Summary of White House Executive Action on Gun Control: Say goodbye to trusts

This morning, the White House released a fact sheet stating President Obama’s plans to enact new gun control measures via executive order. After being thwarted by the will of the people, Congress, and the Constitution, a lame-duck President takes one last petulant swipe at law abiding gun owners in his final year in office. I personally cannot think of a more fitting legacy. The full fact sheet is available here from the White House.

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The first action item from the fact sheet is: Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands Through Background Checks. This is further clarified in the following paragraphs:

Clarify that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks. Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales—particularly online and at gun shows—occur without basic background checks. Today, the Administration took action to ensure that anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers. Consistent with court rulings on this issue, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has clarified the following principles:
A person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the location in which firearm transactions are conducted. For example, a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet. Those engaged in the business of dealing in firearms who utilize the Internet or other technologies must obtain a license, just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators. There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement. But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.” For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.
There are criminal penalties for failing to comply with these requirements. A person who willfully engages in the business of dealing in firearms without the required license is subject to criminal prosecution and can be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000. Dealers are also subject to penalties for failing to conduct background checks before completing a sale.

How that affects us: at first glance, it would seem that this is a redundant measure, because people engaged in the business of selling guns are already required to get a license. However, when you read the “clarification” language it’s clear that the intent behind this particular EO is to go after people engaged in private online transactions such as Gunbroker, Armslist, or the many Facebook groups that support such transactions. One does wonder exactly how this is going to be enforced, as many of those transactions already involve an FFL at the destination point, thus satisfying the background check requirement. My opinion: you’ll see this used to effectively shut down things like Facebook gun swap groups.

Next on the list, the EO will shut off the ability to use a trust or an LLC to bypass the Chief Law Enforcement Officer sign-off on NFA items. I won’t really go in to much detail here, because we’ve seen the writing on the wall for a long time on this issue. It’s been coming, despite our best efforts and stalling it once before, and it was only a matter of time before it happened. How that affects us: if you were planning on setting up a trust to buy some cans, do it today. Do it yesterday. I imagine it will also put a dent in the business model of lawyers that would set up trusts for NFA items for a small fee.

Next item: Ensure States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting.
Honestly, with as onerous as the NFA-kill and going after private transactions are, this one isn’t that bad. It’s a fact that some states are not very good at reporting to NICS. There have been multiple documented incidents of people passing a NICS check who had convictions at the state level that should have bounced them and didn’t; because the state failed to report. NICS is only as good as the data that it gets fed.

Make the background check system more efficient and effective.
Again, nothing really bad in here, and in fact a little bit of good news for FFL holders. If you’ve ever had to call in a NICS check during peak times and sat on hold forever, you know what I’m talking about. This bullet point allows for the FBI to hire another 230 NICS examiners, non-sworn personnel responsible for processing background checks, as well as continue to upgrade the online NICS system.

The EO then shifts from Background Checks to “Making Our Communities Safer from Gun Violence.”
Ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.
Short version: the Attorney General instructed the US Attorneys to really crack down on firearms related violence. I genuinely feel bad for whatever guy is the first person they arrest for being an “unlicensed dealer” because he sold a couple of Glocks on facebook. This section also notes that the President’s budget for FY2017 includes funding for 200 more ATF agents.

Ensure that dealers notify law enforcement about the theft or loss of their guns.
This is a clarification of who exactly is responsible for reporting a gun lost or stolen if it goes missing in transit, the ATF has decided that the shipping entity is responsible for reporting the theft, as they were the last person/business to have the gun on their books.

Issue a memo directing every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.
This one is weird, and because I can’t see the wires it makes me wonder what it’s really about. All that this does is have the AG issue a memo to the US Attorneys nationwide instructing them to engage with local agencies on the subject of domestic violence.

The final subheading is perhaps the most vague: Increase Mental Health Treatment and Reporting to the Background Check System.

In this section we see the White House’s plan to shut off access to firearms to people who have been deemed unable to take care of themselves, or are a danger to themselves. This creates a genuine slippery slope as previously a person had to be adjudicated mentally incompetent to be denied access to guns. Under the new EO, which lacks specific guidelines, a person could be stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights for something as simple as seeking treatment for suicidal thoughts, because an overzealous doctor believed them to be a “danger to themselves.”

