- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2013

The federal government is moving to crack down on what it says is a burgeoning scam where people who are not allowed to own firearms under their own name create a trust or corporation, and then legally have the gun transferred to that trust.

But gun rights groups are vociferously denouncing the proposal, saying it’s an unnecessary fix to a nonexistent problem.

The fight, which is playing out right now in the arcane world of federal regulations, is the latest sign that the action on gun control has moved away from the legislature and into the regulatory world.

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Currently, individuals — but not “legal entities” — are required to have a local chief law enforcement officer sign off on National Firearms Act (NFA) applications for transfers involving heavy-duty weaponry like machine guns, or silencers.

The problem, advocates say, is that many local officers refuse to sign them.

“So then you’re screwed, unless you’ve got something like a trust,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

The Justice Department, though, says it’s seen an increasing number of applications involving “legal entities,” from 840 in 2000 to 40,700 in 2012. The department believes some people could be using it as a workaround.

In one instance, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) denied a transfer to someone prohibited from possessing an NFA firearm, and then later came across an application that involved transferring the same silencer to a trust containing the name of the person who wasn’t allowed to own firearms.

ATF denied the transfer, but said it only caught it because the same name was used in the trust.

“[I]f the trust name had been different from that of the prior transferee, or if the transferor sought to transfer a different firearm, ATF employees may not have realized that the prior transferee was a settlor of the trust and so may have approved the transfer,” the Justice Department said in defending the new proposed regulation.

ATF wants to require trust managers to have to go through the same checks as individuals for firearms transfers.

Public comment for the new rule ends on Monday.

Gun control advocates applauded the rules change, saying it will make sure weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands.

“By taking action to plug this loophole, the administration is making sure things will stay that way,” Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said in an email. “The notion that properly screening civilians who want machine guns is a violation of the Second Amendment is nonsense that our Founders would have laughed at.”

Mr. Van Cleave and Mr. Everitt did agree on at least one thing: use of machine guns in crimes is exceedingly rare in the country.

But Mr. Van Cleave said that’s proof things should stay as they are.

“Where is the problem in what we have now?” he said. “We see it as just more … unnecessary changes when there’s no problem — trying to fix something that’s not broken.”

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