You Too Can Own An NFA Weapon!
Most Americans are of the mind that private ownership of a machine gun is an illegal
thing in all cases. This article will show you that this is something of an urban legend, and
is untrue for sure. While there is a definite process you must follow, it is completely legal
and permissible in most states to own a fully automatic weapon when the National
Firearms Act (NFA) is fully complied with.
What's your favorite machinegun from the movies? An M16? AK-47? Uzi? Thompson?
All these weapons are legal to own as long as they are "transferable" to begin with. We
will explain to you the definition of what transferable firearms are and show you the
ropes on how to become an automatic weapon owner if that is what you have always
wanted to do.
The main focus of this article is to legally own a machinegun, but, it is also legal to
purchase a suppressor-equipped rifle or pistol, a suppressor by itself for a pistol you
already own, a short barreled rifle (SBR) or shotgun (SBS), or modify your favorite AR-
15, or similar rifle, into a SBR. All covered within NFA regulations.
Editor's Comment: The difference in the terms machinegun and submachinegun is what type of ammo
they each fire. We realize this and for sake of discussion we will generally use the term machinegun to
describe either weapon. But, for the newbie's, machineguns (MGs) fire rifle ammo (i.e., 5.56 NATO) and
submachineguns (SMGs) fire handgun ammo (i.e., .45 ACP).
Best Behaved Class of Weapons
For those of you who may not know it, the best behaved class of weapons in the US is
NFA machineguns! Only three cases have been documented where the owner of a
registered machine gun has done anything illegal with one. That's a pretty good record,
spread out over almost 75 years.
Until 1934, it was legal to go to your local hardware store and buy a Thompson SMG.
Yes, just plunk down the cash and you could take it home with you, no problems! While
the average person during the depression could not afford a "Tommy Gun," the point is
that it WAS legal to do without any hassle what-so-ever. Wow, can you imagine such a
thing? Times were changing, however.
After the Great Depression began in 1929, lack of real jobs and hard times lured the
borderline criminal element into making money the easy way - by robbing banks.
Thompson's and Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR) were the robber's stock-in-trade, and
as was bound to happen when things went wrong, bystanders and police started getting
shot and killed in the process. This situation went on for several years, getting worse as
the robberies became more brazen and shootouts between the criminals and the Law
became quite common. In most cases, the criminal gangs all carried automatic weapons
and had a pretty good advantage over local police and FBI as they would just shoot their
way out of attempts to apprehend them with their considerable fire power.
These wild and wooly times have been the source material for dozens of Hollywood
movies, "Bonnie and Clyde," "Dillinger," and "The FBI Story" being a few of the better
known productions. To some, these hooligans became folk-heroes. Often, when on the
run, bank robbers would be given a meal or change of clothes from rural folk who
strangely admired the daring-do of the hoodlums. To the Feds, they became Public
Enemy Number One, especially to J Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI.
The Chicago and New York "mob" loved the Thompson to mow-down their enemies as
well. The Thompson was so popular in mob warfare that it became known as the "Chicago
typewriter." The problem was so severe in Chicago, that firearms ownership is very
restricted in the entire state of Illinois to this very day. New York State and New York
City also enacted strict anti-gun laws for the same reasons.
The Thompson gained perhaps its greatest notoriety in the civilian world with the
infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, where seven mob members were gunned down in
the back by rival mobsters dressed as police. This was just one of many prohibition-era
killing sprees in Chicago.
Clyde Barrow made the BAR infamous as well. His favorite weapon was a sawn-off
barrel, .30-06, BAR with plenty of extra magazines handy. He was always considered
extremely dangerous with this weapon in his hands. Law enforcement always took
precautions if they knew they were dealing with Barrow. Still, many officers did not live
to tell of their encounters. The Barrow gang also used other machine guns and sawn-off
shotguns to ply their trade. It is perhaps fitting that Bonnie and Clyde ended their careers
being gunned down by automatic weapons.
With all this lawlessness taking place involving the use of machineguns and short barreled
weapons, Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934 which changed the way
automatic weapons were to be dealt with in the USA. It may not have changed the
criminal's minds about using a Thompson to knock over a bank, but the NFA gave the
FBI a Federal charge to lay on them if they ever got nabbed. This allowed a change of
venue where the FBI could take the crooks to any state or locality they wanted to get a
conviction, and, it would put them in Federal Prison as opposed to State prison.
