ATF Reveals The Number of Registered Machine Guns


Thanks to an addition slipped into to the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, guns with giggle switches are beyond the reach of most civilians. While ostensibly legal to own, thanks to FOPA’s Hughes amendment, there’s been a de facto ban on civilian transfer or ownership of full-auto guns made after 1986. Never mind that they’ve virtually never been used in the commission of a crime. Be that as it may, have you every wondered how many machine guns are in the ATF’s National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record data base? Thanks to Jeff Follodor of the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association we now know . . .

Jeff sent the following email to TTAG Central Command:

I see many writers on your site making statements about how many machine guns exist on the NFRTR.  To be sure, lots of folks have speculated on the number since NFATCA obtained the transferable number ~10 years ago from then NFA Branch Chief, Ken Houchens, at Knob Creek.  Back then, the transferable count was a little over 182,000.

For several years NFATCA has been “battling” DOJ/ATF for release of current numbers.  After a rejection and several well-fought appeals we have the numbers.  The total number on the books as of February 24, 2016 is just under a half million:

  • Pre 86 (transferables): 175,977
  • Sales Samples (pre May keepers): 17,020
  • Restricted 922(o) (posties): 297,667

There is a caveat in that there is a built in margin of error resulting from manual entries to disparate systems.  A copy of the FOIA response is here:

Jeff Folloder
Executive Director


  1. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Given the costs, that a lot more that exist than I thought.

  2. avatar MikeB says:

    I happen to know exactly where 5 of the 175,977 are.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      You salty dog you.

    2. avatar GAC556 says:

      Lucky Duck!

    3. avatar cg says:

      bottom of a lake, lost in a tragic boating accident?

      1. avatar manchu39 says:


    4. avatar Ever Vigilant says:

      Loose lips….

    5. avatar Alex says:

      A family member of mine has 3 mg’s in the registry. I might even get them transferred to me if he doesn’t want them. I’ll have to compete with his sons though.

  3. avatar Steve in MA (now RI) says:

    Are military firearms kept under post 86 numbers, or their own separate system?

    1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      Military firearms are not on the NFA books AFAIK.

      1. avatar DMZ says:

        Federal agencies and the military don’t use the NFA database for their full autos.

      2. avatar pod says:

        Machine guns in possession by the military and government agencies at all levels aren’t under NFA purview. However, there is the usual litany of paperwork for an agency to get ahold of them. They can’t just plunk down the agency AMEX and order a few new M4A1s and get them a week later. There’s the acquisition process, and for police departments, some other ATF layers in there too. Oddly enough if a PD wants select-fire weapons it takes them about as long as it would you or me to get them when it’s all said and done.

        1. avatar MikeB says:

          If and when they are lost or stolen though …..

        2. avatar Bradford Scales says:

          It’s gonna muck up their numbers if the government ever waltzes into having the military take offensive moves on the populous. I have always ventured that event as being the start of the single largest transfer of military grade weapons into the hands of the general population that the planet has ever seen.

      3. avatar Jack says:

        Untrue. They have to be form 5’d. Just like everything else. Look at why destructive device counts are so high.

        LE numbers are not reported on the list from this story But are reported on the Firearms Commerce in the United States report published yearly.

        1. avatar Demo Man says:

          How many machine guns do the police agencies own, excluding military?

        2. avatar Damon says:

          According to Karp, Aaron. 2012. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

          Police in the United States are reported to have 1,150,000 firearms

          The defence forces of the United States are reported to have 2,700,000

  4. avatar Trevor says:

    I wonder if Pres Cruz would open the registration up, even if only for 4 years?

    1. avatar John L. says:

      I think all he could do is to not veto legislation opening it up.

      1. avatar WedelJ says:

        Considering the ATF is directly under his command, he could so a lot in this area.

    2. avatar Achmed says:

      How would he do that? The Hughes Amendment is part of the law.

