May 12, 2021
If U.S. senators were hoping to give a lift to the Department of Justice's proposed rule to redefine a firearm, they underestimated Ashley Hlebinsky.
She's a historical powerhouse when it comes to guns. Hlebinsky testified before the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on The Constitution, in a hearing titled: Stop Gun Violence: Ghost Guns. Hlebinsky started by shredding any pretenses of false authority by those using loaded terms and ended her opening statement reminding senators whom they represent.
"Firstly, I will not be using the term ghost gun and that's because as a historian I try to be as precise as possible and the term is used more as a rhetorical tool, a marketing tool and because of that, it can create a false sense of authority on the subject," Hlebinsky told the senators.
Hlebinsky knows a thing or two about firearms. She's the president of the consulting group The Gun Code and was formerly the Robert W. Woodruff Curator of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West's Cody Firearms Museum, and is now Curator Emerita and Senior Firearms Scholar. Before that, she researched at the Smithsonian Institution's National Firearms Collection.
That's why Hlebinsky wouldn't repeat the politically-charged term "ghost gun." It's too easy to conflate with something that is invisible, indetectable or untraceable. None of which is true.
What's Old is New
"But the big takeaway about the history is that these privately made firearms have been around for centuries, basically since the first system was developed over 500 years ago," she said.
Hlebinsky reminded senators that it was private gun makers that played a vital role in the American Revolution, using locks and barrels the same way parts kits are sold today. Private innovation fueled development.
"I know a lot of people here don't necessarily like some of the technology that exists today, but I really want to make the point that innovation also means making firearms safer," she explained.
Hlebinsky added that the proposed rule change by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) suggests modification to definitions that are inaccurate. She noted that striker-fire and split-receiver firearms aren't new phenomena, but technologies that date to the late 1800's and early 1900's.
"It's interesting and important to understand that these things can affect both sides, criminalizing those that would otherwise be considered innocent and opening the door for loopholes and litigation, and worst of all, continued violence," she explained. "The complicated laws continue, you are not only leaving your constituency left vulnerable of a false sense of security, something here nobody wants from either side."
Guns and Criminals
That's what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) noted in his opening remarks. The notion of firearms that possess supernatural powers is a ghost story.
"Homemade firearms aren't any more dangerous than any other firearms and for all relevant purposes, homemade firearms are treated like any other farm under the law," Sen. Cruz said. "If a person commits a crime with a homemade gun, they will be prosecuted just the same as anyone else. If a felon makes a homemade gun, he's a felon in possession of a firearm and will be prosecuted. If a person sells a homemade gun to a criminal, that person will be prosecuted."
Sen. Cruz challenged Sen. Richard Blumenthal's (D-Conn.) assertion that the hearing was intended to reduce crime, when antigun Democrats refuse to enforce the laws already enacted. It's really about getting a handle on who has what guns in America, he said.
"They want a registry of every firearm in America," he said. "They want a government list of what guns there are. Who owns them, how many they own them. And when you see countries enact registries of firearms, the next step is confiscation. And numerous Democrats on this committee have advocating confiscating firearms."
In fact, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) openly called for confiscation. Sen. Feinstein explained in a 1995 60 Minutes interview that she wanted much more than a 10-year ban on Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs).
"If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in," she said.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) noted that it was John Moses Browning who revolutionized gun making in America and did so privately, designing and creating his own firearms before selling the patents. He explained that the law will have greater impacts on those who obey the law than those who circumvent it to commit crimes. Sen. Lee said the proposed rule is an attempt to make an end run past Congress and negate its role in creating law.
"I'm convinced that proposals like the proposed rule the Biden administration issued on Friday will affect those law-abiding Americans who use 80 percent lower receivers or receiver blanks while doing very little to stop criminals who want to use guns in order to hurt other people.”