For those of you who have been following the news, the recent announcement by Stag Arms about their plea deal with the ATF is unsurprising. For those of you that haven’t been paying attention, here’s a basic rundown:
Stag is a true niche manufacturer. They assemble the only version of the AR-15 presently on the market that’s designed for left-handers, specifically for people who are left-eye dominant. The only weapon they construct is the AR-15. A large percentage of their sales have been to law enforcement personnel for professional use; they are also widely popular among lefties in the hunting and collecting communities.
Quite some time ago, apparently during a routine inspection, several incomplete weapon receivers were discovered in a company warehouse. They didn’t have the required serial numbers or licenses; according to company management, it was a part of a business deal that had fallen through, and they were storing the things until they could figure out what to do with them. (There was also a single weapon receiver registered to a police department somewhere; presumably it was there for repair but without the records who can know for sure?)
This is a criminal offense, of course; there’s a huge weight of supervisory regulation in place to deal with this sort of thing. Massive fines have been levied as punishment, and more tellingly, Stag has lost their license to produce firearms as a result. The owner is compelled to sell his business (likely at a loss) or shut down completely. In the latter case, his employees will all lose their jobs. In either event, he’s plead out to a personal criminal charge in addition to the above as part of the deal to keep his company going while they’re setting up the sale.
Bear in mind here: This is a consequence of what is seemingly a paperwork error. I won’t go so far as to say that shutting down the entire business as a result of a single lapse is excessive; for one thing, we don’t know enough about this case to judge. Criminal investigations are kept private for a good reason. For another thing, these laws are pretty important, and they ought to be taken seriously; the last thing we need is high-quality machine guns in the hands of inner-city gangbangers.
Yes, the letter of the law is important, but are we really justified shutting down a solid business for a single paperwork error? There’s twenty-odd employees that work for these people, not to mention innumerable suppliers and small parts manufacturers. Oh, and it’s domestic manufacture; these guns are made entirely in the USA.
The company has been in business for eleven years, and they fill a necessary role in the market. They do excellent work; their product is extremely reliable, their customer service is beyond reproach, and they go out of their way to provide satisfaction. From a political standpoint, their website is entirely neutral; they have options for every state’s unique approach to firearms laws, and they make no comment about any of them.
I can’t tell you for sure whether the gossip is true, that they’re being railroaded on a technical paperwork violation purely because of anti-gun sentiment in the federal administration. It seems plausible enough, but on the other hand, the case file isn’t open; from a factual standpoint, it’s possible that there was something more serious going on to which we are not privy.
What I can tell you is that, from a customer’s perspective, this operation is run very honestly, honorably, and professionally. Given the nature of their production line, it would be extremely unlikely for there to be any wholesale criminal activity, and selling illicit machine guns one at a time would be such a low-profit high-risk sideline that it would be almost unimaginably stupid. It would be akin to counterfeiting one dollar bills.
I know some of the people reading this are probably of the opinion that nobody needs to own an AR-15 anyway. It’s kinda high-tech for a hunting rifle, and it’s not terribly useful for home defense. Personally, I’m too cheap to buy one myself, but I can see the attraction of carrying something light, reliable, and convenient with me on a deer hunt.
Because that’s really what this gun is. Oh, it looks a lot like the gun a soldier in a movie or video game would carry, but the AR-15 isn’t a machine gun. It’s just a high-end firearm with a very sexy look to it. It’s compact, lightweight, and very efficient, but the practical difference between this and granddad’s lever-action 30-06 is pretty minor.
(If there was someone shooting at me and I had to choose who, I’d pick a gangbanger with an AR-15 over granddad with a 30-06 any day of the week. I know which of the two is more likely to hit what he’s aiming at.)
But the fact remains that manufacturing AR-15s is not a criminal act. It’s perfectly legal, and there is a legitimate market for the product. It’s not like these guys were making machine guns for gangbangers; these are rifles, useful for hunting, and it would take a lot of time in a serious machine shop to turn them into anything else.
They are no more an automatic weapon than is any cop’s handgun.
Having said this, there exist variants built on the AR-15 frame that can be constructed for full-automatic fire. These are restricted weapons, for sale to specific law enforcement units within the country or, occasionally, for the militaries of foreign governments. The original ArmaLite pattern was designed for automatic fire, in fact, and was the basis for the M-16 used by the US Army for so many years. However, the civilian variant (by far the most popular production model) is substantially different and cannot easily be converted.
The bottom line.
Mark Malkowski, president of Stag Arms LLC, is pleading guilty to recordkeeping violations. He’s losing his company and livelihood, and he’s facing a big fine.
These records are pretty important; it’s the mechanism we use to keep gun manufacturers from violating the law by selling machine guns to individuals, any guns to felons, weapons to unfriendly foreign governments and organizations. So it’s reasonable that there might be a prosecution here, if only to encourage other small manufacturers to toe the line (or at least to appear to).
But there’s a very good chance that the prosecution was influenced by political factors, and that’s never a good thing.
What seems worse to me is this: We’ve got serious problems with firearms control. Weapons get into the hands of felons, drug dealers, gang members — it happens all the time. Military weapons are sold wholesale to rogue states and members of terror groups. This prosecution does nothing to restrict or even discourage that sort of thing.
We can all agree that there are people who shouldn’t own guns, especially the sort of high-quality reliable and accurate firearm that Stag Arms is known for. But that doesn’t seem to be what happened. Nobody at Stag armed the Crips or the Bloods, or sold to Daesh, or went out and shot up a school or a movie theater.
This is a prosecution for paperwork errors. It will cost one man his livelihood and possibly some jail time, and it may cost a lot of very skilled workers their jobs. It removes one of the few quality manufacturers from the field, one of the very few who seem to believe more in public safety than in their bottom line. This seems to be the epitome of oppression by bureaucracy, and it’s very possible that the prosecution is motivated largely for political reasons.
I ask you: Is this really what America ought to be about?