The argument on gun control is one that rages on in forums, protests and articles at every turn. It’s important to remember that the United States is a country that fought for its independence, settled the Wild West, and ended a civil war to end slavery—All with the use of good ol’ American gusto and guns, lots of guns. According to Congressional Research Service, the United States currently has 300 million guns circulating in all.
It seems that anytime there is a gun related incident the United States a stalemate argument crops up between the pro-firearm side, and their opposition who champion gun regulation, background checks or outright banning. With the news cycle having a seemingly endless cycle of gun-related violence, a lot of people question the nature of United States Gun Control which is a deep seeded topic in the country’s history and culture. As it stands the current definition for an illegal firearm in the USA is nebulous at best. In 1994 it was any gun with 2 or more modifications or designs, such as silencers and grenade launchers. This expired in 2004 and now the definition and oversight changes from state to state. However as we saw in the Vegas Shooting, legal modifications such as a bump-stock can be used to increase the deadly nature of these weapons. Let us be clear, this isn’t some twisted buyer's guide. Today we look at 15 reasons these Powerful Guns are illegal in the United States (and some interesting exceptions).
15 Automatic Firing Mechanic
This is pretty self-explanatory, but for the uninitiated it essentially means that once you pull the trigger, the gun will continue firing until you depress the trigger. Some guns are manufactured with this piece already associated with the gun and can be removed while other guns have the ability to become fully automatic with modifications.
It’s pretty clear why this is illegal and considered an assault gun modification. While enthusiasts will tout how fun using one of these guns can be in controlled settings, anti-gun advocates will cite the lack of practicality in sports like hunting. And while the automatic firing mechanics are illegal, crank triggers are not, they resemble old-timey Gatling guns or “hellfire triggers” which allow for multiple bullets to be fired per squeeze.
14 Pistol Grip On Rifle
A pistol grip on a rifle allows for the gun to be used more comfortably. Under the US Federal Ban on Assault Guns, any conspicuous grip beneath a gun’s action is illegal. What this means is that a traditional shotgun will have a trigger that integrates with the stock itself while the modification would be like, well, a pistol.
This is a more contested law. Gun advocates claim that a pistol grip doesn’t help with spray fire and that the easier grip means that the operator of the gun will have more control and thus, more safety in typical scenarios, such as hunting or target practice. One advocate saying, “A pistol grip turns a semi-automatic rifle into an ‘assault rifle’ the same way painting a number on the door of a Kia Soul turns it into an Indy race car.” While on the other side, regulation advocates claim that making the gun more difficult to fire in smaller hands dissuades child and adolescent misuse, The Journal of Pediatrics reporting 1300 gun related child deaths each year.
The classic and hardy Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947, is probably the most recognizable gun in the world. According to Wikipedia it has been involved and used in as many as 54 wars since it was invented in 1945. With countries all around the world using it due to its robust nature, cheap manufacturing and 70 years of battle stories helped cement its name as reliable. “Why do they want them? Well you can throw it in mud, sand, sleet, snow and sh!t and it’ll still fire straight.”
So is the AK-47 illegal in the US? The short answer is sort of, especially in these states (CA, DE, HI, IL, MA, MN, NJ, NY, RI, WA, and WI). The long answer is no, as long as it is semi-automatic which you can find from various sources. However if someone wants one that’s fully automatic they’ll have a tough time. Since they have to be manufactured before 1986 there is a limited supply and this means most “original AKs” cost tens of thousands of dollars.
12 Bayonet Mount
When one thinks of a bayonet, it conjures up images of redcoats in tidy lines firing their flintlock rifles in some 19th century conflict before charging into the fray. It seems to be a sort of staple in the images of war history, with soldiers using them frequently as recently as the Second World War and most modern militaries still include bayonet training.
For those who don’t know a bayonet is a knife or edged weapon fixed to the barrel of a gun to turn it into a pike. Now it seems pretty clear why these would constitute a normal sporting weapon into an “assault weapon.” It’s not as though you will be re-enacting the charge of the light brigade against some unsuspecting deer, or any other forest animal for that matter. If that is your intended purpose for a bayonet, you probably shouldn’t have a firearm in the first place.
