How To Buy A Machine Gun

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.

If you found this video helpful, please hit that subscribe button.

It really would help us out.

This is Alex C with TFBTV, I hope to see you next time.

 



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Screw that, if somebody dies and leaves me an MP-5 its going right up in the attic. Might stay there forever without ever firing it but ill be damned if im going to torch it.

    • Don Ward

      I think the majority of the time it’s not an MP 5 or some similar tacticool weapon.

      They are grandpa’s “bring home” Thompson, M3 or a war relic MP40, Italian or Japanese or North Korean/ChiCom weapon or grenade that caught the eye of your then 19-year old ancestor who traded a couple cartons if Lucky Strikes for it.

    • Don is right. Most of the time when I hear about this it is a WWII bring back.

      One lady contacted me to tell me she found a German Maxim gun in a storage unit. In 1968 there was an amnesty where people could have registered the stuff for free, but a lot of people thought it was a trap.

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        They were right…

      • RICH

        It usually is ….. !

    • Too bad most guns that are found are in poor condition these days due to corrosion from being in the attic.

      Something not mentioned in the video, some guns that are found were registered with the military when they were originally brought back. Basically the vet owner considered the capture papers as it being registered. These guns many times were not registered with ATF during the 1968 amnesty. Several of the these guns have been successfully brought into the NFA registry by heirs using the military capture paperwork as proof that they were registered with the government. This will require a lawyer with some knowledge in the area but due to the price of transferable machine guns its worth the cost.

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        I have a legal M4 mg which is basically the coolest thing I own.

        • RICH

          They’re great ! I just picked up a ’28A1 Thompson….. for almost double the cost of the first house I bought in the late ’60’s. The thing is that no more will ever be made again. ‘FONDLE’ your M4 often….. ! ! lol

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            It’s out of the safe most nights on the coffee table just to look at.

          • RICH

            LOL….! I know what ya mean…..

          • KestrelBike

            I have a rotating roster of guns which pull “homework duty”

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            Oh, good. It’s not just me.

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            Do you watch war movies with your kids or grandkids and have all the relevant firearms out to fondle and talk about?

          • KestrelBike

            Hah no but that’s only because they’re drinkin and they know better’n to mix the two! (Jk)
            Butt on a serious note, that could be a good home education moment, to teach kids at an early age how unrealistic Hollywood guns are, and point out all the unsafe handling. Never too early for safety fundamentals.

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            The old 60s war movies aren’t bad a lot of the time. They had vets in the industry, and used military support when they could. We started them shooting at 4, so they’re professionally competent in their teen years.

      • Don Ward

        Interesting Mongo. It’s always one of those fantasies that a kid has that one of your relatives was bright enough to have something cool like this hidden “somewhere”. But I wasn’t aware that a person could legalese their way through this particular ATF chestnut.

    • RICH

      AMEN BROTHER….. ! !

  • Danny Wildman

    1. Be rich.
    2. …..
    3. Profit!

  • What happens to pre-samples when the retired FFL holder dies? Can they be inherited?

    • They may not be passed on to heirs.

    • It depends, if the gun is in a corporate FFL, the corp may drop the FFL and still retain the gun and the corp assets, i.e. the pre86 MG. The inheritor becomes the owner of the corp and its assets and therefore owns the Pre86 MG.

  • Blake

    Pro tip: 1st place to look for paperwork on “grandpa’s bringback”:

    The cleaning kit compartment in the buttstock.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      I don’t know what kind of grandpa you had, but most people’s went the type to get or keep paperwork.

      I’ve destroyed a machine gun, and know of two others friends have had to destroy.

  • Blake
    • Giolli Joker

      Nice.
      It just needs some woodworking to get real wood grips.
      At that price it’s a no brainer.

      • Blake

        Ya know what I’d really like to see? A full-auto airgun with this action & level of build quality but:

        – a magazine that you can bulk-load at least 50 bbs into (maybe with a catch to pull down the follower) that includes a permanent “fake-last-round” or something else to keep the gun from trying to fire after the last round (which makes it dump CO2). (the mags on this C96 broomhandle have to be loaded 1 BB at a time & hold 18 BBs).

