[Knob Creek 2016] Why are Machine Guns so darned expensive?

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If you are wondering why this FG42 probably costs more than most houses, then please, step into the club of the bizarre world of civilian legal machine gun costs and trade. I’m often asked by people who have no knowledge of firearms, even by many in our community why the price of these machine guns are so exorbitantly high.

Essentially, what it really boils down to, is the concept of supply and demand. The reason for this supply and demand is directly related to the legal ramifications regarding machine guns that we all know so well with the National Firearms Act and the BATFE that enforces those regulations. But first a small timeline, and some terms.

1934 National Firearms Act- This bit of legislation was signed into law after Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties were a thing of the past and the US was in an economic depression. Essentially the purpose of it was to register all civilian machine guns (which were treated the exact same as any other firearm) with the ATF, and to pay a $200 tax stamp. The price tag back then would have made it unaffordable to all but the most prosperous. Adjusted with inflation, that is over $3000 in todays money. The idea was to essentially make it financially unfeasible, and thus it would deter the gangsters that used them.

1968 Gun Control Act- This bit of legislation stopped the importation of any machine gun into the United States. Thus, you could register a new machine gun through building one or putting together a parts kit, but a company couldn’t import a new machine gun from overseas. So essentially the only complete and original machine guns that you could buy were the ones in the United States at the time of the legislation. This is why parts kits and deactivated machine guns became so enormously popular because you could import a parts kit, fit a new receiver to it and register it as a live machine gun.

1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act- The final nail in the coffin with machine guns came on May 19th, wherein it was declared that no new machine guns could be registered at all by civilians. Class III dealers on the other hand, are a different story. Dealers could always import machine guns between 1968 and 1986 (called a Pre-Sample), but anything imported or made after 1986 is a Post-Sample.

And from our own Alex C, a good list of definitions of what legal machine guns are

  • 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.
  • Pre-Samples: Machine guns imported after 1968 but before May 19th, 1986. The 1968 GCA established that machine guns with no sporting purposes could not be sold to civilians. Dealers can however buy them and keep them after they give up their licenses. As a general rule, pre-samples cost about half that of a transferable.
  • Post-Samples: Machine guns made after the May 19th, 1986 cutoff date. These are only for dealers, manufacturers, military, and police. A manufacturer who pays $500 a year is permitted by the federal government to manufacture these. A dealer (who is not a manufacturer) may acquire these if a police agency provides a “demo letter”. A demo letter is simply a letter from a PD asking you to acquire a sample gun for them to test and evaluate for potential purchase. Unfortunately dealers must sell or destroy post samples when they give up their license.

So now, we come to supply and demand. The supply is all the Transferable machine guns and dewats that were registered in 1986, of which there were around 182,000. Now, that doesn’t mean there are only 182,000 civilian legal machine guns in the United States, as this isn’t counting all the Pre-Sample and Post-Samples. Indeed, the Post-Sample numbers will continually fluctuate up and down as new machine guns are imported into the United States for demo purposes, military programs, and LE purchases.

However, lets go back to that 182,000 number. This number, by definition, can never get any higher than it is right now. In fact, it can only go lower. Why? Because machine guns are essentially mechanical objects that will eventually wear down, break, or suffer catastrophic malfunctions. Over time, shooting, flooding, mismanagement, whatever else you want to throw in there will take their toll and this number will get smaller and smaller as the years go by. I’m no economics minded person but as supply goes down, demand rises, and with it so does the price. Thus, this is why you have a $285,000 FG42, or a $45,500 M60.

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Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • datimes

    I must be among the ‘most prosperous’ as I would gladly pay the $3000 tax for a nice new German subgun that sports a $2,500 price tag.

    • PK

      More likely is 922(o) remaining in place and the tax itself increasing. I doubt that without a minor miracle the sale of new MGs will open up.

