Well Regulated: The NFA hearings (4/6): 5/14/1934

**This is the fourth installment of a six-part series. In order to understand the full context of the following edition of Well Regulated, please read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.**

    Readers who have read the entirety of this series will remember Part 1, which included the text of H.R. 9066 as it stood before the committee for the April 16 and 18 hearings. When the committee reconvened to discuss the bill again almost a month later, it was presented with an amended draft. This draft was the subject of the third day of hearings, which saw Assistant Attorney General Joseph Keenan questioned and providing testimony, as well as Chairman of the National Crime Commission J. Weston Allen, who gave a statement which would be continued the next day (this will be discussed in the next week’s installment). Those who have read the entire series so far will recognize many of the same arguments and issues being rehashed in this section of testimony. Efforts have been made to avoid needless repetition of the same arguments and rebuttals, so having read the entire series is very important.

The amended bill

Note: The following is the complete amended bill with commentary provided in bold, so as to distinguish it from the text of the bill.

A BILL To provide for the taxation of manufacturers, importers, and dealers in small firearms and machine guns, to tax the sale or other disposal of such weapons, and to restrict importation and regulate interstate transportation thereof

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that for the purposes of this act the term “firearm” means a pistol or revolver of more than .22 caliber rim fire, a shotgun or rifle having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, or any other firearm capable of being concealed on the person, a firearm muffler or firearm silencer, or a machine gun.

This definition is materially different from both the definition used in H.R. 9066 originally and the current law. The National Firearms Act (NFA) does not currently regulate handguns, but the original bill did. However, the original did not include the qualification of “more than .22 caliber rim fire” which was a very peculiar addition. There is no clarification in the bill of what the term “more than” means in this context – larger diameter, greater bullet mass, higher velocity. Sub .22 caliber cartridges do exist, but are relatively modern inventions, such as the .17HMR which was only introduced in 2002. Clumsy and unclear wording aside, the addition of a barrel length restriction on rifles was new to this draft of the bill. Currently, the NFA defines a short-barreled rifle (SBR) as having a barrel below 16”. The introduction of SBRs into the NFA was first brought up by Harold Knutson (MN-R) on April 16, 1934, while questioning Attorney General Homer S. Cummings.

The term “machine gun” means any weapon which shoots, or is designed to shoot, automatically or semiautomatically, more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.

The definition of a machine gun as it appeared in the revised draft also varies significantly from both the original and the current definition. Currently, machine guns are defined as

“any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” 

But the original bill defined machine guns as:

“any weapon designed to shoot automatically or semiautomatically twelve or more shots without reloading.”

This amended definition was clearly influenced by the testimony of Karl Frederick, who proposed the definition:

“any firearm by whatever name known, loaded or unloaded, which shoots automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

Frederick opposed the inclusion of semiautomatic firearms into the definition of a machine gun, and his technical qualifications were introduced into the bill. The magazine capacity qualification was discussed in the testimony/questioning of both Cummings and Frederick, and evidently influenced the amended draft.

The term “person” includes a partnership, company, association, or corporation, as well as a natural person.

The term “continental United States” means the States of the United States and the District of Columbia.

The term “importer” means any person who imports or brings firearms into the continental United States, for sale.

The term “manufacturer” means any person who is engaged within the continental United States in the manufacture of firearms, or who otherwise produces therein any firearm for sale or disposition.

The term “dealer” means any person not a manufacturer or importer engaged within the continental United States in the business of selling firearms. The term “dealer” shall include wholesalers, pawnbrokers, and dealers in used firearms.

The term “interstate commerce” means transportation from any State or Territory or District, or any insular possession of the United States (including the Philippine Islands), to any other State or to the District of Columbia.

The term “Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.

The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury.

The term “to transfer” or “transferred” shall Include to sell, assign, pledge, lease, loan, give away, or otherwise dispose of.

SEC. 2. (a) Within fifteen days after the effective date of this Act, or upon first engaging In business, and thereafter on or before the 1st day of July of each year, every importer, manufacturer, and dealer in firearms shall register with the collector of Internal revenue for each district in which such business is to be carried on, his name or style, principal place of business, and places of business in such district, and pay a special tax at the following rates: Importers or manufacturers, $1,000 a year; dealers, other than pawnbrokers, $200 a year; pawnbrokers, $300 a year. Where the tax is payable on the 1st day of July in any year it shall be computed for one year; where the tax is payable on any other day it shall be computed proportionately from the 1st day of the month in which the liability to the tax accrued to the 1st day of July following.

In the original bill, no amounts were set for any of the taxes imposed on businesses, or transfers. This was discussed extensively in the testimony of both Cummings and Frederick. Frederick warned that a high rate of taxation would put almost all small gun dealers out of business, whereas Cummings said “I would like to put those people out of business, if I could.” Evidently, the committee sided with Cummings’ desire to disenfranchise the poor and working class. 

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person required to register under the provisions of this section to import, manufacture, or deal in firearms without having registered and paid the tax imposed by this section.

SEC. 3. (a) There shall be levied, collected, and paid upon firearms transferred In the continental United States a tax at the rate of $200 per machine gun and $1 per other firearm, such tax to be paid by the person so disposing thereof, and to represented by appropriate stamps to be provided by the Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary; and the stamps herein provided shall be affixed to the order for such firearm, hereinafter provided for. The tax imposed by this section shall be in addition to any import duty imposed on such firearm.

Currently, the tax for all NFA items is $200, except “any other weapons” (AOWs), which have a $5 transfer tax. In his testimony, Karl Frederick recommended a nominal tax for NFA items other than machine guns of less than $1 (amounts specifically mentioned were 10, 15, and 25 cents).