        – has a decent-sized CO2 tank in the magazine or stock good for at least 200 shots that can be filled directly from a bulk paintball CO2 canister (this C96 gets 50-60 shots from a disposable cylinder)

        I’m thinking that, say, an MP5, MP40, StG44, PPSh, Sterling, etc. classic-styled airgun that meets these criteria would fly off the shelves at <$200. As a bonus, if they made a Sterling version they could offer a kit to make it look like a storm-trooper blaster. &ltgrin&gt

  • mosinman

    How to own a machine gun step 1. Acquire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON-7v4qnHP8

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      That actually wasn’t the hard part.

  • Geoffry K

    All of us can own a machine gun, unfortunately MOST OF US DON’T HAVE THE MONEY!
    I can pass the background checks, I already own NFA items, I just don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to buy one.

    • RICH

      It’s so sad that the N.F.A. law is the way it is. Most of these thugs would never spend the money or legally regester a machine gun. This is just another set of bureaucratic laws aimed at the ‘HONEST AMERICAN CITIZENS’ ! ! IMHO. : )

      • Geoffry K

        If only the Hughes Amendment to FOPA could be repealed.
        Then we could buy modern select fire firearms.
        A couple or few thousand for one is better than 10s of thousands for pre-1986 ones.
        I don’t mind the $200 Tax Stamp for NFA stuff, but the 1934 NFA should also be repealed.
        Make everything just a standard firearm purchase. NICS and done.

        • RICH

          I think the sole intention of the NFA and ATF is to keep firearm enthusiasts’ and collectors from buying sub guns. I have never in all me years seen or heard of a full auto weapon being used in a crime, other than the televisied bank robbery in California several years ago,

          • gregge

            There have been only two or three crimes since the passage of 1934 NFA that involved a NFA or 1968 GCA registered machine gun, and one of those was committed by a law enforcement official.

      • Rightway1208

        I’m still trying to figure out what the hell Police need with a machine gun. Hell, when confronted with the number of people that require the utilization of that much fire power, the cops simply let them do whatever they want to do. So I’m thinking cops should not have them either.

        • RICH

          It’s not about a ‘number’ of people but putting a threat down immediately. Look at the recent incident in San Bernadino.

  • Evan

    Wait, so you mean that machine guns aren’t handed out for free at the door of gun shows by some shifty-eyed guy? Damn you, Bloomberg! You lied to me!

  • USMC03Vet

    I wish I had these rich people problems. Alex, are you a dealer?

  • RICH

    Great video Alex ! I have had an N.F.A. Gun Trust for awhile now and that has been the best way by far to buy ‘treasures’. Now, the new 41P requires fingerprints, photos and notifying the Chief LEO if making a purchase through your Gun Trust but that shouldn’t (hopefully) pose any problems. The great thing with a Gun Trust is that if something happens to you, your ‘trustees’ can take posession or sell the N.F.A. items without having to pat the N.F.A. transfer fees again. A huge financial plus.

  • me

    so if you start a museum or become a dealer you are allowed to have (and import) machineguns?

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      A machine gun dealer specifically, or a mfr, with an SOT added to your license.

  • Mike Price

    I see all these Thompson parts kits going for 3 times what they use to sell for and now in the $1,500 to $1,800 price range. I know some of the “demilled” guns can be put back to whole and registered but I don’t if this is the case with the Thompson “demilled” guns but why are they so high and people paying this price? Nobody is going to pay $1,500 for a wall hanger with dummy receiver. Can these be put back together? Can anybody answer this question? The ATF rules are so gray on the “legal” rebuilds it’s totally confusing. It references a certain few years that can be restored whole. This would be a good article topic.

    • milesfortis

      What you may be thinking of firearms termed DEWAT
      ( DEactivated WAr Trophy ), not demilled.
      Since they can be reactivated using the proper paperwork procedure, parts from contraband guns can fetch big bux.

      • Mike Price

        What I want to know is, are these people fabricating these back to full working and is it legal? I would love to have one full working but I’m not spending 20,000 for one and if these can be made back to full working legally I would try that at this price. Only reason I can see that somebody would pay this much for a parts kit. That is my question.

