Gun Control Activists Are Targeting the Right to Self-Sufficiency
Before America had a Constitution, We the People had the right to keep and bear arms. This is a natural right, proceeding from the basic human right of self-defense. The very language of the Second Amendment — “the right…shall not be infringed” — makes it clear that our Framers were acknowledging and protecting a pre-existing right of the people, not granting Americans a government-bestowed privilege.
Likewise, before our Republic had a Second Amendment, we were crafting, customizing, and making our own guns. The most famous firearm in American history, the Kentucky Long Rifle, was crafted by private gunsmiths in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.
Before the advent of mass production, the self-manufacture of personal firearms was recognized as an integral part of the right to self-defense. Many were forced to build, repair, or customize their own firearms to defend their small communities or, eventually, to fight in the Revolutionary War.
The right to craft and customize firearms is integral to the right to determine which arms one will “keep and bear.”
There is nothing strange or sinister about making and customizing one’s own means of personal defense. Assembling or crafting a gun is no more unusual than growing your own food in a garden or sewing an article of clothing. But accustomed to modern technology, some Americans have forgotten these basic realities — and yet, many of us still value self-sufficiency over a culture of centralization, dependency, and government control.
The latest assault on our basic right to arms is against this oft-neglected right to make and craft them. In late 2020, a group of gun control activists and progressive cities sued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), challenging the Agency’s well-established definition of what constitutes a “firearm.” Through two ongoing lawsuits — Syracuse v. ATF and California v. ATF — these activists are seeking to forcibly change the definition of “firearm” —for the entire nation.
Specifically, they are challenging the ATF’s objective and accurate classification of many things that are not firearms and cannot readily be converted into firearms. Objects commonly referred to as “receiver blanks,” “frame blanks,” “partially-manufactured frames,” “partially-manufactured receivers,” “80% frames,” “80% receivers,” “unfinished frames,” or “unfinished receivers.”
With skill, experience, time, and the right machining equipment, these objects can — legally —become part of a weapon for personal use. The same could be said of a raw block of aluminum, something that no one can reasonably say is a “firearm.”
Yet these gun control activists, in their zeal to regulate, will effectively say just that. Recently, some organizations have called for anything that can be manufactured into a firearm to be regulated as a firearm. They would have shovels, plumbing, and even certain elements of the periodic table, be regulated as “firearms” under federal law.
That’s absurd, of course — but it’s a logical consequence of the false notion that materials that may be manufactured into firearms are firearms.
By contrast, the ATF’s current interpretation is longstanding and reasonable. The ATF employs an objective test, based on actual manufacturing processes, to determine whether an object is a “firearm” under federal law. This method of classification dates back decades and was even employed during the Obama Administration.
Now, gun control activists insist on their preferred test. A subjective analysis that would seek to factor in the skill level of individual machinists in order to define certain possible components as “firearms” in their own right. This is needlessly convoluted, and it obscures the basic fact that possible gun components are not guns.
Worst of all, this new definition of “firearms” will chill and curtail the exercise of a constitutionally protected natural right—forcing far heavier regulation upon those who make and craft guns for personal use, and destroying many businesses dedicated to this venerable American tradition.
The coming years will be filled with such legal battles. Gun control activists will claim to be “closing loopholes” and seeking “common-sense safety measures,” while their actions — often in little-publicized court cases, and the fine print of Federal regulations — threaten natural and fundamental rights.
But organizations such as Mountain States Legal Foundation’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms will not stand idly by. We are actively seeking to intervene in both Syracuse v. ATF and California v. ATF, on behalf of two individuals, a well-known producer of the objects at issue, 80% Arms, and an ally in the fight against unconstitutional gun control, Firearms Policy Coalition.
If there is no right to make or customize our own guns, then there is ultimately no right to decide which arms we will keep and bear. Without that underlying right of choice, the right to keep and bear arms — a natural right, not granted by government — will be subject to the will of the government, not to the will of We the People.
Cody J. Wisniewski (@TheWizardofLawz) is the Director of Mountain States Legal Foundation’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms. He primarily focuses on Second Amendment issues but is happy so long as he is reminding the government of its enumerated powers and constitutional restrictions.