“I hear that you have the rest of an AR for my husband, and I’d like to have you put it together and I’ll pay you. Just let me know how much, and I can bring over the parts that he has already for the gun.”

Not today, ATF....Not today.

The above is an actual text message that someone recently received from their friend's wife, who wanted to surprise her husband by having someone (not an FFL) finish and assemble his AR build.

He had been talking about completing his AR for a while, having already purchased a "stripped lower" receiver, lower parts kit, and stock assembly. It had been sitting in pieces for months, so after buying an upper receiver that matched his stock and grip furniture, she wanted someone to assemble the lower receiver -- and then the rifle -- for her.

If reading that text didn’t make you tense up a little as a law abiding citizen, then you need to try to educate yourself more on the law.

In what was simply an innocent moment of thoughtfulness by a wife -- who is not heavily informed about thousands of compounding and interrelated "common sense" gun laws that aren't) -- this law-abiding woman stumbled into a trap that virtually anyone who is not a firearms lawyer could fall into: asking an unlicensed friend of her husband's to take possession of a firearm in order to do simple, everyday firearm assembly and gunsmithing work for a small amount of compensation.

If she had followed through on that, she very well could have been guilty of violating any number of federal and state gun control laws that carry serious criminal penalties and fines, including some that could have landed her -- and the friend -- in jail or prison.

Luckily, before she could fall into that trap, she talked with someone who knows slightly more about federal and state gun laws than the average law-abiding citizen. But even they had to ask for help in navigating the labyrinth of gun control laws that might apply.

That alert Good Samaritan was told that it could take a firearm-law specialist attorney hours to acquire all the relevant facts, evaluate the applicable laws, and write up a legal memorandum to provide guidance -- and that likely scenario shows the absurdity of the bottom-line problem.

Does it really make sense for gun control laws to be so numerous and complicated that it takes not only a lawyer, but a lawyer who specializes in the mountains of gun control laws, to understand how to stay out of trouble and go on about the business of being a law-abiding citizen?

Is it really "reasonable" to have so many gun control laws that not even the State of California's Attorney General, with a Department of Justice so large that it rivals multinational "BigLaw" firms, can keep up?

Apparently, according to California and the federal government, the calculus is "law-abiding friend with gun + law-abiding wife with money + law-abiding friend with technical skills = potential criminals".

(On a tertiary note, the "unsuspecting" wife could easily have been an undercover ATF agent trying to bust a 'gun nut', or perhaps she's someone facing on other charges that are being pled out in a deal that hinged on her cooperation with a police sting operation. These are both possible scenarios, and something to keep in mind. It's not paranoia when they really are trying to put all of us in jail...) 

Had the husband's friend been completely unaware of the intricacies of the law, it's very possible that, somewhere down the line, a simple traffic stop or interaction with law enforcement could have resulted in life-changing, or maybe even life-ending, consequences.

But who would have been the victim? And how would or could any average person be expected to “follow the law” when doing something seemingly innocuous could put them in legal peril?

Sadly, there are plenty of ways that otherwise law-abiding, non-violent, and peaceful people can get caught on the wrong side of gun control law enforcement (usually during traffic stops or domestic disputes), or have to go to court to prove they’re on the right side when a police officer is, like the Attorney General, unable to keep up with the laws (and their exemptions) but it's 2 a.m. and it's been a long night and the DA can figure it out...

“They were ready to arrest an innocent man with five children, who is the sole provider.”

In early 2016, a California man (who I’ll refer to as Manny to preserve his anonymity) had his firearms wrongfully confiscated by the police during what turned out to be a fraudulent arrest of a friend during a custody dispute.

Manny had brought his firearms over to his friend’s house as they had planned to go shooting the following morning. That night, however, the friend’s ex called the police on him, falsely reporting that he threatened her with a gun.

Manny’s firearms were taken as part of the investigation.

But even though his firearms had nothing to do with the dispute, he wouldn’t have his firearms released to him for over seven months due to the fact that one of them was a semi-automatic clone of a Browning model 1919a4.

