Congress Seeks Increased Regulation on Homemade Firearms
A group of Congressmen led by Rep. Mike Honda (D) has submitted a bill to the U.S. House to require background checks and serial numbers for home built guns.
The bill, co-sponsored by nine fellow Democrats, was introduced to the House on Sept. 18. In a statement released to coincide with its debut, Honda stresses that the legislation ensures that regulations mandated for commercial firearms purchases be extended to include self-assembled guns.
“The laws should be the same for the gun you buy and the gun you make,” said Honda. “Our system of background checks and registrations are in place to ensure public safety. There’s absolutely no reason these checks and registrations should apply to guns made by a licensed manufacturer, but not apply to other, equally dangerous, weapons.”
The bill, H.R. 5606, the Homemade Firearms Accountability Act, would require homemade firearms to have serial numbers. While text is not currently available, Honda’s press release bemoans the current availability of incomplete lower receivers that can be manufactured into legal homemade firearms.
Making your own firearm has never been illegal in the United States, providing no laws prevent the builder from owning said firearm once it was made.
In the case of AR-15 platforms, these “80 percent lowers” can be had for as little as $100 and finished in a weekend into a functional firearm, provided the hobbyist has the right tools and know how. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives has long held that “provisions of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 allow for an unlicensed individual to make a ‘firearm’ as defined in the act for his own personal use, but not for sale or distribution.”
Honda references two incidents in his statement, one in Santa Monica in 2013 and another in Stockton this July, as justification for the legislation.
The Santa Monica case that of John Zawahri, 23, who killed five people with a cap and ball revolver and an AR-15 style rifle that is believed to have been homemade.
In the Stockton incident, which led to the death of two bank robbers and a hostage, all shot by police, an AK-47 style rifle was used that is believed by the ATF to have been made by an unlicensed manufacturer.
These two incidents have brought early support for Honda’s bill from gun control groups to include the Violence Policy Center, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“The bill will simply ensure that homemade firearms are subject to the same safeguards as guns made by licensed manufacturers,” said Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center.
The federal legislation comes the same month that California’s legislature passed SB808, better known as the Ghost Gun Bill. This measure, currently on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, would require a state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms background check and authorization before assembling a firearm in the home of a state resident. Additionally, before this could be granted, the candidate would have to show proof that building the gun would not violate local city or county codes. The completed gun would then have to be serial numbered and registered.
Honda, the same day he introduced his legislation, penned a letter to Brown urging the state’s chief executive to sign SB808, warning that current law, “allows criminals and dangerous individuals to access weapons that our system of state and federal background checks and registration is designed to keep away.”
Honda’s bill is currently referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
By: Chris Eger, guns.com
Lawsuit Sparks Debate over Exploding Targets
Jennifer Plank-Greer was standing 150 feet away taking cellphone videos of a man about to fire a rifle at a target.
He pulled the trigger. The refrigerator, the target, exploded. People began screaming.
Plank-Greer glanced down at the hand that had been holding the cellphone and it was nearly gone, with only a portion of her skin intact.
An exploding compound that had been placed inside the refrigerator had detonated at a high velocity, sending metal fragments in her direction and almost severing her right hand.
The accident more than two years ago in rural Celina, Ohio, has prompted her civil lawsuit against the manufacturer and distributor of the exploding compound, commonly used for target-shooting purposes by gun enthusiasts. It also has raised safety concerns among law-enforcement officials and at least one Indiana lawmaker who has pushed for legislation to limit public access to such products.
Currently in Indiana, anyone can buy exploding compounds, more commonly known as exploding rifle targets. They're relatively inexpensive and are mostly sold online through manufacturers' or distributors' websites. A YouTube search yields numerous videos of people using the product for recreational purposes.
If Plank-Greer, who's originally from Knightstown, had her way, that wouldn't be the case. Since her accident, she has advocated for more restrictions on who can and can't buy the product.
"This product doesn't need to be on the shelf," said Plank-Greer, 38, who had gone through 16 surgical procedures to reattach her hand. "I was just a spectator. Even those who shoot at it, they don't know what's going to fly where."
A regulation loophole?
