Banning Guns by Changing Definitions, Part 1

The Obama administration is seeking once again to do via regulation what they would never be able to do via legislation. This time shotguns are in the crosshairs, specifically certain popular imported weapons. Even waving the bloody shirt after congresswoman Giffords was shot only moved a few members of congress, not nearly enough to enact new restrictions. Rather than face a losing fight in congress the administration decided to just emulate Humpty Dumpty from Lewis Caroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Humpty Dumpty in this case is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF,) and the term that is being redefined is “Sporting Use.”  Sporting use is one of the three main thrusts of gun control efforts in America. The other two are racism and  those who openly advocate complete bans except for military and police. (The complete ban advocates often hide under cover of sporting use, but that and the racist history of gun control are topics for another day.

Sporting use was how the original distinction was made about what weapons would be subject to a special tax in the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934, and again in Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968.  The congressional power to tax was used selectively to make ownership of weapons the government didn’t like burdensome and expensive. This was gun control via the back door, as even the ATF admits. As would become the pattern, politicians found that actually dealing with crime and criminals was difficult and expensive. Blaming guns and passing a law to look like they were doing something about it was much simpler.

In 1968 the idea of “sporting purpose” was made explicit when the import of weapons from overseas was banned unless the US Attorney General certified that it met one of four narrow criteria. One of these was that it was “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” This led to a series of studies about what constituted a sporting purpose in 1968, 1989, 1998, and the latest released in January of 2011. (Notice that 3 of the 4 studies were done under Democrat presidents. The fourth was under Bush 41, who ran as a continuation of Reagan but broke his tax pledge and resigned from the NRA.)

The latest study (PDF,) released at the end of January 2011, centers on shotguns and once again pretends that a “sporting purpose” is the only legitimate use for a gun, despite recent Supreme Court rulings that gun ownership is an individual right and that self defense is a legitimate purpose for owning a firearm. The study spends a great deal of time defining just what sporting use is, and carefully excludes the most common sporting use, plinking.

Plinking is just setting up informal targets, often cans or bottles, sometimes paper or steel targets, and doing a bit of informal practice. That you just hung a target or paced off the distance to your informal collection of targets doesn’t mean that you aren’t engaged in a sport, any more than not using a stopwatch to time your last ski run meant that your skiing wasn’t a sport. But insuring that plinking is not considered a sport is central to regulating imports, because you can plink with almost any gun. Therefore the ATF concludes that plinking is “primarily a passtime.”

Dismissing the practical shooting sports takes a good deal more hand waving. The practical shooting sports (which I dabbled in before becoming handicapped) generally involve multiple targets that the shooter must engage, and usually must move in order to reach or see clearly. The targets may also move, swinging, rotating, or popping up for a limited time before vanishing. Usually mixed in with the targets are “no shoot” targets representing innocent bystanders. All of this is done under the relentless pressure of the clock.

Practical shooting sports are a problem for the ATF’s  narrow definition of sporting purpose. They have national organizations with tens of thousands of members, formal rules, and separate competitors by skill level so that there is competition within the brackets. One way that the ATF study gets around this is to ignore the fact that the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is not the only bastion of practical shooting, but is just the US regional division of IPSC, the International Practical Shooting Association. After all, if one looks at the IPSC one has to admit that the practical shooting sports are an international phenomenon headquartered in Oakville, Ontario, Canada with divisions in over 80 countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Instead we find in the footnotes:

33 Organization websites report these membership numbers: for the United States Practical Shooting Association, approx. 19,000; AmateurTrapshooting Association, over 35,000 active members; National Skeet Shooting Association, nearly 20,000 members; National Sporting ClaysAssociation, over 22,000 members; Single Action Shooting Society, over 75,000 members.

The Single Action Shooting Society at first glance looks like it might be an apples to apples comparison, since it involves pistols, rifles, and shotguns plus movement much as the practical shooting sports do. However there is one huge difference that makes the inclusion of the SASS useful for the ATF- The Single Action Shooting Society is Cowboy Action Shooting. That is, competitors dress as period characters, and use replicas of weapons that were found in the old west. The ATF isn’t (yet) concerned with the importation of inexpensive copies of cowboy weapons from Italy.

But some of the other organizations look like they’re in the same size range as the USPSA, especially if you ignore the novice competitors that don’t join, but show up three or four times a year for a local match. So the study group brings in conservation groups:

34 Organization websites report these membership numbers: Ducks Unlimited, U.S adult 604,902 (Jan. 1, 2010); Pheasants/Quail Forever, over130,000 North American members (2010)

Now the comparison is to conservation organizations. Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever focus on preserving and restoring wildlife habitat. Ducks Unlimited in particular focuses on private acquisition and management of land. These groups are practical environmentalists, some of whom also hunt. (I was a Ducks Unlimited member before I ever owned a gun. The closest I’ve come to taking wild game is a place near my home where the deer like to cross the road at twilight.) Comparing USPSA to Ducks Unlimited is comparing apples to watermelons.

