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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

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:

  1. Be a US Citizen at least 21 years old
  2. Be of sane mind
  3. Not an abuser of drugs or alcohol
  4. Have never been convicted of a felony
  5. Pay a $200.00 Federal Transfer Tax on each weapon purchased. (This is a one-time tax, not a yearly tax)
  6. 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
  7. 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

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.


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  1. It is my understanding that Kansas recently passed a law which brings its regulations about machine guns and silencers into line with federal law.

  2. Definitely more trouble than it’s worth.

    The regulations are the essence of gun control lunacy. Having shot full autos, it’s obvious that under the right circumstances, I could do much more damage from long distance with my semi-auto FAL I think it was Clint Smith who said “they turn money into noise.”

    Irrational hysteria and Hollywood help to solidify these misconceptions that machine guns are death rays. Same with suppressors.

  3. If you think 90 days is bad .. I purchased a Gemtech Tundra Suppressor in January of 2008. Approval came back at the end of NOVEMBER of that year.

    At least they’ve improved… harumph!

  4. “one pull –> one shot = NOT a machine gun
    one pull –>more than one shot = machine gun”

    And remember the Olofson precedent chilluns, that a malfunctioning semi-auto is a machine gun, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling in Staples (cited in the Wiki article).

      • Oh please. Malfunction my ass. The weapon was modded.

        Do you have any evidence for this? If so why didn’t you give it to the prosecution? It would have been nice if they had some evidence for that trial and conviction.

        • I’m talking about the evidence. It was more than sufficient to prosecute him, try him, find him guilty, and sentence him to 30 months of federal time.

          • Yes, but only by ignoring Staples. The weapon would only fire a few shots before jamming. Under the Staples test this does not constitute a MG.

            Plus there is the fact that his model AR had a history of this type of malfunction and indeed the ATF had mandated a safety recall in 1986. The ATF refused to provide this information to the court, however, on the basis that the documents contained “tax information”. And unfortunately for Olofson the manufacturer had lost the relevant documentation in a fire.

            Plus there’s the fact that during the first test the ATF couldn’t get it to fire multiple shots and declared it “just a rifle”. It wasn’t until it was sent back for re-testing with soft-primered ammunition that they got it to malfunction. Something that they are permitted to do since their “testing facilities” have no written standards.

  5. Interesting enough you DON’T need to do anything like this to own a flamethrower. That’s right, no registration, no dealers, no fingerprinting. Flamethrowers are not firearms and are not subject to such laws or any penalties. Why? Not exactly common in the civilian weapons market. But they exist in the civilian market. Fortunately, I have an understanding that most of the owners are super-wealthy businessmen, lawyers, and doctors who happen to be BBQ enthusiasts. Protecting anonymity, I know a guy who knows a guy who sometimes spends a Sunday afternoon teaching his backyard a lesson.

  6. This (Class III) is discussed regularly over on my other go-to forum, PAFOA. Never read about the corporation loophole. I’ll post a link for the rich guys.

  7. It’s admirable that you’d want to set the record straight. As a practical matter though when you consider the licensing needed, the small pool of guns that are actually transferrable and the expense involved I feel comfortable saying that machineguns (and assault rifles) are de facto illegal. In any case they’re certainly out of reach of 99.99% of shooters.

  8. ” If you choose to sell a machine gun you own, you do have to sell it through a licensed dealer…”

    This is untrue, at least as far as Federal law is concerned. Some states probably require it, but in general, the only required parties are the buyer, the seller, the Sheriff, and the BATF.

      • All NFA regulated firearms/items need to go through an NFA licensed dealer. A regular FFL cannot transfer them.

        • In state theres no need for dealer interaction.

          On out of state purchases there needs to be seller>dealer>in-state dealer>purchaser.

          In state still needs to do all the same transfer, but until the paperwork clears the purchaser can not assume possession.

          They can also be sold and transfered through normal FFLS, however, unlike being transfered through an SOT, there needs to be a tax paid for that transfer.

          In the above S>D>D>P, there is 2 taxes incured, from seller to dealer, and from dealer to purchase. Assuming they are both SOTs. Add tax if one of those is not an SOT holder.

  9. There is an entire subset of lawyers who create NFA Trusts to own Class 3 Firearms. By creating a trust, the gun can stay in a family forever without paying further taxes or fees, and without affecting a transfer in the event of the trustor’s death. BTW, the $200 fee was a lot of money in 1934. Now, not so much.

  10. I know that NFA laws where put in to place to stop gansters from buying full autos. Did that actually happen? ( I’m gessing not)

  11. “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).”

    The abbreviation for Iowa is IA.

  12. Brad,
    I am a student attending the Univeristy of North Texas and a few months ago I checked out a book called, “The Eddy Kozak Musigraph Theory Book 1.” UNT will not allow me to attend any of their music theory classes because I am not a music theory major. I have been playing various instruments for a good couple of years and have been dying to learn a little music theory to help aid the passion I have for music to grow further. I stumbled upon what I believe is your father’s book in the music library on campus. I checked it out months ago and with our students having an overwhelming option of music books, I was the first to check it out in over 11 yrs. Since then, I have checked it out an additonal 7 times.. This book has been an awesome easy to understand quick guide to music theory for me, and it makes me upset that between working and going to college, I don’t have as much time as I would like putting my new music knowledge in action. I’ve been trying to find another copy of your father’s book to own myself and I’m having no luck.. UNT will not sell their copy to me and it’s coming to the end of the semester, which is when I would finally have more time to sit down with it. So after writing you this book of my own, 1.) I hope you are Eddy Kozak’s son otherwise I’ve wasted you’re time (for that I’m sorry), 2.) Is there anyway you know where I may be able to purchase an available copy? After reading of your father’s musical accomplishments, like playing with Sinatra, it would be even more amazing if I could have my own copy. Sorry I am contacting you this way, it was the closest thing I found to getting a copy!

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