The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) is the strictest federal gun control law currently in effect. It criminalizes the mere possession and transfer of specifically enumerated categories of firearms deemed to be especially dangerous and unusual, such as machine guns and silencers. Commensurate with this viewpoint, the NFA imposes on violators harsh felony penalties, from lengthy prison sentences to six-figure fines. However, the NFA permits lawful civilian ownership of these firearms under a taxation and registration scheme administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In its 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the United States Supreme Court clarified what “arms” the Second Amendment protects—those that are “in common use” and those “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” but not those that are “dangerous and unusual.” Under this formulation, NFA restrictions received an incidental presumption of constitutionality. That was then, this is now. In the intervening years since Heller, NFA firearms have exploded in popularity, amounting to millions of lawfully registered examples in civilian hands. As the NFA registry grows year after year, the federal government enjoys ever-increasing tax revenues. Consequently, registry expansion offers a lucrative and effective means of implementing gun control measures—ATF reclassification of existing non-NFA firearms and accessories as falling under the NFA can compel registrations or preclude ownership of controversial items altogether.
This Comment argues that the NFA’s modern expansionary trend is on a collision course with the Heller mandate. After Heller, the only constitutional NFA registry is a small one, reserved for the truly dangerous and unusual. By focusing on modern developments in three NFA categories—short-barreled rifles, silencers, and machine guns—this Comment contends that some NFA prohibitions are already constitutionally unsound and absent judicial intervention, Congress should remove them from the NFA altogether.
Dangerous and Unusual: How an Expanding National Firearms Act Will Spell Its Own Demise,
Dick. L. Rev.
Available at: https://ideas.dickinsonlaw.psu.edu/dlr/vol127/iss1/8