As in most of the rest of the country, trusts are commonly used in Virginia to acquire and possess NFA items such as automatic firearms, suppressors, and AOWs. However, Virginia has a specific law with regard to machine guns requiring that they be registered with the Virginia State Police in addition to whatever ATF paperwork may be involved. That adds an unfortunate twist to a seemingly straightforward situation. According to then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a trust cannot register a machine gun under Virginia’s Uniform Machine Gun Act. . .
This situation was brought to light in answer to a letter from Colonel W.S. Flaherty, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police to the AG. In the letter, Superintendent Flaherty asked, in part, “whether a trust may register a machine gun in Virginia under the Uniform Machine Gun Act (the ‘Act’).” Cuccinelli’s response (pdf), dated November 27, 2013, was brief and to the point: “It is my opinion that a trust may not register a machine gun pursuant to the Uniform Machine Gun Act as enacted by the Virginia General Assembly.”
The problem is one of language. The Act states the registration application must contain, among other things, “the name, address, and occupation of the person in possession,” and goes on to define “person” as including any “firm, partnership, association or corporation.” Cuccinelli writes that “[a] trust is not listed, and thus, I conclude that the General Assembly did not intend to include a trust” among the legal entities to be considered a “person” for the purposes of the Act.
As support for that he notes that general definition for “person” as used in VA Code includes “trust” among the other legal entities. § 1-230 “When the legislature omits language from one statute that it has included in another, courts may not construe the former statute to include that language, as doing so would ignore ‘an unambiguous manifestation of a contrary intention’ of the legislature.”
This means that it’s likely that any machine gun transfers involving trusts in the state of Virginia will be denied in the future. It’s unknown what it means for machine guns already on an existing trust. If you’re in that situation, it sounds like an attorney might be in your immediate future.