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At the NRA convention, the letter of the law but not the spirit

A number of weapons on display occupy a gray area of classification.

Attendees browse Bushmaster Firearms at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Dallas, Texas

CREDIT: Daniel Acker/Getty Images
Attendees browse Bushmaster Firearms at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Dallas, Texas CREDIT: Daniel Acker/Getty Images

DALLAS, TEXAS — It would be a simplification to call the NRA Exhibition Hall in Dallas a gun show.

Oh, there were guns. Lots and lots of guns. Everything from World War II era Thompson sub-machine guns to Barrett .50 caliber anti-material rifles — designed to  be able to take down small aircraft — to tiny Derringer pistols that can fit in the palm of your hand.

But really, the massive exhibition hall served as a supermarket for anything and everything that could be described as “tactical” by gun advocates. Highlights included bulletproof backpacks (which I was told were flying off the shelves and could stop anything up to a rifle round), night vision goggles that cost several thousand dollars and press kits so that you could make your own bullets.

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Among these weapons and gear though, a subsection stood out: guns that, through gimmicky design features, managed to either circumvent gun regulation, or avoid it entirely.

Take, for example, one of the models of the FN FAL rifle which was on display (a type of rifle previously used by the British Army, among others). The model, pictured below, fires the same type of bullet as a regular FAL rifle, and has the same basic design. But because of its length and stock design, it technically qualifies as a pistol under U.S. gun laws.

This quirk of qualification was also true with a version of the AR-15 on display. The weapon has the same basic design as an AR-15 rifle, but because its shoulder stock can be changed to an arm-guard, it too qualifies as a pistol, not a rifle. This is even though, as a vendor admitted to me, most people would change the arm-guard back to a rifle-style stock.

An AR-15 style weapon that qualifies as a pistol, thanks to its "arm-guard" (Photo Credit: Luke Barnes)
An AR-15 style weapon that qualifies as a pistol, thanks to its "arm-guard" (Photo Credit: Luke Barnes)

The same sort of letter-of-the-law-but-not-the-spirit attitude on the exhibit floor was also true when it came to sawed-off shotguns. Under federal law, it is illegal to own a shotgun with the barrel length of less than 18 inches without a permit from the ATF, because it makes the shotgun more easily concealable and more deadly.

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While there were no shotguns on display which specifically had a barrel shorter then 18 inches, there were plenty that, for all intents and purposes, were sawed-off shotguns — small, easily-concealable, with a pistol grip.

These sort of specifications may seem like semantics in a country where gun laws on the whole remain tragically lax. After all, federal law prohibits you buying a handgun if you’re under 21, although you can buy a rifle at 18. But what these variations show is how gun manufacturers are willing to use every trick in the book to make sure they can sell their products, regardless of regulations or classifications.