Undoubtedly, the main point of the NFA was to stop over-the-counter, cash-and-carry
sales of machineguns.
The law stated that to own a machine gun, NFA paper work had to be completed and
submitted to the Dept of Treasury for approval and a tax paid on the purchase. You could
no longer simply stroll down and buy a machinegun at your sporting goods or hardware
As years passed, additional firearms legislation was passed, affecting both machineguns
and general sporting use firearms, each succeeding set of laws being more restrictive.
Federal Firearms Act of 1938
The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 is where the concept of the federal firearms license
began. Businesses that sold or repaired firearms were required to keep records of firearms
and ammunition sales, as well as not sell to convicted felons. It was not the "full blown"
FFL system we know today, however.
Gun Control Act of 1968
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68) was the beginning of virtually all the firearm
rules and regulations we deal with today. It also amended the NFA of 1934.
GCA68 created Title I and Title II designations. For the record, Title I firearms are the
ones you can buy at your local gun dealer such as semi-automatic pistols, rifles, and
shotguns, revolvers, side-by-side and pump shotguns, bolt-action deer rifle, and the like.
Title II firearms are NFA weapons, and are listed later in the discussion.
GCA68 was also the beginning of the infamous Form 4473 which for decades was
known as the "yellow-sheet." The yellow-sheet has now become the "white-sheet."
The highlights of the GCA of 1968 are as follows:
Created the ATF agency. This was formerly the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the
IRS. 3 years later reached full bureau status as the BATF
Established that ALL who deal in firearms manufacturing and sales must have a Federal
Firearms License (FFL); 11 types of FFLs exist
No interstate transfer of firearms between non-FFLs
No shipping of firearms and ammunition through the US Mail
Established minimum age for firearms purchasers
Required all firearms have a serial number
Expanded definition of "prohibited persons"
Established Form 4473
Restricted the import of so-called "Saturday Night Special" handguns
Established sentencing guidelines for firearm-involved crimes
Created the NFA Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT) FFL designations (Class 01,
Class 02, Class 03).
Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986
On May 19, 1986, things changed for the worse as far as private ownership of
machineguns. This bad news was the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986
(FOPA86). This legislation basically "warmed up" the GCA of 1968 with more stringent
gun control measures. As such, it became illegal for an individual to take a semi-automatic
rifle and convert it to a machine gun, or buy a newly manufactured machinegun, even by
complying with all (up to that point) NFA requirements. On and after that date, all newly
manufactured machineguns could only be sold:
1. Between SOT holders,
2. To the Government (US Military, Federal agencies such as FBI, DEA, etc.)
3. To Police and Sheriff Departments.
FOPA86 also expanded the definition of a machinegun to include "any combination of
parts designed and intended to be used to convert a weapon into a machinegun" which
means that simple parts such as auto-sears alone are considered machineguns. Better not
have any of those lying around your place!
Sales to private citizens were limited to previously "registered" and "transferable" units.
These are machine guns manufactured and registered prior to May 19, 1986. This
immediately increased the value of a registered, transferable AR-15 machinegun, for
instance, as only a limited amount of transferable AR-15s were in existence prior to May
19, 1986. Over the years, prices of transferable machineguns have gone sky high
(decreasing supply and ever increasing demand). In real world numbers, a transferable
AR-15 in early 1986 sold for $1500 and now sells for $15,000 to $20,000. Other
machineguns such as the ever popular Thompson are even more expensive. The cost factor
alone may be something for you to seriously consider when buying an NFA weapon. It is
not cheap to own one!
Under the NFA rules, ATF Form 4 is required to be completed in duplicate to start the
process of acquiring most NFA weapons. Also, fingerprint cards, recent photos of the
applicant, and Form 5330.20 certifying US Citizenship are required and a $200 Tax
Stamp is to be bought for each weapon transaction submitted. The paperwork requires a
signature by a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) which could be a Chief-of-
Police, Sheriff, State or Federal Judge. These hoops have to be jumped through for every
machinegun purchased and transferred. Other items covered under the NFA rules are
suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns, "any other weapons," and destructive
devices. Same paperwork, tax stamp, fingerprints, photos, citizenship card, and signature
required. After the paperwork is received, an extensive background check of the applicant
is done, fingerprints are run by the FBI and BATFE, and if all is in order, approval is
granted Then, ATF Form 4, fingerprints, and photos are filed with the BATFE and the
duplicate ATF Form 4 with cancelled tax stamp is sent to the transferor.