      1. avatar Felix says:

        Executive orders, bitches. Just as Obama issued executive orders to ignore, modify, and otherwise rewrite Obamacare and immigration, presumably Cruz (or any other President) could issue executive orders telling the ATF to not enforce specific laws, such as machine gun violations.

        I wouldn’t expect it, but I’d love it. Dems who applauded Obama’s executive orders would maybe begin to understand the drawbacks.

        1. avatar JasonM says:

          Good point. He could sign an executive order that interprets the Hughes amendment applying only to individuals, not corporations or trusts.

        2. avatar Walter Bogumil says:

          Most state laws ban machine guns unless you have a tax stamp. So executive order alone would not solve this problem.

        3. avatar MeRp says:

          He could also encourage a private party to take up a lawsuit against the Fed challenging the constitutionality (or other legal aspect) of the NFA, registry, closure of the registry, etc, then instruct his AG to not oppose the lawsuit. Without opposition the finding must be for the plaintiff, so that could effectively strike down all or part of the law.
          This is the same total BS approach taken by the Obama admin regarding DOMA, and probably other laws.

      2. avatar Publius says:

        Hey, Obama spent the last 7.5 years creating laws / re-writing existing laws via Imperial Decree. If he can alter the Obamacare legislation on his own, then a pro-gun President has grounds to alter the NFA on his own.

      3. avatar TehStig says:

        I dunno. Ask BHO something about illegal immigrants…

        1. avatar Scoutino says:

          Did he issue royal pardon for immigrants? Or general amnesty like Reagan? I must have missed it.

      4. avatar Cuteandfuzzybunniess says:

        Easy. SAF files a lawsuit in the most gun friendly federa court in tx to over turn law. Cruz administration appoints Wayne Lapiere special counsel to defend the law to the court. :). She and lose just like the environmental groups do with the EPA.

      5. avatar Mecha75 says:

        He can order his solitictors general to bring a case against the Hughes Amendment the way that Obama did with DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). After he packs the court with originalist judges.

      6. avatar Will says:

        18 USC 922(o)(2)(A).

        The law came with exemptions and authority for any government agency to say “the law doesn’t apply to ____.”

        Filling in the blank with “American citizens” wouldn’t exactly open the registry, but FOPA/Hughes left a lot up to discretion of the executive.

    3. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “I wonder if Pres Cruz would open the registration up, even if only for 4 years?”

      Question for you NFA folks here: Were the registry re-opened, what’s the quick-n-dirty way to go? File the paperwork and when the stamp comes back get a registered drop-in auto sear? Or buy a select-fire lower? Or?…

      1. avatar Chadwick P. says:

        I’m thinking there would be a healthy aftermarket for glock fa kits. That lightning link deal would probably come back too.

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Back in 1999, I was reading and posting to rec.guns on usenet.

          A Fillipino who went by the tag of ‘Sick Boy’ showed his legal reverse-engineered G-18 full-auto, but built into a tiny G-27.

          He related it was completely un-controllable in FA, no matter how hard he tried to hang on to it, the muzzle went *way* up.

          Now on a full-size Glock it would be easier to hang onto, especially with the 30 rnd mag as a grip extension…

      2. avatar Matt says:

        I’d probably go all 3 in terms of an AR15; a lightning link, drop in auto sear, and RR. I like options. Best I could figure though, a lightning link would be the easiest way for me to comply with CT law that requires machine gun be full auto only, anything select fire is considered an assault weapon (I know right!) and subject to

    4. avatar leo says:

      Prez Cruz just lost two more states, so not sure what he will do next year.

  5. avatar B Fitts says:

    For someone who does not understand all the terms used can some one please explain?
    I understand the Pre 86 both the others are greek to me.
    ◾Pre 86 (transferables): 175,977
    ◾Sales Samples (pre May keepers): 17,020
    ◾Restricted 922(o) (posties): 297,667

    1. avatar Chris in SC says:

      Sales samples are usually called “post samples” when offered up for sale. An SOT can possess these somewhat freely. The final class of Registered 922 (O) can be possessed by an SOT with a demo letter from Uncle Leo. Most of those are owned by various LE agencies.