(b) All provisions of law (including those relating to special taxes, to the assessments, collection, remission, and refund of internal-revenue taxes, to the engraving, issuance, sale, accountability, cancelation, and distribution of tax-paid stamps provided for in the internal revenue laws, and to penalties) applicable with respect to the taxes imposed by section 1 of the Act of December 17, 1914, as amended (U.S.C., Supp. VII, title 26, secs. 1040 and 1383), and all other provisions of the internal revenue laws shall, insofar as not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act be applicable with respect to the taxes imposed by this Act.

SEC. 4. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to transfer a firearm except In pursuance of a written order from the person seeking to obtain such article, on an application form issued in blank in duplicate for that purpose by the Commissioner. Such order shall identify the applicant by such means of identification as may be prescribed by regulations under this Act: Provided, That, if the applicant is an individual, such identification shall include fingerprints thereof.

(b) The Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary, shall cause suitable forms to be prepared for the purposes above mentioned, and shall cause the same to be distributed to collectors of internal revenue, to post offices, and to such associations, designated by the Commissioner, as, in good faith, are organized for the purpose of, and are engaged in, target shooting or hunting.

(c) Every person so transferring a firearm shall set forth in each copy of such order the manufacturer’s number or other mark Identifying such firearm, and shall forward a copy of such order to the Commissioner. The original thereof with stamps affixed, shall be returned to the applicant.

(d) No person shall transfer a firearm which has previously been transferred on or after the effective date of this Act, unless such person, in addition to complying with subsection (b), transfers therewith the stamp-affixed order provided for In this section for each such prior disposal, in compliance with such regulations as may be prescribed under this Act for proof of payment of all taxes on such firearms.

(e) If the transfer of a firearm is exempted from the provisions of this Act as provided in section 13 hereof, the person transferring such firearm shall notify the Commissioner of the name and address of the applicant, the number or other mark identifying such firearm, and the date of its disposal, and shall file with the Commissioner such documents in proof thereof as the Commissioner may by regulations prescribe.

(f) Importers, manufacturers, and dealers who have registered and paid the tax as provided for in section 2 (a) of this Act shall not be required to conform to the provisions of this section with respect to transactions in firearms with dealers, but shall keep such records and make such reports regarding such transactions as may be prescribed by regulations under this Act.

SEC. 5. (a) Within four months after the effective date of this Act every person. possessing a firearm shall register, with the collector of the district in which he resides, the number or other mark identifying such firearm, together with his name, address, place where such weapon is usually kept, and place of business or employment, and, if such person is other than a natural person, the name and home address of an executive officer thereof: Provided, That no person shall be required to register under this section with respect to any firearm acquired after the effective date of, and in conformity with the provisions of, this Act.

(b) Whenever on trial for a violation of section 6 hereof the defendant is shown to have or to have had possession of such firearm at any time after such period of four months without having registered as required by this section, such possession shall create a presumption that such firearm came into the possession of the defendant subsequent to the effective date of this Act, but this presumption shall not be conclusive.

SEC. 6. It shall be unlawful for any person to receive or possess any firearm which has at any time been transferred in violation of sections 3 and 4 of this Act.

SEC. 7. Any firearm which has at any time been transferred in violation of the provisions of this Act shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture, and all the provisions of internal-revenue laws relating to searches, seizures, and forfeiture of unstamped articles are extended to and made to apply to the articles taxed under this Act. and the persons to whom this Act applies.

SEC. 8 (a) Each manufacturer and Importer of a firearm shall identify it with a number or other identification mark approved by the Commissioner, such number or mark to be stamped or otherwise placed thereon in a manner approved by the Commissioner.

(b) It shall be unlawful for anyone to obliterate, remove, change, or alter such number or other identification mark. Whenever on trial for a violation of this subsection the defendant is shown to have or to have had possession of such firearm upon which such number or mark shall have been obliterated, removed, changed or altered, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction, unless the defendant explains such possession to the satisfaction of the Jury.

SEC. 9. Importers, manufacturers, and dealers shall keep such books and records and render such returns in relation to the transactions in firearms specified in this Act as the Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary, may by regulations require.

SEC. 10. (a) No firearms shall be imported or brought into the United States or any Territory under its control or Jurisdiction (including the Philippine Islands), except that, under regulations prescribed by the Secretary, any firearm may be so imported or brought in when

(1) the purpose thereof is shown to be lawful and

(2) such firearm is unique or of a type which cannot be obtained within the United States or such Territory.

(b) It shall be unlawful

(1) fraudulently or knowingly to import or bring any firearm into the United States or any Territory under its control or jurisdiction, in violation of the provisions of this Act; or

(2) knowingly to assist in so doing; or

(3) to receive, conceal, buy, sell, or in any manner facilitate the transportation, concealment, or sale of any such firearm after being imported or brought in, knowing the same to have been imported contrary to law. Whenever on trial for a violation of this section the defendant is shown to have or to have had possession of such imported firearm, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction unless the defendant explains such possession to the satisfaction of the Jury.

SEC. 11. It shall be unlawful for any person who is required to register as provided in section 6 hereof and who shall not have so registered, or any other person who has not in his possession a stamp-affixed order as provided in section 4 hereof, to ship, carry, or deliver any firearm in interstate commerce: Provided. That a person may ship, carry, or deliver a firearm in interstate commerce if such person and such firearm in his possession prior to the effective date of this Act and notifies the Commissioner thereof by affidavit within two days prior to such shipment, carriage, or delivery, setting forth in such affidavit his address, the number or other mark identifying such weapon, and the place to which it is to be transported.

SEC. 12. The Commissioner, with the approval of the Secretary, shall make all needful rules and regulations for carrying the provisions of this Act into effect.

SEC. 13. This Act shall not apply to the transfer of firearms

(1) to the United States Government, any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, or to any political subdivision thereof, or to the District of Columbia:

(2) to any peace officer or any Federal officer designated by regulations of the Commissioner;

(3) to the transfer of any firearm which is unserviceable and which is transferred as a curiosity or ornament.

