One of the coolest things about having the opportunity to write for TTAG is that I have a chance to learn a lot. Since I began writing for our site, I’ve learned a lot – about guns, politics, writing, your name it. Most of the time, I try to do my learning BEFORE the electronic ink hits the electronic paper. Most of the time, that’s the case. But not always. Case in point, my recent comments about private ownership of fully-automatic weapons, a.k.a. “machine guns.”
So after being taken to task (rather civilly, I might add), I did some research. This PDF file seems to sum things up as succinctly as possible. And the members of the TTAG Armed Intelligencia were right – you CAN own a machine gun, legally, without the draconian laws forcing you to give up your Constitutional rights to stop searches and so forth. (In my defense, mind you, it appears that my previous information is a common misconception, and not at all unusual. That’s still no excuse.)
Keep in mind, you do have to jump through some hoops. But, as you might expect with anything written in legalese, there are some interesting loopholes that savvy buyers can exploit. Here’s the straight dope (from www.internationalpolicesupply.net):
Individuals (ie. non-firearms dealer or police dept.) are allowed to purchase machineguns that are classified as “Transferable”, that is, weapons that were registered as machine guns prior to May of 1986. Since there are a finite number of these weapons, prices are continually rising. Silencers, Sawed-off Shotguns, and Short Barreled Rifles are still in current productions, so the prices of these items remains fairly constant. For an Individual the requirements to purchase these weapons are:
- Be a US Citizen at least 21 years old
- Be of sane mind
- Not an abuser of drugs or alcohol
- Have never been convicted of a felony
- Pay a $200.00 Federal Transfer Tax on each weapon purchased. (This is a one-time tax, not a yearly tax)
- Fill out BATF Form 4 and submit to ATF. This involves getting a Signature of the “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” in your area signifying that he has no knowledge that you will use your weapon for anything other that lawful purposes
- Have your fingerprints/photographs taken and submitted to BATF with the above application.
After approximately 90 days, during which time the FBI runs your prints to verify your identity, etc., the transfer will come back approved. Only after the transfer is approved can you take possession of your item. It is interesting to note that since 1934, when machine guns, silencers, short shotguns/rifles began to be regulated, there has only been one case of a legally owned weapon being used in a crime – and the user was a police officer.
90 days seems a bit draconian, but there’s nothing there about forfeiting your rights to privacy. If you choose to sell a machine gun you own, you do have to sell it through a licensed dealer, and the buyer will have to undergo the same proctological, forensic exam by the FBI that you did. Here’s where it gets interesting (credit: International Police Supply.net):
In areas where a person cannot acquire a Law Enforcement Signature because these people would rather violate your rights than let you own one of these items, there is another way. BATF allows Corporations and Trusts to acquire machine guns, silencers, etc. without having to complete the Law Enforcement Certification part of the form. If you have your own Corporation, or you are an Officer in a Corporation, the Corporation can acquire these items, and you, as a Corporate Officer, can keep the item at your home, take it to the range shooting, etc. just as if the item were registered to you. If the Corporation ever dissolves, the item must be transferred out of the Corporation to another individual or Corporation (or Dealer). Because a Corporation is not a person, an FBI fingerprint check is not required which reduces the transfer approval time to about 30 days.
Mind you, your corporation would forever and for always be on the BATF’s radar. But then again, you buy a machine gun, and they are gonna be looking at you anyway, regardless of how you acquire it. But it’s interesting to note that you can sidestep the requirement for a sign-off by the local county mountie or equivalent.
I also learned that laws vary, state-by-state as to machine gun ownership. Apparently nine states don’t allow it at all. As you might expect, it’s the usual suspects (DE, HI, NY, WA and Washington D.C.) and is limited to possession by a Class 3 dealer only in : CA, IL, IO, KS, MI, NJ, RI (sorry RF) and SC). Similar rules apply regarding the ownership of silencers (a.k.a. “suppressors”). Based on the patchwork quilt of laws that exist across this great land of ours, I’d suggest you check with your state laws before considering the purchase of ANY machine gun.
Of additional interest, you can’t transport any machine gun out of state, without giving the BATF prior warning. You can’t loan it to anyone. And you must be physically present if you allow anyone else to shoot it.
Also of interest, my info (and please correct me if this is wrong) suggests that the ONLY machine guns legal for private ownership are those that were manufactured prior to 1986. Later models need not apply. Seems kind of arbitrary and capricious if you ask me, but then again do many gun laws on the books.
So what IS a machine gun? According to several sources, the ATF defines a machine gun as any weapon that can fire more than one round by depressing and holding the trigger down. In other words:
- one pull –> one shot = NOT a machine gun
- one pull –>more than one shot = machine gun
They also consider a “machine gun” to be any part that would modify a non-machine gun weapon into a machine gun. (No word on NERF guns, but I’m sure the ATF is hard at work on regulating those, too.)
How did we get here? Well, in 1934, the National Firearms Act created a registry that tracks ALL privately-owned machine guns. That was modified in 1968 with the Gun Control Act which forebade the importation of machine guns for civilian use. In 1986, they added domestic manufacture to the no-no list with the McClure-Volkmer Act. That set up this weird thing where you can own any gun made before 1986, and a bunch made after (even new ones) as long as the receiver of the gun was registered before May 19, 1986.
So, there’s my research. And my mea culpa. As you can see, at the Truth About Guns, we take ‘truthyness’ seriously. When/if we drop the ball, we acknowledge the error, fix it, and move forward. And thanks to the semi-gentle prodding by TTAG’s Armed Intelligencia, I now know more about machine guns than I did before.
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.