As the federal "assault weapon" ban expires, we can thank John Kerry for demonstrating the stupidity of targeting firearms based on features that have nothing to do with their lethality or their suitability for crime. Last week Kerry, who has condemned President Bush's failure to push for renewal of the ban, accepted a Remington 11-87 shotgun as a gift from Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers, which represents employees at a Remington factory in Ilion, New York. It was an opportunity for Kerry, who emphasizes his fondness for hunting whenever he gets a chance, to show that he's not opposed to the ownership of legitimate sporting guns, as opposed to the evil weapons used by cop killers, mass murderers, and terrorists. But as the National Shooting Sports Foundation pointed out, the gun Kerry accepted would be illegal under a bill he supports: The Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act expands the "assault weapon" ban to include all semiautomatic shotguns with pistol grips.
Even without that change, Kerry's acceptance of the shotgun could have violated the law in several ways, enumerated by gun law expert Alan Korwin:
1. Taking ownership of the shotgun gift, if he doesn't already have a valid Massachusetts Firearm Identification Card, could subject him to a 2-1/2 year prison term in his home state. Since he has claimed publicly he owns firearms, chances are he has this critical piece of paper…
2. Bringing the firearm back to Massachusetts, if he received it from a private party, would be a federal felony under the 1968 Gun Control Act. (5 years in prison, $5,000 fine, 18 USC §922)
3. The only exemption that would allow him to bring it into his home state requires that he obtained it in a face-to-face transaction with a federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL). A private gift would not qualify.
4. If Kerry did get it from an FFL, he would have had to personally fill out and sign a "4473 form" required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, before the gift was given, under penalty of federal felony.
5. If Kerry did not personally undergo a "NICS" instant background check before the transfer from an FFL, he would have put the person conducting the transfer in some legal jeopardy, though the law contains a loophole that would probably save Kerry from additional harm (the dealer, not the recipient, suffers from failure to do the NICS check).
Korwin generously concludes that "John Kerry should receive the same lenient treatment any other citizen deserves when innocently violating these complex and non-intuitive rules." He notes, however, that "federal authorities…have been known in the past to be inflexible in their enforcement of even minor technical violations." And he adds: "Some of these laws are just foolish, putting honest citizens at enormous and unjustified risk, and are so complicated that even a presidential candidate and his staff cannot figure them out."