Things you need to know about American al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, or, as I like to call him, Azzam al-Berkeley: He’s a bratty California kid, offspring of hippie parents, and steeped in the deeply ignorant suburban pop anti-Americanism that fuels protests against World Trade Organization meetings and the like. He is, like practically all of his kind, not too terribly well informed.
Newspaper editors and mayors are not supposed to be like that. But when it furthers your political agenda, ignorance truly is bliss.
In his latest statement, Mr. Gadahn repeated the myth that machineguns are widely available to American civilians, and he encouraged his fellow jihadis to hit the gun-show circuit and gear up for an intifada in the United States. When I read that statement, I was certain that it would be repeated as fact by the antigun ideologues and their enablers in the media. And, behold this editorial in the New York Daily News, which quotes Mr. Gadahn and then concurs.
“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
We don’t say this often about Al Qaeda types, but: He’s right on the facts.
No, he is not — as two seconds’ research would have revealed.
It is not easy for a U.S. civilian to legally possess a “fully automatic assault rifle,” or any fully automatic firearm at all. If that civilian is not a federally licensed firearms dealer, owning a fully automatic weapon manufactured after 1986 is categorically illegal; fully automatic weapons that were legally owned and registered with the federal government before 1986 may be transferred to a qualified buyer with the approval of federal and local law-enforcement authorities, a rigorous background check, and, of course, a sign-off from the U.S. Treasury Department: there’s a couple hundred bucks in fees and taxes involved. (You may examine the application here.) Selling a fully automatic weapon to an unlicensed party, at a gun show or anywhere else, is a very excellent way to land yourself in prison for a good long while. Mr. Gadahn, and the editors of the New York Daily News, are full of it.
So is Mayor Bloomberg, who repeated the falsehood, uncorrected, as evidence for his antigun stance, as did practically every mainstream media outlet I’ve examined. The hacks over at Media Matters, knowing upon which side anti-gun zealot George Soros butters their bread, did the same.
There are about 250,000 fully automatic weapons registered with the federal government. Most are owned by police departments and other law-enforcement agencies. Many are owned by businesses that supply and train police and military personnel. A good number are owned by curators of gun collections, and many of those weapons, not having been fired for decades, probably are no longer functional. Some are owned by Hollywood prop shops. And some are owned by gun nuts like me. (But not by me: I pay enough taxes as it is, and, even if Uncle Sam signed off on my application, Nurse Bloomberg surely would not, and both state and local regulations still apply.)
The other civilians who own a great number of fully automatic weapons are the federally licensed gun dealers who supply the police departments and other parties mentioned above. They are heavily regulated, licensed, inspected, etc.
Interesting thing about the machinegun gang: They’re an awfully law-abiding lot. Legally owned machineguns are practically never used in violent crimes. Of all the murders committed in the United States involving legally owned full-auto firearms, half were committed by police officers.
And lest you think that’s my English-major math acting up, let me assure you that the numbers were fairly easy to run: There have been only two murders involving legally owned fully automatic weapons since the federal government began tracking them back in the FDR administration. One involved a well-off doctor who was involved in some stalking cases and a murder. The other killer was a police patrolman using a police-issue weapon. (Incidentally, in neither case was there a “fully automatic assault rifle” in play; both involved handgun-sized submachine guns.) Testifying before Congress as the 1986 regulations were being debated, ATF chief Steve Higgins (who would go on to resign after the Waco fiaco), said that he was aware of fewer than ten crimes of any sort involving legally owned machineguns.
So, no, the nation is not covered up with fully automatic assault rifles bought at gun shows.
That is also because, as it must be repeated for the 10,000th time, there is no gun-show loophole. If you are not in the business of selling firearms for a living, you do not have to have a federal license permitting you to sell firearms for a living. If Uncle Bubba gives up hunting and wants to swap his deer rifle to Otis for $100 and a case of Bud, Uncle Bubba does not have to register with Washington, D.C., or perform a background check on Otis. That is true whether the transaction happens at a gun show or in Uncle Bubba’s back yard. If you are a gun dealer at a gun show, the usual rules apply. If you are not a gun dealer, they don’t. Similarly, you can sell your car without incorporating as a car dealership.
I don’t expect an al-Qaeda dirtbag to have his facts straight. Nurse Bloomberg has been known to be imprecise with this sort of thing. But what to make of the error in the Daily News?
There has been an intentional campaign on the part of the gun-grabbers to conflate semiautomatic weapons and fully automatic weapons in the public mind. Perhaps the Daily News was acting out of ignorance or confusion. If so, it’s a remarkably large lacuna for a newspaper that spends a great deal of time writing about crime and guns. I have written for the Daily News opinion page, and the editing process was very thorough and professional, so mere sloppiness seems an unlikely explanation.
When conservatives talk about bias in the media, this is precisely what we are talking about: I do not believe for a minute that the editors of the Daily News would print an intentional falsehood. But newspaper editors, particularly New York newspaper editors, do share a set of biases: They represent a certain class of people, with certain interests, certain backgrounds, certain political and social assumptions, etc. Those biases sometimes render them blind to statements of fact — not statements of opinion or preference, but fact — that are clearly wrong in ways that are easy to document, wrong in ways that would be immediately obvious to anybody who did not share that bias.
(Trivia: What does al-Qaeda goon Azzam al-Berkeley have in common with National Review’s Robert VerBruggen? Both are metal fans.)
— Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.