In regard to the tax stamp, keep in mind, $200 was equivalent to 5 months wages in
1934! It seems the transfer tax was meant as a deterrent to machinegun ownership in
itself. That same $200 in 1934 would be the equivalent of perhaps $20,000 in 2008. Just
be thankful the tax has not been raised to keep up with the times. To clear up another
urban legend, the $200 tax is good for the ownership of the NFA item until it is
permanently transferred for any reason. Popular rumor has it that you must pay this tax on
a yearly basis, which is completely false.
NFA Weapons and Descriptions
To be complete in describing NFA weapons, the list includes:
- Machine Gun - Fires more than one round with a single pull of the trigger, $200
- Short Barreled Rifle - Any rifle with barrel length under 16 inches, $200 tax
- Short Barreled Shotgun - Any shotgun with barrel length under 18 inches, $200
- Silencer - Also more properly termed a sound suppressor, $200 tax stamp
- Destructive Device (DD) - Grenades, bombs, gases, etc., and any firearm over .50
caliber with no legitimate sporting purpose, $200 tax stamp for each grenade or
- Any Other Weapon (AOW) - Is the catch-all for smooth bore pistols, cane-guns,
short barreled-short stock rifles and shotguns, etc., $5 tax stamp for this category
As a group, the above items are known as Title II weapons or firearms.
It requires a Type 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11 Federal Firearms License with Class 03 Special
Occupational Tax (SOT) to be a Dealer in Title II firearms. SOT holders are listed in three
categories based on which involvement on NFA weapons they are engaged in, as follows:
Class 01 - Importer of NFA weapons, requires a Type 8 or 11 FFL
Class 02 - Manufacturer of NFA weapons, requires a Type 7 or 10 FFL
Class 03 - Dealer in NFA weapons.
You will sometimes hear the term "Class III Weapon" to describe a machine gun. This is
not really correct, as there are no Class III weapons, just Title II weapons and Class 03
Dealers. But, now that you know, just go along with the flow when you hear that one, as
it has become synonymous with machinegun lore.
If you want to own a short barreled rifle or shotgun, suppressor, or suppressed equipped
pistol, the rules are a bit different as far as dates of manufacture. You may buy a recently
made unit as there is no restriction on the date of manufacture, but the NFA paperwork
must be completed, just the same. You may even have an AR-15 style rifle with 16 inch
or longer barrel that you wish to change into a SBR. This is legal to do as long as you
proceed in the correct manner. This is perhaps one of the most common NFA requests
since it is relatively inexpensive and parts are readily available. But, as is always the case,
do not convert your rifle into a SBR until you get the NFA paperwork approved and in
your possession. To do otherwise will likely get you into hot water with penalties
Suppressors are also very popular NFA options, and do not need much explanation. These
were not a primary consideration for the NFA weapons list, but since the legislation was
created during the hard times of the depression, and the country was largely rural,
Congress decided to include them to deter poaching.
AOWs are a bit more offbeat since they are usually novelty items such as pen and cane
guns, short barrel-short stock shotguns, and such.
Destructive devices are even less common since they include items that most individuals
with common sense do not want to have around such as grenades, dynamite, and other
explosives. These are usually the property of extreme firearms collectors with very secure
storage areas and movie prop companies.
One interesting item is the Street Sweeper 12 gauge shotgun that was originally for sale to
citizens as a Title I firearm but was added to the NFA class of firearms as a Destructive
Device in 1994. Owners of these shotguns were allowed to keep them as "grandfathered"
or amnesty weapons, but had to complete NFA, Form 4 paperwork with photos and
fingerprints. The CLEO signature and transfer tax were not required in this situation.
