As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the Obama administration is seeking to ban the importation of some popular shotgun models that are made overseas. The method being used is borrowed from Humpty Dumpty:
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Unable to get legislation passed, the administration seeks to master us with their mastery of words. In this case the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is seeking to master the definition of the term “sporting use” to “traditional” sports, things similar to what might have been found in 1934 when the Treasury Department first began regulating firearms. The ATF “Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns” (PDF) limits “sporting purpose.”
However, consistent with past court decisions and Congressional intent, the working group recognized hunting and other more generally recognized or formalized competitive events similar to the traditional shooting sports of trap, skeet, and clays.
In order to decide what shotguns fit the “sporting purpose” definition, the study comes up with a list of characteristics that aren’t sporting. Nobody has yet taken to bayoneting deer or skeet as far as I know, so I’m not going to raise a big stink about bayonet lugs being on the list of features that aren’t particularly suited for sporting purposes. (Please stop shouting that the Constitution of the United States says nothing about “sporting purpose.” We’ll look at why the “sporting purpose” rule violates the constitution in Part 3.)
One major problem is that many of the features the ATF study group settled on make a shotgun particularly useful for self defense, especially home defense. Here are the characteristics that the study has decided are unsuitable for sporting use:
- Folding, telescoping, or collapsible stocks;
- bayonet lugs;
- flash suppressors;
- magazines over 5 rounds, or a drum magazine;
- grenade-launcher mounts;
- integrated rail systems (other than on top of the receiver or barrel);
- light enhancing devices;
- excessive weight (greater than 10 pounds for 12 gauge or smaller);
- excessive bulk (greater than 3 inches in width and/or greater than 4 inches in depth);
- forward pistol grips or other protruding parts designed or used for gripping the shotgun with the shooter’s extended hand.
Some of these features, such as folding stocks and larger capacity magazines clearly are useful in sports if you include practical shooting sports. But as we’ve seen, Humpty Dumpty said that “sporting purposes” means what HE means it to mean, and practical shooting sports are Right Out. But some of the features are important to people who don’t want to hop over obstacles, shoot through simulated windows, or have their shooting timed and scored. Several of the features on the list are important to people who want to defend their home.
A house often has narrow doorways or hallways, and furniture can interfere with the movement of a long gun. By federal law, a shotgun barrel must be at least 18 inches long. So the place we can easily shorten a shotgun to make it easier to navigate confined spaces is at the stock end. A folding or collapsible stock lets you maneuver in confined spaces but still be able to shoulder the weapon for better accuracy when you have time and space. So this feature that the ATF wants to ban from import by regulation is applicable to home defense.
It’s 3 am. The wake up call you got wasn’t on the phone, it was the sound of a window breaking, or the sound of someone moving around downstairs. Odds are that if you pause to get dressed at all it’s just to grab a pair of pants. More likely you’re wearing whatever you were sleeping in, and don’t have any place to carry extra ammunition. Whatever ammunition you have in or mounted on the gun is all you’ve got. Probably there’s only one or two intruders, and maybe you’ll hit each one with the first shot, but do you really want to bet your family’s life on it? I hope you never need to defend your family at 3 am, but if you do wouldn’t you rather have a few rounds left over rather than run out? Having more than five rounds will enhance the safety of your family.
Since it’s 3 am, you’ve probably turned the lights off in most of the house. One hand is on the rear pistol grip of the shotgun, the other is on the forward grip (vertical or not.) Your third hand then holds the flashlight.
No third hand? There’s are a couple of simple solutions. One is a light enhancing device, that is, a night sight. Those are rather expensive for a shotgun that only gets fired in practice, so another form of light enhancement is more common in the form of a flashlight. But there’s still that third hand problem. The solution is an accessory rail mounted to the side or beneath the barrel. Flashlights just clamp on there, and the flashlight shows you exactly what you are aiming at. Seeing what you are about to shoot seems like a reasonable precaution when investigating an odd noise in your house, but that’s not sporting, so the Obama administration doesn’t want you to do that.
In Part 3 of this report we’ll look at some of the constitutional objections to the “sporting purposes” test and some of the other gun control implications of the administration’s effort to do gun control by regulation that it’s unlikely they could currently get through congress.