    • l2a3

      OK, but would you pay $200 tax for a $78 STEN? Now Hell yes, but back in the early 1960, no way Jose! Again lured (by lies) into that false sense of security by slick snake oil salesman called POLITICANS! And to top it off only a handful tried to show the “blind” the error of their ways and were laughed at.

      • Steve_7

        $200 was about five months average wages in 1934.

  • LazyReader

    Why? Two words.. Reagan / 1986 / f@#kers.
    well maybe not that last part..

  • TennTexan

    Bill Hughes and Charlie Rangle are the reason, and both of them can DIAF.

    • aevangel1

      Limited supply and high prices were the gun grabbers intent all along.

  • Ambassador Vader

    There’s just something about knowing that in future generations only the most well off will experience the rights of previous generations.

    • Edeco

      Funny how things work out that way.

      • Nicks87

        It’s been like that for thousands of years, why should things change now?

        • Edeco

          Well, for a little while, I had just kindof thought…

          *looking down at feet, wringing hands awkwardly*

          …because America.

        • billyoblivion

          There was a time, from say the late 1800s to about…1960? 1970? When we were moving the other direction.

          Sad to see that changing.

          • Bill

            The Reconstruction? Suffrage? Jim Crow? A couple major Depressions? A few global wars and a couple smaller ones? Segregation? Prohibition? Racial and ethnic discrimination?

            The good old days weren’t all that good, unless your only metric is the ability to buy a Tommy gun at Woolworths’.

          • VanDiemensLand

            As long as you were male, and white lol

          • American Spartan

            Why is that bad? You mean white males IE those who founded a nation founded it for THEIR betterment? How shocking.

          • VanDiemensLand

            I wasn’t passing judgement, I was just replying to the OP, not everybody have always enjoyed the same freedoms.

          • American Spartan

            People have what they value, some value nothing, some value slavery, some value freedom.

          • American Spartan

            You mean you can not rent or sell to people you did not like, could order ANYTHING through the mail, when you had real money and not fiat lies…The current age is not all that good if it was not for the net it would suck ass.

          • VanDiemensLand

            Amen

        • American Spartan

          Because this was America, we use to be free….Use to.

          • Rob

            I was watching a video from a cool Russian guy, probably in Russia demonstrating an automatic shotgun. Everything.he had was auto. he had an Ak, M 16 firing full auto.
            The nearest thing is he had a fully automatic M 4 in 308. He said let’s take a truck out. About 200 meters back and he fired at the can of a Ford pick up with an exploding bullet in 308. One shot and as shrapnel just missed him, he gives the warning of shrapnel! It was awesome! It must have been done in Russia though.
            He was firing the A22 fully auto, then dumps in barrel of water, pulls it auto and let’s in go in auto! Maybe they have more freedoms in Russia than we do these days!

          • Steve_7

            Russia has much tighter gun laws, must have been a manufacturer or similar.

          • Wzrd

            You sure that wasn’t FPSRussia? Sounds A LOT like some of his videos

          • jcitizen

            I think hes just a poser – probably borrowing weapons from a Title II manufacturer.

          • mbrd

            “used to”

    • Core

      American citizens can choose to be free, and fight for it. But we must choose to be bold and work hard to achieve freedom and equality. We can’t believe the lip service of those that promise to provide security for liberty. Vote for the fundamental principles of freedom every time, over the luster and promises of more comforts and convenience. We are on the cusp of losing our great freedoms in America. We won’t save them by exercising armchair politics and we must vote with our wallets and principles.

  • iggy

    While maybe not 285k, I’m pretty sure an original FG42 would still cost a bomb without regulations. Could possibly even cost more as more would have been wrecked from being fired.

    • Richard

      Less than 10,000 were ever made and the majority have probably never been in this country if they even survive today.

    • Rob

      Is that all? What size does it require to get that puppy? I am a fire and explosion investigator. lol

  • Tim Pearce

    I’ve often wondered if support for either a limited or unlimited addition of more transferable full autos would end up being compromised by people who own current ones and don’t want to see their investment suddenly devalued.

