for these families and law enforcement…”
Thoughts and prayers won’t do a damn thing. Coming from these mealy-mouthed Republicans, they don’t even comfort the families. All they do is prepare Texas for the next massacre.
Representing the rest of America, singer-songwriter Ricky Davila tweeted a list of Republican politicians and the money they took from the NRA, adding:
“Fuck their thoughts and prayers.”
It turns out this slaughter isn’t really all that new or unique to the 21st century. America was once before awash in weapons of war, sparking a national fad of robbery and murder much like today’s trend of mass shootings.
We still remember their names:
— Bonnie and Clyde gunned down civilians and cops as they cut a bloody swath across the Midwest with their full-auto .30-06 fire from M1918 Browning Automatic Rifles, semiautomatic shotguns, and .45 ACP rounds from full-auto M1911 handguns.
— Machine Gun Kelly preferred the Thompson machine gun to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible.
— So did John Dillinger, who’s famous “Tommy Gun” has been recreated and is sold online today.
— Baby Face Nelson liked to kill FBI agents with his fully automatic .45 pistol.
— Pretty Boy Floyd’s famous weapon was an automatic Colt pistol.
— Ma Barker, who as a child was devastated when her hero Jesse James was killed in 1882, couldn’t hold a rifle (she was only 5’ 4” tall) so also used an automatic handgun.
— Al Capone preferred to carry a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun, letting his gang do the really bloody work with their automatic rifles and shotguns.
Collectively, through the late 1920s and early 1930s, these and hundreds of other less-well-remembered killers used weapons developed for the battlefield around the time of the Civil War and World War I to spill blood all across America. Weapons the Founders of America and Framers of the Constitution couldn’t have dreamed of.
And then America said, “Enough!”
In 1934, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the National Firearms Act (NFA), which didn’t outlaw even one single gun. Instead, it put a tax on automatic weapons, sawed-off shotguns, and a variety of other weapons of war. That’s all it took to stop the slaughter.
None of the weapons listed in the NFA are “illegal.” But they are under control.
I’ve legally held and fired the same fully automatic Thompson Machine Gun like Machine Gun Kelly and John Dillinger used, among others.
Many gun ranges offer rentals if you want to try target practice with them: I shot them at a public gun range in Marietta, Georgia when, back in the 1980s, I was working on my Georgia private detective license (which I held for 2 years while writing some pretty awful novels about a PI) and running an advertising agency.
Most of the people shooting those fully automatic weapons, in fact, looked pretty average, generally middle-class; there was even racial diversity and a lot of women.
It was perfectly legal because the owner of the shooting range had paid the tax to get the federal license.
And that’s where we can do something today by simply expanding the scope of the weapons covered by the NFA.
To be eligible to pay the tax, you must first acquire a Federal Firearms License.
Step one is to fill out an application with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which you can find here. You pay a fee that can range from $30 to $3000 (most are $200 for fully automatic weapons, a number that hasn’t changed since 1934), provide a photo, and submit your fingerprints.
After you’ve been checked out, you’ll be called in for an in-person interview with an ATF Industry Operations Investigator, who will vet you for ownership of your very own fully automatic machine gun.
There were no gun buy-back programs back in the 1930s, and nobody went door-to-door confiscating guns.
But once everybody understood that it was illegal to sell or possess an automatic or sawed-off weapon of war without first getting a license and paying the tax, they simply started to disappear from the American scene (outside of licensed shooting ranges like today).
Which brings us to a simple proposal. When enough ethical politicians hold office to pull it off (hopefully after the 2024 election), simply amend the National Firearms Act to include semiautomatic weapons along with the existing category of fully automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns.
After all, most semiautomatic weapons were originally developed for warfare: they are, pure and simple, designed to kill as many people as fast as possible, whether they be handguns or long rifles. (There are a handful of “sort of” semiautomatic low-capacity rifles commonly used for hunting; they could be exempted.)
This would not conflict with the 2nd Amendment or even the Heller decision, as bizarre and twisted as it was, as I document in The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment. It’s perfectly legal.
And it could take us back in time to a less deadly America.