Because this happened in anti-gun California, it was believed there was no way something as big, black, and scary as a 1919a4 clone could possibly be legal.

The question over the legality of owning a semi-automatic 1919a4 clone was taken "up the chain" to the superiors in the local police department, who recommended charges be brought against Manny -- but they had to check with the District Attorney to figure out what laws might apply. (I.e., "He's guilty of something, find a law to charge him with...")

Unsure, the DA advised the officers to contact the California Department of Justice, who recommended Manny be charged with multiple misdemeanors and felonies....but they, too, would have to check with their superiors to figure out what, exactly.

Eventually, the superiors at the DOJ advised the police department that Manny's 1919a4 clone was indeed a legally-configured and possessed firearm, putting the brakes on charges against Manny. Many months after he and his friend were going to go target shooting the next morning, his personal property firearms were finally released to him.

You see, while Manny's semi-automatic 1919a4 clone might look like a "big, black, scary gun", it is still just a regular old semi-automatic Title 1 firearm (i.e., not an NFA firearm, or even a rifle or pistol, under federal law) and did not have the characteristics to qualify as a California “assault weapon”.

And it was, obviously and most certainly, not a “machine gun” (as the local police department had mischaracterized it). But facts didn't get in the way of hyper-aggressive, ignorant gun control enforcement.

“I’m sitting in the car after, not sure what I’m more amazed with,” Manny told me. “The fact that it took seven months to get my property back, or the fact that the local officers had no idea if my firearms were legal or not, or the fact that the DA had no idea, or the fact that the officer at the DOJ had no idea, or the fact that California gun laws are so ****ing difficult to read that 3 layers of government workers couldn’t figure them out, [or] due to their lack of education, they were ready to arrest an innocent man with five children, who is the sole provider.”

And again, for what? Who was his victim for simply owning a "scary looking" gun?

Luckily, Manny did his homework and followed the letter of the law. But as we’ve come to expect, when an honest citizen, a law enforcer, and a prosecutor try to interpret and comply with a too-may legal scheme, the honest citizen is always suspect and gets the short end of the stick -- and has to pay for lawyers along the way.

But this isn't just a California problem.

Take this case out of Fort Edward, New York, where Devin Pratt called the police to report he was defending himself against a neighbor’s pit bull. When the responding officer arrived, Pratt was found holding the dog at gun point with a rifle.

New York has their own set of “assault weapon” laws known as the SAFE Act, and as such, most gun owners do their best to comply with the letter of the law while still finding enough room in the law to own some things they like.

Pratt (a likely owner of a modified AR-15 type rifle), in an attempt to comply with the law, was later arrested and charged for possession of an illegal assault weapon.

"The DA's office says it was illegal. We say it wasn't. We'll find out," said Steve Coffey, Pratt's attorney.

Whether or not his gun complies with the law, this father of three faces two felony possession charges and can spend as much as 15 years in prison.

And for what?

If Pratt's actions while defending himself against the pit bull were lawful, who was his victim? And why should anyone who is forced to lawfully defend themselves with a gun be found guilty of anything? Isn't that the point of the Second Amendment right to bear arms?

And it isn’t just everyday, honest citizens who are at risk of running afoul of the law.

Even an anti-gun reporter inadvertently proved that gun laws don’t prevent crime: they merely opened her up to prosecution for unintentionally violating them.

Wendy Saltzman of 6ABC in Philadelphia did a story last October attempting to frighten the uninformed public of the so-called dangers of “ghost guns”: “Criminals already have their hands on them and law enforcement says they’ve seen them on our streets. It’s known as a ‘Ghost Gun’ and it’s purchased easily online. [G]un advocates say this is a protected right under the Second Amendment and if people want to build firearms in their homes, untraceable or not, it should continue to be allowed. Those on the other side of the debate say this is a loophole in the existing law that must be closed and that purchasing a weapon without a background check is dangerous.”

