The Hunting and Conservation Nexus of the National Firearms Act

BY Herschel Smith
4 months, 3 weeks ago

On Saturday evening my wife and I dined at a restaurant where a number of very old firearms were behind glass on the wall, from muskets to pistols of all sorts, including what I knew to be a “Sunday Gun.”  I joked to a fellow who happened to be in line behind me that the ATF wouldn’t like this gun.  He laughed and replied, “Yea, they would need to take that folding stock off of it to make them happy.”

The NFA was promulgated with pretentions of a so-called “war on crime.”  We’ve had a war on crime, a war on poverty, and a war on guns, and today we’re recapitulating the war on crime schtick.  Everyone wants to fight a war, or at least use war as an excuse to do what they otherwise may not get approval to do.

One must remember the nexus of hunting and conservation in the minds of the men who voted for the NFA, or at least recall how powerful the hunting and conservation lobby was even one hundred years ago.

William Hornaday, Director of NY Zoological Park, was the first to use the term “wildlife.”  His ideas were very influential, but also dovetailed with the ideas in vogue in the “gentleman hunt clubs” in America.  Read here, the more well-to-do as opposed to the “poors.”

In his seminal (but badly wrong as history shows) piece entitled Our Vanishing Wild Life – its Extermination and Preservation, he makes a number of bold assertions, and apparently had the support of a number of very influential hunting clubs.  These quotes would be anathema today – no one with any sense would go on record saying things like this.  So this is unadulterated and unvarnished history at its finest.

The “Sunday Gun.” —A new weapon of peculiar form and great deadliness to song birds, has recently come into use. Because of the manner of its use, it is known as the “Sunday gun.” It is specially adapted to concealment on the person. A man could go through a reception with one of these deadly weapons absolutely concealed under his dress coat! It is a weapon with two barrels, rifle and shot; and it enables the user to kill anything from a humming-bird up to a deer. What the shot-barrel can not kill, the rifle will. It is not a gun that any sportsman would own, save as a curiosity, or for target use.

The State Ornithologist of Massachusetts, Mr. E.H. Forbush, informs me that already the “Sunday gun” has become a scourge to the bird life of that state. Thousands of them are used by men and boys who live in cities and towns, and are able to get into the country only on Sundays. They conceal them under their coats, on Sunday mornings, go out into the country, and spend the day in shooting small birds and mammals. The dead birds are concealed in various pockets, the Sunday gun goes under the coat, and at nightfall the guerrilla rides back to the city with an innocent smile on his face, as if he had spent a day in harmless enjoyment of the beauties of nature.

The “Sunday gun” is on sale everywhere, and it is said to be in use both by American and Italian killers of song-birds. It weighs only two pounds, eight ounces, and its cost is so trifling that any guerrilla who wishes one can easily find the money for its purchase. There are in the United States at least a million men and boys quite mean enough to use this weapon on song-birds, swallows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, rabbits and squirrels, and like other criminals, hide both weapon and loot in their clothing. So long as this gun is in circulation, no small bird is safe, at any season, near any city or town.

Now, what are the People going to do about it?

Guns are cheap.  Guns are effective.  Those poors, including those awful Italians, will kill every last songbird among us.  Those who would do that are mean.  No bird is safe from these guerrillas.

Elsewhere he says this.

With the killing of robins, larks, blackbirds and cedar birds for food, the case is quite different. No white man calling himself a sportsman ever indulges in such low pastimes as the killing of such birds for food. That burden of disgrace rests upon the negroes and poor whites of the South; but at the same time, it is a shame that respectable white men sitting in state legislatures should deliberately enact laws permitting such disgraceful practices, or permit such disgraceful and ungentlemanly laws to remain in force!

Depression era poverty and starvation not withstanding, white men everywhere should be appalled at the idea that the poors are killing birds for food.  No self-respecting person would do that, at least, no one who calls himself a sportsman.

Elsewhere, this prediction shows the utter stupidity of most of the document.

At this date deer hunting is not permitted at any time in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas,—where there are no wild deer; nor in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Tennessee or Kentucky. The long close seasons in Massachusetts, Connecticut and southern New York have caused a great migration of deer into those once-depopulated regions,—in fact, right down to tide-water.

Today, trophy bucks are routinely hunted in many of those states, because modern game management techniques managed by the states (not the federal government) are smarter than the author of this ridiculous screed.

Finally, he doesn’t like semiautomatic firearms of any sort and recommends their outlaw.

