More than 230 weapons were seized. Hopefully the ATF figured out how to put the safeties on all the other firearms.
More than 230 weapons were seized. Hopefully the ATF figured out how to put the safeties on the other firearms they confiscated. (AP Photo)

Let’s be very clear: ATF agents did a good thing in busting eight California men who were allegedly manufacturing short-barreled rifles and suppressors to sell to their fellow criminals.

That they managed to do so without getting almost 90 people killed is a clear sign of progress from the Clinton years.

It’s too bad that the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, Benjamin Wagner, and Associated Press reporter Don Thompson are so full of crap as they sensationalize the story.

Let’s deal with Thompson first.

Eight men were charged Thursday with making and distributing dozens of firearms, many of them assault-style weapons illegally equipped with silencers, in what federal officials are calling one of the biggest takedowns in California’s Central Valley.

Undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purchased or seized more than 230 firearms and silencers. Many are known as “ghost guns” because they lack serial numbers and can be sold without background checks or transfer documents.

Any gun can be sold without background checks or transfer documents, Don. A serial number is nothing more or less than an etching in metal. It does not confer special powers or add GPS tracking capability.

As a matter of statistics, more than 99-percent of the firearms illegally trafficked have serial numbers. Homemade firearms have always been part of the American experience, and yet, their use in crime is so rare that there isn’t even a statistical metric to track it.

Rifles of all kinds account for less than 300 murders a year in a nation of 320 million, and that number is steadily declining year over year. We’re aware of precisely one documented incident in American history where a home-made AR-15 without a serial number was used in criminal homicides.

As for “ghost gun,” is nothing more or less than a fear-mongering term thought up by one of the most laughably uneducated and hysteria-prone members in California state government, Kevin de Leon. It has since been used as a term of mockery after his infamous trainwreck of a press conference.

Now, let’s deal with prosecutor Wagner’s fantasy world.

“Firearms trafficking such as that alleged in this indictment is one of the primary sources of crime guns found on the streets, and the manufacture of untraceable, unserialized firearms hampers criminal investigations, putting the public at greater risk,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said at a news conference. “High-capacity assault rifles, with silencers but without serial numbers, are some of the most lethal weapons that criminals can get their hands on.”

We’ve already addressed how rare unserialized firearms are in crime, so let’s deal with the later half of Wagner’s claim.

An assault rifle is a selective-fire weapon, capable of automatic or burst fire. There is no indication at all that the weapons seized in this raid were anything other than conventional AR-15s with short barrels, or SBRs (short-barreled rifles). They fire one shot per trigger pull, no different than any other firearm.

No, SBR versions of AR-15s equipped with silencers are not “some of the most lethal weapons that criminals can get their hands on” as Wagner suggests.

AR-15s typically fire the 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington cartridge. This is an intermediate-power rifle cartridge, meaning it is more powerful than most common pistol bullets, but much less powerful than most rifle bullets.

The .223 Remington is used in varmint hunting (small animals such as prairie dogs) that is explicitly outlawed for hunting deer in many states because it is low-powered, having roughly half the muzzle energy (approximately 1,282 ft-lbs) of common hunting cartridges like the .30-06 (minimum of 2,800 ft-lbs) out of a common test barrel lengths (20″-24″).

The SBR’s confiscated by the ATF have much shorter barrel lengths, however, and would likely only generate roughly 1/3 the energy of a common centerfire long-action hunting rifle cartridge.

The charges include dealing in firearms without a license, unlawfully manufacturing firearms, possession of silencers, short-barreled rifles and firearms lacking serial numbers, and conspiracy. Three of the eight face separate drug charges, which Wagner said shows a connection between gun and narcotics trafficking.

We’re glad that men selling firearms to criminals have been captured, and we hope that, for once, the Department of Justice actually prosecutes these apparent criminals to the fullest extent of the law instead of letting them plea to much lesser charges or dropping the charges entirely, which is far too common and why we have so many repeat violent felons on the street.