Based on incidents that are newsworthy mainly because they’re so rare, some anti-gun politicians have called for new restrictions on antique guns, replicas of antiques, and new guns that work like antiques. These guns are almost never used in crime, and are mainly owned by collectors, target shooters, and hunters who enjoy these guns’ history and the unique shooting challenges they present.
Under federal law, “antique” and “replica” guns are not regulated like modern firearms for most purposes. The exemption was added to the Gun Control Act of 1968—with the support of bill sponsors and the Johnson administration’s Justice Department—by senators who thought the original bill was “too restrictive with regard to people who collect antique [firearms].”
Antique and replica guns are defined in federal law and in many states’ laws by several characteristics:
- Action type. Many antique guns are muzzleloaders—that is, guns that must be loaded with a bullet and separate powder charge, and ignited by a cap, flintlock or other external mechanism. This technology has been obsolete for military use since the Civil War. Muzzleloaders usually fire only a single shot, and are far slower to reload than modern firearms.
- Age. Most firearms made before 1898 were designed for use with black powder, which generates less power (in any given caliber) than the smokeless powder used in modern ammunition. Many modern replicas of antique guns use black powder as well.
- Ammunition availability. Antique firearms other than muzzleloaders often use obsolete types of ammunition that are no longer commercially available. Owners who want to shoot them have to craft the ammunition by hand—a task far beyond the experience of street criminals.
Anti-gun former Congressman Joseph Hoeffel (D-Pa.) repeatedly introduced federal legislation to treat antique guns as modern firearms. Ironically, Rep. Hoeffel’s own letter in support of his 2001 bill proved that antique guns are rarely used in crime. The letter cited Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms figures that indicate antique or replica guns were involved in only 0.02% of homicides, and less than 0.004% of other violent crimes, from 1997 to 2000.
This effort to restrict antiques shows that anti-gun activists are opposed to all guns, no matter how unlikely to be used in crime. They want to ban large, expensive guns like .50 caliber rifles, and small, inexpensive handguns. They want to ban the most modern semiautomatic firearms, and to restrict collectible, antique firearms. Unlike Goldilocks, they haven`t yet found a gun that’s “just right.”