As Democrats ramp up their demands for a ban on modern sporting rifles, progressive columnist and talk show host Thom Hartmann thinks he’s found a more practical way to make semi-automatic firearms off-limits to the average American; expanding the National Firearms Act to include all semi-autos and require owners to pay a $200 tax in order to possess a Glock pistol or an AR-15.
To make his case, Hartmann turns to history… or at least his version of it.
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, could not hold a rifle being only 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.
Wow, all it took to stop organized crime from continuing their gangland slayings was a gun control law? Pretty impressive, or at least it would be if it wasn’t totally false. Among the factors that Hartmann fails to acknowledge are the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, which removed a huge source of revenue (and conflict) among the mob bosses and gangs that had been growing fat off the fruits of their illicit labor for most of the past decade. The History Channel also points to a “slowdown” in immigration and migration from rural communities to urban centers as well as New Deal programs for the 20% reduction in homicides seen during the latter half of the 1930s, but never mentions the NFA as having a big impact.
Hartmann’s also off base when he brings up more recent history:
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.
A less deadly America? Crime rates were far higher throughout much of the 70s and 80s than they are today. Just as an example, in 1976 New York City saw 1,622 murders. In 2022 there were 433 homicides in the five boroughs; a reality that simply shouldn’t exist if Hartmann’s premise was correct and crimes are based on nothing more than the availability or popularity of semi-automatic firearms. The truth is that violent crime and homicide rates were far higher in the 1970s and 1980s than they are today; the exact opposite of what Hartmann claims to be the case.
Not only is there no evidence to suggest that Hartmann’s cockamamie idea would pay off in terms of lower crime, it makes no sense from a political perspective either. If Democrats had the votes in Congress to expand the National Firearms Act to include all semi-automatic firearms, they’d certainly have the votes to ban modern sporting rifles outright. Why would gun-banners take a step back from a ban and run with Hartmann’s idea, which would theoretically allow for tens of millions of “military-style” rifles to remain in the hands of American citizens?
Hartmann’s idiocy would also run headlong into constitutional considerations. In fact, the gun control lobby has already floated a version of Hartmann’s proposal in several civil lawsuits around the country, claiming that semi-automatic firearms are “readily converted” to machine guns and as such should already fall under the auspices of the NFA. Gun control activist Igor Volsky has also pressured the ATF to re-classify semi-automatics as machine guns, so Hartmann isn’t exactly forging a new trail here with his dumb idea.
If there is an attempt to place semi-automatics under the rubric of the National Firearms Act, I don’t think it will come through legislation. The most likely scenario, at least by my reckoning, is an executive action to that end if Joe Biden somehow gets a second term in office but is denied a Democratic majority in Congress. Biden has said that he’s reached the limits of what he can do on guns via executive orders, but if that’s the only way to enact a ban then I think the long shot strategy would look more enticing to him, even though it wouldn’t take long before the courts would smack down his attempt at an end-run around Congress.
A quick look at the U.S. homicide rate over the past 60 years should be enough to dispel the myth that banning guns has any measurable impact on the crime rate, or at least a beneficial one. Crime continued to rise after the Gun Control Act of 1968 was put in place and it wasn’t until 1991 that the crime rate started its most recent decades-long decline. The U.S. is a much safer place than it was when Hill Street Blues made its television debut, and Hartmann’s proposal would only take us backwards; not only in terms of our public safety, but our right to self-defense as well.