11 Threaded Barrel
A threaded barrel allows for all sorts of malicious modifications and attachments to be equipped to guns, so in many places lawmakers have decided to ban the threaded barrel itself. In 8 states it is outright banned or heavily regulated; but for the other 42 the only barrier is a little red tape and a $200 tax.
This classification is another that tends to stir up controversy among gun owners in the US, a lot of which state that threaded barrels aren’t just for suppressors but can also be used for other attachments, others citing that most states have enough regulation in place for them. On the other hand you have anti-gun advocates who claim silencers are un-sportsman like at best and indicate clandestine violence at worst. Connecticut and Vermont for instance, allow suppressors but prohibit them in hunting.
10 Cannon Shells (But Cannons Are Okay)
Not exactly a firearm, but powerful and illegal nonetheless. Apparently the United States is NOT okay with you owning your own weaponized artillery or mortar shells. And is there really any shock to that? The last thing any police force wants to deal with is your town’s reclusive farmer who’s been living off the grid since the 80’s holding himself up in a defensive siege like some sort of demented Ruby Ridge 2.0.
Okay so you can’t fulfil your dreams of carpet bombing that stump out of your backyard or taking a particularly aggressive stance on the squirrels in your garden, but what if we said there was an alternative? As it turns out, while you cannot own explosive shells, any muzzle-loading cannon is perfectly legal and within your rights to own. So you might not be able to get rid of those squirrels, but you can re-enact the battle of Waterloo and get the most interesting noise complaint of all time.
9 Grenade Launcher
If you can’t mortar the stump out of the earth, then you cannot grenade it out of there either it seems. Only the most die-hard gun advocates have any sort of argument as to why one might need a grenade launcher leaned up against their bedside table. You’re kind of going above and beyond in the home protection category unless your insurance is something spectacular that covers explosive damages. In reality the Venn Diagram of advocates for grenade launchers and advocates for a second civil war to bring back slavery is a circle.
Like with so many of our previous examples, it seems like a sane move for the government to make, again you don’t want some crazed recluse being able to defend himself against the forces that are meant to protect and serve the public at large. It harkens back to the lawless age of the Wild West the USA was founded upon, where the misguided gunmen might have a scrappy standoff against the sheriff. The times may have changed, but with July’s “Farm Standoff” in New Mexico, the mentality has not.
8 Matchlock/Flintlock Guns
Here we venture into a bit of a grey area concerning American Gun Law. So we have briefly covered what the Federal laws used to say constitutes an illegal gun in the United States, but many of you know that a lot of the laws are actually state to state. So in this segment we will look at some interesting quirks some of these states offer when it comes to Flintlock or Matchlock guns, another name that conjures up images of redcoats.
For the uninitiated, these are what succeeded the Musket which took a long time to load. What are these quirks? For starters, you can have a short barrelled rifle which is usually illegal in the states; it magically becomes legal if you put on an antique firing mechanic. That just means it has to be made before 1898. Heck, in Maryland, you don’t even need a permit to openly carry around a functional antique gun, and other states like New York forgo registration altogether and exempt them from the Assault Weapon list entirely.
7 Guns With Detachable Drum/Magazine
The news of recent months and years has been absolutely rife with human suffering and loss, particularly at the hands of mass shootings and their increased presence not only in the States themselves, but their news outlets too. A lot of us have forgotten about the North Hollywood shootout of 1997, in which 2 bank robbers armed to the teeth squared off against over 300 LAPD in what is sometimes referred to as the Battle of North Hollywood.
What turned Tinsel Town into a bullet riddled Hell straight out of a Die Hard movie? The large capacity magazines or “drums” the perpetrators used is the easy answer. Nearly 2000 bullets were fired during the exchange with 8 civilians and 12 officers wounded. Lots of states have caught onto the dangerous nature of this attachment, lots citing that anything that can hold over 10-15 rounds is illegal, while other states like Florida have no magazine capacity restriction.
6 Short Barreled Rifle (SBR)
A short barrelled rifle is any rifle that has a modern firing mechanic and is less than a total of 26 inches (66cm) and a barrel shorter than 16 inches (40cm) in length. Surprise, surprise we find ourselves in the midst of another debate. A lot of gun advocates will claim that shorter barrels can improve accuracy in some instances; others claim that modifying the balance and weight of a gun will increase your performance. But the argument you hear the most is that it makes the gun easier to conceal, with at least one enthusiast writing that it suits “defence of home and disaster preparedness” well and later touting the ability to hide it in your car. It is easy to see why the NFA and 1994 laws classified these as dangerous.