Fire up Netflix or Amazon Prime and watch a few cop shows from the 1970s and early 1980s. McMillian and Wife, Adam 12, Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, etc.
Semiautomatic weapons were few and far between back then because they were so hard to get and expensive: they were widely acknowledged as purely for the battlefield. Cops carried revolvers, as did criminals. Rifles were mostly bolt-, lever-, and pump-action.
And mass shootings almost never happened.
Semiautomatic weapons are very profitable for their manufacturers, and they’re the weapon of choice for mass- and school-shooters. Most are designed specifically to hunt and kill human beings.
Which is why we shouldn’t allow them to stay on our streets without restrictions. Let’s take them out of general civilian circulation, just as we did machine guns back in the day.
If you’re buying a gun to protect yourself or your home (a bad idea: guns in the home are far more likely to be used against a resident than a bad guy), a simple handgun is convenient and works just fine.
And any idiot who walks into the woods with an AR-style rifle will be laughed out of the forest by actual sportsmen: there’s nothing “sporting” about mowing down deer or rabbits with a giant magazine and .223 ammo. (Not to mention what it does to the meat and hides.)
In fact, the groups calling for continuing the unregulated status of semiautomatic weapons of war are mostly made up of people actually planning seditious warfare against the United States.
Members of the so-called “militia movement” and other crackpots believe the BS story the NRA started peddling in the mid-1970s that the 2nd Amendment was written so average citizens could kill “tyrannical” politicians and American police enforcing their laws.
The reality is the exact opposite: the Constitution itself contains numerous references to the requirement of the government to put down insurrections and rebellions by people like today’s Proud Boys and Three Percenters.
Every one of the 50 states today explicitly outlaws unregulated civilian militias, either by constitution or law or both. Virginia, the home of Madison, Jefferson, Henry, Mason, Washington, etc., was the first, putting into their constitution in 1776:
“That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.” [emphasis mine]
Forty-eight of the 50 states have similar clauses in their constitutions requiring any militia in the state to be subordinate to civilian authorities: typically the governor, occasionally the legislature, or both. (Georgia and New York are the exceptions.)
Twenty-nine states have specific laws outlawing private militias altogether (Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming).
Twenty-five states, as the Brennan Center for Justice notes:
“[H]ave laws that generally prohibit teaching, demonstrating, instructing, training, and practicing in the use of firearms, explosives, or techniques capable of causing injury or death, for use during or in furtherance of a civil disorder.”
(They include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington.)
As you can see from this history, the last thing the Founders — and politicians in every state over the past 200+ years — thought was that Americans should be armed with weapons of war to fight against the government that they themselves created.
And it’s not like this is a new issue: back in 1886 the US Supreme Court ruled, in Presser v Illinois (upholding state anti-militia laws), that:
“It cannot be successfully questioned that the state governments … have also the power to control and regulate the organization, drilling, and parading of military bodies and associations, except when such bodies or associations are authorized by the militia laws of the United States.
“The exercise of this power by the states is necessary to the public peace, safety, and good order. To deny the power would be to deny the right of the state to disperse assemblages organized for sedition and treason, and the right to suppress armed mobs bent on riot and rapine.”
Back in 1907, when the Klan was the main white supremacist militia of the day (although it operated under multiple different names in various states), the Washington Supreme Court ruled that:
“Armed bodies of men are a menace to the public. Their mere presence is fraught with danger, and the state has wisely reserved to itself the right to organize, maintain, and employ them.”
In other words, there is not one single legal rationale to keep weapons of war on the streets of America; if anything, doing so is antithetical to our Constitution and over 200 years of law, both state and federal.
It’s time to get these weapons of war off our streets, and we have the tool to do it in the National Firearms Act.
For years I’ve suggested we should treat guns like cars: require registration, a shooter’s license, and liability insurance. That’s still a good idea, but we must also figure out how to rid our towns and cities of these ultra-deadly weapons of war. This could do it.
We already have the law in place, and a sweeping change could come across our nation with a single tweak.
Had we done this a year ago, a little boy in Texas would still have his mother, and a five year old girl would still have her face.
Let your members of Congress know.