This ebook is the entirety of the National Firearms Act and Hearings, in a digitized 166 pages, from the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, starting on Monday, 16 April, 1934. It’s available from Google at no charge.

The hearings on the National Firearms Act provide an immensely valuable resource in understanding the intentions of the law and a good look at how the intricacies and provisions of the first really significant federal firearms law concerning individuals, came to be. The book is the official record of the hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee and of testimony given.

The most important point found here is that the law was most concerned with the effective registration and regulation of civilian ownership of pistols and revolvers. Machine guns, sawed off shotguns, and gun mufflers/silencers were of less concern.

There was near unanimous belief that machine guns could be taxed so as to make them virtually unavailable to the common man. As a practical matter, that was already the case because of their price. At the time, the only available sub machine gun was the Thompson. The retail price was $200 and they weren’t selling strongly. There was scant mention of other machine guns.

There was somewhat less agreement about sawed off shotguns. Sawed off rifles were added as an afterthought.

The hearings never touched on gun mufflers/silencers at all; no reason was given for their regulation. Machine guns were a concern, but they were few in number. The proponents mentioned they were being manufactured illegally by bootleggers.

It was clearly stated in the hearings that it was important to enact a “tax” to avoid a potential violation of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment had not yet been tested in the Supreme Court. The consensus was that states were not restricted by the Second Amendment.

The hearings give an excellent view of the maneuvering of the NRA. Caught somewhat off guard, they rallied and had a significant impact. The reality is considerably different from various rumors you may have heard over the last several decades.

It was the lobbying of gun owners around the nation, lead by the NRA, that killed the inclusion of pistols and revolvers in the bill. Registration of pistols and revolvers, at no fee, was offered, but that option was also killed. The proponents couldn’t give an adequate answer as to why registration was needed.

If a student of gun legislation wishes to understand the history and the antecedents of current legislation, this is an excellent place to start. Nearly all the arguments used today were presented in 1934.

For example, semi-automatics that could hold 12 or more rounds were initially defined as machine guns. Changing that definition to the current one, where a machine gun is a firearm that fires more than one shot per pull of the trigger, was one of the first NRA successes.

The ignorance of the people proposing the legislation is obvious.  It is eerily reminiscent of the ignorance seen in the current debate. Most arguments were based on anecdotal evidence.

Today, there is the advantage of much more data and analysis. The arguments are essentially the same.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in firearms and legislation. It gives important insights into the current debate.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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69 Responses to Review: 1934 National Firearms Act, Original Bill and Hearings

  1. As a serious student of history, I can honestly say this is truly exciting.

    Ever wonder where we’re going? See where we’ve been.

    • Because without a firm understanding of where you’ve been, it’s not possible to know where you’re going… And if one doesn’t know where they’ve been, or where they’re going, then they can’t even know where the hell they are.
      Does that sound like any group that we might know? “Things that go up”, and all?

  2. Pity there was no NRA to stand up for the American People and the Constitution in 1934. Or better stated, that the NRA was not the same type of advocacy organization that it is today.

  3. “It was clearly stated in the hearings that it was important to enact a “tax” to avoid a potential violation of the Second Amendment.”

    Yes, because Poll Taxes were still considered constitutional in 1934!

    • There’s nothing in the constitution that declares someone has a right to vote, except the 15th and 19th, and 26th amendments that say certain people can’t be denied being able to vote. There’s nothing really defined as to whom is given a right to vote, but from what’s on the books now people can’t be denied a right to vote because they might be a woman, a black person, or 18 years old.

      So, voting can’t be taxed, but when voting, you’re not really getting something physical in return like you are with a firearm because taxing something doesn’t mean you’re denying one’s right to exercise a right.

      What I’d like to see is an amendment made that states if you receive government welfare, then you are not allowed to vote. You’re not denying a person’s right to vote because a person doesn’t need government assistance to live, thus they can turn it down and work for a living.

      But we can’t even get voter ID laws made, so that’s a pipe dream.

      • “There’s nothing in the constitution that declares someone has a right to vote, except the 15th and 19th, and 26th amendments that say certain people can’t be denied being able to vote.”