To demonstrate how “easy” it was, she bought all the parts to build an AR-15 online, including an incomplete lower receiver (otherwise known as an "80% lower", considered to be “not a firearm” by the BATFE due to the fact that it requires additional machining to make it functional), then appeared to have a machinist finish the receiver on her behalf (unless she has man-hands and hairy arms, in which case I apologize for assuming).

Federal law allows you to make firearms for your personal use only, but it’s a serious crime to have someone else do it for you (and probably, too, for them) without following other applicable laws.

Her Facebook post of the video was quickly flooded with gun owners pointing out the criminality of her alleged actions. She attempted to defend herself, stating, “We did this under the viewership of law enforcement to be certain there were no issues. It’s 100% legal.” 

However, if local law enforcement watches you break federal law, you’ve still broken federal laws. And, as demonstrated before in Manny’s case, law enforcement often doesn’t know what the law actually is.

We’re used to the media getting a pass, though, for breaking gun control laws as long as they’re advocating for more gun control.

We all remember when David Gregory of NBC's Meet The Press infamously held up that 30 round magazine on national television in Washington, D.C., where those magazines are banned.

And we remember when the producer of Katie Couric’s anti-gun documentary “Under The Gun” had an employee feloniously buy guns across state lines without a background check multiple times.

And when “undercover” CBS reporter Paula Reid bought an AR15 at a gun store *gasp* claiming on Form 4473 that it was for herself, however in her piece, she admitted she immediately sold it to someone else which is considered a straw purchase.

But in Wendy Saltzman’s case, as well as in David Gregory’s case, Katie Couric’s case, and Paula Reid’s case, who were their victims? Why should what they allegedly did be a crime, then?

While it might be fun to do so, I’m not calling for their arrest or prosecution; quite the opposite. I’m calling for their understanding, and hopefully (but doubtful) their help and platform, because they, too, now know what it’s like for people like the friend's wife, Manny, Devin, and countless others to be victims of gun laws.

Laws that do not target violent criminal acts but restrict our liberties create criminals out of good people who break them. They do not prevent crime and they cannot prevent crime -- they merely turn otherwise-innocent behavior into crimes, quite literally creating more crimes to be punished.

There are some, even in the gun rights community, who say that we need to “enforce existing gun laws already on the books” to deal with crime. That would mean victimizing all these good people then, too.

Our focus should always be on advancing the cause of liberty, not enforcing bad laws. “Land of the free.” “Liberty and justice for all.” Do these still mean something, or do we just give lip service to them?

We should all do our part to support and advance harsher penalties for serial victimizers, yet those on the gun control side of this debate have voted over and over again to lighten the sentences of victimizers, especially in California.

If you have actually illegally harmed someone, you belong in prison. If you unjustly kill someone, rob someone, rape someone, hurt someone, etc., you ought to be removed from society. If you have proven to be so dangerous that you can’t be trusted to own a gun without using it to hurt others -- a gun that you can still easily obtain by other illegal means -- then you haven’t spent enough time in prison. The best and only way to reduce violent crime is to make sure actual violent criminals can’t victimize more people. If they're dangerous, keep them behind bars.

But laws supposedly aimed at “preventing crime” by denying everyone’s liberty -- specifically our ability to acquire, possess, and use the gun we want, for lawful purposes -- are unjust and ought to be repealed, struck down, and/or pre-empted. Get rid of them.

Gun control proponents like to say that “we’re all law abiding citizens, until we aren’t” to justify denying everyone’s rights and liberty. But they forget that requisite condition - UNTIL.

Americans [should] have the freedom to do what we want so long as we don’t unjustly and unlawfully hurt other. THEN, if we do, we ought to be punished for it, but not before. (For now, at least, we still have the right to due process before we’re stripped of our liberty.)

But don’t deny all of us law-abiding people our rights and liberty because of what violent criminals might do, and then punish us for exercising our rights and liberty as if we were equal to (or worse than) a victimizer.

That’s called tyranny.

Posted by permission. 

We support informed debate and encourage readers to research and consider many opinions before forming their own. The opinion in the above article is that of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Firearms Policy Coalition or any other entity.