      1. avatar MachineGunner says:

        Pre May sales samples are guns that were imported after the ’68 GCA, but were not registered to civilians before the May ’86 cut off, and imported to dealers as demonstration samples for LE or government agencies . The advantage to these guns is that an FFL can acquire the guns without a LE demo letter, i.e., the ‘love letter’, and also, after the FFL gives up their FFL, the former FFL owner can keep the gun. These Pre May sales samples can not be sold to a non FFL civilian. In general, Pre May sales samples are worth about 50% of a fully transferable.

        ‘Post Samples’ require an FFL and a LE demo to acquire. Once a dealer gives up their FFL, they must surrender the gun. This means that the ‘owner’ never really owns the gun, rather they are just renting it from the government. Post samples are MGs made after the ’86 cut off. In general, a post sample is worth 10% of a fully transferable, if even that much. Nowadays, unless you know a CLEO, it’s really hard to get a demo letter; and even if you know a CLEO personally, they may be reluctant to issue the demo letter, as ATF is cracking down on the demo ‘abuse’ (one example: Vaughn of was found guilty recently on this issue). That’s why if you go to GB, you will rarely see a bid on a post sample.

  6. avatar barnbwt says:

    Would love to know how many got added post-86 at government discretion, and why…

  7. avatar BDub says:

    You can check-out any time you like,
    But you can never leave!

  8. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    There is one on that list I’m still kicking myself over.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      You must be tired. Let me take over kicking you for a while. 🙂

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Deal. Maybe it will drive the point home to not get rid of things that are basically irreplaceable. It wasn’t something like a 10/22.
        What I sold for 3,500 back in the late ’80’s is now selling for over 20K.

        1. avatar Chris says:

          Due to inflation you might not have made out so bad, hope you invested well

  9. avatar iowaclass says:

    Nearly 315,000 machine guns for domestic law enforcement and its suppliers?
    That’s over 720 machine guns for each congressional district.
    What, besides democide, could be the purpose?

    1. avatar barnbwt says:


  10. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    NFA = BS

    1. avatar OneOfTheGoodGuys says:


      Best comment so far.

  11. avatar Bob o says:

    So how many machine guns, do you suppose, are out there in the hands of Leo and military vs nfa machine guns? 10 times? 20 times?

  12. avatar commonwealth109 says:

    I would have thought it was no where near 175,000 – prices are so dang high. I’m glad I’ve never broken down & paid the rediculous premiums, 175,000+ is quite a few!

  13. avatar Danny Griffin says:

    I knew how many full autos were registered but I never saw the breakdown before. Thanks.

  14. avatar barnbwt says:

    So, seeing as the list is highly classified, and has never once been audited nor even subject to oversight by an impartial third party…why the hell should be believe this new number (different from all the others they’ve supplied Congress in the past) is real, and not merely an ass-pull to satisfy an ambivalent judge?

  15. avatar THC says:

    And the sword with the voice of many locust, laid waste to the armies of men. It cared not who pocessed it, it only new death and destruction.

  16. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I wonder how many lightning links and DIAS there are out there. Sitting in ammo cans. Dug up once a year to check on condition…
    Things that make ya go hmmm.

  17. avatar Joe says:

    Pre 86 (transferables): 175,977
    Sales Samples (pre May keepers): 17,020
    Restricted 922(o) (posties): 297,667

    What do the last two categories mean?

    1. avatar Raoul Duke says:

      Sales Samples are MG’s imported after the Gun Control Act of 1968 that banned imported MG’s for civilian sale. All imported guns that were made MG’s after 1968 were done by domestic users not factories overseas. They can be only obtained by FFL Dealers with a Class 3 license. They may keep them even after they choose to give up their FFL but only may sell their gun to other Class 3 FFL’s. A sort of special club/privilege for Class 3 FFL’s so to speak.

