Violence Policy Center (VPC) is a handgun prohibition organization. The group’s website still hosts a document declaring “Handguns should be banned from future sale except for military and law-enforcement personnel.” It should come as no surprise then that the group is advocating for executive action to ban on some of America’s most common handguns.
In recent years, some criminals have illegally modified common semi-automatic Glock pistols into machineguns. Typically, this has been done using illegal parts (sometimes called Glock switches) acquired from unscrupulous overseas manufacturers or intensive personal manufacture.
It is not illegal to own a machinegun in the U.S. However, their transfer and possession are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).
The NFA requires certain firearms and firearm accessories to be registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Prospective machine gun buyers must apply to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for permission to transfer the firearm and pay a $200 tax.
A last-minute amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, dubbed the Hughes Amendment for sponsor Rep. William Hughes (D-N.J.), prohibits civilians from transferring or possessing machine guns not registered by May 19, 1986. The general public may still transfer and possess machine guns registered before that date, but the available supply of these items is frozen.
18 U.S.C. §924 provides that the transfer or possession of an unregistered machinegun is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Further, the same code section makes clear that a person who uses a machinegun in a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime “shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 30 years.”
Rather than focusing on the illegal machine gun parts or violent criminals who use them, according to VPC Government Affairs Director Kristen Rand, common semi-automatic Glock handguns should be regulated as machineguns.
An October 28 Chicago Sun Times article reported,
Rand says ATF should consider using its authority to reclassify certain types of firearms that are easily converted into fully automatic weapons. Other firearms besides Glocks also are “readily convertible” into machine guns by machining or adding a few parts, she says.
“ATF should be looking at using their existing authority to classify some of these firearms as ‘machine guns’…
Recall that the general public may not transfer or possess machineguns not registered by May 19, 1986. Therefore, under such a proposal, semi-automatic Glock handguns owned by law-abiding gun owners would become contraband. In other words: gun confiscation.
Now, consider VPC’s reading of the law.
Rand claimed that Glocks and other unspecified firearms should be classified as machineguns because they are purportedly “readily convertible” to fire automatically. Rand’s use of the “readily convertible” language may stem from the definition of “firearm” in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3), which states in part,
The term “firearm” means (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;
However, this “readily convertible” or “readily be converted” language does not appear in the federal definition of a machinegun.
26 U.S.C. § 5845 defines a machinegun as follows,
The term “machinegun” means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
The “machinegun” definition contemplates a weapon that can be “readily restored” to shoot automatically. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “restore” to include, “to put or bring back into existence or use” and “to bring back to or put back into a former or original state.”
As a commercially available semi-automatic Glock pistol has never had the capability to fire automatically, it certainly cannot be “restored” to do so.
Note that the definition does include “any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun.” Therefore, anyone found in possession of a Glock switch or similar device, whether or not that item is equipped to a firearm or even whether or not the item is possessed at the same time as a firearm, can be charged with illegal possession of a machinegun.
It is clear from a plain reading of federal law that the machinegun definition cannot be applied to commonly-owned semi-automatic pistols like the Glock. However, it is instructive to examine how extensive VPC’s proposed handgun ban would be.
According to ATF’s annual Firearm Commerce in the United States report, pistols (separate from revolvers) were the most popular type of firearm manufactured in the U.S. in 2019. ATF’s 2020 Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report noted that Glock manufactured 445,442 pistols in the U.S. that year. ATF data shows Glock’s home country of Austria accounted for 1,279,123 pistols imported into the U.S. in 2020. As The American Rifleman pointed out in early 2021, “In 2020 the Glock G19 was the top-selling semi-auto pistol sold by FFLs using the services of GunBroker.com.”
Glocks are ubiquitous and used by millions of Americans for lawful purposes like self-defense and target shooting. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the Second Amendment right extends to the possession and use of arms “in common use at the time” for lawful purposes like self-defense. Under any conceivable consideration, Glock pistols fall under this protection and the Second Amendment precludes any attempt to ban them.
As noted, semi-automatic Glock pistols cannot meet the federal machinegun definition. But consider if VPC’s twisted logic were combined with Supreme Court precedent.
As one of the most popular firearms, Glocks are certainly in common use for lawful purposes and thus protected under the Second Amendment and Heller. If VPC got its way and the federal government attempted to reclassify Glocks as machineguns, that could result in a so-called machinegun falling under the explicit protections of the Second Amendment. Making clear that the Second Amendment applies to machineguns doesn’t seem like something gun control advocates would support.
With the Supreme Court striking down D.C. and Chicago’s handgun bans, the Right-to-Carry recognized throughout the country, and Constitutional Carry in half the states, VPC is further from its goal of banning handguns than when the group started more than three decades ago. However, with the radical nature of the Biden administration, gun owners must keep an eye on attempts to enact illegitimate executive gun controls. After all, President Biden has made clear he wants to ban 9mm handguns.
An alternative approach to this matter would be to seek 30-year prison sentences for those who use illegal machine gun parts to commit violent crime, as provided under current federal law. Given the prevailing soft-on-violent crime sentiment of many policymakers and a Department of Justice that seems more concerned with wrongthink than criminal wrongdoing, law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t expect such a sensible outcome.