Federal law does not regulate exploding rifle targets.
That's because the product is sold and marketed as two separate binary components, ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, neither of which are explosive by themselves. Those who buy the products must first mix the components before they become an explosive. That's a loophole in federal regulation, said attorney Chris Stevenson, who represents Plank-Greer in the lawsuit.
"The issue here is that technically, this product isn't an explosive until it is mixed together by the consumer," said Stevenson, a personal injury lawyer for Indianapolis-based Wilson Kehoe Winingham. "So it's not really an explosive, even if it's packaged together and sold as an explosive. Federal law says it's not."
This product doesn't need to be on the shelf. I was just a spectator. Even those who shoot at it, they don't know what's going to fly where.
Jennifer Plank-Greer, injured by explosion
he only time federal regulations apply is when people mix the components and store them overnight, said Suzanne Dabkowski, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Columbus, Ohio. However, most people who buy the product, mix the components and use the explosive immediately.
Stevenson said Indiana has to have some restrictions on who can buy exploding rifle targets.
"It's a product that can potentially be very dangerous," he said. "To think that a teenager can go in and purchase this without any checks, that's troubling. If a felon can go and purchase this without any check, that's a problem and an issue."
Sgt. Ron Humbert, a member of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's bomb squad, agrees and thinks exploding rifle targets pose enough of a safety and security concern that access to them should be limited to law enforcement and to those with an explosive license. He said a few ounces of the mixed product probably has the same damage capacity as half a stick of dynamite.
Exploding rifle targets also have caught the attention of the FBI. In March 2013, the agency wrote on its intelligence bulletin that such products can be used "for illicit purposes by criminals and extremists."
Some oppose restrictions
And they also have caught the eye of state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who in early 2013 introduced a bill that would limit the sale of the products to those who are 18 and older.
"What I was proposing is that this is a product you don't want to ban," he said. "You want to make it difficult for those under 18 to obtain it. Doing that would be putting it behind the counter and asking for identification when an individual purchases it."
The bill died because the legislature did not see a widespread need to regulate the substance. Merritt said some of his peers saw the bill as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. He said he plans to reintroduce the same bill later this year.
Restrictions on exploding targets already are in place in some states.
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service banned exploding targets on its property in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Earlier this year, Maryland approved a bill that limits buying, manufacturing or carrying exploding targets only to those with explosive licenses.
There's no loophole at all. It's called the law. Tannerite is specifically allowed by law and always has been. You can bet that if Tannerite was dangerous, it would have been restricted 20 years ago.
Dan Tanner, CEO of Tannerite Sports
Dan Tanner, CEO of Oregon-based Tannerite Sports, which manufactures exploding targets, called further restrictions "ridiculous," considering the fact that a person must legally own a firearm to shoot — and explode — such targets.
Tanner said his company already has a self-imposed age restriction of 18 on who can buy Tannerite, which has more restrictions than over-the-counter black powder explosives. He added there are no safety risks if the products are used properly as instructed on the label. He also disagreed that a loophole in federal regulation exists.
"There's no loophole at all. It's called the law," he said. "Tannerite is specifically allowed by law and always has been. You can bet that if Tannerite was dangerous, it would have been restricted 20 years ago."
Tanner said that while he agrees that combinations of the binary compounds could be used by a criminal to hurt someone, Tannerite is safer because "unlike many other targets, it can't be lit with flame or fuse" and requires a rifle bullet to detonate it.
Tannerite and H2 Targets, which is manufactured by Ohio-based H2 Targets, are the most popular brands of exploding targets.
H2 Targets is one of the defendants in Plank-Greer's pending lawsuit, along with Big Buck's Firearms & Sporting Goods Inc., which distributes the product, and the owner of the Celina, Ohio, property where she was injured.
Except for being able to wiggle her thumb, Plank-Greer said she has lost the function of her right hand.
Since the accident, she said she's had to learn how to write with her left hand and needed assistance with basic household chores. Even the most mundane tasks, such as starting a car or buttoning her pants, have become difficult. She said she also lost her job months after the accident because she couldn't perform simple tasks.