      Restricted Posties are MG’s made after the 1986 cutoff only obtainable by Class 3 dealers with LE Demo letters. They can only be sold to government agencies. When a Class 3 dealer gives up his license he cannot keep his post sample MG’s. They must be sold to other dealers with the same designation, cut up, or surrendered to the BATFE.

  18. avatar Geoff says:

    A Congressperson or a Senator would have to introduce a Bill to repeal the Hughes amendment.
    It would have to pass committee and the Full House, be sent to the Senate for consideration where it would be assigned to another committee and if passed then go to the Full Senate. If the Senate has a similar Bill, the the two bills would have to be reconciled, differences worked out and go through the whole process again. If it gets approved by both the House and the Senate, then it gets sent to the President to Sign or Veto.

    Don’t hold your bretah.

    1. avatar Geoff says:

      Stupid keyboard.
      Don’t hold your breath.

    2. avatar Owen says:

      The simpler and better answer IMHO is to appoint more originalists to the SCOTUS. Then order the AG to sue to have the whole shebang removed by the roots. “Shall Not Infringe” should be simple enough to understand even for politicians. It means hands off guns period.

    3. avatar Darren says:

      Or, someone could attach it to another bill already under consideration, much the way the Hughes Amendment was originally passed.

      The EO idea is poor. Just because one guy we don’t like abused Executive Privilege does not mean someone we do like should do the same. Obamacare was passed through reconciliation, which meant that a 60% majority of the Senate was not necessary to pass it. A contentious issue that squeaked by entirely on the votes of a single party, and only because of some trick intended to make cutting the budget easier.

      Be careful what implements you devise, because you never know who will use them.

    4. avatar CA.Ben says:

      Not necessarily true.

      The Hughes amendment prohibits the sale or transfer of a machine gun to “any person.” All it would take is a reinterpretation to say that that the Hughes amendment only applies to individuals, not trusts or corporations.

  19. avatar Joey says:

    Hollis vs. Lynch. Coming to a District Appeals court near you … soon.

  20. avatar Geoff says:

    Somewhere I ran across all the NFA stuff broken down by type and State.
    Silencers, MGs, SBRs, SBSs.
    Can’t find it again, but I do remember that we here in SC have 8,000 something registered MGs and over 23,000 suppressors. (I have one.)

  21. avatar Geoff says:

    ATF has not released the 2016 report yet.

    1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

      The 2016 AMFER report (showing 2014 manufacturing and 2015 imports) may not be out, but they have released the latest manufacturing numbers for 2014 elsewhere:

      US Manufactured 2014

      Pistols 3,633,454
      Revolvers 744,047
      Rifles 3,379,549
      Shotguns 935,411
      Misc f’arms 358,165

      Total manufactured in US in 2014 9,050,626 (about 1.8 million less than 2013)

      Total imports 2014 3,625,268 (about 1.9 million less than 2013)

      Total firearms manufactured and imported for 2014 12,675,894

      Prepared Feb 3, 2016

      So 2014 was about 3.7 million less than 2013. We’re slipping!

      1. avatar jwm says:

        We’re getting full.

  22. avatar mike says:

    Would so love to be part of that 1% of 1% of 1% …. of 1% of the lucky bastards club.

  23. avatar AJ187 says:

    Maybe 41p helped the bootlickers loosen the agencies lips. Thanks for nothing.

  24. avatar Robert E. Naess says:

    Many MGs that were registered after 1934, the date of enactment of the National Firearms Act requiring registration of MGs and various other “dangerous” weapons, are now in limbo because Treasury lost the registrations. Many registered MGs cannot be transferred out of the name of dead registrant’s and remain in limbo. Registration information is confidential due to the transfer tax, and ATF will not reveal the names of registrants except to the current registrant. If he is dead, or he gave his MG away years ago to a friend, relative, etc ATF will not give out the name of the registrant or if it is actually in the NFRTR, the registry, if the MG shows up. The are other missing MGs as well that are eligible to be possessed by private individuals. So, the list of “registered” MGs is not accurate due to many lost registrations. Quite a few MGs are actually LEO/gov’t restricted despite having been transferred to an individual by mistake. You get the idea…….

