Legally Buy Machine Guns, Silencers, Short Barrels–Understand the NFA

The aftermath--the media coverage was more graphic even than much of the coverage we see of gang violence today.

The aftermath–the media coverage was more graphic even than much of the coverage we see of gang violence today.

(Note: I am not an attorney and this does not constitute legal advice. You’ll find resources in the article to which you can refer for legal guidance.)

The misunderstandings about the National Firearms Act (NFA) go back a long way. All the way to Prohibition, in fact, to gang warfare and shootings like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre:

It was February 14th, 1929. The Irish gangster Bugsy Moran, one of Al Capone’s fiercest enemies, ran his bootlegging operation out of a garage on the north side of Chicago. Men dressed as policemen entered the garage and told the seven men they found there that they were under arrest. The men were then lined up in front of a brick wall and unceremoniously gunned down. Al Capone was conveniently at his home in Florida at the time.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was followed four years later, February 15th, 1933, by an assassination attempt on President Roosevelt by Giuseppe Zangara in Miami. Roosevelt escaped unharmed but the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, died from his wounds. The people had had enough.

Big Al with his attorneys during his 1931 trial for tax evasion. They were smiling but he went to prison.

Big Al with his attorneys during his 1931 trial for tax evasion. They were smiling but he went to prison.

WHAT IS NFA?

In 1934 Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA). The purpose of the law was to curtail transactions in firearms favored by organized crime (NFA Firearms). These included machine guns, silencers, and sawed-off shotguns. Because the law was passed supposedly as an exercise of Congress’ authority to tax, that was the mechanism used to accomplish their real goals. The transfer tax on an NFA Firearm was set at $200. Adjusted for inflation, that was equivalent to $3,557.76 in 2015 dollars. Congress felt that was enough to curtail sales of these firearms. Of course, it was pocket change for the big gangs of the day. However, it did make it nearly impossible for everyday citizens to buy them. The takeaway here is that, although it priced these items out of the reach of ordinary citizens, it did not make them illegal as long as they were properly registered and the tax was paid.

The NFA was updated through Title II of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, and the misnamed Firearm Owner’s Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986. FOPA made it illegal for anyone other than the military and law enforcement to possess a machinegun except for those already registered prior to May 19, 1986. It also made components of NFA Firearms, like silencer parts and fully automatic trigger packs, into NFA Firearms under the law. It was justified as an “intent to build” an NFA Firearm.

Since real criminals are hard to catch, the public consented to the criminalization of objects., such as the Thompson.

Since real criminals are hard to catch, the public-through their elected representatives-consented to the criminalization of objects., such as the Thompson.

SO WHAT ARE TODAY’S NFA FIREARMS AND HOW CAN YOU LEGALLY OWN THEM UNDER FEDERAL LAW?

NFA Firearms Categories: (National Firearms Handbook https://www.atf.gov/firearms/national-firearms-act-handbook)

  • Machine guns – any gun that can fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger
  • Short-barreled rifles (SBRs) – any gun with a buttstock and with a rifled barrel less than 16” or overall length of under 26”
  • Short-barreled shotguns (SBSs) – similar to an SBR but with a smooth bore barrel less than 18” or overall length less than 26”
  • Suppressors – any portable device designed to muffle or disguise the report of a portable firearm
  • Destructive Devices (DDs) – grenades, bombs, bazookas, poison gas weapons, etc. Any firearm with a bore diameter of more than 0.50” except for shotguns.
  • Any other weapon (AOW) – weapons or devices which can be concealed on the body and which fire a projectile through an explosive force. Includes pen guns, cane guns, lighter guns, etc. In 1960 the tax for AOWs was reduced to $5.
  • Parts associated with NFA Firearms – suppressor baffles, drop-in fully automatic trigger sears, etc.

[Note: Muzzle-loading firearms are exempt from the Act (as they are defined as ‘antique firearms’ and are not considered ‘Firearms’ under either the GCA or the NFA). Thus, though common muzzle-loading hunting rifles are available in calibers over 0.50″, they are not regulated as destructive devices.]