The ATF has invited comments on the study:

All interested persons may submit comments on this study. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to or by fax to (202)648-9601. Faxed comments may not exceed 5 pages. All comments must include name and mailing address. ATF encourages submission of comments no later than May 1, 2011.

Like Humpty Dumpty the Obama administration is changing the definition of  “sporting use” in order to ban certain  shotguns. But as we’ll see in Part 2, many of the features that the ATF working group’s study (PDF) says should lead to a shotgun being banned are features that can make a shotgun particularly suitable for home defense.

Originally posted at

12 Responses to “Banning Guns by Changing Definitions, Part 1”

  1. [...] var addthis_product = 'wpp-255'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};As we saw in Part 1, the Obama administration is seeking to ban the importation of some popular shotgun models that are [...]

  2. [...] the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to change the rules. As we saw in Part 1, the tool is a study entitled “ATF Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns.” The [...]

  3. [...] of Certain Shotguns” which provides the logical underpinnings for a ban of some weapons. In Part 1 we looked at how the ATF defined “sporting purpose” to exclude the popular action and [...]

  4. JoeD says:

    The AG’s office previously published a study on the Second Amendment and what it secures.

    The Second Amendment secures a right of individuals generally, not a right of States or a right restricted to persons serving in militias.
    August 24, 2004

    The study is 81 pages so I can’t include more than a few lines. The conclusion is that there is no limit to the kind of firearm falling under the Second Amendment. That precludes questions about sporting uses, IMHO.
    I have already sent in my own comments about this.

  5. [...] Part 1, which focuses on changing the term “sporting use” in order to ban certain shotguns: The Obama administration is seeking once again to do via regulation what they would never be able to do via legislation. This time shotguns are in the crosshairs, specifically certain popular imported weapons. [...]

  6. [...] Part 1, which focuses on changing the term “sporting use” in order to ban certain shotguns: [...]

  7. Ruler4You says:

    The BATF? Is this the same BATF that was covertly smuggling guns to the Mexican drug cartels to cause more collateral damage so BATF could be more necessary?

    Oh, goody. Of course we should let them make the rules. Just like the SS made decisions for the Third Reich. Just perfect.

  8. [...] but we all know this is going to be spread over to far more categories of guns READ EACH PART Banning Guns by Changing Definitions, Part 1 | Beregond's Bar Banning Guns by Changing Definitions, Part 2 | Beregond's Bar Banning Guns by Changing [...]

  9. foghorn says:

    Are you people crazy? Your arguing and debating about the words in a proposed administrative act, and how it will or will not effect your particular interest.

    I’ve had several discussions with the NRA, when they come asking for funds for a particular (and often) need to fight an assault on the rights of gun owners.

    Basically, I said “stuff It”. I have my gun’s,and if they (the powers that want to be) want them, come get them. There is going to be a problem if you know what I mean.

    Stop dancing around the issue of gun rights. Keep them without exception, or give them up entirely.

    Get Simply on this Right!


  10. [...] guns are chilling.Below are excerpts from the series. Click on the appropriate link to read more.Part 1, which focuses on changing the term “sporting use” in order to ban certain shotguns:The Obama [...]

  11. R Matthew Songer says:

    I read the study, and you are fear mongering.

    From the study:

    In reviewing the shotguns used for those activities classified as sporting purposes, the working
    group examined State hunting laws, rules, and guidelines for shooting competitions and shooting
    organizations; industry advertisements and literature; scholarly and historical publications; and
    statistics on participation in the respective shooting sports. Following this review, the working
    group determined that certain shotgun features are not particularly suitable or readily adaptable
    for sporting purposes. These features include:
    (1) Folding, telescoping, or collapsible stocks;
    (2) bayonet lugs;
    (3) flash suppressors;
    (4) magazines over 5 rounds, or a drum magazine;
    (5) grenade-launcher mounts;
    (6) integrated rail systems (other than on top of the receiver or barrel);
    (7) light enhancing devices;
    (8) excessive weight (greater than 10 pounds for 12 gauge or smaller);
    (9) excessive bulk (greater than 3 inches in width and/or greater than 4 inches in depth);
    (10) forward pistol grips or other protruding parts designed or used for gripping the
    shotgun with the shooter’s extended hand.
    Although the features listed above do not represent an exhaustive list of possible shotgun
    features, designs or characteristics, the working group determined that shotguns with any one of
    these features are most appropriate for military or law enforcement use. Therefore, shotguns
    containing any of these features are not particularly suitable for nor readily adaptable to
    generally recognized sporting purposes such as hunting, trap, sporting clay, and skeet shooting.

    Plinking is no more a sport than hitting a rock with a stick in the backyard. Plinking is a pastime.

    Yes, I am a gun owner, hunter, skeet shooter and plinker.

    Why should you care about importing guns anyway? Put your neighbors to work buying American made weapons, not this Chinese crap.

Leave a Reply

Your server is running PHP version 4.4.9 but WordPress 4.0 requires at least 5.2.4.