Federal gun law is a maze, a mystery wrapped in an enigma. The proof can be found through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- specifically its list of more than two dozen forms for owning firearms.
For collectors, doomsday preppers and garden-variety gun nuts, the most relevant is ATF Form 4, 5320.4: the Application for Tax-Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearms. That's the one to fill out to legally obtain machine guns, silencers and other items not needed to take down a 10-point buck.
On that form, way down in the fine print, the feds included this bit of boilerplate: "Under Penalties of Perjury, I declare that I have examined this application, and to the best of my knowledge, it is true, correct and complete ... ."
Lying on Form 4 is a legal trip wire for the feds to pile on in gun cases. A perjury conviction can bring a fine of up to $10,000, 10 years in prison or both.
It's also a place for investigators to start looking at the gun ownership history of Winston-Salem resident David Regnery, who, until last week, was a candidate for public office.
'A gun you go to war with'
As far as anyone knows, at this point, Regnery has done no wrong and broken no laws. He came to be a quasi-public figure when the county GOP recommended him to fill a vacancy on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.
His appointment seemed assured until questions arose about whether he misrepresented himself as a resident of Davie County to obtain a federal permit to own an assault-type weapon. He abruptly pulled his name from consideration and retrenched.
Regnery didn't respond to interview requests Monday. Previously, he said he didn't own such a weapon, but a source said he has fired an Uzi at a gun range within the past year and talked about having a federal permit.
A problem with that is another clause on Form 4 which prohibits possession of the firearm if doing so violates state or local law. In North Carolina, a county sheriff must OK this particular type of permit.
Our guy, Sheriff Bill Schatzman -- a former Marine and FBI agent -- has wisely declined to sign off on any permits to own automatic and assault weapons.
"I've been firing automatic weapons since the mid-60s," Schatzman said. "I don't see any purpose for them in the civilian world ... What's the purpose of (an assault) weapon? It's a shoot-out gun, a combat gun. It's a gun you go to war with."
Across the Yadkin River, Sheriff Andy Stokes of Davie County does allow those permits. He wouldn't say whether he approved an application for Regnery -- by law he doesn't have to -- but did say that Regnery gave him the impression within the last two years that he lived in Davie County. Oh, and he has signed letters to the editor in the Winston-Salem Journal as a Davie County resident while owning a house off Peace Haven Road in Winston-Salem for 15 years.
So what's all that mean? Not much. Not yet anyway.
A starting point
Federal officials won't say whether they're investigating Regnery, whether he legally owns an automatic weapon or even whether he applied for a permit to get one.
"You know we can't answer that," said Lynne Klauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S attorney's office in the Middle District of North Carolina, which includes Winston-Salem and environs.
Investigating applications for weapons permits isn't a priority for federal investigators. Locking up drug dealers and armed robbers is; federal gun charges usually come about after an arrest for violent crime.
"Our priority is to look at the folks who are habitually causing the most problems," said Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District.
Still, with the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut prominent in the national conversation, it's safe to assume the feds are looking. The ATF and federal prosecutors know who Regnery is.
Questions will be asked, but nothing may ever come of it. But we have learned this much: federal gun laws are cumbersome and vague. They're add-ons, negotiating tools for prosecutors who want to turn up the heat.
In many cases, local police officers -- the boots on the ground -- have no way to find out who may be accumulating an arsenal. People can get a permit for -- and own legally -- automatic weapons by establishing a Living Trust under a portion of the U.S. Tax Code approved in the 1930s. How's that work?
If we're seriously talking about gun laws, start with the absurd before moving on to the more difficult middle ground where yahoos can't own military-style assault weapons.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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