Several times per week we get asked how to obtain a machine gun in the United States. While they are legal, it is quite difficult to obtain one and it entails a lot of paperwork and time not typical of many gun purchases. In this installment of TFBTV, we talk a little bit about legality, the history of machine gun legislation, and of course tell you how to go about obtaining a legal machine gun.
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Full transcript …
(machine gun firing) – [Voiceover] Well they don’t call the selectors on an automatic firearm fun switches for nothing.
I’ve yet to hand off a machine gun to someone and have it not bring a smile to their face, and it brings me joy exposing people to full auto for the first time.
A question I get about two or three times per week via email is, “How do I buy a machine gun?” or, “How do I convert my firearm to fully automatic?” This is a question I once hit upon in an article I wrote in 2014, and my standard operating procedure is to simply send a link to it.
However, since it’s asked so often, even in YouTube comments, I thought putting it in a video might be a good idea.
For the sake of this video the word “machine gun” will meet the ATF’s definition, that is any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot automatically more than one shot without manually reloading by a single function of the trigger.
The machine gun was invented by American Hiram Maxim, and, interestingly enough, the USA is one of the few countries on the planet where regular folks can, in fact, own a fully automatic firearm.
In fact, machine guns have never been illegal in the United States on a federal level.
They are heavily regulated, but certainly not illegal.
So first let’s hit a little bit on the timeline of machine gun legislation.
Prior to 1934 machine guns were not regulated any differently than any other firearm.
You could quite literally order a machine gun from a mail order catalog, and people did.
Thompson’s, for example, initially did not interest the military too terribly much, but the guns found a niche with individuals seeking personal protection, police agencies and, unfortunately, gangsters.
Prompted by prohibitionary gangsters and the rise of organized crime, which, well, law enforcement was seriously outgunned by the likes of Dillinger, and so on (chuckles), the United States drafted the National Firearms Act, which was passed in 1934.
The National Firearms Act did not ban machine guns, but the tax imposed upon them was enormous and unaffordable, adjusting for inflation it was equal to about $3,500 today.
To buy a machine gun under the 1934 National Firearms Act an individual needs to submit the following, and this procedure remains relatively unchanged even today: first, pay a tax of $200; then, fill out a lengthy application to register your gun with the federal government in duplicate; then, submit fingerprints, submit passport photographs, get your Chief Law Enforcement Official to sign your application, which is no longer in place, and then wait for the results of your background check to come back approved.
So the next big piece of legislation pertinent to machine guns occurred in 1968 with the Gun Control Act.
The Gun Control Act established that imported firearms which had no sporting purpose were not able to be sold to civilians.
Machine guns as a whole were determined to have no sporting purpose, and, thus, any machine gun imported after 1968 are able to be owned only by dealers, military, and police agencies.
Now the last piece of machine gun legislation is to many the coup de grace, in 1986 the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act was intended to prevent the federal government from creating a registry of gun owners.
At the last minute, William Hughes added an amendment that called for the banning of machine guns.
Despite the controversial amendment, the Senate adopted H.R. 4332 as an amendment to the final bill.
The bill was subsequently passed and signed on May 19, 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.
Thus, Reagan’s signature banned the registration of new machine guns in the USA.
So what does this mean? Well, this is where it gets a little complicated.
Machine guns are not illegal, but it is illegal to make and register new ones.
There is no way around the May 19th, 1986 cutoff date.
If the machine gun in question was made after that date you may not own it, unless you are a dealer.
There are three types of machine guns that determine the gun’s legal status.
The first and most important to most people are going to be transferable, guns registered prior to May 19th, 1986 that are able to be owned by everyone.
There are only 182,619 transferable machine guns, according to the ATF.
The next major category are pre-samples.
Pre-samples are machine guns imported after 1968, but before May 19th of 1986.
The 1968 Gun Control Act established that machine guns with no sporting purposes could not be sold to civilians.
Dealers, however, could buy them and keep them after they give up their licenses.
As a general rule, pre-samples cost about half that of a transferable.
The last major category are post samples.
Post samples are machine guns made after May 19th of 1986.
These are only for dealers, manufacturers, military and police agencies.
So, in short, as a result of the closed registry, we cannot get new production machine guns; we simply trade the ones that have been out there for years.
This has resulted in very high prices.
For example, one can get an AR-15 for $600 to $700 dollars in the United States, but I’ve seen converted automatic registered AR-15s sell for $17,000 and up.
Factory Colt machine guns can go for $25,000 and up.
Uzis, which were a few hundred dollars back in the day, are now bringing $12,000, and this has created a market for an extremely low amount of goods with an insanely high demand.
However, as the value of machine guns very seldom goes down, you could probably get your wife to understand your desire to buy one with the old, “It’s an investment, honey.” And, of course, your accountant will remind you that if it doesn’t depreciate it’s not an expense.
So to sum up step by step: first, find a machine gun for sale; second, pay the dealer or individual who has it; three, fill out the ATF Form 4 in duplicate; four, attach small passport photos; five, complete two FBI fingerprint cards; six, fill out a check to cover the $200 transfer fee; seven, fill out a Certification of Compliance, sometimes called a Citizenship Form; eight, submit it to the NFA branch of the ATF and wait until the transfer is approved; nine, pick up your gun and enjoy.
While you used to be able to omit certain steps by using an LLC or trust, the passing of 41F now requires trustees to get photographed, printed and fill out transfer forms; however, it did omit that old law enforcement signature requirement.
So, on to a few Frequently Asked Questions.
One I get quite often is, “Can I convert my gun “to fully automatic?” The answer is only if you buy a registered conversion part.
For example, my MP5 has a legally registered sear inside of it that legally is the machine gun.
You cannot legally convert a firearm to fully automatic, unless you buy legal conversion parts that were registered prior to May of 1986.
Another big one is, “Where do I look for machine guns?” The answer being that there are several specialty dealers online who focus on them, but these guys generally expect full retail value.
Auction sites, auction houses and classifieds online are a great place to look.
Also, I’ve gotten deals by simply finding local people and asking if they want to sell.
So the third was one that I get pretty scarcely, but is always the hardest one to address is something along the lines of, “My relative passed away, “and I found a machine gun among their personal effects.
“What do I do?” That’s a tough one because, for the love of God, look for paperwork, if you find it you can apply for a tax free Form 5 Estate Transfer and take possession of the gun.
If you cannot find it, there’s really not a whole lot you can do legally, and you do not want to have it illegally.
What you can do is torch the gun’s receiver and sell the parts, which can actually net you a healthy profit.
However, realistically, what a lot of people do is put the gun on a Form 10 and give it to a museum.
If you’re going to do this, I would suggest you write an agreement that if the laws change you can have the gun transferred back to you.
So that’s about it for machine guns in the USA.
They aren’t illegal, but they are not easy to obtain.
The cost, wait time, and required documentation can be off-putting to many people, but only you can determine if it is worth the trouble for your own self.
Thank you very much for watching.
Special thanks to Ventura Munitions for making our videos possible.
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This is Alex C with TFBTV, I hope to see you next time.