  25. avatar NFA Guy says:

    We dont need to battle this in the Supreme court or in Congress:

    The GCA 1968 207(d) authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to establish future amnesty periods not to exceed 90 days each, upon publication of his intention to do so in the Federal Register.

    All the president has to do is direct the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a new machine gun amnesty period and publish it in the Federal Register and then the registry re-opens for that period.

    Doesn’t take an act of congress…just a willing President and a willing Secretary of the Treasury.

  26. avatar 1.David says:

    1. We should cut down the number of Class-3 & 4 Mfrs numbers way down too! Most of are smaller mfrs too! We should allow 5 main Mfrs only to exist in the U.S.A too! Reason is We should have better controls: on the number of Dis-strive Class-3 Licensees Is (09) N.F.A Gun Rules do Apply too!! Retailers Full auto Weapons Medium Size Guns only is Maxi um Limit of the Guns only too! The Class-4,(04) is Master License Military Guns only too! is For large Machine Guns For Military only too! Agree!!! The Import & Export Licenses :Are (08) is N.F.A. Rules ))& (011) is N.F.A. Rules do apply too! Mfrs Licenses is : Ammo Mfrs is (06) F.F.L.s too! The Gun Mfrs is f.F.L.s is (07)Regular Gun Mfrs.And the N.F.A.Gun Rules for Mfrs is (010) only too.P.S.N.F.A Gun Rules Regulations F.F.L.s is (08) (09)(011)(010) & (04) F.F.L.s only too! We need to get S tricked on those Careless Bad Gun Dealers Not Getting those Licensees Too! Let”s Make it Harder to Apply For those Applications to Get it too! To Progresses it is a lot harder to get it too ! Do you Agree? Or Disagree? Sir Or Mam??/ This is complaint Roeg Gun Dealers doing bad Business too! Do you Agree / ? Or Disagree Sir Or Mam?? Thank you!


  27. avatar David says:

    1. They should issued one permit Application to applicant too. is one application only too! For 6 month period Person is purchase it too. Is Full auto Gun Item only too!. only one Gun item only too! Not 2 Or # too! Just one item Gun Full auto Weapon only with that permit too! Agree! Do you agree!? This safe way of doing the legal way too!

  28. avatar Diesel says:

    where are most machine guns sold in the United States though?

  29. avatar David says:

    1. They are Getting harder to get it too>I agree! Even Legal Allies Can”t get it at all mo more too! It cost $200.00 Check to A.T.F Office too. You send 2 sets of Fingerprints Cards with you too! one to your Sheriffs Dept office too. One to the A.T.F Office too! Then you wait for 6 Months Period too. After the time passes too. It will be sent to by mail too! At your home office too! They mail you tax stamp on that permit too! Only on Gun item you can at is a machine gun only too! Then it yours too. It must have Gun lock on trigger unit too! The sear is full automatic too. Put in a special Gun safe Unit for Class-3 Firearms items too! It must built ed to segment Floor in your seller only a too! With alarmed System on it too! Ia agree!!! Hooked to Sheriffs Dept Alert system for Machinists you owned too! I agree!!! Do you agree?? Yes Or Disagree?

  30. avatar Bill says:

    Is there a list by serial number of the Thompson Machine Guns.

    1. avatar d from birmingham says:

      no public list of registered ones. in fact from time to time additional machine guns not known to atf were found to have been registered but the atf lost their copy of the paperwork.

      usually this is on the Dewatt program in which machine guns were deactivated but were done so in a way they could legally be reactivated and made functional if the tax stamp is paid and paperwork filed. This was so people could keep the machine gun but not have to pay the tax stamp which in the 30-40s etc was quiet expensive but later on inflation has made the 200 dollars pretty dirt cheap. Registered Dewatts at auction often go as much as a functional transferable.

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