It was alleged that the makers of the anti-gun feature, Under the Gun, violated federal gun laws when director Stephanie Soechtig admitted that one of her producers, who lived in Colorado, went to Arizona and bought three handguns and a AR-15 rifle in the parking lot of a Wendy’s without going through a federal firearms licensed dealer to conduct a background check. She said this was, like, totally legal - except that it’s not.
While it is legal to buy long guns out-of-state, you need to go through a FFL dealer first. The Federalist’s Sean Davis reported on the interview director Stephanie Soechtig did with Lip TV, where she appeared to admit to breaking federal gun laws. Davis sent an inquiry to Soechtig about her remarks, where she appeared to confirm that they did indeed break the law [bold text indicates Soechtig] :
In response to a series of detailed questions about the incident posed by The Federalist, Soechtig simultaneously confirmed that she and her team skirted federal gun laws and declared that they did absolutely nothing wrong:
“While it may seem hard to believe that one could buy these types of guns this easily, all purchases in the film were made completely legally. Arizona law allows out-of-state residents to buy long guns (i.e. rifles, shotguns, military style assault rifles) from a private seller without a background check. It also allows Arizona residents to buy handguns from a private seller without a background check.
“We demonstrated both versions of this dangerous loophole in the film on a hidden camera, in full compliance with both state and federal laws. The rifles – including a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, the gun used in the Aurora massacre – were purchased by an out of state resident. The handgun was purchased by an Arizona resident.
“These guns were then turned over to law enforcement and destroyed. They never left the state of Arizona.”
The Federalist spoke to a large FFL in the Phoenix area and asked about Soechtig’s interpretation of state and federal laws. Is it legal for an out-of-state resident to buy a gun in Arizona without involving an FFL in the transaction?
“Absolutely not!” the licensed gun dealer said during a phone conversation on Monday afternoon. “We’re talking about federal law here. If you are not an Arizona resident, you cannot legally buy a gun here without going through an FFL.”
“An Arizona FFL can process a long gun purchase and the background check for an out of state buyer,” he said. “Otherwise, an FFL in the buyer’s home state has to process the transaction.”
“Interstate sales between private individuals are a big no-no,” he concluded.
One key portion of Soechtig’s new statement, however, directly contradicts key portions of her previous interview with The Lip TV. In that interview, Soechtig said her out-of-state producer purchased three handguns in Arizona without going through an FFL. In the most recent statement, Soechtig states that only one handgun was purchased and that it was purchased by an Arizona resident, not a Colorado resident. Under federal law, all interstate handgun purchases must be processed by an FFL in the buyer’s home state. If Soechtig’s latest statement is an accurate representation of what happened, then it is unclear why she originally claimed that three handguns were legally purchased by an out-of-state resident without going through an FFL.
Soechtig also said she was unapologetic over editing the now infamous interview with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, where Katie Couric, who also executive produced the film, asked members about background checks. It was followed by eight seconds of silence, though in reality there were immediate responses to the question. The film crew said that this was done for viewers to think about the question. Everyone thought this was a “BS” response. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has asked the ATF to conduct an investigation into the alleged illegal gun sales seen in the film.
Last Note: In case you were wondering, here are the laws that the experts say Soechtig and company have seemingly admitted to breaking:
How may an unlicensed person receive a firearm in his or her State that he or she purchased from an out–of–State source?
An unlicensed person who is not prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms may purchase a firearm from an out–of–State source, provided the transfer takes place through a Federal firearms licensee in his or her State of residence.
[18 U.S.C 922(a)(3) and 922(b)(3); 27 CFR 478.29]
Alan Korwin, a nationally recognized expert on firearms law and author of “Gun Laws Of America,” the unabridged guide to the nation’s gun laws, told The Federalist that the transactions engineered by Couric’s production team appear to violate multiple federal gun laws.
“It appears that Katie Couric and her producer arranged to have firearms transferred to themselves outside their home state from an otherwise innocent person,” Korwin said. “That clearly is an illegal transfer under federal law, each transfer of which is a federal felony.”
Korwin’s interpretation also matches that of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). According to the ATF’s own website, the interstate firearms transactions described by Soechtig likely violated federal gun trafficking laws:
May an unlicensed person acquire a firearm under the GCA in any State?
Generally, a person may only acquire a firearm within the person’s own State. Exceptions include the acquisition pursuant to a lawful bequest, or an over–the–counter acquisition of a rifle or shotgun from a licensee where the transaction is allowed by the purchaser’s State of residence and the licensee’s State of business. A person may borrow or rent a firearm in any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes.
[18 U.S.C 922(a)(3); 27 CFR 478.29]
Also, here’s National Review’s Charles Cook’s take on the Soechtig’s new story [bold text indicates Korwin’s words]:
If it looks as if Soechtig has realized what she’s done, panicked, spoken to a lawyer, and then publicly revised her story, that’s because she almost certainly has. Unfortunately for her, though, she’s going to need a better lawyer. Why? Well, because what she describes here is still illegal. As I noted earlier, federal law prohibits the rifle transactions that Soechtig claims took place. Per the ATF’s summary of 18 U.S.C 922(a)(3); 27 CFR 478.29:
Generally, a person may only acquire a firearm within the person’s own State. Exceptions include the acquisition pursuant to a lawful bequest, or an over-the-counter acquisition of a rifle or shotgun from a licensee where the transaction is allowed by the purchaser’s State of residence and the licensee’s State of business. A person may borrow or rent a firearm in any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes.
As the renowned firearms lawyer Alan Korwin notes over at The Federalist, Arizona doesn’t actually offer the magical gun-destroying service that Soechtig claims to have used:
As a practical matter, Arizona authorities gather firearms they receive, hold them in a property office, and through a long, deliberate court-involved process decide what the proper disposition of the goods should be. When firearms are in useable condition, they are very often recycled and used by the agency that received them. The Bushmaster rifle Couric’s team obtained, highly prized by police (though vilified in Couric’s report) is a candidate for salvation.
In the law commonly referred to as the Protection of Firearms in Official Custody act, property was redefined to include any guns that might come into officials’ possession for any reason. According to The Arizona Gun Owner’s Guide (26th Edition), they must be safely kept, honestly valued, and handled only as defined by law. If officials take a gun from you, they must give you a detailed receipt, including how to retrieve it. Couric and her team would have gotten such receipts and instructions, or something is amiss, including their statements about destruction. This calls for further investigation of both the receiving agency and Couric’s team.
To sum up Soechtig’s case, then: The United States doesn’t have enough laws regulating firearms, which is why Soechtig’s team was able to buy a Bushmaster and three handguns in another state without a background check or any paperwork, but actually they didn’t do that because it turns out that that’s illegal, so on second thought they got a state resident to buy one handgun and an out-of-state resident to buy three non-Bushmaster rifles, and, even though that’s flagrantly illegal too, it’s actually not because the can-you-believe-we-did-this? exemption changes everything, and anyway federal law doesn’t apply if you don’t leave the state and if you manage to somehow convince the police to quickly melt property that is protected by law, and, oh screw it, something must be done! and if it saves one life! and why oh why oh why oh why is the National Rifle Association so damn mean?
Will anything come of this? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean, of course, that it wasn’t wrong.
Editor's Note: Headline slightly tweaked...