EPIC Failure ~ Short Barreled Rifles Were NOT Intended to be Regulated by NFA

EPIC Failure ~ Short Barreled Rifles Were NOT Intended to be Regulated by NFA

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- In 1934, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) administration had been in office for one year. The Attorney General, Homer Cummings, was a strong proponent of national gun laws, which, he contended, could get around constitutional constraints by using the power to tax.

The Justice Department crafted a bill to create the National Firearms Act of 1934.

It was a major piece of legislation, arguably the first time the Federal Government had significantly infringed on the right to keep and bear arms, protected by the Second Amendment.

Attorney General Cummings was asked to testify before the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House, which was considering the bill.

In the original bill, the focus was on pistols and revolvers, short-barreled shotguns, concealable firearms, silencers, and machine guns. Short barreled rifles were not included.

page 1 of H.R. 9066 hearing on 16 April 1934

This made sense. The media had hyped the dangers of gangsters roaming the nation and robbing banks, armed with pistols, machine guns, and sawed-off shotguns. These firearms were demonized as “gangster weapons“, much America’s most popular rifle the AR 15 is called an “assault weapon” and demonized under the misleading name today.

There was no demonization of short-barreled rifles. Such items were commonly used for hunting, offered by major manufacturers, usually as a special order. Both Winchester and Marlin made thousands of rifles with barrels less than 18 inches long. Quackenbush made many thousands of popular short-barreled “bicycle” rifles.

The committee transcripts from April 16, 1934, (embedded below) record how short-barreled rifles were added to the National Firearms Act.

Image from wikimedia.org Short barreled Trapper model on top. Image rotated, cropped, and scaled by Dean Weingarten

Stupid Politicians Making Law on Things they Don’t Understand

A congressman from Minnesota, who was a member of the Ways and Means Committee, appears to be confused.

On page 13 of the committee transcripts, a curious exchange takes place.

Representative Harold Knutson, of Minnesota, asks Attorney General Homer Cummings if he may add “rifles” to the bill and raise the barrel length to 18 inches, to protect deer hunting rifles in his home state. Cummings is bewildered by the request. It does not make any sense.  Eventually, Cummings says it is acceptable to him, to gain the approval of Representative Knutson. Cummings needs the votes on the committee to pass the bill. From the hearing:

Mr.KNUTSON. General, would there be any objection, on page 1, line 4, after the word” shotgun” to add the words” or rifle” having a barrel less than 18 inches? The reason I ask that is I happen to come from a section of the State where deer hunting is a very popular pastime in the fall of the year and, of course, I would not like to pass any legislation to forbid or make it impossible for our people to keep arms that would permit them to hunt deer. 

Attorney General CUMMINGS. Well, as long as it is not mentioned at all, it would not interfere at all.

Mr. KNUTSON. It seems to me that an 18 -inch barrel would make this provision stronger than 16 inches, knowing what I do about firearms.

Attorney General CUMMINGS. Well, there is no objection as far as we are concerned to including rifles after the word” shotguns” if you desire.

After this exchange, Representative Knutson fades from the picture. He has a few questions later. On page 87, he makes sure that rifles with barrels over 18 inches are exempted from the bill.

Quinn Otto-Moudry makes the same observation in an article in The Cornell Review examining the NFA hearings, in September of 2020:

Knutson asked if there “would…be any objection…after the word “shotgun” to add the words “or rifle” having a barrel less than 18 inches?…It seems to me that an 18-inch barrel would make this provision stronger than 16 inches, knowing what I do about firearms.” (pg 13), adding that he did not wish to interfere with his constituents ability to possess deer hunting rifles. This line of reasoning is extremely odd given that the congressman was asking to add restrictions which would make it harder to acquire rifles.

In the remaining transcripts, the focus is on pistols, machine guns, and sawed-off shotguns. Rifles are barely mentioned. Sawed-off shotguns are referred to repeatedly.

The record is clear. Today, we deal with the bizarre regulatory world where short-barreled rifles are tightly regulated and taxed, while pistols with virtually the same capability, only more concealable, are honored and recognized by the Supreme Court as protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

All because a confused congressman from Minnesota did not realize he was asking for exactly the opposite of what he claimed he desired.

Harold Knutson, of Minnesota
Harold Knutson, of Minnesota: Short barreled rifles were added to the NFA all because a confused congressman from Minnesota did not realize he was asking for exactly the opposite of what he claimed he desired.

The FDR administration never asked for short-barreled rifles to be under tight control. The record shows they did not consider short-barreled rifles to be dangerous and unusual.

They simply accepted the confused request from a powerful committee member, in the process of passing the bill.

National Firearms Act of 1934 Committee Transcripts


About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30-year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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