REGISTRATION,PURCHASES, TAXES and TRANSFERS

The most common NFA Firearms are machine guns, SBRs, and silencers. It is completely legal under federal law to buy, own, and shoot these items. However, some state and local laws ban ownership so check with local law enforcement before making a purchase. In addition, prior to completing a purchase you have to first register the item in the NFA Registry with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE or simply ATF), and pay the $200 registration tax. Fortunately the tax has not changed since 1934. (At last, something that has benefitted from inflation!)

If you want to avoid the paperwork, there are semi-auto versions of the old classics that are still fun to shoot. This Thompson pistol is made by Auto Ordnance.

If you want to avoid the paperwork, there are semi-auto versions of the old classics that are still fun to shoot. This Thompson pistol is made by Auto Ordnance.

http://www.auto-ordnance.com/Firearms/Thompson-T1.asp

The process is fairly simple if time consuming. As an individual, you must obtain approval from the ATF, obtain a signature from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) who is the county sheriff or city or town chief of police (not necessarily permission), pass an extensive background check to include submitting a photograph and fingerprints, fully register the firearm, receive ATF written permission before moving the firearm across state lines, and pay a tax. The request to transfer ownership of an NFA item is made on an ATF Form 4. (https://www.atf.gov/file/61546/download)

An alternate method of registering an NFA Firearm is as a corporation, trust, or other legal entity. When the paperwork to request transfer of an NFA item is initiated by an officer of a corporation, a signature from local law enforcement is not required, and fingerprint cards and photographs do not need to be submitted with the transfer request. Therefore, an individual who lives in a location where the chief law enforcement officer will not sign a transfer form, for example, can still own an NFA item if he or she owns a corporation or trust. This method has downsides, since it’s the corporation (and not the principal) that owns the firearm. Thus, if the corporation ever dissolves, it must transfer its NFA to the owners. This event would be considered a new transfer and would be subject to a new transfer tax.

When buying your first silencer or sound suppressor (the terms are used interchangeably), I recommend the Silencer Shop . I have no affiliation with them but they simplified the process for me when I bought my first silencer. They will take you by the hand and lead you through the steps. They also have forms and can help you set up a trust if you decide to go that route. Very responsive and professional group of people.

You can also get forms and instructions through the ATF website: https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/forms-library, and online through sites like https://www.guntrustlawyer.com/form4.

You do not need a “Class III FFL” or any other license. An FFL is required as a prerequisite to become a Special Occupation Taxpayer (SOT): Class 1 importer, Class 2 manufacturer-dealer or Class 3 dealer in NFA, but not for an individual owner. After submitting your paperwork, the process generally takes from three to six months. Once you receive your signed form 4 with tax stamp back from the ATF, you’re eligible to take possession of your firearm. If it is being shipped, it must be shipped to a class III FFL, except that silencers, for residents of the state of Texas, may be shipped directly to them.

You may even manufacture your own NFA Firearms, with the exception of machine guns which are illegal for an individual to manufacture. However, before starting, you must pay a manufacturing tax of $200. Of course, you’ll also have to pay a $200 registration tax, so it might be more cost effective to simply buy your NFA Firearm from a licensed manufacturer/dealer.

ATF-FFL-License-Types1

PENALTIES

While the registration process for NFA Firearms is a hassle and many of us think it’s unconstitutional, this isn’t something you want to treat lightly. It is currently the law of the land. Breaking the law will put you in serious doo doo. And there’s no reason to risk it. Sure $200 seems like a lot of money and who wants to be on a registration list? But it’s not $3,500 like it was in 1934 (thanks to inflation) so consider it a bargain.

According to The NFA Handbook, “Violations of the Act are punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and forfeiture of all devices or firearms in violation, and the individual’s right to own or possess firearms in the future. The Act provides for a penalty of $10,000 for certain violations. A willful attempt to evade or defeat a tax imposed by the Act is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine ($500,000 in the case of a corporation or trust), under the general tax evasion statute. For an individual, the felony fine of $100,000 for tax evasion could be increased to $250,000.” Ouch!