SEC 14. Any person who violates or fails to comply with any of the requirements of this Act, except section 6, shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $2,000 or be imprisoned for not more than 6 years, or both, in the discretion of the court.

SEC. 15. The taxes imposed by paragraph (a) of section 600 of the Revenue Act of 1926 (U.S.C., Supp. VII. title 26, sec. 1120) and by section 610 of the Revenue Act of 1932 (47 Stat. 169, 264), shall not apply to any firearm on which the tax provided by section 3 of this Act has been paid.

SEC. 16. If any provision of this Act, or the application thereof to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of the Act, and the application of such provision to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected thereby.

SEC. 17. This Act shall take effect on the sixtieth day after the date of its enactment.

SEC. 18. This Act may be cited as the “National Firearms Act.”

JOSEPH B. KEENAN, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL

Claude A. Fuller (AR-D)

Keenan began his statement (allowing congressmen to interrupt for questions) by detailing the primary changes to the bill. He specifically listed that the bill previously exercised Congress’ powers of taxation and regulation of interstate commerce, but now solely used the power of taxation, mandated registration of currently possessed firearms (as opposed to only regulating transfers), and struck the requirements for fingerprinting and photographs in order to register a currently possessed weapon. Fuller interjected to state that he believed the bill did require fingerprinting, to which Keenan specified that fingerprints and photographs were only required for transfers.

Allen T. Treadway (MA-R)

Treadway stated that Section 4 (a) required fingerprints, but Keenan clarified that such a requirement only existed for transfers. Essentially, if someone already owned a firearm regulated by the bill, they would have to register it, but would not have to provide any form of identification other than their name, occupation, and address. To purchase one going forward would require both fingerprints and photographs for registration.

Fred M. Vinson (KY-D)

The issue of fingerprinting and photographs was rehashed by Vinson and Keenan who clarified that the original bill had no requirement of registration for current owners of the firearms at hand. Keenan also stated that this taxation of current owners was allowed by Congress’ taxation ability, and there was no penalty for violating Section 6 of the law (see above for the full text of Section 6 and the sections it relates to: 3 and 4).

Harold Knutson (MN-R)

Knutson inquired as to which arms were exempt from the auspices of the bill, and Keenan clarified that the bill regulated every firearm except .22 caliber rimfire handguns and rifles/shotguns with a barrel longer than 18”.

Chairman Robert L. Douohton (NC-D)

The chairman asked if dealers or manufacturers who dealt only in rifles/shotguns with above 18” barrels and rimfire handguns would be exempt from the taxes laid out in the bill, to which Keenan said that he believed they would be exempt.

Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R)

The exact same question raised by the Chairman was asked by Woodruff, as well as asking for the definitions supplied in the beginning of the bill of the firearms it regulated.

Harold Knutson (MN-R)

Knutson asked about hardware stores who already had three or four rifles/shotguns in their inventory, and whether they would have to acquire a license. Keenan stated once again that provided that the firearms in question did not fall under the definitions of the bill, then the store would not have to acquire any license.

James V. McClintic (OK-D)

Finally changing course to a different question, McClintic asked about the wording of exempting .22 rimfire handguns. A significant amount of confusing and unclear use of firearms terminology was exchanged, such as when McClintic claimed that “A center-fire cartridge might be excluded if you specifically refer to rim fire 22 caliber [as the excluded caliber].” (pg 88) For the purpose of simplicity, this article will not detail the whole exchange. Keenan explained that the provision was recommended by the NRA so that typical target handguns would not be affected by the bill, and that .22 rimfire handguns have “no real value as a gangster weapon.” (pg 88)

Jere Cooper (TN-D)

A question by Congressman Cooper led to one of the most frustrating exchanges in the transcript. Cooper asked if a rimfire rifle would not fire centerfire cartridges just the same. While Keenan did say that General Reckord had told him it was the gun which determined what kind of ammunition was fired, the transcript seems to imply that he was not anymore confident in his answer than Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R) who said: “I am not sure whether it will fire rim-fire cartridges or not, but I do not believe it will.” (pg 89) Anyone who has listened to gun control proponents discuss firearms in any detail should not be surprised by these statements, but that does not make them any less frustrating or terrifying to read. Understanding which guns fire which cartridges is one of the most basic fundamentals of firearms technology, but in case any readers are unfamiliar, I will provide a brief summary. Centerfire and rimfire cartridges have the same basic components (case, bullet, primer, powder) but in different configurations. On a centerfire cartridge, the primer is a separate component (which can be removed and replaced for reloading) whereas rimfire primers are integral to the case, and the case is deformed while firing. When in the ready-to-fire configuration, firing pins for rimfire guns are located somewhere around the rim of the case, whereas centerfire pins are located in the center (of the bolt face, hammer, etc.) Some conversions from rimfire to centerfire can be done, but this process is expensive and difficult to perform. Furthermore, guns can only fire cartridges which fit properly for the chamber dimensions of the firearm. Some degree of cross-cartridge compatibility does exist, especially within related cartridges. For example, firing a .44 special out of a .44 magnum is acceptable, given that the .44 magnum was derived from the .44 special (only with a lengthened case). The cartridge dimensions, except for length, are the same, and the .44 magnum chamber is meant to accommodate higher pressures than .44 special, meaning that it is safe to use a .44 special in a .44 magnum. However, as a counter-example, since .300 blackout was designed as a necked out 5.56x45mm, it will chamber and fire in a 5.56 firearm, but will not be able to escape the barrel, given the bullet’s wider diameter. These are fairly simple concepts, and the fact that congressional representatives evidently felt no need to do even the most basic research inspires no confidence in the legislative process.

