Deregulation

Bill Would Roll Back Prohibition-Era Gun Rules

The legislation aims to undo the "egregiously unconstitutional registration, taxation, and regulation of short-barreled rifles."

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Rep. Roger Marshall (R–Kan.) thinks short-barreled rifles are overregulated, and he's looking to change that.

On Tuesday, Marshall introduced the Home Defense and Competitive Shooting Act of 2019. This would change provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) that put extra restrictions on the ownership of short-barreled rifles—that is, rifles* with a barrel shorter than 16" in length or that have a total length of less than 26".

The NFA requires owners of short-barreled rifles to register them with the federal government; they must also pay a one-time $200 excise tax per gun. If Marshall's bill becomes law, these extra requirements would disappear; short-barreled rifles* would be regulated under the same rules as semiautomatic rifles.

The legislation would also order the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to destroy all current short-barreled rifle registration records within 365 days of the law's enactment. Information about those who already own these weapons would thus be erased from the federal database.

The NFA is the oldest federal gun law on the books, signed in 1934 by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, primarily in response to Prohibition-era gangster violence. The law included these restrictions on short-barreled rifles because they were thought to be criminals' weapons of choice, due to their concealability and their popularity among gang members.

Today, Marshall notes, short-barreled rifles are "commonly used for hunting, personal defense, and competitive shooting." As of May of this year, 417,167 short-barreled rifles were listed on the National Firearms Registration and Transfers Record (the federal registry of NFA-restricted weapons in private hands).

Gun lobbying groups have praised Marshall's bill for, as Gun Owners of America (GOA) puts it, attempting to undo the "egregiously unconstitutional registration, taxation, and regulation of short-barreled rifles." GOA is joined by the National Rifle Association, which supported the NFA back in 1934 but now backs Marshall's bill.

*CORRECTION: This article previously referred to the short-barreled rifles the bill would impact as semiautomatic. The bill would impact all rifles with barrels shorter than 16" or a total length of 26", not just semiautomatic rifles with these characteristics.