Given that a hypothetical American, who is underage, has been convicted of a gun crime, has restraining orders out against him, and is on a terror watchlist could go online and have an assault rifle shipped to his door without incident, the US gun lobby seems to have its work cut out for it: simply blocking any action in Congress will perpetuate this madness.
President Obama issued executive orders Tuesday in an attempt to bypass this legislative stasis. The biggest piece is expanding the number of small private dealers who must obtain licenses to sell guns and then must perform background checks. He will also send more money to agencies conducting the background checks, increase mental-health funding, and make it easier for states to send mental-health information into the background-check system. Federal agencies will also fund more research into making guns safer.
These efforts have been widely praised by gun-control groups, and are probably the outer limit of what Obama can hope to achieve on guns while he is president. He doesn’t claim the changes will solve the country’s gun problem, and they won’t: They will mainly nibble at the edges. It may be harder to buy a gun from a private seller online, but it will remain far from impossible.
Obama likely knows, however, that he’s facing an increasingly serious situation. The gun lobby isn’t content to simply play defense, but has pressed a completely unashamed effort in courts and state legislatures across the country to further weaken America’s already anemic gun laws.
Would it be crazy in a country already seeing a spike in mass killings, many of them conducted with semi-automatic assault weapons, to allow fully automatic machines guns to flood the streets? Yes, but that’s the aim of dueling court cases working their way up the federal judiciary at the moment.
In both Hollis vs. Lynch and Watson vs. Lynch, the plaintiffs are mounting an innovative challenge to federal laws that since 1986 have prohibited anyone from manufacturing fully automatic machine guns. (There are a relatively small number of pre-1986 machine guns still in existence, which one could obtain right now after a background check and an agreement to be monitored by federal authorities).* Working in tandem, Ryan Watson of Pennsylvania and Jay Lynch of Texas both applied to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for permits to manufacture fully automatic machine guns.
Both men made the application under the auspices of individual, unincorporated trusts. Their argument was simple: While the 1986 Gun Control Act forbids “persons” from possessing machine guns, Hollis and Lynch argued that the definition applied to actual people, corporations, or partnerships—but not trusts.