Here is the most troubling section:

Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm. Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to ensure that appropriate information in its records is reported to NICS. The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent. The rulemaking will also provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

To summarize, the White House plans to mine Social Security records to deprive approximately 75,000 people of their 2nd Amendment rights without due process of law. The problem is that while there will obviously be some legitimate denials on that list, invariably it will also include good, law abiding and mentally able citizens who should not have their guns or their rights put in jeopardy.

The final part of the EO covers smart gun technology, which I won’t really touch on here simply because it’s a dead end road. All it does is tell agencies they have 90 days to create a report that shows a roadmap to smart-gun usage, and to “regularly” review smart gun technology to see if it’s viable for LE use. It’s not, and it won’t be for a long time, thankfully.

For those just looking for some quick bullet points to toss around in a Facebook argument, here is the official Gun Nuts Media Summary of the EO:

  • Goodbye Facebook Gun Sales groups and maybe even Armslist
  • Goodbye to NFA Trusts, because you’ll have to get a CLEO sign-off on those now
  • Say hello to a whole lot more prohibited persons added to an larger and more efficient NICS bounce-list

Those three items, the increased focus on what constitutes an “unlicensed dealer”, the end of NFA trusts, and the expansion of prohibited person reporting are the three items most likely to affect otherwise law-abiding gun owners in negative ways.

We have a few options for relief here: first, Congress can seek to defund these EOs, but that will be difficult since funding is already in place and Congressionally approved for the responsible agencies. Secondly Congress could pass laws that override the EOs, but that’s likely not going to happen. They could also be challenged in the Judicial branch…which probably won’t happen either, because the most likely option for redress is wait until we have a Republican president in 2017 and get them to overrule the previous EOs.

On that note, I bet the Democrat political front-runners are pissed at Obama right now. With the race actually heating up, he’s played directly into the hands of the GOP candidates who can now easily say Democrats are in fact coming for your guns. I bet Hillary is thrilled.

Editor’s Note:According to a statement released by the ATF, the CLEO sign-off requirement is going to be eliminated as well. This means that all background checks for NFA items will be processed by the FBI/ATF when they receive the NFA paperwork.

The MG-34

As you can tell from the other coverage here on the Gun Nuts site, this week is the annual SHOT show, where the firearms industry shows off their latest and greatest wares for large buyers and the gun media. I like learning about the new stuff as much as anyone else, but I like some of the old stuff even more…especially when that old stuff is belt-fed.

Getting some trigger time on the spectacular MG-34
Getting some trigger time on the spectacular MG-34

In last week’s post I gave a brief rundown on the unique Lewis gun, arguably the first successful man-portable machineguns. Today let’s look at the machinegun that was arguably (because everything about history can be argued) the first to fully realize the machinegun’s potential on the battlefield and in modern warfare: The MG-34.

The Treaty of Versailles placed heavy restrictions on Germany’s manufacture of weapons after World War I, but like every other gun control effort in history it did precisely bupkiss to stop the bad guys. A resurgent Germany used every trick in the book to rebuild their war machine bigger and better than ever. One of their top priorities was developing the machinegun and though it took a bit of tweaking the end result was one of the most influential machineguns in history.

The MG-34 fires from an open bolt using a metal belt that was easier to load than the canvas belts typical for previous machineguns. The weapon itself was far lighter and more maneuverable than any of the Vickers/Maxim variations the German armed forces had previously used. Instead of attempting to cool the barrel with a large complicated aluminum jacket as used in the Lewis gun, the designers created the first really good quick-change barrel system so that a machinegun crew could rotate barrels quickly without even needing to unload the weapon first. With proper barrel rotations they could sustain very high rates of fire for an extended period of time without all the cumbersome weight and bulk of water jackets, hoses, and water tanks.

When you look carefully at the MG-34 you’ll notice it has two triggers. The top trigger fires the weapon in semi-automatic and the lower engages the fully-automatic function of the weapon. Why have a semi-automatic function on a belt-fed machinegun? Good question. The Germans must have found very little utility in the feature because they omitted a semi-automatic function from the later MG-42. The MG-34 could certainly be fired very accurately in semi-automatic mode, but nobody ever toted a belt fed for careful point of aim accuracy in slowfire. You don’t often find semi-automatic function on open-bolt belt fed machineguns these days, seeming to indicate that subsequent military forces haven’t found a lot of utility in a semi-automatic function on belt feds.

The light weight, portability, and fairly high rate of fire (in full-auto mode anyway) made the MG-34 a weapon suitable for many roles…and the Germans weren’t shy about using them. They produced as many machineguns as they could and mounted them in any way they could find.

