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Why I Don't Trust John Lott
Lets just throw shade at everyone.
On June 9th, the Washington Examiner dropped a column that claimed that the ATF created 29 million felons by it’s controversial pistol brace rule. That rule will most definitely make some Americans felons, including several of my friends. But it won’t make 29 million, not even close, so the people saying it will are doing the same crap the left does in the gun debate.
Let’s be honest and get the numbers right, and call out the people who don’t.
The Story of the Rule
Herein lies the story of the rule. This story as told here is not 100% accurate, but it’s very close, and it’s easy to remember in story format.
A long long time ago Congress passed the NFA, which among other things made it so sawed off shotguns and short barreled rifles were illegal to buy or own unless you asked the ATF for special permission to own them, went through a longer background check, potentially a year long, and paid them $200. Then if you ever wanted to sell them, the buyer had to do the same thing, and you also had to ask permission from the ATF before transporting the firearm across state lines. This was a pain in the ass. And it made very little sense because nobody could figure out what the heck a “rifle” is, since the folks who wrote the law didn’t understand anything about firearms.
Nobody ever seemed to question why short barreled rifles were put on a special list, since they’re no deadlier than any other rifle, but congress are idiots so they passed an idiot law. Then the ATF had to enforce it somehow. The enforcement dialogue, which transpired over around a decade in a series of industry questions and official ATF clarifications, went something like this:
Some Dude: “What is a short barreled rifle?”
ATF: “Well, it’s a rifle with a short barrel.”
Some Dude: “What about a pistol? Is a pistol a rifle with a short barrel?”
ATF: “No a pistol is a pistol, a rifle is a rifle.”
Some Dude: “But a pistol has a rifled barrel just like a rifle, and a short barrel. What’s the difference between a pistol and a rifle?”
ATF: “Um, I guess the difference between a pistol and a rifle is that the rifle has a stock and the pistol doesn’t.”
Some Dude: “So if I put a stock on a pistol it becomes a rifle? That seems weird.”
ATF: “Yeah I guess so.”
Some Dude: “And if I pull the stock off of a rifle, then it’s a pistol right?”
ATF: “Yeah I guess.”
Some Dude: “And if the rifle is short barreled and doesn’t have a stock, that also means it’s a pistol right, and I don’t have to pay the $200 and do the background check?”
ATF: “Yeah I guess.”
Some Dude: “Okay, got it. Now what if I’m handicapped, and trying to shoot a normal pistol one handed, can I build a brace that will wrap around my arm to hold it still to compensate for my disability?”
Some Dude: “Can I put that onto a short barreled rifle that doesn’t have a stock and therefore is a pistol?”
ATF: “Yeah I guess.”
Some Dude: “Sweet.”
At this point Some Dude builds a “stabilizing brace” in the vague shape of a stock and starts using it as a stock on a short barreled rifle that’s not a rifle it’s a pistol.
ATF: “Wait you can’t do that.”
Some Dude: “Why not?”
ATF: “When you put the brace up against your shoulder like that it ceases to be a brace and is now a stock. That’s illegal.”
Some Dude: “You seriously mean that I can build and own this ‘pistol’ and that’s totally legal, but the act of shouldering it is literally manufacturing an illegal short barreled rifle from thin air on the spot? That’s fabulously dumb.”
ATF: “Yeah, I guess that is fabulously dumb, we changed our minds, it’s fine.”
Some Dude: “Ok thanks.” (goes on to buy five million more stabilizing braces)
ATF: “Okay now a Democrat is president, all those stabilizing braced pistols are now illegal short barreled rifles and you can go to jail for ten years unless you register them.”
Five Million Dudes: “No.”
Now you’re up to date.
And just for fun, here’s a youtube video that explains the absurdity.
John Lott’s Bad Math
This story is dumb, the restrictions on short barreled rifles are nonsensical and have no basis in science or reason, but the Washington Examiner and John Lott are misrepresenting the facts. HWFO as a publication sticks to facts and data, so when I saw this article I felt the need to debunk it just like HWFO debunks gun control articles that get similar facts wrong.
As usual, we’ll do our quotes in screenshot form in case they go back and change the content of their article later after they farm enough clicks like Vox does:
That’s just factually wrong.
As explained by HWFO in September of 2022, the best guess at total AR-15 (or similar) rifle ownership in the United States is about 24.6 million people in the United States:
Here’s a graph from that article:
The numbers in this graph are based on the 2021 National Firearms Survey, which was one of the most comprehensive surveys of the question ever undertaken. 24.6 million is a big number. There are more AR-15 owners than Asian Americans in the USA. There are probably a wide field of surveys that ask this question, with a range of answers. Perhaps has high as 29 million. John Lott is quoted in the article as stating this:
you are still talking about 29 million people who are committing felonies at this point.
He’s clearly referring to the total number of AR-15 or similar owners in the country, not the total number of people who own AR-15 pistols with stabilizing braces. Lott’s quote is severely out of context, but he’s specifically talking about people committing felonies, so I can’t conceive of any possible context in which that statement makes any sense. It’s not a felony to own an AR-15. The Congressional Research Service ballparked 10 to 40 million in a short whitepaper, but called those “unofficial estimates,” didn’t reference a source, and no other source as far as I’m aware corroborates that claim. It appears to be made up, and Lott should know that. If the 40 million figure were true, there would be as many stabilizing braced AR-15 pistols in the country as there are black people. Washington Examiner and John Lott appear very specifically to be conflating AR-15 “pistols” with AR-15 rifles in order to make numerical claims which are objectively false, and off by factor of around six.
Nobody’s sure how many “AR-15 pistols” there are in circulation. Not every pistol brace bought gets put on a rifle. Some might get put on full length rifles. Some manufacturers probably kept bad records. Who knows. The ATF thinks there are around 5 million pistol braces in circulation. Let’s just use it for the sake of argument, because the ATF’s argument against the “40 million” figure at that link (from the federal register) is surprisingly sensible and supported by industry.
If 255,162 owners of five million braces registered their braced firearms with the ATF as short barreled rifles, then that would be a compliance ratio of 5.1%, not 0.6% to 1% as claimed in the article. There would be four million seven hundred thousand people in felonious noncompliance, not twenty to forty million as claimed in the article. And Joe Biden’s ATF would be at least partially responsible for the creation of those almost five million instant felons.
The ATF creating five million felons out of thin air by waffling on a rule should be enough to alarm the public. There’s no need to pretend it’s thirty million. The gun side can win the argument on mathematics alone, but to do so we have to get the mathematics correct and quit misbehaving like the other side is prone to do.