    • Dave Y

      Every once in a while this rumor gets brought up and since 1990, I have never once seen a single first person, verifiable account of anyone who owns title 2 firearms in any way standing in the way of eliminating this restriction.

      Because the assertion is male bovine solid waste matter, assembled into a large pile.

      Repealing this restriction won’t be accomplished by rationalizing on internet comment sections, bulletin boards and fora, it actually requires engaging elected officials, something sadly lacking in our community.

      • Tim Pearce

        I actually didn’t know there was an established, if factually incorrect, rumor regarding this.

        • Dave Y

          well, you certainly made sure it got mentioned, didn’t you?

    • RocketScientist

      I hear this rumor/suggestion every now and then. To me it doesn’t hold water. In my experience, every person I know who owns expensive-ass machine guns does so because they f***ing LOVE machine guns. Every single one of them is probably MORE enthusiastic about opening the registry than your typical gun nut, as the idea of lots of cheaply available machine guns makes them drool. I’m sure there are a few guys who buy MGs as an investment, but I honestly think thats gotta be VERY small minority. Most people have no intentions of selling, or if so, its only to finance purchase of ANOTHER MG.

      • Tim Pearce

        Good to know.

      • McThag

        I know the unicorn. He’s rich and acquisitive. He bought a ton of collector cars, then discovered MGs.

        Doesn’t care a whit about them, except they’re rare and expensive. Doesn’t shoot, doesn’t show any interest in the history.

        • Vanns40

          Really? I’ve been around collectors and shooters of Title 11, Class 111 all my life and have never, not a single time run across the person you describe. You must be privy to a club so exclusive the number can’t be counted on more than one hand!

          • Nigel Tolley

            Ok, that’s because it is a self-selecting set. Investors in machine guns who aren’t shooters aren’t going to be seen at a gun club, now are they?

          • jcitizen

            Some of us were lucky and bought them when they were cheap – pre May1986. Then some of us just hung on to them. I scares me when I see the ridiculous money they are getting to be worth.

      • CountryBoy

        An example, though not of a true machinegun or subgun, is the price of the HK SP89. I’ve watched them on Armslist, GB and other sites, and they were around $5,000 give or take, for one in 99% shape (ignoring the scammers with “genuine HK SP89” at $1,500).

        The intro of the new HK now that HK sees the effect Zenith is having on the market seems to have brought the earlier SP89 models’ price down a bit, since the new one is about $2,500 or so. The gun is similar to the earlier one, adds a rail and has a warranty.

        But, there will be some value to those who prefer the “original” version, for whatever reason.

        Either way the market will determine the price.

  • “The 1968 GCA established that machine guns with no sporting purposes could not be sold to civilians.”

    What does a machine gun with a sporting purpose look like? Nowadays a scawwy pistah grip can disqualify a rifle from being sporting.

    • David Silverstein

      More importantly, what does “a sporting purpose” have to do with “the security of a free state”?

      “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

      • Disarmed in CA

        Good thing we had all those sport shooters back in the 1700s…

      • Rob

        Tell California legislature that!

    • mbrd

      a machine gun with a sporting purpose does not have a shoulder thing that goes up.

    • Steve_7

      Actually the law established that only firearms with sporting purposes can be imported and no machinegun had a sporting purpose, ergo banned from import.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Im guessing prices are about to go through the roof based on the probable future occupant of the White House.

    • Core

      Hopefully everyone here takes the time to vote for freedom. If you can’t do an absentee ballot, or early voting. Don’t wait until the last minute.

  • Audie Bakerson

    If you want a machine gun and you don’t want to pay that much, postal tubes are much cheaper. Calling is even less.

    Send a few with demands for NFA repeal to your legislators and clog up their mail till they introduce the bill.

    • Jake

      1/16″ steel and a dremel only runs about.. 100 bucks.

      • Autodidact

        Plus ten years.

        • mbrd

          and ten thousand dollars.

          • aevangel1

            $100,000…

        • Jacki Wilson

          Why do they still have machine gun shoots for fun?

