If you’re one of the nearly 8.4 million new first time gun owners in American, welcome to the firearms family. Now buckle up for the legal chaos, because 2021 is going to be a ride.
While millions – record-setting millions – of Americans exercised their Second Amendment rights in 2020, gun control activists were biding their time. Now 2021 has kicked off with yet another record surge of firearms purchases. But don’t think the newfound love for gun rights has changed the gun control battle plan. In fact, the first shots in the gun control fight have already left the barrel this year.
Here’s the current situation. For a short period at the end of 2020, as multiple national crises highlighted the importance of gun rights, it almost seemed like things were all quiet on the gun control front. But now we’re looking at a downright vicious political landscape with single-party dominance of the White House, Senate, and House. Within a week of taking their seats, the new U.S. Congress introduced a flurry of gun control proposals.
It was easy to miss, so let’s look at three fronts in the gun control war you need to watch in 2021.
Gun Control Via Market Access
If you can’t get the army out of the castle, starve them. That’s certainly one anti-gun game plan for 2021.
It might not be where the hip kids hang out in Washington D.C., but the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has significant power in the gun control fight. After a wave of banking institutions shunned firearms companies, due largely to political pressure, there was a proposal to stop this discriminatory practice through a “fair access” rule. Those plans were already put on ice with the arrival of President Biden’s administration.
This is the first real gun control blow of 2021. But it’s hardly going to be the last. Gun and ammo taxes are another measure that has gained some popularity, though Seattle discovered it wasn’t the revenue driver they’d hoped. Still, don’t be surprised if you see more talk about gun taxes in 2021. Sure enough, the Virginia legislature already has a gun tax bill waiting in the finance committee, and the previous U.S. Congress already saw a similar bill proposed last session.
Limiting Access: Bans, Buy Backs, Waiting Periods
During the Democrat primaries in 2019, one sentence from then-Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke sent waves around the gun community, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47!” But the threat to confiscate AR-style rifles is hardly the only proposal floating around.
Waiting Periods and Purchase Restrictions: Records from the massive surge of new gun owners in 2020 indicate the main driving force for first-time firearms owners was personal protection. While Americans faced a pandemic, civil unrest, and heightened political tensions, gun control advocates wanted longer waiting periods.
“They do this to just chill people from exercising their rights,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. “We've done a lot of research at the Second Amendment Foundation, and the other side made a big mistake with that because, while they thought putting that roadblock in the way of gun ownership would mean less guns would be sold … It actually increased the gun sales to some extent because you have to go back into the gun store.”
Still, waiting periods are on the 2021 agenda, with H.R.125 proposing a 7-day waiting period for any semi-automatic firearm (the most common type of handgun by far). Biden’s gun control website takes it a step further, with the goal of “restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one.”
Bans: Expect to see these come in multiple forms in 2021, targeting gun manufacturing, magazines, ammunition, and even the types of guns you can buy. Much of the Biden “gun violence” prevention plan is cryptic enough to be somewhat disarming. But Biden has put together a team of solidly anti-gun politicians, and there are some clear red flags already.
The Biden plan includes banning the manufacture or sale of “assault weapons” and “high-capacity magazines” (both left undefined). The overall argument is that hunters are prohibited “from hunting migratory game birds with more than three shells in their shotgun.” Though, self-defense and competition firearms do serve a fundamentally different purpose.
Biden’s plan further seeks to regulate existing “assault rifles” – again, undefined. It’s unclear how this would work, but the policy references the NFA, which uses a $200 tax stamps and additional background checks for items such as suppressors. It could be that this policy would be some form of tax, or it may imply a registration program.
Restrictions & Buy Backs: The current H.R. 127 includes a restriction on the types of ammunition that can be purchased. Additionally, Biden’s plan proposes to “buy back the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines already in our communities.” Owners could either sell them to the government (historically far below the original cost) or they can “register them under the National Firearms Act.” Again, this seems to imply a broadening of the scope of the NFA. It’s also unclear how the government would fund such a buyback.
Bans and restrictions on magazines have been attempted before, such as in New Jersey. The state banned “large-capacity” magazines back in 2018. This included magazines for some of most common handguns in America. Unless there was an unprecedented boating accident, compliance was miserable if not utterly laughable, with next to zero magazines turned in to authorities.
Registration & Licensing
The big dark cloud on the horizon for gun control this year – so far anyway – may well be H.R. 127. This proposal calls for registrations and licensing. But it goes further, proposing psychological evaluations and insurance just to own a gun.
“These requirements are just impossible for most people to be able to even meet, and again, this just shows where the other side is coming from,” said Gottlieb. “They think they can get away with legislation like this because it doesn't say ‘gun ban.’ We're not saying you can't have a gun, so it doesn't matter what the Supreme Court may have ever said about gun rights.”
Licensing gives the government the power to “grant” gun rights, so they could make gun ownership as rare as pink elephants if they wanted. Illinois has long required residents to obtain a FOID card to merely possess a firearm. But the state also licenses concealed carry permits. With a population of 12.7 million, Illinois has only issued 332,00 permits. Compare that to its northern neighbor, Wisconsin, with a population of merely 5.8 million and 392,000 permits. New Jersey also stands out with a population of 8.9 million and only around 1,000 permits. Thus, the power to restrict gun rights is only limited by the appetite of those in control of licensing.
Conclusion: What You Can Do
So what can you do as a law-abiding gun owner right now? Well, you can start by supporting groups that are on the front lines fighting for your rights and the firearms industry, like the Second Amendment Foundation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. These groups are helping to provide a unified front for gun owners' rights.
“They try to pass one step at a time and divide and conquer,” said Gottlieb. “Split the hunters off from the people who buy guns for self-defense. Split off people who might want to buy a semi-automatic rifle from somebody who only wants a handgun … It's a divide and conquer mentality the other side uses, and our side has to realize that.”
You can also get off the sidelines by contacting your senator or representative. If anything, at least stay informed and vote. Remember, freedom dies in the dark.