In Unintended Consequences, John Ross creates a work of fiction in which the hero must fight the forces of big-government unleashed by the 1934 National Firearms Act and the gun control laws that followed in the wake of that Act.
Ross's novel is the best work of libertarian fiction since Atlas Shrugged. It is also a history course on the causes and effects of gun control laws in the United States. He recreates with chilling horror the night in 1971 when bumbling ATF tax agents raided Ken Ballew's home and lodged a .380 bullet in his brain. He never even knew the killers represented the government. Ballew's crime? An unreliable informant alleged Ballew hadn't paid the appropriate tax on a weapon, a charge which was never substantiated. (Ballew collected black powder guns as a hobby, all of which were perfectly legal.)
Ross also recounts the murders at Ruby Ridge and Waco, adding fictional quotes and thoughts but retaining historical accuracy. However, these stories are not distinct from the plot of the novel, but rather integral to it. The achievement of the book is Ross's ability to draw together so many elements of history and political thought and tie them into an intriguing work of fiction.
Ross also details the Jewish revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, in which a small band of prisoners stole firearms from Nazi guards and resisted German troops for nearly a month. Ross creates a fictional member of the group who later befriends the novel's protagonist. German citizens were disarmed starting about five years before the rise of Hitler. (Aaron Zelman from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership gives the novel a hearty recommendation.)
Notably, Switzerland avoided invasion, a fact Ross attributes to the availability of machine guns and ammunition in every Swiss home. Ross also details the state gun laws passed to disarm African Americans and Hispanics prior to the 1934 Act.
Most of the story of Ross's novel, though, revolves around the 1934 U.S. law, along with the 1968 Gun Control Act which expanded the earlier legislation. An essay calling for the repeal of the Act and credited to the protagonist is printed in the book.
As direct Federal gun control laws are flagrantly unconstitutional, Congress in 1934 passed indirect gun control laws in the form of a tax on interstate commerce. In particular, the 1934 Act imposed a $200 tax on shortened shot-guns, fully-automatic guns, and silencers. At that time, such items ranged from $2 to $125 retail. This tax had to be re-paid each time the item changed hands. That Federal gun control laws were snuck through the back door disguised as tax measures is the main reason the ATF is a division of the IRS.
No one bothered to register their guns and silencers during the year following the enactment of the legislation. For some time the law was enforced sporadically or not at all. In 1938, though, a police officer looking to bust moonshiners arrested Jack Miller for carrying a shortened shot-gun across state lines without paying the Federal tax. (Miller had never even heard of the National Firearms Act, chances are.)
An Arkansas District Court ruled the Act unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court, recently packed by big-government Roosevelt, upheld the Act. Strangely, no one even bothered to show up in front of the Court to argue against the law, and Miller disappeared.
The Supreme Court, however, did uphold the Constitutional right to carry arms with military purposes, Ross relates. The Court, in Ross's estimation, erred in two ways: first, it ruled that a short shot-gun did not have military uses, even though the military was indeed issued such guns, and, second, the Court failed to note that the 1934 Act also applied to machine guns and silencers, which clearly have military application.
As Ross notes, the "militia" was understood by those who wrote the Constitution to consist of all able-bodied men. Because the 1934 Act raised essentially no revenue, because it intentionally charged a tax of several times the value of the guns and silencers, it was unconstitutional, as the District Court ruled.
Ross summarizes the legal precedent set in 1934 and affirmed in 1939:
In 1939, few if any people complained about the National Firearms Act, just as few people complained about the much more obvious 'Jim Crow' laws that existed throughout the country. Just like the doctrine of 'separate but equal,' the National Firearms Act would remain an embarrassing stain on the nation's fabric for over half a century. Just as with that other civil rights violation, the National Firearms Act would spawn other, more outrageous infringements, like a tumor that slowly metastases into ever-widening and ever more aggressive forms of cancer. Finally, as was true of civil rights violations everywhere in the world, the choice would come down to eradicating the cancer or letting it kill the patient.
One reason often cited for the passage of the 1934 Act is the gang violence of the era of alcohol prohibition. (One might note the parallels with the gang violence perpetuated by today's prohibition laws.) However, as Ross notes, such violence had virtually disappeared with the repeal of prohibition. The real reason the Act was passed, in Ross's view, was to expand Federal powers and to keep out-of-work prohibition agents on the government dole.
As Ross argues, Federal gun control laws do little to prevent crime. Drug gangsters regularly carry fully automatic weapons in the U.S., as did alcohol gangsters before them. Further, criminals silence a gun by wrapping it in a blanket, which makes it quieter than a silencer does. (A silencer muffles a gun's noise and in some cases assists a shooter's stability.) The main effect of the Federal law is to make Americans more prone to local and international violence.
The right to own guns ensures all the other rights, and when guns are banished our other rights are likely to follow. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution enshrines in highest law the right to own guns because such ownership is essential to keeping criminals, tyrants, foreign invaders, and terrorists at bay.
John Ross in his dramatic Unintended Consequences fully recognizes the importance and moral responsibility of gun ownership. He shows that the 1934 National Firearms Act, along with the 1968 Gun Control Act and subsequent Federal gun control legislation, violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution and threatens American liberties. It's past time to repeal those laws.