          • Autodidact

            Because it’s fun of course.

          • Jacki Wilson

            Loud …

          • Autodidact

            You gotta wear ear plugs and safety glasses

        • Jake

          uh oh, looks like i committed a ‘thought crime’ please dispatch the obamy paddywaggon to come get me

          • Autodidact

            I was just trying to help lol

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    So when a Pre-Sample owner no longer possesses a license, do those Pre-Samples become transferrables? Or if not, what happens to them when the owner dies?

    • Andrew Miller

      Pre-86 Dealer Samples can only be owned by a dealer, and can be sold between dealers without much fuss…but due to that they’re very expensive, almost as much as one “Transferrable” to an Individual. And no, they can never be transferred to anybody who isn’t a Dealer.

      Post 86 Dealer Samples require “letterhead” from a Local PD to even construct or obtain. Another Dealer can’t buy one without a “Demonstration Letter” from another Class 3 Dealer.

      • jcitizen

        For now, I think a recent twix from the BATF made the LEO letter unnecessary – but just wait a while and something worse will come down from the bureaucrats.

    • Andrew Miller

      If a Class 3 Dealer goes out of business and has no people in line to buy, he must “de-mil” the Samples.

      Local FunStore had a Post 86 Uzi, I wanted to buy it just as a “part set” and maybe build up a semi, but they decided to just destroy the thing instead.

      Nobody could buy it except another dealer, after all, and the few parts they were willing to pull off of it prior to destruction and part with weren’t worth the bother for either of us.

  • Frank Grimes

    Anybody who dislikes the laws written about in this article yet likes Alex C, who is a very vocal Hughes Amendment supporter, is a hypocrite.

    • Red McCloud

      Well Alex C. went away to touch motorcycles so I don’t think anyone really cares about him anymore. The Hughes Amendment did a TON of good things though, in exchange for making it so you couldn’t get new manufactured or register anymore. It was a necessary evil, or else we’d have laws saying that ‘if you buy a gun in X state, that gun can never leave X state unless it’s been turned into a parts kit, and you can be arrested with a felony charge for having a gun in your car with intent to transport’.

      • Frank Grimes

        Motorcycles, huh?

        Hopefully he got it from the same place as the one Allman brother.

      • mig1nc

        I think you mean the FOPA in general was a good thing, not the Hughes Amendment specifically. Right?

        • Vanns40

          FOPA was one result of the disastrous GCA ’68, which, in turn, was a result of waffling and caving by the NRA. NRA was scared to death that FOPA wouldn’t pass so they caved (yet again) with the Hughes Amendment. Rather than fight to repeal all gun laws we’ve been fighting to simply slow the amount of encroachment every year. This keeps the money flowing, the deals keep being made and we, gun owners, sit back and assume that we’re being represented to the fullest extent possible. Nothing could be further from the truth.

          To be fair, gun owners are a pretty apathetic group. When was the last time you saw ten million gun owners flood Washington DC demanding gun laws be repealed? Right, never. And that’s with a country that boasts a population of in excess of 120 million gun owners! So, if we’re looking to place blame for the position we’re in, not just with NFA but all gun laws, we need look no further than the closest mirror.

          • James Smith

            It could be most gun owners do not have the time or money to flood DC ina demonstration and knowing what the govt does (ie pic of car license plates at gun shows) do not want to bring themselves to that much govt attention.

          • CountryBoy

            Most legal gun owners have jobs, families and such, and can’t take a week off to go march on Washington.

            Those you see in political rallies these days often make me wonder if they have a job (obviously many don’t) or just get paid for protesting whatever is the cause-du-jour.

            “Be sure to vote” is the best mantra, IMO, and calling & writing your representatives can get them to know your desires effectively. I ignore these phone polls as the purveyors are often those with an agenda, and I believe that they’ll ignore my input if it doesn’t jive with what they’re trying to “prove”.

          • Core

            We can’t or we won’t? If you work you can always take a day or two off. It doesn’t have to be a week day.