        H’mmm. Kinda like no explicit mention of a right to keep and bear, except that pesky “…shall no be infringed.”

        *And* they acknowledged a tax was required as to not violate the 2A individual right to keep and bear arms. So why do they claim now in the Heller dissent that the individual right has never existed?

        The military has no tax stamp requirement when they procure and issue military weapons to the troops, just the individual citizens…

        Has anyone explored that angle in case law yet?

        • No. It is not and should not be. Use your brain, not your emotions. Spend some time thinking about it.

    • Placing a special or differential tax on firearms and ammunition has clearly been used to restrict the exercise of the 2nd Amendment at least since 1934 on a national level. Guns and ammunition should clearly be subject to any broad tax on all consumer goods – a general sales tax for example. However, any special excise tax or other special tax that singles out goods protected by the Second Amendment are clearly unconstitutional – even if the tax is for the benefit of hunting and the shooting sports. The Pittman-Robertson Act is a prime example, as is the entire gamut of NFA “stamp act” taxes.

      How quickly we forget more recent efforts to tax the Second Amendment out of existance:

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/25/taxing-the-second-amendment/

  4. I can’t bear to read these Amerikan nazis talk about destroying the Bill of Rights. They should have all been hanged until dead.

    • Yay! Glad I didn’t need to wait more than 15 minutes for such a quality post!! You should really apply you literary lucidity to writing a book detailing all the immense insights you’ve been able to garner without reading a damn thing. Glad to have such a powerful mind on our side!!!

      • Before you start insulting others’ intelligence, you may want to do a quick grammar and spelling check on your post before you hit submit, or at least in the 5 minute do over window afterward. It might make things less awkward for you next time.

        • When I “hit submit,” I get a TTAG error that the comment has already been posted. But when I click gently on the submit button my computer moans softly with occasional gasps. Not sure what that’s all about.

      • Oooooo… alliteration! I love this game.

        I’ll go next. Lonely lacerated labradoodle labia legitimately leak lovely, luscious, leachable, luminous liquids liberally.

        Triple word score on labia plus a double word score for injecting perversion apropos of nothing in this discussion.

        2.755×10^73298674 points for me, plus an extra 10 bonus points for making almost as much sense as the OR’s post.

  5. ” The reality is considerably different from various rumors you may have heard over the last several decades.”

    The NRA may be the source of the rumors of which you speak.
    Somewhere I have an old issue of American Rifleman from about 1962, which contains an editorial in which the NRA takes credit for supporting the passage of the NFA, not for weakening the version that got passed.

    • I was surprised when I read it. It became obvious that the NRA rallied people from all around the country to oppose the bill. It did not sound like the politicos were happy about it. The bill started out exceptionally bad. What was enacted was bad, but actually affected a very small number of people.

      • I wasn’t disputing what you said, just pointing out that the NRA, in its infinite wisdom, willingly contributed to the rumors that it is at fault for the passage of the NFA.

        As for the fact that it affected relatively few people, it might have affected nobody if the Miller decision had not been a default judgment. (these days, somebody, probably the NRA, would have stepped up and demanded to be allowed to fight Miller’s fight for him)

        • I did not think you were disputing anything I said.

          I was surprised that the NRA EVP, Milton A. Redkord, and NRA President, Karl T. Frederick, did as effective a job as they did. The Roosevelt AG, Cummings, was clearly wanting severe gun control, much like they had in Britain. His assistant AG Keenan, wanted to put anyone who pawned firearms or who sold used ones, out of business. I was struck by the relative informality of the process compared to today, when a committee hearing is a big television production.

  6. Didn’t the 1933 attempted assassination of FDR play heavily in bringing back the NFA, which was essentially dead at the time?

    [Sorry, I bookmarked the link but I don’t have time to read it right now.]

      • I seem to recall that the NFA was basically a bunch of previous bills, which had failed, cobbled together and that it was introduced in May of 1934 partly because of the attempted assassination of FDR in February 1933 in which the would be assassin used a handgun.

