Sept. 12, 2004
Don't Arrest Kerry in Shotgun Incident, Gun-Law Expert Says
A Gun-law expert Alan Korwin is calling for calm in the national uproar over John Kerry's possible serious gun violations during a recent photo op in Racine, W.V.
The national clamor over the Democratic presidential candidate, who took possession of a Browning semiautomatic shotgun outside his home state, reflects a problem with the laws and should not be used to arrest and prosecute the man, Korwin says.
A gun crossing state lines is heavily regulated thanks to John Kerry and his ilk.
"There are so many charges Kerry might face," according to Korwin, who has written seven books on gun laws, including the unabridged plain-English federal guide "Gun Laws of America."
1. Taking ownership of the shotgun gift, if he doesn't already have a valid Massachusetts Firearm Identification Card, could subject him to a two-and-a-half-year prison term in his home state. Since he has claimed publicly he owns firearms, chances are he has this critical piece of paper, Korwin says.
2. Bringing the firearm back to Massachusetts, if he received it from a private party, would be a federal felony under the 1968 Gun Control Act (five years in prison, $5,000 fine, 18 USC §922).
3. The only exemption that would allow him to bring it into his home state requires that he obtained it in a face-to-face transaction with a federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL). A private gift would not qualify.
4. If Kerry did get it from an FFL, he would have had to personally fill out and sign a 4473 form, required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), before the gift was given, under penalty of federal felony.
5. If Kerry did not personally undergo a "NICS" instant background check before the transfer from an FFL, he would have put the person conducting the transfer in some legal jeopardy, though the law contains a loophole that probably would save Kerry from additional harm (the dealer, not the recipient, suffers from failure to do the NICS check).
While gun lobbyists are inflamed that Kerry introduced a law that would outlaw this particular type of sporting shotgun and gun gifts in general, it is a good thing the law has not passed yet, because then it might be too serious a problem to simply ignore.
Korwin says that calls to indict Kerry are premature and "most certainly overkill. John Kerry should receive the same lenient treatment any other citizen deserves when innocently violating these complex and non-intuitive rules." At least give him a chance to explain, Korwin pleads.
Unfortunately, federal authorities from BATFE have been known in the past to be inflexible in their enforcement of even minor technical violations (note that none of these felony violations involve a victim or any sort of harm). With widely circulated evidence, in the form of photographs of Kerry in obvious possession of the firearm, he could find himself subject to the long arm of the law.
More importantly, Korwin says, "Some of these laws are just foolish, putting honest citizens at enormous and unjustified risk, and are so complicated that even a presidential candidate and his staff cannot figure them out."