04 Dec 2015

Gun Control Laws and the San Bernardino Massacre

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FarookGuns
Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s weapons

Media reports about the guns were misleading as ever, describing them as “legally purchased” typically as part of a ideologically-loaded effort to demonstrate the lack of Gun Control regulations which might have kept such weapons out of the hands of mass killers like Farook & frau.

But MRC TV’s Dan Joseph yesterday noted that, in fact, those two AR rifles were almost certainly not legally acquired.

San Bernardino, Calif., officials have confirmed that the two rifles used by gunman Syed Rizwan Farook in Wednesday’s massacre were purchased not by Farook himself, but rather by a friend. This means that at some point the rifles were either sold, stolen or given to Farook by his friend, sometime within the last three or four years.

According to California’s firearms laws, it is “illegal for any person who is not a California licensed firearms dealer (private party) to sell or transfer a firearm to another non-licensed person (private party).” The prohibition on transfers – except those between family members- that do not involve a licensed gun deal Went into effect on January 1, 2011.

This means that unless, Farook’s friend was an authorized weapons dealer in the state of California or the transfer occurred in another state, then the rifles were acquired illegally.

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Today, Jacob Sullum, at Reason, confirms that either a straw purchase or an illegal transfer must have occurred.

Federal officials say Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the massacre’s perpetrators, bought the two 9mm pistols used in the attack, a Springfield and a Llama, from gun shops in San Diego and Corona. That means he passed background checks, which indicates he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record. An acquaintance of Farook’s bought the two AR-15-style rifles used in the attack, a DPMS A-15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P15, also at gun shops in San Diego and Corona.

Sullum goes on to note the ineffectiveness of legislation targeted at “bad” military-style weapons in preventing human ingenuity from developing work-arounds which render the regulations meaningless.

The DPMS A-15 and Smith & Wesson M&P15 both come in “California legal” versions, which means they have “bullet buttons” that require the insertion of a loose round (or some other tool) to detach the magazine. With that feature, the magazine is not considered “detachable,” which is part of the state’s “assault weapon” definition.

Gun controllers tend to view bullet buttons as a sneaky end run around California’s “assault weapon” ban. Huffington Post reporter Daniel Marans calls the bullet-button option a “technical loophole.” Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center (VPC), complains that gun manufacturers are “cynically exploiting an inadvertent limitation” of the law. But bullet buttons are explicitly allowed by California Department of Justice regulations, which say “‘detachable magazine’ means any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm with neither disassembly of the firearm action nor use of a tool being required.” The DOJ adds that “a bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool.”

Since rifles with bullet buttons do not have what California considers detachable magazines, they can include military-style features that would otherwise be forbidden, such as folding stocks, pistol grips, or flash suppressors. “Assault weapon” is an arbitrary, legally defined category, so the fact that California does not consider these rifles to be “assault weapons” means they aren’t “assault weapons.” It makes no sense to complain that California’s “assault weapon” ban misses some “assault weapons,” which are whatever legislators say they are. Nor does it make sense to complain about design changes, such as bullet buttons, aimed at complying with the law. Gun manufacturers that produce “California legal” guns are doing precisely what the state has told them to do.

But, wait, more than human ingenuity and work-arounds using technical loopholes occurred here. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ATF discovered that two highly-illegal modifications of those rifles were made.

The rifles used in the San Bernardino mass shooting were illegal under California law because they were modified and violated the state’s ban on assault weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined on Thursday. …

The two semiautomatic rifles were versions of the popular AR-15 model, according to San Bernardino officials. One was made by DPMS Inc., and the other by Smith & Wesson.

While they were originally sold legally, with magazine locking devices commonly known as bullet buttons, the rifles were subsequently altered in different ways to make them more powerful, according to Meredith Davis, a special agent with the ATF.

The Smith & Wesson rifle was changed in an attempt to enable it fire in fully automatic mode, while the DPMS weapon was modified to use a large-capacity magazine, she said.

Modifying the DPMS A-15’s to accept larger capacity magazines would be a felony in California. On the other hand, converting Smith & Wesson M&P15 to full-auto capability did not only violate California gun laws, it was also a serious federal crime, violating the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which would make the couple, as felons, persons prohibited from owning full-auto weapons), and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (banning civilian ownership of new machine guns).

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The notion that more Gun Control laws would prevent such shootings was satirized yesterday on Facebook with this image:

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