I just finished reading the ATF Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns. Say Uncle and Sebastian already have posts up so check those out too.
My take away is that the ATF have a tough job in trying to enforce the import restrictions on firearm not suitable for sporting purposes. They struggle with how to define “sporting purpose”. They concluded IPSC and USPSA don’t qualify because those sports didn’t exist when the 1968 Congress passed the law and hence they must have meant the types of sports common at the time. In this case originalism works against us. If you recall the 1998 report (I probably have it around someplace I remember reading it and getting upset at the time) they pointed out that if the “sporting purpose” restriction is to mean anything at all then it must be a rather static definition. If it were not then some sport could be invented such that the restricted gun was particularly well suited for that particular sport and the restriction would have to be lifted. Hence the law would become meaningless.
I understand where they are coming from and once you accept they are tasked with enforcing this stupid law they are probably taking the most rational approach. For this reason I mostly give them a pass on this issue. Our real beef should be with Congress and possibly the courts.
Yes, it seems like the “sporting purpose” requirement should be easy to get thrown out by the courts because the Heller decision said the Second Amendment wasn’t about duck hunting—it was about self-defense and the militia. Hence any firearm that was useful for self-defense and military service (as per the Miller decision as well) would be explicitly protected by the Second Amendment. In the recent study they explicitly call out military purpose shotguns and accessories as being grounds to forbid the importation of them. Just exactly backwards from Miller and Heller. There might also be an “unconstitutionally vague” approach that could be used here too.
But to a large extent taking things to court is like rolling the dice unless you have lots of case law backing you up. In our situation there is probably a lot of case law against us and it will have to be evaluated at a higher level before things go our way. Hence I think the first thing that should be done is to get to Congress to remove the “sporting purpose” language from firearms law. The worst case downside of failure with this approach is things don’t change. In the case of taking things to court the worst case downside is that we get some terrible precedent established that is difficult or impossible to get out from under and it affects far more firearms than those being blocked from importation.
One of the most interesting sections of the study is actually a little off topic.
The following is from page 2 when discussing the background of the sporting purpose language:
This section addresses Congress’ concern that the United States had become a “dumping ground of the castoff surplus military weapons of other nations,” in that it exempted only firearms with a generally recognized sporting purpose.
I read this to mean that congress was trying to protect domestic manufactures from competition by foreign nations. Although I suppose it could also be interpreted as a concern that foreign nations would be able to more easily upgrade their equipment by getting cash for their old gear.