A simplified diagram outlining the components of a rimfire and centerfire cartridge.
Photo credit: US Hunters HQ

James V. McClintic (OK-D)

McClintic continued on the subject of the inclusion of the rimfire qualification. He proposed that the word be struck so that the only exempted handguns would be those of .22 caliber. Keenan had no objection to such a proposed change, but based on the language used, it is clear that McClintic did not understand what he was saying. Higher power handguns that are .22 caliber have come into being with the introduction of modern chemistry. If the bill had been accepted and implemented with such a change, and if it had continued to the modern-day, an AR-15 style pistol chambered in 5.56 would be exempt from the NFA, but a .380 ACP pocket pistol would not be. It is often repeated that gun control laws regulate on arbitrary and pointless characteristics. This exchange only lends further evidence in support of that truth.

Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R)

Woodruff interjected to comment that there were “high-powered” (pg 89) .22 caliber rifles that were not for target shooting. Keenan reminded Woodruff that the provision only applied to handguns.

David J. Lewis (MD-D)

The exemption of .22 rimfire handguns had already been addressed, with Keenan explaining that the NRA advocated for their exemption as a tool of target shooting. Regardless, Congressman Lewis asked about their exemption again, which led to a more detailed exchange. This exchange (after which Keenan repeated that .22 rimfire handguns would be exempted) will be included in full, to provide the best context for the following analysis:

MR. LEWIS. As pistols are they deadly?

MR. KEENAN. They are deadly, but they are not so formidable as the heavier caliber, and this is a concession, if it may be so termed, to those who have a hobby of target shooting, following the suggestions that we attempt to get together on a bill.

MR. LEWIS. Would a 22-caliber pistol be used for target practice? It is readily concealed on the person and is deadly. Could it be used for target practice?

MR. KEENAN. The rim fire; yes. This is the message that comes to us from the representatives of the sportsmen and those who have a hobby of using pistols as well as rifles for target practice. It has been represented that while this weapon is technically a deadly weapon, it is not a formidable one, compared to the other arms found on the gangster today. (pg 89-90)

As has been stated multiple times throughout this series, a weapon which is not deadly is of little use as a weapon. Keenan was correct in saying that pistols chambered in a .22 rimfire cartridge are less deadly than other weapons (generally speaking), and barring a physical inability to use an alternative, no one informed on self-defense would advise the use of a .22 rimfire for such purpose. However, these statements made by both Lewis and Keenan should give any reader pause.

Using firearms for recreational purposes such as target shooting or hunting is a fine way to utilize one’s weapons. However, sporting is in no way shape or form the purpose of the Second Amendment, and making alterations to gun control legislation for the purpose of avoiding so-called “sporting arms” completely misunderstands the right in question. In Hellerthe majority opinion cited self-defense as the core purpose of the Second Amendment, Miller referenced whether a firearm was “ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense”. The Supreme Court has addressed this issue multiple times, and it was even discussed at length by the founding fathers, such as Tench Coxe, who in 1788 said that “Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American.” Prioritizing those arms which have a sporting purpose places a higher value on a positive effect of the Second Amendment than its essential purpose. Despite this reality, lawmakers have habitually touted their protection of sporting arms when passing laws which overwhelmingly restrict defensive weapons. Privileging sporting arms is a longstanding paradigm, as demonstrated by not only this excerpt, but also Maryland’s AWB exception for HBAR AR-15sNew York’s SAFE Act website, which emphasizes hunting as an acceptable form of firearms ownership, and more. This paradigm is longstanding and fundamentally corrupt. Simply put, a firearm’s sporting purpose is immaterial to whether it falls under the protection of the Second Amendment, and the lack of concern for proper adherence to the Constitution is despicable.

Allen T. Treadway (MA-R)

Treadway asked two questions, first, about what current regulation existed for the weapons in the bill, and second, which firearms manufacturers had been consulted. As to the first question, Keenan was not aware of any federal regulations on the relevant weapons with the exception of the 10% ad valorem tax on handguns. When asked by Treadway about state regulations, Keenan cited two laws: the Sullivan Act in New York, and “the so-called ‘uniform pistol laws adopted by 14 or 16 States” (pg 90). The Sullivan Act is a repugnant piece of legislation which was the basis for New York State’s “may issue” permit system for the possession and carry of handguns. The combination of high permit costs along with heavy corruption amongst the police issuing permits (a tradition which carries on today) was effective at keeping citizens – except the wealthy and connected – unarmed and vulnerable. This act was described by Keenan as “the law with teeth” (pg 90), and it was aggressively applied, especially against what Judge Foster (who presided over the first conviction under the Sullivan Act) described as the “irascible” nature of Italians.

Presumably Keenan misspoke when he said “uniform pistol law”, since I could find no reference to such a law, except a 1938 journal article proposing amendments to the Uniform Firearms Act under the name of a “Uniform Pistol Act”. Most likely, he meant to say “Uniform Firearms Act” since Keenan said that the law had been presented to the committee (a copy had been shown to the committee on April 18, 1934) and that it had been implemented in 14-16 states. Without detailing the entire law, it should suffice to describe the act (which was implemented across the US) as a harsh and irresponsible infringement on the rights of the American people. The law (amongst other things) banned carry of a firearm without an almost unobtainable permit (except for police, of course), required registration of handguns, implemented a waiting period, and banned possession of machine guns, shotguns with a barrel below 20”, and suppressors. Needless to say, there is nothing worth praising in such legislation.

On the subject of meeting with arms manufacturers, Keenan stated that he had met with a representative from Colt, but stated that Remington, S&W, and Iver Johnson were the only manufacturers of handguns. This list neglects to mention H&R, as well as assorted small manufacturers, but does include the most prominent US-based handgun manufacturers of the time. Colt’s representative was present at the hearing that day, and Keenan said, given the unprofitable nature of handgun manufacturing, that the tax should be reduced from $5,000 to $1,000.

