Pro-gun control Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., announced the Gun Violence Prevention and Reduction Act of 2013, which would ban “80 percent complete” lower receivers for AR-15 rifles.
That might sound a bit arbitrary, but this somewhat odd ban can be traced back to the June 7 shooting at Santa Monica College where five people were killed and several others were injured. The shooter, John Zawahri, had a history of mental illness and was therefore prohibited from buying a firearm. He also could not purchase a lower receiver for an AR-15 because that is the part of the gun that is considered a firearm.
A mostly complete AR-15 lower receiver, however, does not qualify as a gun and can be purchased by anybody. Zawahri legally purchased a mostly complete lower receiver and built the rifle that he used in the murders from scratch.
Waxman’s website points to a study that warns about the "thriving market that exists for 80 percent completed lower receivers that circumvent federal and state background check and other gun laws."
Waxman’s bill would close the legal loophole that gun manufacturers are using to skirt the law, but it probably will not be long before gun manufacturers come up with another workaround. Banning partially complete AR-15 lower receivers ventures into fuzzy territory. When is a lower receiver not a lower receiver? What is the difference between a lower receiver that is 75 percent complete versus one that is 80 percent complete? What is stopping would-be gun owners from purchasing a 25 percent complete lower receiver and doing the rest of the work in their garage?
Putting aside the gun debate for a moment, Waxman’s proposed law is practical because loopholes generally complicate legal issues and enforcement. Of course, pro-gun advocates would likely prefer the legislators simply lift the ban on AR-15 lower receivers in order to make the law more consistent, rather than extending the ban to include partially complete gun parts.
Is Waxman doing the right thing by protecting California citizens and closing sticky legal loopholes? Or is he making things worse by making it harder for citizens to protect themselves?