Gun control laws, especially the bans on so called “assault weapons“, tend to be highly technical in nature. Such laws include arbitrary limitations on the length of barrels, the number of round a magazine can store, cosmetic features of the gun, etc. This leaves the average law abiding citizen unaware that they might be violating the law, until they are arrested. Worse yet, some laws are rather vague, leaving even the most diligent and well educated citizen unable to determine if they are in violation. Given the severe penalties in place for having a handgun magazine that holds one round to many, or a rifle barrel that is a half an inch too short, these laws are some of the most unjust currently on the books. Below are some examples:
“Assault Weapon” Bans
The bans on so-called assault weapons usually include a limitation on standard capacity handgun or rifle magazines. These restrictions limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds, which is below the number that come standard on most ordinary handguns. The result is that ordinary handguns that have been around for about 100 years, such as the Springfield 1911, can be banned as “assault weapons.” Since your average citizen won’t know that their ordinary handgun magazine is now classified as a “high capacity assault weapon feeding device”, they won’t know that they are violating the law until they are arrested and jailed.
Another example is the “assault weapon” ban on semi-automatic shotguns that have a capacity to hold more than 5 shells. Virtually every semi-automatic shotgun stores its shells stacked one behind the other in a tubular magazine. This means that the same shotgun might hold 3 shells of a certain length, or 4 shells of another length. While most 12 gauge shotgun shells are 2.75″ or 3″ in length, some specialty shells could be purchased or made that are much shorter in length. A prosecutor might load 6 of these tiny, rare shells into a shotgun, and claim the shotgun’s owner has violated the assault weapon ban. Until there is a test case that makes its way through the courts, we can’t say with certainty how such a scenario would turn out.
Similarly, the “assault weapon” ban on “features that can act as a protruding grip for the non-trigger hand” is vague, leaving citizens unable to tell if they are in violation of the law. Does a sling attached to the gun count? What about the end cap for the magazine? Or a flashlight attached to the gun so that home invaders can be seen at night? Since the “assault weapon” bans offer no guidance, law abiding citizens (and even lawyers) are unable to tell what exactly would violate the law until a test case makes its way through the courts.
Minimum Barrel Length Restrictions
Some states, and the federal government, have restrictions on the minimum length that is permitted for shotgun and rifle barrels. Often, shotgun barrels are required to be at least 18″ long, and rifle barrels must be at least 16″ in length. This means that having a barrel that is just a fraction of an inch too short can mean the difference between being a law abiding citizen and a felon. Drew Peterson recently found this out, when his rifle barrel was measured by the police and found to be 3/8 of an inch too short. He was arrested and charged with a felony, for which he could face up to 5 years in prison. 3/8 of an inch of barrel length is not worth 5 years in prison and a felony conviction. Instead, police and prosecutors will often use such technicalities to convict people when they are unable to get a conviction for the substantive crime the person was originally suspected of.
[Note that I am not stating an opinion as far as the controversy surrounding Drew Peterson, the death of his 3rd wife, or the disappearance of his 4th wife. This is because all I know about that controversy is what the news reports, and I have seen too many cases where a man who was vilified by the media turns out to be innocent. Innocent until proven guilty should mean something.]
As you can see, gun control laws tend to be highly technical, leaving ordinary citizens without the ability to understand them. These laws also tend to be vague, which leaves even highly educated lawyers unable to determine exactly what the gun control law prohibits. Worse yet are the ways that fractions of an inch of barrel length or magazine capacity can be used by unscrupulous police prosecutors to find some law to convict a high profile citizen of violating.