You should know from the get-go that some states DO NOT allow machine guns! So, if
you live in one of the listed states, you will need to find another substitute for your
machinegun fix, with perhaps a SBR. Illegal states for suppressors, SBRs and SBSs are
Machineguns are ILLEGAL for individuals in DE, DC, HI, IA, IL, KS, MI, NJ, NY, RI,
WA, and SC.
Suppressors are ILLEGAL for individuals in CA, DE, DC, HI, KS, IL, MN, MO, MS,
MT, NY, NJ, and RI.
Short Barreled Rifles are ILLEGAL for individuals in: AL, HI, IL, NJ, NY, RI, and
Short Barreled Shotguns are ILLEGAL for individuals in: AL, DE, HI, IL, IN, KS, MA,
NJ, NY, RI, and WA.
In addition, some states and local areas require that you register machineguns with them,
after federal approval. It is best to check with your local Class 03 dealer on these matters.
Assuming of course, you live in a machinegun "friendly" state, you need to finally get
down to the business of finding the machinegun you want and getting the process
started. It is perhaps easiest, for several reasons, to find something in the same state you
live in. A Class 03 dealer that has what you are looking for in the same city or within
reasonable driving distance in your state is ideal. When you buy a machinegun, you must
pay in advance with certified funds. Keep in mind; you have purchased the machinegun
at this point, done deal. The dealer will then hold the weapon, and may put your payment
in escrow until your Form 4 transfer is approved. Once approved, he is free to transfer
your machinegun to you and, if done, release the payment in escrow.
If you find a transferable machinegun you "cannot live without" in another state, it is not
a show-stopper, but it makes the whole process a bit more complicated, more expensive,
and more time consuming. You are actually buying it from the Class 03 dealer in the other
state, but you must transfer to a Class 03 dealer somewhere in your state, since that is
how the NFA rules are written. This involves a transfer fee you must pay to the dealer
which is not the same as NFA transfer fee or tax stamp; Class 03 dealers may transfer
among themselves without any tax stamps required. It is just a handling charge to pay for
the transferring dealer's trouble in completing the deal. This fee will usually be $100 or
more, which is not much $$$ considering the overall cost of the average machinegun. Of
course, this fee may not include shipping costs from one dealer to the other. Also required
is approval by BATFE for transfer from the out of state dealer to your local dealer. This
adds about 4 to 5 weeks to the process. This is why it is really a lot more efficient to find
something within easy driving distance in your own state.
If your paperwork is completely refused for any reason (not just minor set-backs such as
forgetting to sign the paperwork), you may or may not get all your money returned by the
dealer. As mentioned earlier, the better dealers may hold your money in escrow so that
you would have a clear shot at a refund upon refused paperwork. You may want to make
this clear with your dealer before the purchase, in writing, covering all likely
contingencies beforehand. Otherwise, you may forfeit as little as an "inconvenience fee"
or as much as your entire purchase price. If this was a transfer from another state, you will
be in a much more disadvantageous position as the dealer now has an NFA weapon that
has cost him nothing and you cannot possess! Talk about a bad situation. You will be
beholding to him unless you also have at least a basic understanding or agreement with
him before you start the transaction. Hopefully, in this case the dealer would put your
machinegun up for sale and try to get you what you have in it or perhaps just buy it to
resell himself (perhaps subject to whatever he thinks it is worth). One could say you are
"bent over the barrel" at this point! This is a position you do not want to find yourself in.
Think, think, think, before going NFA!
One other method of purchase and transfer that does not involve a Class 03 dealer is to
find another individual with a transferable machinegun on a Form 4 in your state and
make a purchase; hopefully within easy driving distance. The seller then starts the "new"
Form 4 paperwork and hands it off to you for completion and submittal to the BATFE.
The BATFE paperwork is returned to the seller when approved and you may go and take
transfer of your new toy. Yes, as odd as it sounds, this is a legal transaction as long as the
NFA paperwork is approved and all NFA regulations are followed. Editor's Comment:
This is the best bet if you can find what you want in your state.
More on the transfer process later.
Aside from the cost of the weapon, this may be the most daunting part of the whole
process. It is a form with several pages of questions and information that must be
provided along with an authorizing signature by a Chief Law Enforcement Officer
(CLEO); Chief-of-Police, Sheriff, or State or Federal Judge.
