With a groundswell of public opinion in the aftermath of the Florida school shootings favoring the renewal of the ban on semi-automatic weapons that was enacted during the Clinton administration and allowed to lapse during G. W. Bush’s term, comes the disturbing news that the Trump administration is making a push to actually speed up the process of buying and selling fully-automatic machine guns, according to an ABC News report.
Despite responding to the Parkland shooting by finally supporting a ban on bump stocks, the devices that can transform semi-automatic weapons into the type of functioning automatic rifles that were used by the killer behind the Las Vegas massacre last October, the Trump administration is trying to make it easier for people to buy the real thing.
The definition of a fully-automatic gun, commonly called a machine gun, is one that only requires a single pull of the trigger to shoot more than one round of ammunition. Coupled with high capacity magazines, automatic weapons can kill substantially more people more quickly than any other conventional armament outside of explosives or grenades.
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For that reason, it has been illegal to possess, purchase or sell an unregistered machine gun since the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 which was inspired by the frequent use of the weapons by criminals such as Al Capone in notorious incidents like the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago before the law was passed.
The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, passed during the Reagan administration, effectively banned gun manufacturers from producing new automatic weapons for the civilian market, although the weapons continue to be used in the military services.
It is still possible to purchase pre-1986 automatic weapons on the private gun collector’s market with the proper license and tax payment to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), but the rarity of the guns 32 years after they ceased to be manufactured make them extraordinarily expensive, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for some models.
Today’s controversy stems from a funding provision hidden deep within the Justice Departments 2019 budget request that $13.2 million be allocated to help reduce the massive backlog of applications under the National Firearms Act and speed up the processing of the transfer and sale of weapons covered under the act, including machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and explosives.
Gun advocates are disturbed by what they see as excessive delays in processing applications which can take many months to be approved.
“ATF is overwhelmed with NFA paperwork,” says Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a leading gun industry trade group. “It has been a significant problem. It takes eight to nine months to process a single form,” Keane told ABC News.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks that the idea of making automatic weapons purchase approvals a priority in today’s climate is “unconscionable.”
“Our country has seen three dozen mass shootings since 20 children and 6 educators were murdered at Sandy Hook…Rather than focusing on a top gun lobby demand the administration should put money toward ATF to hire additional agents and improve the background check system,” Feinstein demanded.
Trump’s Justice Department says that their funding request would allow them to hire 25 additional agents to “support the timely and effective registration of restricted weapons under the National Firearms Act while upholding the constitutional rights of the American people.”
ABC News, however, spoke to several current and former ATF officials who were willing to contradict the Justice Department’s reasoning anonymously to avoid possible reprisals.
“It would have minimal to no effect on combatting violent crime,” one former ATF official told ABC News. “It appears to be a compromise for the gun lobby,” the former official added.
Under Trump’s Justice Department’s budget request for fighting violent crime, the $13.2 million to fix the NFA application backlog far exceeds the $8.9 million requested for increasing gun intelligence capabilities to solve violent crimes. Both current and former ATF agents believe that the money would be much better spent on hiring and training new agents that could enforce existing gun laws.
So much for the supposed new openness to gun regulation and the bucking of the gun lobby by the Trump administration. They still won’t do nearly enough to prevent future mass shootings and the resultant carnage from occurring again… and again… and again… and again, practically automatically.