        • milesfortis

          Reactivation is legal as long as they were registered in the past and the proper forms are submitted and approved.
          Since Mr. Hughes’ ( what I’ll do on his grave won’t pass for flowers) amendment to FOPA ’86, there’s been a bunch of people actively seeking guns since they’re the only game in town for “new” mgs.
          Some people are good enough machinists to do it personally, or with minimal help.
          Otherwise, there are loads of manufacturers out there with proper licensing to do the deed.
          Finding one for sale is an adventure in itself.

          • Mike Price

            So are all these WWII Thompsons legal to put back together. I see receivers and parts kits selling fast.

          • milesfortis

            As I said, for a DEWAT, Yes, assuming all state laws are also followed.
            Receivers for sale?
            You’ll need to be more specific.
            An uncut original receiver is a mg, just like a fully complete gun.
            You may be seeing new manufacture semi-auto receivers that are made so that automatic parts will not work
            (This is like the difference between a M16 and AR-15 lower receiver)
            If an mg receiver has been cut to ATF specification they’re not receivers, but pieces of metal, a SOT manufacturer can use the pieces to weld together a receiver. What that’ll result in is a ‘Post Sample’ mg.
            If original parts, especially the barrel of TSMG is used on a semi-auto receiver, you’ll wind up with a Short Barreled Rifle, which is another type of firearm controlled by the NFA.
            Your continued misunderstanding is what gets many people in serious trouble when they try to do things without a complete understanding of NFA laws and regulations.
            If they’re lucky, the ATF will allow them to surrender the gun and records will be noted about that person for use in the future.
            If they’re not lucky, they’ll wind up in the federal prison system for a few years.

          • Mike Price

            Thanks for the info.

          • Mike Price

            I’ve got the feeling that a lot of parts kits are put together and more unregistered machines out there than registered.

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            Probably not “more,” but there are certainly illegal guns in a lot of machine shops and garages. The problem is, if you get caught, you’re doing hard time and permanently losing your RKBA and every gun on the property, even if it’s not yours. They’ll toss it all into drums, ding, chip and crack it, let it all sit to rust, then chop them all up after you lose your case.

            It’s really not worth it.

      • Mike Price

        Are there that many DEWAT guns around? I’ve never seen one.

        • MichaelZWilliamson

          I know of dozens locally waiting for the paperwork to be located, or for ATF to confirm registry. Depending on when they were DEWATed, some only have plugged breeches and bolt faces. These days, the receiver and barrel have to be torch cut to disable a gun.

  • L. Roger Rich

    A civilian can not own a Machine Gun in Iowa. No NFA restricted weapons for that matter.

  • supergun

    Maybe TRUMP can put in an Executive Order to repeal this illegal gun law when he becomes President.

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      Yeah, good luck with that. First of all, executive orders can’t change federal law, as 0 just found out. All they can do is direct the executive agencies.

      Second, it was passed by Congress and has not been overturned by SCOTUS, so it’s a legal law, unless and until that second part happens.

      Third, I’m not aware of ANY president who’s rolled back existing laws or executive prohibitions on things like import, nor any who have agitated for relaxations of the law. Even Bush said if Congress had re-authorized the AWB he would have signed it.

      Fourth, Trump has never been pro 2A.

      Statists gonna state.

      • supergun

        Forgive my dry sense of humor.

        • MichaelZWilliamson

          Noted. 🙂 But I HAVE met a lot of people who believe exactly that.

          • supergun

            You are right about executive orders can’t change federal law, so in effect, they really don’t apply to the citizens of America. No laws can override the CONSTITUTION. “The U.S. Supreme Court broadly and unequivocally held that licensing or registration of any Constitutional Right is itself unconstitutional”.— Follett vs McCormick, S.C.., 321 U.S 573 (1944). Looks like the Supreme Court has been delict in their duty to uphold the Constitution for the People of the United States of America. The automatic gun law is an illegal gun law.

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            I agree. But until the Court specifically rules so in this subject, the law stands.

          • supergun

            That to. It really doesn’t matter anymore. The criminals rule.

            What kind of shotgun do you have in the picture?