          • CountryBoy

            Take your pick – can’t or won’t. Sure you can take a day or two off, but a day doesn’t get you there. “It doesn’t have to be a week day”? It does if that’s when the rally occurs, or when others are going to gather.

            You’re watching the protests on TV and wondering “why can’t we do that”, without realizing that the political protests are very well organized and consist of many who are being paid to protest, paid for medical and legal fees if needed, and so on.

            If you want to make an impact it must be en masse; going solo isn’t going to do it.

            Read “Vanns40″‘s post, especially the last paragraph, for a good picture of the problem. We may have the numbers within the people of the U.S., but getting them off their butts and into a protest is the trick. Their lives are plenty full, while those being bused in to protest a candidate are earning money for doing it.

          • Core

            Activism hasn’t always been funded, and it doesn’t have to be. I don’t disagree entirely however, if enough supporters get together and can fund themselves for the trip it’s feasible. You are not accounting synergy. Synergy builds networks and momentum in the form of logistics, revenue, and support services. NGO’s provide a surprisingly high amount of grass roots services in America. If it were not for CSO’s and NGO’s many Americans would suffer from the cold indifference of gaps in government and private resources. The most difficult part is convincing people to get off the couch and invest in themselves, we are our own worst enemy.

          • Core

            Sounds pathetic.

          • James Smith

            Maybe you would like to finance a million owner march like someone did the million man march and the “million” mom march.? Someone fully employed or with a wife and family to support does not have the time and liberty.

          • Core

            I disagree. Life is about making time for what’s important. We work, we volunteer, we spend time with family, and we even give time to total strangers in this case.. Successful people make time. Whether we are deployed active duty or retired there is never enough time, and it seems like the time is never convenient. But the truth is we make time, and if we want to defend our rights we need to make time, because that’s what successful people do. The anti gun nuts are successful because they make time. Bloomberg tapped NYC resources while mayor to run anti gun servers. If we don’t take the time and invest in our freedom we will lose it. I disagree that American pro constitution folks don’t have the time and resources to drive, bus, train, ferry, or fly to Washington DC. If we all work together with manufacturers, organizations, and vendors we can create a great amount of synergy and coordinate a massive presence. The amount of revenue would further support freedom. We fought hard for independence and we can’t expect to keep it by sitting on the couch and blogging. We need to rally the troops!

  • Andrew Miller

    If there was an “amnesty” for all the ones in attics and basements that missed the registration deadline, the price would fall a bit, but not much.
    The 182,000 number would go up at least.

    Not that I have one, but I recall the tale of the local PD getting a mint condition Sten gun turned in by a person whose relative died and they found it in their house.

  • iowaclass

    Instead of spending $200K on a gun, that money could be much better spent on political support and education for the 2nd Amendment.

    • Maximilian Johannes Benning

      I’d just spend it on lobbying

  • Disarmed in CA

    What am I missing? If you are in the right area you can purchase class III selectfire new rifles today. How is a 50 year old M16 for $25,000 not a rip off compared to a brand new Daniel Defense 5.56 submachine gun for $1800? Can you not sell the DD later?

    • Creepermoss

      What area is exempt from the Federal ban on manufacturing or importing them for civilian sale?

      • Not Gersh Kuntzman

        I’d love to know his answer too.

        • jcitizen

          If you can convince the BATF that you have a serious plan to get a SOT, they you too could buy post 96 samples, but just as soon as you stop paying the yearly tax, they will be knocking on your door.

          • Not Gersh Kuntzman

            And you need a law letter from your local PD to get new automatics as well.

            Nowhere near as easy as the OP makes it sound.

          • jcitizen

            I was a dealer once, and still know some that are still in the business – I’m not sure the letter is still a requirement for an SOT – but even when they did require it, we didn’t have too much trouble finding a CLEO willing to sign a letter. After all they like shooting too! All you needed was one CLEO from any where in your state willing to sign. The odds are with the dealer on that one. The list of authorized law enforcement personnel was a long one too – so there were everything from Chief of Police, to Judges, and DAs willing to sign.