        If what I read is true and I’m remembering it correctly, the reason that pistols and revolvers were included in the bill was because it became a hot button political issue for the elites after a judge sentenced the hapless guy who shot at FDR to death for the murder of the Mayor of Chicago (who was hit instead of FDR). The judge basically made a huge deal out of it when he publicly, and from the bench, called for the outlawing and confiscation of all handguns saying it was insane that people could just buy these things and do whatever they wanted with them. The judge was apparently disturbed by the facts of the case which showed that the gun the assassin used was bought at a pawn shop for like $10.

        There’s a book on the history of the ATF. I think that’s where I read that but I could be mistaken.

        • In the document, two separate bills are mentioned as preceding the NFA. It is claimed that the two bills were put together into the single bill.

          The NRA EVP said they were caught without knowing this bill was going forward, and were not consulted on it.

  7. Check out the 1967 Federal Firearm Act hearings. Senator’s Dodd and Kennedy constantly referred to “snipers” shooting at police during the Newark riots. There were no snipers, and modern scholarship has determined that all the shooting deaths which occurred during the riots resulted from police and national guard gunfire, to include fratricide. The asshats in congress simply found an event with which to reintroduce legislation which had sat dormant since the JFK assassination. Reading the congressional record is quite revealing to just how pedestrian and unimpressive our elected officials really are.

    • Nick, if you go to the page that’s linked, on the right side, right below the blue ‘sign in’, is a gear-like symbol, it’s a pull-down menu, I selected ‘Download EPUB’, fill out the captcha letters, and it downloaded.

      No need to sign in or anything…

  8. Wow, so you’re telling me that Short Barrel Shotguns and Short Barrel Rifles really had no reason to be registered and “taxed” like they’ve been for the past 83 years? That they’ve only been demonized for 83 years because they look scary?

    Color me shocked.

    • I do not think it was even that they “look scary”. I think they were after pistols and revolvers, and “any concealable firearm”. Sawed off shotguns and rifles became concealable, so they included them. The law would not have made any sense if pistols and revolvers were included, but not sawed off rifles and shotguns.

      In some of the testimony, It was stated that if gansters can’t get pistols or revolvers or machineguns, they will use sawed off shotguns.

      There was also a lot of media attention at the time demonizing sawed off shotguns as “gangster” weapons.

      Then, the NRA outfoxed them with its lobbying, and cut a deal to pass the bill without pistols and revolvers, but with everything else left in.

      • Sounds like the NRA ought to lobby the Congress again about removing SBR’s and SBS from the list. Considering that an SBR is almost never used in a crime and an SBS can be makeshifted simply using a hacksaw, it seems there’s no reason to ban legal citizens from owning them other than to inconvenience them with the BATFE paperwork and the $200 tax stamp.

        I mean, if a criminal is going to use a shotgun or a rifle in a crime, what’s stopping him from acquiring one that’s not an SBR or SBS and just cutting it down himself with tools from the local hardware store?

        • I am pretty sure the SBR law is there because of bonnie and Clyde. They loved sawed off BAR’s! I am probably wrong tho

    • Which, while true, including a 100% income tax on income over a set maximum, it does not explain the logic of imposing a tax intentionally high enough that the sale of the object(s) in question was essentially curtailed, thus equaling almost zero tax collected.

    • If there is, I have not found it. The document is a public record, so there is no copywrite. When I read it, Google has it digitized into images of pages, or two pages side by side, depending on the screen configuration. Someone could take screenshots of the 166 pages, I suppose.

      What I saw looks like it was digital images of the open document, which is why it shows two pages side by side.

    • I think someone with a good optical character reading scanner could convert it into a digital text file without trouble. There are no images, except perhaps the cover, to worry about.

    • DG, see my reply above, the pull-down menu on the far right has multiple file types, then just fill out the captcha and it arrived…

  9. I have to wonder: Given its goal is to make it prohibitive to own such a gun, how does the NFA still remain in existence today given the ruling of Minnesota Star Tribune v. Commissioner?

    • The false god of precedent, which is somehow still used as an excuse to not rehear the NFA despite even a basic review of Miller saying every single step was criminal.

      Trump needs to make a tweet about it, then they’d be forced to rehear it.

        • We have to thank, in part at least, the machingun-wielding heros and villains of cinema. Rambo makes a more lasting impression than our lobby’s facts.

