IFC testimony on “ghost guns” was a wild ride this week.  Here is what you need to know about HF488…

IFC strongly opposes this bill, which is unwarranted, unwise, and most certainly unconstitutional.

This bill seeks to mandate that state-supplied registration numbers be engraved or permanently affixed to personally made firearms, as well as to items it terms as “unfinished frames or receivers”. Those are hunks of metal of which “most” (left undefined, but presumably 50%, plus a fraction) of the machining work necessary to turn the metal into a frame or receiver of a firearm has been accomplished. The bill makes it a crime for an individual who is not a federally licensed firearm manufacturer or dealer to build a firearm for personal use without affixing this registration number. Furthermore, no such individual may even possess an “unfinished frame or receiver” that is not marked with a registration number.

It must be noted here that what the bill defines as an “unfinished frame or receiver” is NOT in fact a firearm frame or receiver. Rather, it is a hunk of metal upon which some machining operations have been performed and which AT SOME POINT may be worked further in order to TRANSFORM it into a usable firearm part.

The personal manufacture of weapons, including firearms, is an ancient and worldwide tradition that continues to this day. Whether it be a pike, a bow, a spear, a sword, or the long rifle of the American colonists used to such effect in their war for independence, the weapons were historically hand-crafted by those who would wield them or by independent craftsmen. True mass production of firearms became possible only in the first half of the 19th Century.

Even today, there are many reasons why an individual might wish to manufacture a firearm for personal use, including for maximum customization, economy, or merely the benefit of learning and practicing the skills required. There are also law-abiding citizens who don’t want government agencies keeping track of what or how many firearms they might possess. (More on this later.)

There has never been a federal statute banning the manufacture of firearms by an individual for personal use, nor for requiring they be marked with serial numbers. It wasn’t until 1968 that federal law required firearms manufacturer and dealers to obtain federal licenses and to place serial numbers on their products.

With the rise in popularity in recent years of partially machined firearms parts kits that make building one’s own firearms easier and economical, there has been a corresponding wail of concern that this so-called “flood” of guns must be stamped out, or at least controlled. The catchy propaganda term “ghost guns” was created to further this aim. In the absence of a federal statute, the Biden administration pressed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to craft a new regulation that highly restricts these firearms parts and kits and requires registration similarly to this bill.

However, a federal district judge found that the ATF’s final rule was an unconstitutional abrogation of legislative powers granted ONLY to Congress. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has concurred and last week the ATF has been forced to appeal to the Supreme Court, where they seem likely to lose.

Furthermore, in October of 2022, a federal district judge ruled that the federal law making it a crime to possess a firearm with the serial number “altered, obliterated or removed” is unconstitutional under that Second Amendment, as there is no historical tradition dating from the founding era that would justify such a modern law.

Why do some politician and bureaucrats want to require serial numbers on firearms, including personally made firearms? They frequently claim that it is to help law enforcement solve crimes by “tracing” the chain of possession of a firearm backwards from a crime scene. However, this is an exceptionally dubious claim.  Criminals very seldom leave firearms that are traceable to them behind at the scene of their crimes.

The REAL goal is REGISTRATION of all firearms. Governments throughout history have found it much easier to control an unarmed populace than an armed one. Again, the concern is not truly for criminals, but for the vastly larger numbers of honest citizens. (In fact, according to a 1968 Supreme Court ruling, criminals do not have to obtain licenses or register their weapons, as that would be an act of self-incrimination.) (Haynes vs. U.S. 390 U.S. 85, 1968)

Some real-world examples of how fruitless these traces of “crime guns” tend to be, even in jurisdictions with mandatory gun registration:

  • During testimony before the Hawaii State Senate in 2000, the Honolulu chief of police stated that he couldn’t find any crimes that had been solved due to registration and licensing. The chief also said that his officers devoted about 50,000 hours each year to registering and licensing guns. Registration and licensing divert police from traditional, time-tested law enforcement activities.
  • Licensing and registration also haven’t worked in Pennsylvania or other places. During a 2001 lawsuit, the Pennsylvania state police could not identify a specific crime solved by the registration system from 1901 to 2001, though they did claim that it had “assisted” in a total of four cases, they could provide no details.
  • During a 2013 deposition, the Washington, D.C., police chief said that she could not “recall any specific instance where registration records were used to determine who committed a crime.” Crime Prevention Research Center

In the meantime, we Americans must realize that registration enables confiscation and remember some examples from recent history and their horrific consequences:

  • Hitler used the gun registration records from the Weimar Republic to strip German Jews of their lawfully possessed firearms, then murdered them en masse
  • Mao Tse Tung – who killed more of his own people that Hitler and Stalin combined – systematically confiscated firearms as he consolidated power in district after district, then executed anyone found with a gun
  • Fidel Castro distributed guns to perhaps a million and a half Cubans, but upon seizing and consolidating power, he took them all back, again under pain of death.

Iowa Firearms Coalition urges you to kill this bill. We will always fight to ensure that government recognizes, protects, and respects the fundamental individual right to keep and bear arms. It is the right that is the ultimate guarantor of all our other rights and both the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions clearly state that it “shall not be infringed”.

IFC requested this bill be killed and it was…

-Richard Rogers – IFC Board Member