The firepower of the MG-34 was intended to be the backbone of a military assault that relied on mobility and superiority of fire to encircle and destroy the enemy. The world would apply the term blitzkrieg to this style of warfare, and the new lightweight, portable, adaptable machinegun was at the center of it all.

Getting up close and personal with the MG-34 was a mind blowing experience. The specimen I was able to play with was manufactured in 1944, a late-war production gun made after the tide had turned against Germany. Even so, the weapon’s fit and finish were extraordinary. Pictures and video really do not do it justice. You need to be able to feel the gun’s function, to manipulate the feed mechanism with your hands, to cycle the bolt, to feel the gun fire in order to appreciate how exquisitely lavish the manufacture of this weapon is. Every single piece on the weapon moves with precision and unparalleled smoothness. Just operating the belt feed mechanism on the feed tray cover makes you think that the gun functions on ball bearings.

The MG-34 on the bipod was lighter and more maneuverable than anything the Germans had used before.
The MG-34 on the bipod was lighter and more maneuverable than anything the Germans had used before.

I don’t know Mauser’s exact production figures on the MG-34, but I’ve seen it suggested in a number of places that the weapon took twice as much machine time and twice as many man hours to produce over any comparable weapon of its day. In the ninth edition of Small Arms of the World, Smith says that captured MG-34’s were taken to various American manufacturers who concluded that the guns would require too many machine tools and would be outrageously expensive to manufacture. (Page 439 if you’re interested in looking that up) Keep in mind that these are American manufacturers who were turning out the M1 Garand, a beast of a weapon hewn from big chunks ordnance grade steel and originally stocked with some pretty beautiful walnut. It was (arguably, again) the most lavishly produced general issue rifle of its day, and the country that was turning them out by the millions looked at the MG-34 and said it was too expensive and involved to manufacture.

The tight tolerances that you note when handling the MG-34 are said to have made the weapon rather temperamental in the field. To an extent, all belt fed machineguns are sensitive to conditions and ammunition. This is one of the reasons why the USMC brought the Infantry Automatic Rifle concept into being, as even today’s belt-fed machineguns can stop working at inopportune moments…like when you’re charging into a building full of insurgents. The finicky nature of the MG-34 and the expense of manufacturing it eventually set the German army looking for a more reliable and economical replacement.

My shooting impressions of the MG-34 are not quite true to life because we couldn’t get into a proper prone position behind the weapon. When firing a belt-fed machinegun from the bipod you would ideally be laying in a prone position where you can actually dig your feet in and push back against the weapon to help control the recoil and better direct the fire on target. Without that ability the weapon tends to climb on you during a burst. The rate of fire for this MG-34 was estimated by its owner (who knows his class III weapons) to be around 900 rounds per minute. In firing the weapon I seemed to get a 4 or 5 round burst from a single pull of the trigger. Compare the rate of fire of the MG-34:

To the slower, more staccato rate of fire from the M60 machine gun:

Even with the high rate of fire and the muzzle climb due to lack of a good firing position, when firing bursts at the center of a typical steel shilouette target 100 yards away you would hear two or three pings on the steel. The sights were typical of German weapons of the period, using an absurdly thick front sight in a relatively shallow V rear notch but in the bright light of the range there was no trouble using them precisely. I could pick an exact spot on the steel, fire, and see that the first shot would hit directly at the point of aim, with the second impacting very near to the first. After that the weapon was starting to lift and it got harder to keep track of what was going on downrange. A skilled gunner in a good position could do some serious work with one of these beauties. That’s probably why Uncle Sam made videos like this:

In other footage from that video the narrarator actually says that the “bark” of the German machineguns (particularly the MG-42) is “worse than its bite.” I didn’t get that impression behind the MG-34 at all. The relatively high rate of fire certainly does eat ammo quickly and means that you launch more rounds in a burst, but for me the gun ran so smoothly I didn’t have a problem putting multiple shots on target even from a compromised position. If I were firing at opposing infantry, there would be a fairly tight cone of 7.92mm death heading for the dude in my sights. Watching the beat zone it became clear that at typical combat engagement distances whoever was on the wrong end of one of these things was going to have a very bad day.

While the later MG-42 used the newer roller locking system instead of the MG-34’s recoil operated system, much of the rest of the weapon looks very familiar. In fact, if you compare most other belt fed machineguns that came after the MG-34 to the MG-34 side by side you’ll see a great deal of commonality because some bits of it functioned so well that they’ve stuck around in more modern designs. It’s a magnificent weapon, and another shooting experience to put on your gun-geek bucket list.