One can’t help but imagine our patriotic citizen fighting a house fire with rifle fire, or shooting into a tornado, only to turn the gun on approaching firemen since they’re trespassing on his land.
5 Short Barreled Shotgun
A little bit more of a classic with all the same debates associated with it. While short-barrelled rifles are often a litany of different parts and mechanics to adjust in order to create an SBR, its counterpart, the sawed-off shotgun needs only a hacksaw and maybe a broom for the metal shavings. Gun and anti-gun advocates alike often wonder what the point of making a law is when a would-be sinister can turn a perfectly legal weapon into a potentially illegal assault weapon with about 5 minutes and a tool everyone and their grandmother has.
While understandable, it makes sense that there is a law in place for when the perpetrator is caught with illegal modifications so that due process can take place afterwards. It’s a radical idea, but it's almost as if police officers should arrest people with possession of different materials, substances or guns.
4 Suppressors (Silencers)
Okay okay, we definitely already covered this over in the threaded barrel segment, but there’s something to be said about how the different states and America at large approaches suppressors. If you don’t know, suppressors muffle the sound of a gunshot by manipulating the small explosion that results in a cartridge or bullet being fired.
What is interesting is that while the 1994 Assault Gun laws depicted them as an attachment that creates an “assault weapon”, since it expired in 2004, it seems each state doesn’t really know how to treat them. In Kansas suppressors are legal as long as they’re manufactured in the state. In Iowa they were legalized alongside sawed-off shotguns and short barrel rifles in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Meanwhile in Illinois SBR’s and suppressors are illegal unless you have a special war re-enactment licence.
3 .50 Calibre Modification
There’s an excellent scene in the movie Snatch that has this quote, “And the fact that you've got "Replica" written down the side of your guns, and the fact that I've got "Desert Eagle point five O" written on the side of mine, should precipitate your balls into shrinking, along with your presence.”
I don’t think there’s a more bada*s introduction to a guy, to a gun, and if you haven’t seen it, to a movie. If you’re not aware, the calibre of a gun relates to the size of the cartridge or the bullet that it fires, .50 being one of the largest calibres on the market. You know those belt-fed heavy machine-guns with bullets the size of your largest finger? Those are .50 calibre bullets, and it’s pretty easy to see why these would be frowned upon. They’re overkill on anything that isn’t a mythological creature or a mountain.
2 Heavy Machine-Gun
Everyone’s best friend when it comes to holding down a defensive position against the hordes of invading commies or to sell to felons, like in the case of Michael Ray Emry who was arrested for possessing a .50 calibre machine gun called a Ma Duece. This is a gun that’s so deadly and reliable, firing at 550-650 rounds per minute, that despite it being invented in 1933, the US military still has them in operation.
Lots of observers of the case saying they think the arrest was lawful and meaningful since their primary use has no grey area, it’s a weapon made for taking human lives that has no place in sporting events. Others feeling sympathy for Emry as the Ma Duece would be crown jewel in a historical collection, with at least one commenter saying it would be like “owning a Ferrari without an engine.” Emry was convicted for on April 3rd with 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the possession of the weapon, which he stole from another man, as well as the destruction of serial numbers on the gun. So definitely not up to anything sketchy.
1 Destructive Devices
This is sort of the grand-daddy of illegal firearms in the USA. Lots of people understandably mistake the term “firearm” to only refer to guns like rifles and pistols. However the definition is much, much broader than this. In reality the term is any weapon such as guns, and destructive devices which are described as grenades, rockets, missiles and mines. Interestingly it excludes antique weapons, which allows for their lax stance on them.
This one doesn’t need much explanation, however it should be noted that since 2004, if you live in what gun enthusiasts call a “friendly state”, then for the mere $200 dollar tax, a filled form, in some cases a photo and fingerprints, in others not, you can own just about anything on this list. The niche laws state-by-state is too dense to get into here. However if you live somewhere like Florida, you can own a fully automatic, short barreled, silenced, threaded AK47 with a drum magazine for the cost of the gun, a few hundred dollars and a little red tape. And while producing, discharging or possessing a “destructive device” is a felony in Florida, there is no such law in Georgia.
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