Harold Knutson (MN-R)

Knutson asked if a $200/year tax on dealers was excessive, and Keenan replied that whatever amount the committee decided on was fine as far as the Justice Department was concerned.

Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R)

Woodruff’s questioning of Keenan addressed two issues: the constitutionality of using the taxing power of Congress, and the purpose for doing so. The two questions went back and forth, but given that Woodruff asked about the constitutionality first, that is the order in which the general topics will be addressed. It is true that Congress has the power of taxation under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. However, it is clear from Woodruff’s own admission that the bill was not a taxation bill, but rather a gun control bill which used a constitutionally appointed power to accomplish its goal. This is of course a deeply disturbing application of the law, wherein the government could tax, to the point of prohibition, any activity or item, regardless of constitutional protection. That issue is far too big to discuss in this article, and so it will be left for now.

As to the purpose of a tax on dealers, Keenan’s justification was also disturbing, specifically citing pawnbrokers, and saying that:

“The amount of tax is not important except from this standpoint; it would be desirable to have the sale of guns in the hands of as few people as possible as a matter of efficiency to keep track of these weapons and see whether they are sold to the wrong people.” (pg 91)

Although Keenan was clearly referring to criminals when he said “the wrong people”, he may as well have said “the poor people”. A common theme in the NFA hearings was the blatant elitism and disgust from the Justice Department towards those who couldn’t afford to purchase new firearms.

James V. McClintic (OK-D)

As had been asked multiple times before, McClintic inquired as to whether those who only dealt in exempt firearms would be taxed – they would not.

Allen T. Treadway (MA-R)

After being asked if, on top of having to register a firearm with a number of details of identification, fingerprints were necessary, Keenan let forth with a very revealing statement:

“Our position is this: The firearm today is causing a great deal of destruction and death in our land. We think anyone who wants to procure a firearm of the nature described in this legislation ought to be willing to go to that trouble to make his contribution to the safety of the other people. We have not had any telegrams sent to this committee; we have not attempted to generate any propaganda. We have received literally thousands of letters from women’s organizations and other public-spirited organizations asking that something be done about the firearms evil, and we submit, that even though it is a little trouble to have fingerprints taken, we believe it is not too great a donation to make to the general safety of the public.” (pg 92)

It should go without saying that firearms were not causing any problems in the United States at the time, nor do they today. Criminals certainly were, and the contemporary crime wave was an issue, but to lay the blame at the feet of any class of firearm is a ludicrous proposal. Bear in mind that the Great Depression was so severe that many were forced to crime in order to survive, including the criminal mentioned countless times throughout the hearings: John Dillinger. Surprising as it may be, Dillinger did not simply wake up one day and decide to rob banks. When he could not find employment, Dillinger robbed a grocery store, for which he was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison, of which he served 9. During his time in prison, Dillinger learned from other criminals and prepared to become one of the most infamous gangsters of all time upon his release. There are countless stories from the Great Depression of men driven to crime as a means of survival. While it is a dubious claim to suggest that being poor causes crime in and of itself, extreme poverty, such that one’s basic survival is in question, will lead to people taking extreme measures. In fact, the Great Depression may not have happened at all (or certainly wouldn’t have been so severe) if not for the Federal Reserve, whose existence was authorized by the Federal Reserve Act of 1912. So, perhaps it would be a more accurate statement to say that the federal government caused a great deal of poverty, hunger, destruction, and death in the United States. Furthermore, Keenan’s supposition that fingerprinting is “not too great a donation to make to the general safety of the public” is very suspect. The individual owes no diminishment or restriction of his rights to appease a plurality of vocal, moralizing busybodies. Even more so given Keenan’s acknowledgment moments later that no criminal will follow the law.

Chairman Robert L. Douohton (NC-D)

As stated above, when asked by the chairman, Keenan said that the law would not disarm or in any way prevent criminal conduct. Rather, he reiterated a point made by both himself and the Attorney General numerous times, that the purpose of the law was prosecution, not prevention, finishing by saying that:

“We are cognizant of the fact that those who oppose this type of legislation all make the argument that this is going to stop the good citizens from getting firearms, but that the crook is going to get them. We do not agree to the first premise. We are inclined to agree as far as the hardened criminal is concerned, but we think those who make the assertion fail to take into consideration that the hardened criminal was not always a hardened criminal. He was once a youngster, and he bought or got a gun, and he learned to use the gun at the time when he was not a hardened criminal. Probably the young boy who is now faced with no penalty for possessing a firearm, if there is a penalty, might think once or twice before he runs afoul of the Federal laws.” (pg 92)

Simply put, this is an absurd and offensive statement. The assumption that mere possession of a firearm will lead to criminality is ludicrous, and not supported by any evidence. Additionally, it is difficult to understand how one can honestly argue that placing massive barriers to civilian ownership of firearms would not stop good people from getting firearms. Only a law-abiding citizen – the type who has no ill intent in using a firearm – would be dissuaded from acquiring one if the barriers to do so legally are high enough.

Claude A. Fuller (AR-D)

In a rather interesting back-and-forth, Fuller asked about an acquaintance who reportedly owned 10,000 handguns. In summation, Fuller asked how mandating registration and a $1 tax per firearm would impact such a person, but Keenan dismissed the issue. He reminded the congressman that there would be no tax on currently owned firearms, and argued that anyone who owned so many handguns would have a lot of paperwork, but surely he could simply hire a clerk to do it for him (in the interest of fairness, anyone who owns so many firearms, especially at the time, likely would have sufficient income to hire a clerk).

Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R)

Citing his personal experience of the fingerprinting process, Woodruff expressed support for such a measure, claiming that it was unobtrusive and inexpensive. Keenan agreed with Woodruff, mentioning that fingerprinting equipment was used for the Postal Savings System, and he had not heard of any issues from it.