THE FUTURE

No one knows what the future will bring. However there are some positive signs. Who needs to pay $15,000 for a pre-ban machine gun when you can get a non-NFA trigger like a Tac-Con 3 MR or Tac-Con AK47 Raptor that allows full automatic-like fire. (You still have to pull the trigger separately for each shot but the trigger helps you do that more effectively.) And there are less expensive devices like the GAT, Hellfire, Tac Trigger, and Slide Fire bump fire stock. Maybe as these proliferate, politicians can be persuaded that that they’re just hurting our gun manufacturers with a ban that no longer makes sense.

Sound suppressors are becoming more popular. They should be legal for health reasons as they were before NFA. You could generally buy them in the local hardware store. No one wants to sacrifice their hearing to pursue shooting sports, and we shouldn’t have to.

As for SBRs, a host of manufacturers are now offering non NFA large pistols that, with a single point sling and red dot optic, can substitute for an SBR in home defense applications.

Maintaining our Second Amendment rights will still be a struggle but the pendulum seems to be swinging in our favor. In the meantime, if you want an NFA Firearm, go out and get one. It’s your right.

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • robert wise October 16, 2016, 1:51 am

    wtf do all you clowns use acronyms like “SRB” on first reference so that anyone not familiar with every damn thing you are writing about has no clue? this is quasi-journalism (quasi for probably plagiarized, hacked, lies, irrelevant to anyone, you know like most ‘journalism these days) and so should at least follow one rule of journalism which states ALWAYS WRITE IT OUT ON FIRST REFERENCE.

    • Dave February 13, 2017, 1:14 pm

      Read the title and chill out. If you have half a brain, you can figure it out from context.

  • DIYinSTL November 27, 2015, 10:05 am

    My understanding of the reason for suppressors being an NFA item was because of rampant poaching in the years of the Great Depression and it was thought that restricting them would help limit the poaching.

  • Rick July 13, 2015, 7:32 am

    Keith, with well over 100,000 transferable Full Auto weapons “on the books” now. I don’t see your concern. The fact that there have been full auto weapons used in crime but only one, maybe two of those were legally registered means the criminals aren’t paying the tax and transferring with a Form 4.

  • Keith July 9, 2015, 10:22 pm

    The short barreled rifle, shotgun, caliber limitations and silencer laws need to go. They are pointless. Sound suppressors prevent an armed citizen from damaging his ears if he has to use a firearm to defend himself.

    Who cares about limiting a 20 millimeter rifle to a select few. Ever seen one? They are too large for use except on vehicles. They make a .50 BMG rifle look small.

    I am torn on legalizing fully automatic weapons. I worry more about bad guys getting their hands on them. If we were to increase the supply of fully automatic weapons more bad guys would get their hands on them. They are very deadly if you are within about 20 yards of a shooter.

  • Billyd July 9, 2015, 3:09 pm

    How do I get a answer to my question?

  • Billyd July 8, 2015, 6:01 pm

    I have a class 111 for a suppressor and I would like to take it to Va. to visit a relative. Can I return it to Md. with out any problems ?

    • Billyd July 14, 2015, 10:05 am

      Sorry I didn’t know the question was so difficult to answer. As of to date I haven’t heard anything.

      • DIYinSTL November 27, 2015, 9:53 am

        Check laws in both states to avoid any local transgressions, they are all pretty much online nowadays, and lock it in a separate case for transport. If you are flying, it still needs to be checked in at the counter as a firearm. You also need to get permission in advance (and in writing) from the BATFE to transport across state lines. Should be pro-forma, just telling them your destination. I haven’t done this yet so don’t know how long the wait. If you can’t find the form online (www.atf.gov) then call your local class III dealer and ask how.

  • Harry Gatley July 7, 2015, 1:11 pm

    I am a licensed Professional Chemical and Mechanical Engineer with 40+ years of experience and I have a patent-pending design for a hyper-sonic gun including the design of the propellants that can safely and accurately achieve muzzle velocities well over Mach 10. Is there anyone on this website that can help me find a manufacturer I can work with under an NCNDA?