The sole and dominant thought of many gunmakers is to make the very deadliest guns that human skill can invent, sell them as fast as possible, and declare dividends on their stock. The Remington, Winchester, Marlin, Stevens and Union Companies are engaged in a mad race to see who can turn out the deadliest guns, and the most of them. On the market to-day there are five pump-guns, that fire six shots each, in about six seconds, without removal from the shoulder, by the quick sliding of a sleeve under the barrel, that ejects the empty shell and inserts a loaded one. There are two automatics that fire five shots each in five seconds or less, by five pulls on the trigger! The autoloading gun is reloaded and cocked again wholly by its own recoil. Now, if these are not machine guns, what are they?

His “model law” includes these words.

It shall be unlawful to use in hunting or shooting birds or animals of any kind, any automatic or repeating shot gun or pump gun, or any shot-gun holding more than two cartridges at one time, or that may be fired more than twice without removal from the shoulder for reloading.

Ah, the venerable over-under, still a very nice option for bird hunting, but in his world, the only permitted weapon for such pastimes.

You get the main points being made here.  The NFA and GCA didn’t outlaw machine guns, they just capped the number in circulation and ran their price up to where only the monied can purchase them.  You see, the poors don’t deserve them, any more than they deserve to feed their families by shooting the “songbirds.”  Men of good name and admirable and fine upbringing don’t do things like that in the hunting clubs.

This sort of rejection of modern firearms has carried through until recently with the likes of Jim Zumbo and David Petzal, who wanted to outlaw the use of the AR platform for hunting.  Never mind that in some cases it’s the best option (hogs are resilient animals and need more than a single shot to bring them down if you want to save meat).

So, while powerful men still want you to believe that they are in a war on crime, there are undercurrents which have been with us a long time concerning money, power and connections, that have guided decisions in this area of law.


  1. On January 16, 2023 at 9:22 am, Paul B said:

    Good thoughts. I have one of the Sunday guns. Savage 24D in 22lr and 20 gauge. Safe queen waiting for TEOTWAWKI. But I will probably use something that can be reloaded faster and puts more lead down range faster. It could be handy hunting rabbits.

    I never thought about shooting song birds from hunger. Guess I have not been hungry enough.

  2. On January 16, 2023 at 11:45 am, Latigo Morgan said:

    I’ve seen more than one “stamp collector” say they’d fight the repeal of the NFA in order to protect the value of their investments.

    To them I say, may your chains rest heavily. (I’m not as nice as Patrick Henry.)

  3. On January 16, 2023 at 12:10 pm, JG said:

    Latigo Morgan: It is very sad and disturbing that you have run across stamp collectors with that mindset. All the stamp collectors I know have the opposite attitude–all would happily see the monetary value of their collections drop either from the repeal of sec. 922(o) (ban on new MGs) or repeal of the NFA altogether, in exchange for some restoration of our RKBA. That is because we value our God-given natural rights more than mere money. I guess the ones I know are actual gun people as opposed to mere “investors.”

  4. On January 17, 2023 at 12:20 am, Mike Hendrix said:

    Proof positive that, even a hundred years back, gun-grabbing hoplophobes presume a right to tell me A) what I am and am NOT allowed to hunt and kill for food, and B) what firearm I am allowed to use in doing it. Some things never change.

    Sorry, chum, but as long as I draw breath on this planet, that will remain MY decision to make, and mine alone. However “superior” you believe your “intelligence” or “compassion” might be to my own, you don’t get a say in that, and you never, ever will.

  5. On January 17, 2023 at 5:37 am, jrg said:

    I own and use a few combination o/u rifle / shotgun combinations. Not the high priced European combinations long arms that cost a year’s salary for me but plain utility grade, designed for hunting and predator control for people of average means. They are very practical if you do not know what you may run across while woodsroaming, solid and shot projectiles are provided for instant use. That they are only single shot in both barrels is not much of a handicap – the 1st shot taken at game at rest is your most sure shot. None of them have a folding stock and I’m glad of that. A shot from a 12 Gauge with a metal stock will get you attention and not in a good way.

    Does that mean that firearms having a magazine are non sporting ? No. And I (nor you) are qualified to tell others which firearms to use to hunt. Its a personal choice and as long as you are adhering to legal game limits, it doesn’t matter what you use. I don’t think the animals mind what firearm was used for their demise.

  6. On January 18, 2023 at 8:21 am, Latigo Morgan said:

    Market hunters were the biggest cause of wildlife depletion back then, not “Sunday hunters” with their single shots.

    Then, along came the Depression and deer and elk nearly went extinct in this country.

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You are currently reading "The Hunting and Conservation Nexus of the National Firearms Act", entry #33752 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Second Amendment and was published January 15th, 2023 by Herschel Smith.

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