Is ATF Providing Due Process on NFA taxes?

Here is a picture of the federal government depriving citizens of due process. Federal law requires payment of a $200 tax to make or buy certain types of weapons. The ATF is responsible for collecting the tax and returning a stamped form showing the tax has been paid and the applicant is allowed to make or receive the weapon. The ATF cashes the check on receipt of the application, but this chart shows that they are taking longer and longer to return the stamp — now upwards of six months.

NFA Wait Time Trend as of May 2012

Background: The 1934 National Firearms Act imposed a $200 tax on manufacture or transfer of a large class of firearms and accessories deemed at the time to be “gangster” weapons. In then dollars the tax was so high that it effectively eliminated the civilian market for machine-guns and silencers.

Through the quirks of subsequent court decisions, laws, and regulations, “short-barrel” rifles (SBRs) and shotguns (SBSs) are also subject to the NFA tax, but the delineation of these controlled items is truly bizarre. For example: Handguns are exempt, no matter what length barrel. But if you put a stock or shoulder support on a handgun with a barrel under 16″, it becomes a SBR. If you cut a rifle’s barrel under 16″ it’s an SBR, unless you remove the stock, in which case it’s a pistol. But if you add a foregrip to that, it becomes another type of NFA item called an AOW (“Any Other Weapon”) which requires a $5 tax.

In 1986 the Firearm Owners Protection Act froze the supply of machine-guns that could be transferred to individuals. The values of such transferable guns have run into 5 figures, so they are now mostly collectors items. People who want to legally play with machine-guns have to either be very wealthy or pay a Special Occupation Tax (typically at least $1000/year) to establish themselves as manufacturers, and subject themselves to license and regulation by the ATF.

Fortunately, the NFA tax rates stand at their original levels, and thanks to inflation it is no longer particularly difficult to pay the $200 to transfer or register a silencer or SBR in the majority of states where it is legal. In recent years hundreds of thousands of such tax stamps have been purchased as citizens have rediscovered the safety and convenience of silencers and SBRs.

A delay was always part of this process, but while many people were willing to wait a month or two for NFA paperwork to be processed, fewer are willing to go through the ordeal when the delay approaches a year. If government requires you to pay a tax to conduct commerce, its constitutional obligations to provide due process do not permit it to collect the tax and then withhold approval for an unreasonable period. Obama’s ATF has certainly crossed the line.

Economic interests promote freedom

Minnesota is one of the 10 states where gun silencers are still prohibited. But when a gun company threatened to move its manufacturing to a neighboring state, Shooting Wire reports:

A couple of weeks ago, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bit of legislation (H.F. 1816) into law that accomplished a couple of things. The primary goal – allowing Minnesota firearms dealers to legally possess suppressors for research and development, product demonstrations and law enforcement sales, was one that was easy to see.

The second thing it accomplished was actually what it prevented. It kept JP Enterprises from leaving Minnesota for more a more hospitable business climate. If the bill hadn’t passed, JP Enterprises had planned a relocation to either Wisconsin or South Dakota – places where the suppressor laws were more lenient.

I don’t think JP is even a notably large employer.

I wonder if a large number of gun manufacturers got together they could exert enough economic leverage to get the Firearms Freedom Act passed in one or more states? It would certainly be profitable in a large state since commerce in suppressors and “short-barrel” rifles would be liberated from the ATF’s $200 tax, paperwork, and excessive delays before buyers can take possession.