We’re seeing more and more talk from the political extremes in the USA concerning imposing their views on others, or violently rejecting such attempts. A good example may be found in Virginia right now. A newly-elected Democrat majority is threatening to impose draconian restrictions on firearms rights, which has led to a backlash where almost 90% of the counties in the state have passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary zones“, or words to that effect. The language from both sides is becoming more heated, and I think there are serious implications for the future.
(It’s also worth noting that the legislature in Virginia is dominated by a very few counties surrounding Washington D.C. The vast majority of the state’s other counties voted for Republican candidates; but those inhabited by government workers from Washington, a typically Democratic constituency, overwhelmed the rural votes. This has caused great resentment among “down-state” voters, for obvious reasons.)
There are a few practical steps that anyone can take if they want to get their guns “off the radar screen” – i.e. removing as much as possible of the paper trail that links them to firearms currently in their possession. That paper trail is based on the Form 4473 that all gun buyers fill out when they purchase a firearm from a dealer with a Federal Firearms License. The transaction is logged in the dealer’s official books, and details can be (and usually are) recorded by the ATF on a regular basis. Technically, there are laws prohibiting the establishment and maintenance of a national firearms registry, but there are widespread rumors that such laws are honored more in the breach than in the observance.
Private firearms sales and purchases are entirely legal, however, in most parts of the country, and in most cases don’t need to be recorded anywhere. Furthermore, the ATF used to state explicitly on its Web site that if one bought a firearm as a gift for another person, one could indicate on the Form 4473 that one was the purchaser, even if it was to be handed over to someone else (obviously, without the latter details being recorded). They removed that published advice some time ago, but they’ve never officially withdrawn or contradicted it: so, as far as I know (I am not a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice), one can still do that. When in doubt, consult the ATF or your lawyer.
One can use these legal methods to rearrange one’s firearms collection so that tracing it (for whatever reason) can become much, much harder. For example:
- If you have a MasterBlaster 2.0, and your buddy Fred has a MasterBlaster 2.0, and you both like them, what’s to stop you swapping guns? The paper trail to your gun (through its serial number) ends with you, even though you no longer have it; and ditto for Fred. It’s even more effective if you involve a third and/or fourth party in the “swap chain”, as it adds further layers of anonymity. If anyone asks you where your original MasterBlaster 2.0 is, you can answer (entirely truthfully) that you disposed of it legally. If asked to whom, you can (equally honestly) answer that at the time, there was no legal requirement to keep a record of that, so you didn’t; and, in the absence of such a record, you wouldn’t like to speculate, for fear of a faulty memory.
- You can buy guns “off paper” from private sellers (following all regulatory requirements, of course, such as no illegal across-state-border transactions). I’ve done this many times, and sold many firearms in the same way. Web sites such as ArmsList make it easy to find firearms you want that are being offered for sale in your area by those from whom you may legally buy them. Most gun shows I’ve been to have people walking the aisles with privately-owned firearms for sale; some even have areas set aside for such people to wait for potential customers, where the firearms can be inspected and negotiations conducted. Word of mouth is also a useful tool; for example, many gun ranges will offer the opportunity to meet with other members, where news of who has what for sale or to swap may be exchanged. In almost every case, unless the seller demands that you sign a bill of sale listing your contact information, there will be no record of the transaction. (I typically refuse to sign such a document. To me, “private” means “private”. Period. If the seller insists, I don’t buy the gun.) Remember, however, that e-mails and/or phone calls used to set up the meeting can be recorded, and may provide a trail of evidence.
- Online ammunition and accessory purchases (e.g. holsters, spare magazines for a pistol or rifle, etc.) are recorded by the seller, and can be tracked by anyone accessing your Internet history or credit card transactions. I don’t usually worry about this, because I can’t afford to stockpile immense arsenals of equipment or ammunition. However, if it bothers you, you can usually buy the same things at a gun show (the bigger ones will have almost anything you could desire). You can pay in cash, rather than use a credit card or check that can be traced, and walk out with wheelbarrow loads of gear, if that’s what you want. Private sales are also entirely legal in most (but not all) states. More than once, I’ve ordered several thousand rounds of ammunition for myself and friends. When it’s arrived, I’ve split it up and delivered their portions to them. I’ve also joined “group buys” spearheaded by other individuals. The person doing the buying can be identified; but those who paid him cash for their share of the ammo, and took private delivery, cannot. Gifts of ammunition for Christmas or birthdays are also legal in most states, and untraceable.
Some states are now trying to restrict the purchase of ammunition (e.g. California). There are, of course, ways to evade such restrictions. I’m not going to comment on their legality; after all, it would be irresponsible of me to advise anyone to break the law. Nevertheless, according to my shooting friends in and around that state, the number of carloads of ammunition that have gone back and forth across the California border since that legislation was passed must be well into the tens of millions of rounds by now. California tries to stop such traffic, but it’s not always successful. (A visibly heavily-loaded vehicle, with only the driver visible inside and nothing on the seats, is an obvious invitation to a cop to check what’s in the trunk – so don’t do that!) What’s more, civilly disobedient citizens and organizations in surrounding states have been known to aid and abet bypassing such restrictions, more or less discreetly.
Of course, it might not be a good idea to get rid of all one’s traceable firearms. After all, if there’s a paper trail suggesting you once owned several guns, but when the authorities ask about them, you claim you got rid of them all, that’s going to look very suspicious to them. I think it may be better to retain some that are “on paper”, so that if registration or confiscation becomes a reality, one can demonstrate that one is a law-abiding citizen, and register or hand in those guns.
There are those who argue that we should stash one or two firearms, some ammunition, and basic accessories (a holster, cleaning kit, etc.) in a “safe place”, so that if the authorities confiscate weapons, we’ll still have access to them. I’m not sure whether this is truly practical. After all, if things come to such a pass, it’ll be illegal to possess a weapon, period; and, being a known former firearms owner (particularly if you’re a shooting enthusiast), you’ll probably be under increased scrutiny. Do you think you can evade that to dig up your weapon(s)? Even if you do, what are you going to do with them? Where will you hide them? Carrying them won’t be a good idea, because you’ll be on a “suspicious list” of those likely to do that. Still, if that floats your boat, there are many ways to accomplish it. (They do not include your shooting buddies’ homes! Where do you think the authorities are going to look first?)
Finally, recognize that there are regional differences in the way firearms are regarded. What might “fly” in the Washington D.C. environs will be fiercely resisted in rural Virginia. What the loony left might try in New York, or Massachusetts, or Connecticut, simply won’t wash in Texas, or Oklahoma, or Arizona. Even in so-called left-wing states, such as New York and Connecticut (news reports at those links), mandatory registration of so-called “assault weapons” has been a dismal failure, thanks to widespread and deliberate civil disobedience by firearms owners. I can only imagine how similar laws would be received in more firearm-friendly states like Texas. I know that many law enforcement leaders in the latter state have come out flat-footed and said they will not enforce any law that they regard as being in conflict with the Second Amendment. I’m pretty sure their officers are 100% behind them – because those officers would be the ones in the firing line if they had to attempt confiscation, and they know it.
In short, one can still legally, in most parts of the country, privately sell or buy weapons, swap them with friends and others, conceal large-scale ammunition purchases, and generally take steps to ensure that a significant part of one’s collection is no longer directly traceable to oneself by means of invoices or Form 4473’s. Start doing that now, while it’s still legal! In some parts of the country, it’s no longer legal, and gun owners there have to deal with a much more difficult situation.
I have no problem whatsoever making any attempt at gun tracing or registration (the usual prelude to confiscation) a whole lot more difficult. I think our Founding Fathers would approve.