  • Kalashnikov Dude July 6, 2015, 7:19 pm

    Mass civil disobedience! Everybody who can should build automatic versions of AK’s, AR’s, and then leave them on park benches, in the magazine racks at their local convenience stores, under their desks at work. On the corner, and in the alley ways, every place that a gun can be leaned against a wall. Just set em there and leave em. After all, we are only subject to laws which our elected leaders choose to recognize. Right now, immigration takes a back seat for the elected leaders and why not? When they take a stroll on the pier, they do it in relative safety from within the bubble of an entourage of heavily armed, tax payer funded, security experts who may or may not be legally entitled to kill muggers, outraged citizens, or voters of the opposite party. If that doesn’t work, we can always fall back on sleeping in parks for weeks on end or burning our own neighborhoods down. Maybe we can find some kind of flag to blame. The bottom line is this. All those who have been clamoring for the hearts and minds of citizens across this country to further their agenda of disarmament of US citizens and the erosion of our 2nd Amendment, have been the same one’s who cheer for the “civil rights” of illegal aliens who boldly commit crimes against this country and her citizens. They have been seen in the vicinity of destructive and dangerous riots where entire blocks have burned. They have been seen desecrating the memory of some fine Christians on national television by using their murders as fodder for anti 2nd Amendment attacks. The 2nd Amendment is my right. It matters to me. This article talks about Congress right to levy taxes. So how about an entry tax $3500 to enter, on pain of full tax evasion penalties for those who dare to circumvent? We can put the ATFE in charge of it. I’d have said the IRS, but they’re broke and too busy running health care. How about a voting tax? $200 per ballot, sounds like a Homeland Security deal to me. Let’s put em to work! We can see how that flies with our elected class and the universities and media so bent on “common sense gun legislation”………..

  • pete July 6, 2015, 11:55 am

    So in order to go out and buy the new fully automatic whatever, all I need to do is pay a tax?

    • Jonathan July 6, 2015, 1:34 pm

      NO!!! A individual can only purchase a machine gun that was registered with the BATF before May-19 1986. An machine gun that was not registered before that date, or manufactured after that date is classified as a “Dealer Sample”. Only Military, law Enforcement, and Firearm Manufactures that have the proper licensing and paper work can own a dealer sample.

    • P.G. July 6, 2015, 2:53 pm

      “So in order to go out and buy the new fully automatic whatever, all I need to do is pay a tax?”

      1. There is no ‘new’ fully automatic anything.

      2. If you have the money to buy an old 1986-ish firearm for the cost of a small car, then yes, just paying the additional tax is all that is needed, assuming you are legal to own a firearm to begin with.

      • mike August 19, 2015, 5:46 pm

        Samll car? A full auto AR-15/M16 will set you back about $25,000. Transferable AK’s close to the same.

  • Chuck in Nevada July 6, 2015, 10:20 am

    Caveat to the $200 excise stamp: If you are seeking to buy an NFA weapon that is located in another state from where you live, you will have to pay for TWO (2) tax stamps. The first is for the transfer of the weapon from the seller to a Class III NFA dealer (who is authorized to make an interstate transfer of an NFA weapon), and the second is for the transfer to the buyer. You cannot direct transfer an NFA weapon from one private citizen in one state to another private citizen in a different state.

    • Pete July 6, 2015, 1:06 pm

      A dealer to dealer transfer is tax free (Form 3), so if you buy a gun out-of-state from a Class 3 dealer, the transfer to the dealer in your state is tax free. The transfer from the in-state dealer to you is taxed (Form 4). The rule-of-thumb is if there is an individual (non Class 3 dealer) on either end of the transfer, it is a taxable event.

      • TC July 14, 2015, 3:29 pm

        This is not true. Chuck is correct. Every transfer of the NFA item is taxable. My NFA machine gun purchase was held up by an additional six months due to this misunderstanding. The Class III dealer on the seller’s end believed that he didn’t require a transfer or a tax to send the MG to my dealer. He was wrong and the confusion caused a six month delay. I then found out that I had to pay for two transfers. I paid a tax to get my MG from an Idaho Class III dealer to New Mexico Class III dealer ($200). Then I paid another $200 transfer tax to get the MG on a Form 4 in my name. Both transfers had to go through the ATF and took six months each. The total wait was 18 months, but a third of that was due to misinformation from the Idaho Class III dealer. I was furious that they didn’t know what they were doing. But something this article should have mentioned is that Class III dealers with an SOT don’t receive any training. They don’t even get anything as simple as a guidebook for the process. There’s a ton of misinformation on how one can purchase an NFA weapon and I think the ATF is fine with that. It makes the process seem more daunting than it really is. If you want to buy an NFA item, then you need to find an experienced dealer. Be prepared to pay a premium and wait a long time. If you can pass a standard NICS background check to own a firearm, then you can own an NFA item.