            How many self made automatics do you think is out here?

          • MichaelZWilliamson

            Stevens Riverside takedown. It separates into two 19″ sections. Dates from about 1924. I made the sling and bandolier.

            There are certainly thousands of illegal FAs. I don’t think there are close to 200K of them, but there could be 10K to 50K.

            Anyone could hand-file a drop in auto sear. The problem is one violation is the end of your gun hobby, permanently, and since you can rent legal MGs, why risk it?

          • supergun

            I agree with you 100%. But it is a shame when the state of new jersey arrests a police officer for having a gun in the car (in the news this week). Clearly a violation of the 2nd Amendment. I love guns, but I do not takes chances on being made a felon by illegal gun laws. It is not worth it. I just enjoy what freedom we have left in this Great Nation.

          • RICH

            AMEN…..!

          • supergun

            🙂

          • RICH

            We could all be in trouble now with the death of Justice Scalia ! Accusations are now starting to fly as to the possibility that he was murdered. I’m sure conspiracy theories will fly ! Just sayin….. !

          • supergun

            Especially when the supreme court has to give approval to the one who will be president. Now think about this for a few minutes, while thinking about those conspiracy thoughts

          • RICH

            Congress still has to vote to accept any nomination that obummer makes….. all we can do is hope that they stick together….for once!!!

          • supergun

            You haven’t thought too hard what I commented abut.

          • RICH

            About the supreme court having to approve presidential nomonees…..I put no validity what so ever in ‘conspiracy theroies’ until they are proven or dismissed. However Congress still has to approve and vote on a Supreme court nominee that the POTUS makes.

          • supergun

            They don’t have to approve. That is all you have to know.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    Glad ya’ll are rich. When I go hunting I take my 308 and 3 rounds. So far every time I have only needed one. One shot one kill.
    It all depends on what you are hunting for… I am not made of money. Did not use full auto in the service cause you can only carry so much ammo.
    Is this about the theme park factor?

  • toological123

    How about getting a federal dealer license think they are 3k a year. And then once u have the gun, per article above you are allowed to keep the gun if license expires??!

  • R.E. Naess

    Early in WWII, the War Department issued a circular to all branches instructing them that MGs were no longer eleigible to be acquired and brought back to the US as “war trophies” because of the 1943 NFA requirement that all privately owned MGs be registered with the treasury department, as it existed at the time. Of course, many COs either did not know about the prohibition or ignored it as there are a few examples of authorized certificates for MGs to be brought back as “war trophies”.There are a lot of Federal Form 6 import forms listing MGs, done by servicemen who remained after the war’s end in both theaters of the war, and the import forms are regarded as legitimate registratiion of an MG. Many were brought back by hook or crook, in duffels, boxes, with other types of materiel, courier bags, and other ways, like just mailing it back home. Many of these were registered prior to the end of the ’68 Amnesty.
    There is a long standing myth that “bring back” paperwork has been used as proof of “possession” of a live MG after the end of the ’68 registration Amnesty, in order to legally have it registered for private possession. However, to date there is no existing record of any “registrations” based on bring back paperwork held by a soldier or a soldier’s family. There are lots of examples of other forms of proof required by ATF, and subsequently used to gain registration of an allegedly unregistered MG, though. FWIW

  • LiberalFascist

    We missed out on a m1919. It was at a house who’s owner had died but we could not find the paperwork 🙁 life goes that way sometimes

  • R.E. Naess

    Regular dealer’s license, FFL 01 is $50/ yr in three year stints. Yearly tax to deal in MGs is $500.
    Yearly tax to manufacture and deal in MGs is either $500 or $1000 depending on gross yearly receipts. The there are special FFLs at different rates.
    No regular FFLs are $3000 per year as stated below.

  • Richard Lutz

    If the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right of citizens to own military type small arms how come the manufacture of machineguns for sale to civilians was banned in 1986 and civilians cannot buy hand grenades and rocket launchers like the M72 LAW? It really is all made up bullshit that is interpreted anyway you like. What a joke!

  • Hickory Stonewall

    is this the America that I gave my 17,18,19,20th years for? no. I swore an oath to the CONSTITUTION, ladies.