NEAL KNOX REPORT
War Trophy Bill
By Neal Knox
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 18)--Last week Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) and 52 co-sponsors re-introduced H.R. 3807, “The Veterans' Heritage Firearms Act,” a bill to allow mainly Korean War and World War II veterans and their families to register war trophies--including live machine guns.
The bill will give heartburn to politicians of all stripes who claim to support veterans, gun ownership, the Second Amendment--and even those who say they “only” want guns registered.
Presently, if the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record does not show a veteran's firearm in the known-to-be-flawed registry, the relic may be seized and destroyed. The veteran or an heir may be held criminally liable--and subject to a 10-year prison sentence--though believing that the war trophy, shipped home by the U.S. Government, sometimes with a written permission slip signed by a military commander--was perfectly legal.
H.R. 3807 provides a 90 day amnesty, 90 days after enactment of the bill, for veterans who served overseas between June 26, 1934 (the end of the National Firearms Act amnesty) and October 31, 1968 (the beginning of the little-known Gun Control Act of 1968 30-day amnesty) to register their firearms without fear of prosecution.
In a nice twist, the bill calls for notices of the amnesty and registration forms to be available in post offices, VFW halls and American Legion posts.
Although GCA ’68 calls for additional amnesty periods, there has never been one.
Such amnesties have been opposed by BATF and its predecessors on the ground that an amnesty period might disrupt current investigations or prosecutions.
Knowing that Rep. Gibbons planned to introduce his amnesty bill, a couple of years ago I asked BATF spokesmen about war trophies during their seminar at the SHOT show. The person in charge of the registry referred to such guns as “family heirlooms in the attic” and said they had no interest in prosecuting such owners. But she repeated the “might interrupt investigations” mantra when I asked about an amnesty.
Under Gibbons’ bill, any such firearms seized by BATF must be made available to qualified museums, including private museums.
It would permanently decriminalize any attempt by a qualified veteran or his heir, to register afirearm after the amnesty expired, by prohibiting ATF from prosecuting them for at least 30 days after BATF told them they were at criminal risk for unlawful possession, and that they could avoid prosecution altogether by giving up the gun.
Every gun collector has heard of many such guns--like the Reising subgun and Nambu Light Machine Gun former Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) told me his father had brought back from the Pacific in World War II.
During lunch in the Senate Dining Room years ago he asked me what they were worth. I told him “$10,000 … fine and 10 years imprisonment, unless you’ve got the right papers.”
He insisted they weren’t illegal for the Reising had a bent magazine, stomped by Japanese troops who had killed his father’s best friend, while carrying his father’s borrowed gun. And he “couldn’t get ammo” for the Nambu LMG. I reminded him of those guns (which others have told me he kept in his Russell Building office closet) when he cast a hypocritical vote for the 1994 ban on semi-auto “assault weapons.”
The bill’s many co-sponsors include House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Cal.) and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.).