Anti-gun politicians either willfully misrepresenting or just not knowing about American gun laws is a long-running frustration of those in the Second Amendment camp. It’s even more frustrating when one of those politicians is a former president of the United States.
“Some of you may be aware our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense,” Obama told a crowd of people at VTEX Day technology conference in São Paulo, Brazil. “Anybody can buy any weapon any time — without much if any regulation, they can buy it over the internet, they can buy machine guns.”
Yes, this another iteration of the common but patently false notion that America’s current gun law situation is anarchistic because it’s less restrictive than that of other countries. In reality, Obama’s comments are way off the mark.
First off, not everyone can buy a gun in the United States.
Convicted felons and people under indictment for felonies cannot buy guns under federal law. Other “prohibited persons” include fugitives from justice, people convicted of domestic violence, convicted drug users, people adjudicated as a “mental defective,” illegal aliens, people who were dishonorably discharged from the military and people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship.
FBI background checks for disqualifying factors like these — as well as other state-level disqualifying factors — are required for every purchase from a federally-licensed firearms dealer and for every weapons transfer that crosses state lines. And yes, the same requirements exist for internet sales.
Now let’s address Obama’s comment about buying machine guns, which federal law define as any firearm “which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”
Yes, Americans can indeed own automatic weapons privately, but the bureaucratic and cost barriers to doing so are nowhere near as low as Obama implied in his speech.
In 1986, the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners protection act made it “unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machine gun.” Before that, automatic firearms were required to be registered under the National Firearms Act, which was first passed in 1934.
However, automatics that were already registered under the NFA were grandfathered in under the Hughes Amendment, meaning that “NFA guns” manufactured before 1986 are still legal for private ownership and transfer.
In order to buy one, however, you have to first apply a tax stamp from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives — which costs $200 and requires the notification of a local chief law enforcement officer — and then register with the bureau. That process can take months or longer.
And paying for the tax stamp is only a minor part of the expense of legally acquiring a pre-1986 transferable NFA machine gun. They can also get quite expensive, often costing tens of thousands of dollars or more.
And all of that is assuming that you live in a state that hasn’t passed its own ban; according to the anti-gun Giffords Law Center, 16 states currently have laws against the possession, sale, or manufacture of machine guns in some form.
It is also worth noting that, in spite of having draconian anti-gun laws, Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
The idea that America still looks like the wild west when it comes to gun law may make for a spicy anti-Second Amendment talking point, but it just doesn’t hold up to the facts.