Fred M. Vinson (KY-D)

Vinson’s questioning of Keenan began with a clarification that the bill now no longer relied on the regulation of interstate commerce, but only on taxation (which has already been covered and will not be re-analyzed). The questioning then shifted to the change in registration requirements, Keenan stating that the purpose of mandating registration of current firearms was to aid in the administration of the law and in the prosecution of such persons who are found in possession of a firearm without a permit. Keenan also explained how he believed such registration would impact the use of stolen firearms, claiming that people would be more likely to report stolen guns and be careful with them if they “realize that it means something to them to have a gun, if they have to account for it.” (pg 95) This statement came after Keenan once again acknowledged that criminals would not follow the law. That issue has also been analyzed extensively in this series, but it is worth noting that the bill prohibited the defacing of identifying marks on firearms. If a criminal does not follow the law which mandates registration of firearms or prohibits robberies, why would he not also then violate the law which prohibits defacement of a serial number? By defacing a serial number, the argument that the requirement of their inclusion on firearms, and the licensing requirement, could allow for the tracking and prosecution of stolen firearms becomes moot. Finally, the two men reiterated that if someone was found in possession of a firearm without a permit, that it would be presumed he acquired it four months after the passage of the bill (unless it could be proven otherwise).

Samuel B. Hill (WA-D)

Hill’s questioning clarified that in the context of the bill, the term “firearm” referred to machine guns, handguns (except those chambered for .22 rimfire), and rifles/shotguns with a barrel shorter than 18”. It was also reiterated that rifles/shotguns with a barrel greater than 18” would continue to have no restrictions on their sale or transport, with Roy O. Woodruff (MI-R) adding that “There is no limitation whatsoever as to the use of sporting arms.” (pg 96) Keenan agreed with this characterization, replying “None at all, unless you call a Colt .45 a sporting arm.” (pg 96) The deference given to so-called “sporting arms” has already been addressed, but even if that presumption is left alone, the 1911 (what is likely being referred to as a Colt .45) is one of the most popular sporting handguns of all time. Although it is rapidly being displaced in shooting sports by double stack, polymer-framed, 9mm handguns, the platform still enjoys wide use, especially in handgun centric competitions such as IPSC.

An example of a 1911 style handgun designed specifically for IPSC competition.
Photo credit: The Firearms Blog

Daniel A. Reed (NY-R)

Again it was brought up that the law was designed to increase the range of prosecutors’ power, which led Keenan to remark that should someone fail to register their firearms during the four-month period, he could register them afterward.

David J. Lewis (MD-D)

Lewis mentioned state laws banning or heavily restricting concealed carry (see the above discussion of the Sullivan Act and Uniform Firearms Act), and that such a law would not affect the actual concealability of arms in those states, to which Keenan replied that it would “be helpful in obtaining auxiliary facts” (pg 96).

Claude A. Fuller (AR-D)

Fuller raised an interesting point, and one which still plagues discourse today, as to the transfer of firearms. After Fuller had elaborated the punishments for failing to comply with restrictions on the transfer of a firearm, Keenan argued that no exemption should be made for gifts because if “you try the gangster, for having the gun, he will interpose with great facility, as the past has shown, the same kind of an alibi that he has always been able to cook up. You will find somebody who has made a gift to him.” (pg 97) Today, such transfers fall under the category of “private transfers” which is somewhat difficult to describe term given that its precise definition varies from state to state. For example, New York prohibits private transfers without a NICS check, unless it is between immediate family members, whereas in Arizona, private transfers are legal provided that the recipient is not a prohibited possessor. On the subject of whether this restriction would bar an administrator or executor from transferring firearms, Keenan simply said that he “expect[s] to find some element and some degree of common sense in the Federal judges and in the prosecutors.” (pg 97). Unfortunately, anyone who has read any number of judicial decisions or prosecutorial arguments on the subject of firearms (especially in states which are unfriendly to firearm ownership) knows that such common sense is severely lacking.

James V. McClintic (OK-D)

McClintic redressed the vague wording of the exemption for .22 rimfire handguns, which Keenan once again said was suggested by the NRA. As with other sections where the topic has already been addressed, no more analysis will be given here.

Samuel B. Hill (WA-D)

The wording of the definition of a machine gun in the amended bill was somewhat confusing due to its inclusion of the word “semiautomatic”, but did match the current definition in technical terms. Hill and Keenan briefly discussed the distinction between a semiautomatic and automatic firearm, as Hill was seemingly confused as to what distinguished the two, using a semiautomatic .22 rimfire rifle as an example.

Fred M. Vinson (KY-D)

Vinson engaged in a somewhat lengthy and complex exchange with Keenan about the interstate transport of firearms which were not registered prior to the enactment of the bill. The question was based around Section 11 of the amended bill, which mandated notification of the government and assorted paperwork in order to transport an unregistered, but previously possessed, firearm between states. In the end, both agreed that it would not have a significant effect on the purpose of the bill to strike that provision.

Samuel B. Hill (WA-D)

At Hill’s request, Keenan said that in the process of questioning, the committee had gone over every important change to the bill. When Keenan mentioned the change in the definition of a machine gun, Hill asked if the Justice Department had done anything on the subject of mandating registration for machine gun magazines (referred to by Hill as clips) or of regulating body armor (referred to by Hill as “metal vests”). Keenan was open to including regulation of said items in the NFA, but said that the Justice Department was considering their inclusion in a commerce clause of a different bill. In a profound display of technical ignorance, the following exchange occurred between Hill and Keenan:

MR. HILL. Do you think them of sufficient importance to be included here?

MR. KEENAN. I do not think so. I think if we had control of the arms themselves for the purpose we want, that it will not be of any tremendous assistance in following the ammunition.

MR. HILL. A gangster might be in lawful possession of a machine gun, and yet he must have ammunition for that gun. You might trace the ammunition to him and thereby contribute toward his identification as the operator of the machine gun.

