How to Legally Buy a Machine Gun

How to Legally Buy a Machine Gun

Most Americans are under the impression that machine guns, the actual fully automatic kind, are totally illegal to own or purchase. While part of that is true, it is still technically totally legal to own a fully automatic firearm in America. You just need to find a legal machine gun that is for sale and legally able to transfer. After decades of lackadaisical enforcement on the part of the federal government, an act of Congress in the middle of the 1980s finally set the parameters for lawful ownership of these highly sought-after and coveted firearms.

The National Firearms Act of 1934

To understand the steps that have led us to where we are today with gun control, you must look back at the first major piece of federal legislation ever passed in the United States, the National Firearms Act of 1934. Passed during the Great Depression by the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the National Firearms Act, or NFA, aimed to curb the rise in organized crime that came with the prohibition of alcohol and the widespread destitute nature of the Great Depression. The NFA aimed to tax and regulate the sale or transfer of sound suppressors, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, and other destructive devices.

Most people today think that all these items are banned from legal ownership and that simply is not the case. In actuality, the NFA didn’t ban anything. Instead, it imposed a steeply-priced tax stamp of $200 on every item listed within the act, which is why they are today referred to as NFA items. The assumption of the tax stamp was that the price, set during the Great Depression, was too high for most people to afford. Ironically, the very people whom the government wanted to keep these weapons from, organized crime syndicates, had plenty of disposable income to spend on the tax stamps.

Enforcing the National Firearms Act

When the NFA was enacted, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF, later BATFE) had not been created yet. Enforcement of the NFA fell under the purview of the US Treasury Department. But since the Treasury Department did not have the manpower required to enforce such a sweeping piece of legislation, the NFA went mostly unenforced and then ignored by most gun manufacturers and dealers. When the Treasury Department did enforce the NFA, these investigations were turned over to the individual states to prosecute at the state-level courts. In an embarrassing moment for the federal government, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that these investigations violated the Fifth Amendment, striking a blow to the NFA.

The federal government responded in later years with the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 or FOPA. This act broadened the legal definitions of silencers, but most importantly it prohibited the transfer or possession of machine guns outside of the government. The NFA finally had the teeth it needed to fully regulate NFA items. There was an exemption made within the new law that exempted ownership of these fully automatic firearms that were owned prior to May 19, 1986. These firearms are aptly named “pre-ban” guns. After that date, however, no new automatic weapons could be manufactured with the intent to be sold to the American public. Given the laws of supply and demand, these pre-ban guns are now increasingly rare and with a price tag that can rival the cost of a brand-new car.

Legally Buying a Machine Gun

To legally own and possess a machine gun, the same criteria to purchase any other NFA item must be met. You must first undergo the ATF’s federal background check, complete with fingerprints, and pass that background check. You must also live in a state where these firearms are still allowed. Currently, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, California, and the District of Columbia do not allow them. You must also find a licensed firearms dealer that is allowed to possess these items and designate them to take control of them when you die. You will still need your passport photo and pay the $200 tax stamp as well. The process for buying a pre-ban machine gun is simply fill out the ATF Form 4 along with the steps described above.

There are other ways of also owning a machine gun, but these involve either special licenses or becoming a Class III firearms dealer or Class II manufacturer. The simplest approach, albeit the most expensive, is to just fill out Form 4 and go the NFA item route. You can always check Gunspot to find one of these pre-ban items listed in their auctions. But whichever way you decide to go, just know that machine guns are heavily regulated and there is no leeway or forgiveness if you happen to procure one in any other way but the one legal method. Forgetting this cardinal rule will ensure you have plenty of time to reflect on your mistake while in federal prison.


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