Last summer, Plank-Greer moved to Bradenton, Fla., because the cold weather in Indiana is too painful for her hand.
Her lawsuit, which was filed in 2012 in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleges H2 Targets' products were defective in design and that both the manufacturer and distributor failed to provide adequate instructions and warnings. It also alleges negligence on the part of James Yaney Jr., who owns the property where the accident occurred.
James Thieman, attorney for H2 Targets, said the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury while she was watching the shooting activities. Attorneys for Big Buck's and Yaney did not return a phone call seeking comment.
By: Kristine Guerra, The Indianapolis Star
NRA Withholds Endorsement in Alaska Senate Race
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has decided to not endorse either candidate in Alaska's U.S. Senate race, with a spokesman saying Wednesday that Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's support of two Supreme Court nominees opposed by the group cost him an endorsement.
Still, the NRA's decision to not throw its weight behind Begich's Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan, could aid the Democrat's effort to retain his seat. Sullivan has enjoyed a modest lead in recent polling, with a CBS News/New York Times estimate released earlier this month showing the Republican ahead 44 to 38 percent.
The announcement came after the group's political arm reported in recent filings with the Federal Election Commission that it made ad buys in several prominent U.S. Senate races across the country, including Colorado, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
In Alaska, the NRA gave Begich an A-minus rating and his Sullivan an A-q. The "q" means the grade is qualified because Sullivan has no voting record, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. Grades in those cases are based, in part, on answers provided in questionnaires. Sullivan, a former state attorney general and Natural Resources commissioner, is making his first run for public office.
Arulanandam said Begich would have gotten a higher grade and the NRA's endorsement if he had not voted for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Both were opposed by the NRA.
On gun votes, Begich has stood with NRA members 100 percent of the time, Arulanandam said.
After a deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Arulanandam noted, Begich did not bow to pressure, even from within his own party, to support tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons. Both of those proposals ultimately failed.
At the time, Begich said lawmakers should focus on improving mental health care rather than new gun control measures.
"That certainly didn't go unnoticed by gun owners all across the country," Arulanandam said.
Begich and Sullivan have each brandished their support for the Second Amendment during the campaign. A new Sullivan ad features Elaina Spraker, who is identified as a firearms instructor and expresses frustration with Begich.
"How do you vote for Barack Obama's anti-gun judges and still say you support the Second Amendment?" she asks. The ad ends with a picture of Sullivan helping one of his daughters as she takes aim with a rifle.
"Dan Sullivan is proud to have the support of gun owners and NRA members from across Alaska who are fed up with Mark Begich's votes for President Obama's anti-gun judicial nominees," Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson said in an emailed statement.
Begich countered that gun ownership in Alaska "means hunting to put food on the table, self-defense and recreation," and he touted his healthy rating from the NRA as evidence of his commitment to Second Amendment rights.
"One of the strongest differences between my opponent and me are our records," he said, "and my rating from the NRA reflects that."
Answering the critique about his support for Mr. Obama's high court nominees, Begich said he always considers a broad set of issues, including Alaskans' right to privacy from government wiretapping and the need to protect the rights of Alaska's women.
At the time of Sotomayor's confirmation in 2009, Begich said he made clear Alaskans' strongly held views on the right to bear arms and said he was convinced she would not be an activist judge. In 2010, the senator made similar comments about Kagan.
The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund has endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner over Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, Republican Thom Tillis over Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina, and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, over Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas.
The NRA even deployed a $4 million dollar ad blitz last week in support of its favored candidates in those races. One ad, in Arkansas, praises Cotton's record on guns, saying Cotton "will stand up to President Obama's extreme gun control agenda."
The ad makes no mention of Pryor. And though he was denied the NRA's endorsement, the group has previously praised the incumbent's record on gun issues.
Pryor, like Begich, opposed the gun control measures pushed in the wake of Newtown. His opposition, at the time, earned him a "thank you" from the NRA, which ran ads praising Pryor's willingness to buck the consensus in his party on the issue.
But it wasn't enough for Pryor to net the NRA's endorsement. Arulanandam told CBS News in an interview last week that the group's endorsements "are based on complete voting records, they're not just based on one vote."
By: CBS/Associated Press