MR. KEENAN. You can readily tell if the ammunition was of such a nature as to be designed for machine guns. We have been working to get a bill otherwise acceptable to the various groups of the community interested therein, and we had not considered that seriously up to this time.

This exchange is eerily similar to statements made a few years back by Congresswoman Diana DeGette (CO-D) who during a public forum on gun policy said of “high-capacity magazine-clips” that:

“…these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.”

Magazines are not ammunition, they are the means by which ammunition is fed into the action of a firearm. Furthermore, with rare exceptions for specialty rounds such as 30×173mm, most chamberings for machine guns are also found in non-machine guns. There likely aren’t any machine guns chambered in cartridges such as .22-250, given that it is a hunting specific cartridge. But any common cartridge such as 9mm, .45ACP, 5.56x45mm, etc. will be used in manual, semiautomatic, and automatic weapons. Some automatic weapons only use proprietary magazines, but such a statement is a far cry from those of Hill and Keenan.

James A. Frear (WI-R)

Although Frear only asked for clarification that handguns were still included in the bill, this led to a brief discussion of “protests” against their inclusion. Based on the context, protest seems to mean written communication from NRA members and affiliates to express opposition to the regulation of handguns, not a large in-person event.

Allen T. Treadway (MA-R)

In this series, particularly important or informative sections of the transcript or those necessary to provide proper context have been included in full. However, the exchange between Treadway and Keenan is so relevant to the modern discourse on firearms that it must be included from start to finish:

MR. TREADWAY. You are dealing with the small firearms exactly under the same conditions as you are the machine guns, are you not? There is no different treatment, according to the danger of the article involved?

MR. KEENAN. That is true; they will both kill.

MR. TREADWAY. Isn’t a machine gun a very much more dangerous weapon to have in the hands of a gangster? You can do a lot more work with a machine gun than with an ordinary revolver?

MR. KEENAN. There is no doubt that it is more dangerous.

MR. TREADWAY. What benefit is there in allowing machine guns to be legally recognized at all? Why not exclude them from manufacture?

MR. KEENAN. We have not the power to do that under the Constitution of the United States. Can the Congressman suggest under what theory we could prohibit the manufacture of machine guns?

MR. TREADWAY. You could prohibit anybody from owning them.

MR. KEENAN. I do not think we can prohibit anybody from owning them. I do not think that power resides in Congress.

MR. TREADWAY. It would be like the control of a deadly poison, I suppose.

MR. KEENAN. That is controlled.

MR. TREADWAY. Yes; that is controlled.

MR. KEENAN. We have tried meticulously to follow the Harrison Act, passed by the Congress, and the decisions under that act. We have this strong analogy to poison, but the poison only kills the person who takes it, while the gun is designed to kill others.

MR. TREADWAY. That would afford a basis of argument. Could you not make a relative difference between the dangerous types, according to how dangerous they are?

MR. KEENAN. In the penalty for their transportation?

MR. TREADWAY. Or in the control of them.

MR. KEENAN. I suppose that could be done. The idea would be to increase the penalty for carrying machine guns, or decrease it for carrying guns not so deadly as machine guns?

MR. TREADWAY. Whenever we hear of these terrible raids, the machine guns are the ones which do the most damage, are they not?

MR. KEENAN. Yes; we usually find the machine gun, but we always find a half dozen or 8 or 10 Colt automatics or some easily concealable firearm.

MR. TREADWAY. That is a matter of convenience, is it not?

MR. KEENAN. It is a matter of convenience. If the Congressman would permit me to suggest, in addition to the machine gun. the modern gangster is not technically well equipped if he does not have several concealable small arms for use instantly.

MR. TREADWAY. How large is a machine gun? How conspicuous must it be for a person to carry it around?

MR. KEENAN. I have seen a lot of them.

MR. TREADWAY. It would be about how long?

MR. KEENAN. About 2 or 2.5 feet in length.

MR. TREADWAY. How large are they? What would they weigh?

MR. KEENAN. It has a bulky stock; I would say it is 4 or 6 or 6 inches across and it has a drum.

MR. TREADWAY. What would it weigh?

MR. KEENAN. I cannot answer that.

MR. TREADWAY. It is very inconvenient for a man to conceal?

MR. KEENAN. They have concealed them in golf bags recently. You may remember reading that Dillinger recently went to be treated for a gunshot wound by Dr. Mortenson, head of the Minnesota State Welfare Department. At that time Dillinger’s companion had a machine gun sticking out from his coat, which, many people thought, should have indicated that he was dealing with a gangster. It was difficult to conceal the gun.

MR. TREADWAY. You do not feel that there is any way in which a more severe penalty could be imposed against the machine gun, either its purchase, sale, or possession, than any other kind of a dangerous weapon?

MR. KEENAN. I think that is an excellent suggestion. I think it might be regulated in the penalty. (pg 100-101)

The first statement that should be addressed is the notion that a machine gun is “more dangerous” than a handgun. Aside from the obvious fact that a handgun can be a machine gun, what qualifies a firearm as more or less dangerous? A safely operated machine gun is in practice less dangerous than a carelessly operated .22 rimfire pistol. Indeed, even their practicality depends entirely on the task one is trying to accomplish, and which doctrine one is following to do so.

The next statement to address must be Keenan’s acknowledgement that the Constitution forbids prohibition of the manufacture and possession of machine guns, this is because of the Second Amendment which protects against government infringement of the right to keep and bear arms. Today, almost all gun control advocates express open contempt for the Second Amendment, with many actively seeking its removal from the Constitution. Those that do pay lip service to the Constitution will still exclaim that a blanket ban on the most common arms in America is not an infringement at all. Although Keenan did make an analogy to poison, there is no right in the Constitution to possess or utilize poison. Moreover, Keenan makes the argument that guns are designed to kill other people. This argument deserves its own article in the future, but simply put, that is not a bad thing in and of itself. There are certain circumstances in which shooting and killing another person is perfectly right and moral – for example, when a woman uses a firearm to kill an attempted rapist – and in such a situation, it is best to have a weapon designed for that task.