        • Lisa December 27, 2015, 3:25 pm

          SOT to SOT transfers Tax Free on a Form 3, which is also much faster (weeks vs months) than a Form 4.

          Perhaps, the seller was a private individual and the tax was to transfer it to the dealer in the seller’s state. I see conflicting information on whether individual to SOT is taxable (guntrustlawyer says it is).

  • Guy smalley July 6, 2015, 10:12 am

    When going for your signed form 4 letter, in my case the Sheriff was known for not signing or at least what was told to me by local gun shops. But i found the go to man in the area who deals in full auto weapons along with a face to face meeting with the Sheriff made the process go smoothly, my point go to the people who deal with full auto as they can help with a difficult sheriff, and it takes a long time mine took 5 months. To me having my Thompson is owning a part of history and a reward for staying on the good side of the law lol

  • Pete July 6, 2015, 10:04 am

    A load of information can be found at http://www.machinegunpriceguide.com including more details on transfer and ownership, history, values and other items of NFA interest. There are also links to ATF transfer and making forms and select Class 3 dealers that buy/sell machine guns.

  • Pete July 6, 2015, 10:04 am

    A load of information can be found at http://www.machinegunpriceguide.com including more details on transfer and ownership, history, values and other items of NFA interest. There are also links to ATF transfer and making forms and select Class 3 dealers that buy/sell machine guns.

  • Pete July 6, 2015, 10:02 am

    A load of information can be found at http://www.machinegunpriceguide.com including more details on transfer and ownership, history, values and other items of NFA interest. There are also links to ATF transfer and making forms and select Class 3 dealers that buy/sell machine guns.

  • Doug July 6, 2015, 9:39 am

    Is owning a silencer an actual right? For example, in Virginia you have the right to a concealed handgun permit. You just have to apply for it. As long as you can own a gun, you have the right to the concealed handgun permit. You don’t apply to see if you can have it. You apply to get it. They would have to have a reason to deny you. Is a silencer handled the same way?

  • Billy Bob July 6, 2015, 7:45 am

    Difference between MEN & Boys is the Price of their toys ! Only 186,000 transferable MG’s that do nothing but go up in value !

  • Billy Bob July 6, 2015, 7:45 am

    Difference between MEN & Boys is the Price of their toys ! Only 186,000 transferable MG’s that do nothing but go up in value !

  • John Roberts July 6, 2015, 5:31 am

    Good article except the double taxation comment on the manufacture of an NFA item. BATFE Form 1 (Request to Manufacture and Register a Firearm) is all that is required for making your own NFA Firearm, along with a single payment of the $200 Transfer Tax.

    • AR-PRO July 6, 2015, 8:28 am

      It should also be stressed that as a private citizen you cannot manufacture a machinegun without the 02 SOT license under any circumstances. Only pre 86 machineguns are legal for private ownership.

    • AR-PRO July 6, 2015, 8:28 am

      It should also be stressed that as a private citizen you cannot manufacture a machinegun without the 02 SOT license under any circumstances. Only pre 86 machineguns are legal for private ownership.

  • Roger July 6, 2015, 4:41 am

    Not mentioned in article. In some states a citizen can not own a machine gun, DD, SBR, SBS or AOW. In Iowa (my state )you cannot own the NFA restricted items.

    • Tommygun July 6, 2015, 9:45 am

      The most common NFA Firearms are machine guns, SBRs, and silencers. It is completely legal under federal law to buy, own, and shoot these items. However, some state and local laws ban ownership so check with local law enforcement before making a purchase.

    • Tommygun July 6, 2015, 9:46 am

      “The most common NFA Firearms are machine guns, SBRs, and silencers. It is completely legal under federal law to buy, own, and shoot these items. However, some state and local laws ban ownership so check with local law enforcement before making a purchase.”

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