        • At best, the full auto Machine guns laws may be lifted for .22 LR’s because those would be fun to shoot. For anything not .22 LR, the best we will get is a repeal of the FOPA law that restricts new Machine guns from being registered.

          There will still be and probably forever will be tax stamps on registering Machine Guns.

          I don’t think the time and effort of getting a full NFA repeal is worth doing. I think baby steps is the way to go. We’re already getting steps taken to removing suppressors from the list, next it needs to be SBS and SBR’s because there is nothing inherently MORE dangerous about a short barrel rifle or shotgun over a rifle with a 16 inch barrel or a shotgun with 18 inch barrel.

          Once the SBS and SBR’s are taken off, then you start what will be the long and hard fight of machine guns. Personally, I’d rather have suppressor’s, SBR’s and SBS taken off the list than try (and fail) at a full repeal of the NFA.

        • TruthTellers for the win!

          “… I’d rather have suppressor’s, SBR’s and SBS taken off the list than try (and fail) at a full repeal of the NFA.”

    • The White House website has one for repealing the NFA and another for the Hughes amendment.
      Perfect time to ask.

  10. President Fredericks seemed to be quite proud of having formulated the highly restrictive DC firearms law of the time. He also saw no reason for anyone to carry a firearm for protection, even though he possessed a rare NY carry permit. He also agreed with their equating owning a car and owning a firearm as pertains to licensing requirements. Totally missed the second amendment violation. BIG difference! One must remember that they were in the midst of a gangster-era crime wave, though. Kinda like Chijungle today, but pretty much nationwide. Our current NRA has come a long way. Imagine what the firearms world would be like today had all those proposals been adopted.

  11. Three United States Presidents were assassinated with handguns and one was shot after leaving office and campaigning to be elected again between 1865 and 1912. Yet Congress enacted no Federal gun laws. It’s not really about guns or violence committed with guns. It’s about how our elites perceive our society to be structured.

  12. Wow. It is disgusting how the politicians call into question the testimony of those expressing their opposition to the bill.

    Glad they are already rotting in the ground. Maybe we should go piss on their graves.

        • While everyone knows about the ‘US v Miller’ outcome and its linchin for federal gun control, few people even know that the hearing itself was held in violation of the earlier SCOTUS decision in ‘Hopt v. People of the Territory of Utah’ – 4 S.Ct. 202, 28 L.Ed. 262 (1884), which held that ‘trial in absentia’¹ª was unconstitutional.

          Seeing as how neither of the two defendants, Jack Miller and Frank Layton, nor their attorney, Paul Gutensohn, were present at that hearing held March 30, 1939, it was most assuredly ‘trial in absentia’ and, therefore, an unconstitutional hearing AND decision.

          1. ‘‘Trial in absentia specifically violates the second principle of natural justice, ‘audi alteram partem’ (hear the other party).’’
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_in_absentia#United_States_of_America

          1a. Audi Alteram Partem

          [Latin, hear the other side.] It embodies the concept in Criminal Law that no person should be condemned unheard; it is akin to due process. The notion that an individual, whose life, liberty, or property are in legal jeopardy, has the right to confront the evidence against him or her in a fair hearing is one of the fundamental principles of Constitutional Law in the United States and England.
          http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/audi+alteram+partem

  13. If the NRA’s stance on the NFA of 34 was to water it down as much as they could, then it means that’s another gun control fallacy in that the NRA wasn’t always trying to hold gun control at bay actively.

  14. I studied this entire record in college for an argumentative research paper. Something that surprised me was the utter lack of information as to why silencers were included. The two anecdotal accounts that I found elsewhere was that silencers were included due to poaching issues in the day, and the other (much less substantiated) was that they were used in assassinations. I never found solid documentation for either account. Anyone know if there is a record of why they were included?

  15. I studied this entire record in college for an argumentative research paper. Something that surprised me was the utter lack of information as to why silencers were included. The two anecdotal accounts that I found elsewhere was that silencers were included due to poaching issues in the day, and the other (much less substantiated) was that they were used in assassinations. I never found solid documentation for either account. Anyone know if there is a record of why they were included?

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