Opening the October mailbag
Opening the October mailbag
Though I usually distrust mail written under pseudonyms, the author of
a letter which poured in recently in response to one of my columns on
firearms rights is probably correct to worry that his musings might attract
the unwanted attention of sundry G-men.
by Vin Suprynowicz
So I withhold his name while reproducing the following, sobering missive:
Your Oct. 2 commentary "And every other terrible implement of the soldier" hit home with me.
I am deeply bothered by the felony penalties hinging on trivial features
of a rifle. I am currently assembling an StG58, an obsolete and beautiful
Austrian rifle that is a member of the FAL family. Austria no longer has
use for the things, and is selling them off to U.S. importers. I bought a
complete rifle, minus the receiver, which had been sawed off prior to
importation as required by the BATF. Its stub was left attached to the
barrel. I bought a brand new U.S.-made receiver in compliance with all
local, state and federal laws.
So far, so good. But it gets complicated once I mate the receiver to the
rest of the rifle. Here is a minefield of laws and regulations, and my
future well-being hinges on their trivialities.
I must remove the flash hider. And then I must either saw the threaded
end off the barrel, or cover it with a "muzzle brake"... but only if I
solder the muzzle brake in place with solder having a melting point of 1100
degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If I use solder with a melting point of 1000
degrees F, for example, it's off to jail with me. Or, I could pin the
muzzle brake in place. But only if the pin is in a "blind" hole that
doesn't reach through to the other side. And only if the pin is strong
enough to withstand the shearing torque specified by the BATF, who will try
to unscrew the muzzle brake to see if it is attached in a "legal" manner.
If it unscrews with 120 foot-pounds of torque, I'm a felon. If it unscrews
with 130 foot-pounds, I'm free. (I made up the torque numbers - I haven't
been able to find out what the real ones are. They weren't in the "assault
weapon" ban that Clinton signed. Nor was anything about muzzle brake
Also, the muzzle brake must have a diameter greater than 22 millimeters.
Why, you may ask? Because back when Austria used this rifle, they had
grenades that would slide over the flash hider. A blank cartridge was then
fired in the rifle, launching the grenade. So, depending on the diameter of
my muzzle brake, I may, or may not, have replaced the original "grenade
launcher" with a brand new "grenade launcher." Please don't ask where I
might possibly obtain an obsolete Austrian grenade. And please don't ask
why I am allowed to put a muzzle brake of "grenade launcher" diameter on
any other rifle but the StG58.
And I must replace many of the original, authentic and beautifully-made
parts on the rifle with U.S.-made equivalents that look and operate just
like the old ones. Why? Because if I don't, I will have assembled a
"non-sporting" imported rifle and could be thrown in
jail. By substituting enough U.S.-made parts, it becomes a "non-sporting"
U.S.-made rifle and is perfectly legal. How do I tell
if this rifle, or any other, is "non-sporting?" Simple. According to the
law, if it is "not particularly suited for sporting purposes." No
The list of issues goes on and on. I am in communication with other
collectors and shooters who are in similar fixes. We agonize over the legal
details, sharing hearsay and rumors in valiant attempts to remain in
compliance with the BATF's shifting and largely undocumented
interpretations of the laws. What constitutes a pistol grip that "protrudes
prominently" from the gun? What counts as a "thumbhole stock" and what
doesn't? What if I put a plain, unthreaded barrel on the rifle, and its
(outside) diameter happens to be the same as that of the illegal "grenade
launcher"? We don't know.
My opinion is that we are fools. The only reason I wade through the
morass of obscure legalities is that everyone else does so, too. If we all
simply ignored the absurdities, we would be free. They can't jail us all.
For that matter, I wish they would try to jail
someone. But they never do. Given a feeble excuse of the sort mentioned,
the BATF will break into your home and confiscate anything resembling a
firearm, firearm accessory, and probably your computer and filing cabinet
to boot. But they will press no charges. They know
the laws are absurd.
They know there is no jury in the country that will
send you to jail because one part on your rifle was attached with 1000 F
solder instead of 1100 F solder, or because the rifle had one too few
U.S.-made parts on it. They'll just ransack your house, seize your
property, and ruin your life. You will not get your day in court.
We should ignore them, but who will be the first to show up at the rifle
range with a "flash hider"/"grenade launcher" on his rifle? Not me. I could
lose my property and my life could be destroyed. Who, then, will lead the
way? No one. What are the odds of everyone defying
the laws, en masse, starting on a pre-arranged date? Zero.
And that is the beauty of the system. The screws are tightened gradually,
so people are pushed over the edge and into defiance one at a time, and are
thus easily vanquished.
We see the news items in the paper. "Illegal weapons cache seized."
Perhaps he was the guy that had a muzzle brake with the wrong diameter, and
lost everything. "Assault Weapon Found in Home." Was he the poor guy who
had a bayonet lug on a rifle whose serial number implied that it was
probably built the day after Clinton signed the
celebrated Feinstein "assault weapon" ban? His neighbor, whose rifle was
built the day before, was left unmolested, being a fine law-abiding
citizen, you see.
It's more than the technicalities of gun regulations. Think of
"standoffs." One person hits the limit of tolerance for bull and quits
playing the game. He starts living in defiance of the crushing burden of
the laws and regulations under which we are all groaning. Now he's a
"criminal" and his place is surrounded by the thin blue line for a few days
until he's hauled off, shot, or burned. Each person has a different limit,
and we hit them at different times, easily taken out by the authorities
singly or in tiny groups. There will never be widespread open revolt.
Modern bureaucracies have learned how to avoid that.
I have never spoken my mind in public on this subject. I don't talk about
this on Internet bulletin boards, or in e-mail. I am afraid to. I'm worried
about sending this letter to you, even under a pseudonym. I'm not a
newspaper editor. If my words attract the attention of the wrong people I
could be the next faceless owner of an "illegal arms cache" that ends up as
a news item at the bottom page 31. ...
Please feel free to use any of this material in any way you see fit.
"Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them
of their arms."
-- Aristotle, Politics
Vin Suprynowicz is one of
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