Ahead of the start of Virginia’s legislative session, which kicked off this week, Democrats in control of the statehouse were claiming that gun control wasn’t going to be a priority this time around. Even Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed ban on modern sporting rifles, “high capacity” magazines, and lawfully-owned suppressors was supposedly on the back burner.
Democrats didn’t explain why they decided to lay low on gun control, but the fact that the state will have elections for governor, lt. governor, attorney general, and every seat in the state House of Delegates appears to have a lot to do with it.
After the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, however, has anything changed? A number of delegates and state senators have introduced anti-gun measures in Virginia in the past few days, including Del. Marcus Simon’s legislation that would ban the sale or possession of unfinished frames and receivers as well as 3D-printed firearms.
HB 2276 is a mess from a legal perspective. It creates a misdemeanor-level offense out of thin air (and a felony-level offense for repeated violations) for possessing something that the federal government doesn’t consider to be a firearm.
It is unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, transport, or receive an unfinished frame or receiver, unless the party possessing or receiving the unfinished frame or receiver is a federal firearms importer or federal firearms manufacturer or the unfinished frame or receiver is required by federal law to be, and has been, imprinted with a serial number issued by a federal firearms importer or federal firearms manufacturer.
What exactly is an unfinished frame or receiver? Obviously Simon believes that the 80% kits that are sold online would qualify, but what about something that’s 70% complete? 50% complete? Why wouldn’t a solid block of metal or a spool of 3D printing material that could eventually be turned into a frame or receiver be considered an “unfinished” version under Simon’s bill?
Remember that, for the moment, anyway, ATF does not consider unfinished frames or receivers to be firearms, so they’re not required to have a serial number imprinted on them. Any attempt to redefine a firearm to include unfinished parts is likely to run into the same issues I mentioned above. How does something that’s not a gun or even a finished frame or receiver get defined as a firearm without turning the law and logic on its head?
That’s exactly what gun control groups and anti-gun politicians are demanding, however. In fact, they’ve already sued the agency over its determination, hoping to get them to change course. Under the incoming Biden administration, it’s likely that gun control activists are going to get their wish, though any such move would undoubtably be met with litigation on the part of Second Amendment activists.
In addition to the language about unfinished firearms, Simon’s bill also seeks to ban 3D-printed guns as well.
shall beis unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, sell, transfer, or possess (i) any plastic firearm or (ii) any firearm that, after removal of all parts other than a major component, is not detectable as a firearm by the types of detection devices, including X-ray machines, commonly used at airports for security screening.
B. As used in this section
“Major component” means (i) the slide or cylinder, or the frame or receiver, of the firearm or (ii) in the case of a rifle or shotgun, the barrel of the firearm.
“Plastic firearm” means any firearm, including machine guns and sawed-off shotguns as defined in this chapter, containing less than 3.7 ounces of electromagnetically detectable metal in the barrel, slide, cylinder, frame, or receiver
of whichthat, when subjected to inspection by the types of detection devices, including X-ray machines, commonly used at airports for security screening, does not generate an image that accurately depicts its shape.
Does Simon realize that any firearm, whether it’s made of metal, plastic, or Swiss cheese, is going to be picked up by a magnetometer if there’s ammunition in it? This is absurdly stupid, and also completely unenforceable from a practical perspective.
I think there’s also a strong case to be made that Simon’s bill would run into serious constitutional concerns if it were to become law. The Supreme Court has said that arms that are in common use are protected by the Second Amendment, and rifles, handguns, and shotguns are all commonly owned. Can you ban a gun or an entire class of firearms based solely on the material used to manufacture them?
Ralph Northam and his fellow Democrats may not want to push his gun ban in an election year, but they could decide to carry Simon’s bill forward as a signal to their allies in the gun control movement that they’re still on board with restricting the rights of Virginia citizens to keep and bear arms.
The legislature is only scheduled to be in session until February 27th, though, so any gun control bills that Democrats decide are a priority will have to start moving through the committee process soon. So far Simon’s bill has not yet been scheduled for its first hearing.