Over the past few weeks, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been rolling out task forces, policy platforms and all manner of other legislative bells and whistles as he ramps up his bid to unseat President Trump. Predictably, none of his proposals have hit with the same force as progressive blockbusters such as Medicare-for-all or the Green New Deal (neither of which he supports). But Biden did shake the table in a different way in 2019 when he debuted his gun control platform. Later that year, when he bumbled into a heated exchange with a Detroit factory worker, who accused him of trying to “take away our guns,” right-wingers and gun rights groups gloated over the spectacle. But even now, after the world has changed several times over, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that that worker was right. To the dismay of firearm enthusiasts on the left, Biden is still coming for some people’s guns. It’s now just a matter of who’s going to have them snatched — and who isn’t.
Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) may have pulled the most attention with his brash anti-gun rhetoric during the primaries, but Biden’s less ambitious plan still offers plenty of cause for alarm for firearm owners. Alongside a raft of more common-sense measures (and a confusing aside about “smart gun technology”), its centerpiece is a ban on the manufacture and sale of what are known as “assault weapons,” with a proposal to bring their regulation under the National Firearms Act. This 1934 law currently applies to “machine guns” (i.e. fully automatic firearms), silencers and short-barreled rifles, but Biden’s plan would extend it to apply to what he characterizes as “assault weapons,” meaning semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns with interchangeable magazines that fire intermediate cartridges (the most notorious of which is the AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle) as well as “high capacity magazines” (generally understood under the 1994 bill to be those that can hold more than 10 bullets). Individuals who already own these items would be required to participate in a federal buyback program or register each of their qualifying firearms and magazines under the NFA — which comes with a $200 price tag (on top of extra fees incurred during the registration process). When it was first enacted in 1934, that $200 fee was intended to be prohibitively expensive; now, inflation aside, it still is for many people.
Given how costly some firearms can be, that registration fee may not sound like too much of an added burden, but for a person who has already bought and paid for multiple qualifying firearms and magazines (or inherited them), that amount will add up quickly.