For the third and final point on this exchange, the technical description of the Thompson submachine gun (presumably the weapon in question) is close enough. Rather than being 2-2.5’ long, it has a length of 2.81’ (on models with the Cutts compensator). It is also accurate to say the Thompson is a heavy, bulky weapon, weighing in at almost 11 pounds. However, the use of drum magazines was far less common than stick magazines. The most common capacity for Thompson drums was 50 rounds (a 100 round drum was produced, but was very unpopular) and stick magazines held 20 or 30 rounds (20 being more common). Additionally, the use of the term “automatic” in reference to Colt handguns, while odd today, was fairly common at the time.

Samuel B. Hill (WA-D)

Hill asked about the discrepancy between the tax on a machine gun and all other firearms. In his reply, Keenan acknowledged this and said that in his opinion, the carrying of a machine gun should be a life sentence.

Allen T. Treadway (MA-R)

In an incredibly ignorant statement, Treadway claimed that there was no use for a machine gun outside of breaking the law. Keenan did not disagree, merely claiming again that a machine gun is “more effective” at killing than a handgun, and as such necessitated more stringent regulation. It should be apparent to anyone that there is a wide number of uses for a machine gun outside of criminal activity, be it recreational or defending one’s life, liberty, and property. The description of killing effectiveness has already been addressed, but one point that should be added given the congressman’s mention of self-defense: if machine guns are more effective at killing, would that not make them the better choice for defending oneself? Surely it would be cruel and perverse to force someone to use a less deadly weapon when attempting to kill an assailant – the entire paradigm is illogical.

Chairman Robert L. Douohton (NC-D)

As a brief aside, the chairman said that “The wooden pistol seems to have been used with great effect.” which if not a joke, may have been in reference to John Dillinger, who used a wooden pistol to escape from the Lake County Jail.

Claude A. Fuller (AR-D)

In yet another exchange which could easily take place today, Fuller asked why the bill did not simply prohibit the sale of handguns to all but the government or police. While Keenan said that he would like such a law passed, it would be unconstitutional and that the federal government has no police powers. Fuller then proposed that the government “could require them to be registered and pay them full value and then destroy the weapons.” (pg 102). Again Keenan informed him that such a law would be unconstitutional. This type of proposal is still common today by those who demand registration of weapons and so called “buy backs”. The proposal is ridiculous on its face for reasons which have already been enumerated throughout the series.

Fred M. Vinson (KY-D)

Vinson ended Keenan’s testimony for the day by reiterating the Justice Department’s reasons for supporting gun control through a taxation bill.

J. WESTON ALLEN, CHAIRMAN NATIONAL CRIME COMMISSION

    After introducing himself and explaining the organization that he represented, Allen told the committee that he had been tasked by the National Crime Commission to study, and propose a more efficient alternative to, the Uniform Firearms Act. He then detailed the associates of the committee assembled to study the issue, as well as its three members: August Vollmer (chief of police of Berkeley, California), Philip S. Van Dise (former US Army colonel during WWI/prosecuting attorney in Denver), and himself. The committee’s advisors included a number of legal practitioners, Karl Frederick (of the NRA), and S.M. Stone (president of Colt, chosen by Remington, Iver Johnson, H&R, and S&W to represent the industry).

The first issue addressed by Allen was that of registration, arguing that creating a national firearms registry would allow for the tracking of firearms used by criminals. He claimed that it was “reasonable” to implement such a registry so long as there was not a penalty in place for non-registration, and that over time more people would register their guns until every firearm was registered. The notion of firearm registration runs completely contradictory to the purpose of the right to keep and bear arms:

“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state. In a single state, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28

But beyond the blatant unconstitutional nature of such a proposal, it simply does not work. Criminals will acquire guns one way or another, either through theft, illegal purchase, or by building them themselves. Even if such issues are ignored, and the proposal carried out perfectly, evidence has shown time and again that people do not register their guns, even if it is mandated.

On the subject of fingerprinting, Allen made an impassioned argument about its merits as it relates to issues such as the identification of corpses. While the arguments made might be valid in those contexts, the fact of the matter is that firearms are an entirely different subject, and must be treated as such. When there is a right as essential as the right to keep and bear arms, it must not be restricted except in the most extreme of circumstances (such as a prohibition on biological weapons), and even then, not in any way which impedes the core purpose of the right. The Second Amendment exists so that the people can effectively defend themselves and their property from external threats, be they criminal or tyrannical. Government knowledge of the identity of every firearm owner defeats that purpose and renders the people’s ability to exercise that right impotent.

As has been stated ad nauseum, Allen repeated the argument that a criminal will not register his weapons, and therefore the state can imprison him on weapons charges, even if they cannot prove he has committed another crime. It should be plain to see that such a proposition is ripe for abuse, reactive instead of preventative, and is in no way a substantive argument. Additionally, it fails to respond to the issue that there is no danger or harm done by the mere possession of any type of firearm. It is only through its misuse that it becomes a problem. Therefore, such an argument in fact criminalizes the exact opposite of what is damaging to society, while being ineffective at tackling the true issue.

Allen finished his statement by citing a Mr. William McAdoo who argued that if everyone in NYC was a proficient shooter and perpetually armed, that it would not stop robberies and murders. The empirical evidence on the subject shows the exact opposite, that there are 300,000-1.5 million defensive uses of firearms each year. Even anecdotally, there are countless examples of individuals who have protected themselves or others with concealed handguns. Allen even went so far as to suggest that police should be unarmed and instead let criminals committing armed robberies go about their business unimpeded.