          • jcitizen

            For individual civilian to buy a pre-May-86 I’m sure you are more than likely correct, but not SOTs – they are in business to sell MGs, and the law enforcement community is well aware of them. The only time they should get involved is on a post sample transfer or manufacture, but I thought I read a BATF twix the other day that belayed that requirement for special occupational tax payers – (for now).

      • Disarmed in CA

        I’m not sure on that, but gunsamerica seems to have a lot of them for sale both pre-86 and modern

        • Xtorin O’hern

          the post 86 guns are dealer only

    • James Smith

      So Daniels is making and selling fully automatic weapons? Really? Where?

  • Martin Grønsdal

    in addition to the 180 000 transferable – how many machineguns are owned by civilian firms?

    • jcitizen

      They are trying to close the LLC loophole, so even corporations that had a need of them for security purposes may find that gone soon.

  • Holdfast_II

    So I hear the Federal government has a deficit problem? And we want to keep MGs out of the hands of criminals and the irresponsible?

    So re-open the MG registry, but it costs a $5k stamp tax (indexed to inflation) to put a mag-fed full-auto on the registry of transferable guns when sold to its first “normal” owner (make it $10k for a belt-fed). Each subsequent transfer is $1,000 (again indexed to inflation). 200,000 functional M-4s sold would equal $1,000,000,000 in government revenue (less a few $mil in expenses), and would still be cheaper (and newer!) than what one can get today. And the cost of entry is still high enough to screen out most of the stupid.

    • VanDiemensLand

      Wouldn’t 200k MG’s be a stretch? That’s nearly 2/3rds of the US population, then how many wanna pay $5k+ for a full auto, that is a lot of other guns.

    • Vanns40

      Wrong approach, totally wrong answer. It’s a RIGHT not a privilege, stop buying into the “govt has the right to regulate”. No they do not. They seized the power to regulate and tax. That authority needs to be nullified and all gun laws eliminated. THAT, singularly, should be the goal of the NRA and every single gun owner.

    • Core

      lol art of the possible. Haha, this is what I tried to tell my friend when he believed we would have free Healthcare..

  • Mystick

    Artificial scarcity.

    • Meatloaf

      I believe they’re currently paying around $1.5k a unit for standard units. So, around the same price as civilians pay for semi auto.

      • James Smith

        Current contract price $642 for M4A1

  • m4a1sof

    The ironic thing is aimed semi automatic fire is infinitely more deadly than the spray and pray of full auto……..yet one is legal and the other isn’t (anymore). Don’t tell the politicians that though, they will make them both illegal.

  • ShooterBobSC

    NRA… They pushed ’86 very hard when in the end the Hughes amendment was literally stuck in at the 11th hour. I wish Reagan had vetoed it… 🙁

  • Steve_7

    Initially back in 1986, ATF said there were 160,000 fully transferable MGs, or more accurately, 160,000 items registered as MGs. About half of them are things like auto sears. Then there was a court case where someone was prosecuted for unregistered possession, part of his defense was that ATF didn’t know what was registered and in testimony from ATF it turned out that the registry was riddled with errors, so ATF had to go back and do an audit and that’s where the 182,000 number came from. As I recall about 50% of the records contained incorrect or missing information.

    Anyway, in Canada, MGs were banned in 1978 and existing owners were grandfathered (approx. 3,000) and they can only transfer guns to each other (and the guns must be kept with the bolt removed, they cannot be fired). So conversely in Canada, MGs go for very little, in fact quite often they’re deactivated or the receiver is cut. Not to be confused with the MG sports cars of course, lol.

    • jcitizen

      Seems like I was talking to Marstar Canada, and they said the only requirement for a DEWAT was welding the barrel inside the bore – I asked if they were kidding, because one could simply replace the barrel – but they insisted that was the regulation there.

  • Adam

    Has the NRA seriously tried to fight this?