One important rule to remember here is that you will be liable to a felony charge by
making any false or misleading statement on the paperwork. Also, making any false or
misleading statement to a Federal agent is a felony level offense. It would be wise for
you to carefully take note of these points and do not make any false claims or statements
in this process. There are persons serving time in Federal prison right now for making false
claims and statements.
After completing this paperwork, you may want to resubmit it to the business or
individual selling the firearm prior to submission to the BATFE. This allows the seller to
go over the paperwork to check for errors to save you both time over rejected paperwork
by the Feds. The seller wants to spend or reinvest the money as urgently as you want your
machinegun, so, the smoother the process goes, the better for everyone. After that, you or
he can send the paperwork to the BATFE.
There is another process which speeds up the process by eliminating several steps of the
above discussed paperwork. You can create a corporation, or use one already in existence,
which becomes the owner of the machine gun or NFA device. The corporation, in turn,
allows you to use the weapons. This requires the existence of a legal corporation, not just
a half-baked pipe-dream that you are incorporated. The BATFE will reject your
paperwork if not legitimate. But, this method eliminates the need for fingerprints, photos,
and CLEO signature, as a corporation is not subject to such things. However, as the
corporation owns the NFA weapons, they must be transferred if the corporation dissolves
for any reason. Thus, you would not be able to legally keep your NFA weapon without
further ATF Form 4 paperwork. As you can see, this method has good and bad points. A
corporation may also be a living, revocable trust (estate) or limited liability company
(LLC). You may designate a corporate officer as legitimate custodian of the NFA
weapon, which is an advantage over the other process since you cannot let the weapon
out of your individual possession or personal control. However, be sure that your
corporation is a LEGITIMATE setup preferably done by a qualified, firearms-savvy,
attorney, as you may be opening the door for other unforeseen problems such as
additional tax burdens and preparations every April 15th or other liabilities in general. An
estate ownership has a benefit in that the NFA item may be inherited (on a Form 5). You
and anyone listed as corporate officers or estate trustees WILL still be subject to a
thorough background check, so do not think by going this route you will bypass that
measure. Any single person failing the background check will cause your entire ATF
Form 4 paperwork to be refused.
As far as actually getting your paperwork approved, the odds are that if you can legally
buy a firearm at the local gun dealer with background check, you will get your NFA
paperwork approved. It is the best policy to let the process go its way and do not pester
everyone involved with questions about where you stand in the process. It will either
happen or not in the usual 90 - 180 days. Find yourself another project to keep you busy
in that time period. One way to get some feedback on the paperwork process is to submit
a personal check for the tax stamp. This way, you can have some record of when the
check has cleared your account and some idea that progress is taking place without
becoming a pest.
This may be, for many, the hardest part of the process. You can afford the weapon, have
the photos and fingerprints, but how in the world do you get a stranger to sign-off on the
paperwork for you? This is not quite as difficult as it may sound.
The purpose of the CLEO signature is to have a responsible authority in your local area to
say, essentially, "This person has no criminal background or activity and I cannot find a
legitimate reason to deny this request for NFA weapon." This authority can be your Chief
of Police, County Sheriff, State or Federal Judge, or possibly your District Attorney.
They should know or be informed that they are not "signing their life away" as being
responsible for any actions resulting in your having a machinegun. It would be wise to
have a chat with them before pushing the paperwork in their face to fully explain this and
perhaps throw a few facts out about NFA weapons and their clean record of ownership in
citizen hands. Any good printed PR material you can find would be good to pass to them
and even leave with them to consider for your follow-up visit if you want to "grease the
skids" before presenting them with the papers to sign. If they say to leave the papers so
they can "give it some thought," or show sings of being hesitant, then it may be best to
take the papers and try again in another week. Your paperwork is just too important to
leave with someone, but that is ultimately something to decide for yourself.
If the first person you approach turns out to be wildly anti-gun or just will not sign-off for
you, then go to the next one on your list. The best place to start is your County Sheriff. A
State Judge may be next. Chief-of-Police sign-offs seem to be tougher to obtain for some
reason. Federal Judge's will probably be a waste of time to try, but you may know one
who will sign the paperwork for you. About the worst thing you will hear is "NO." You
will not get arrested or put on a list for trying. Don't be deterred, just keep plugging.
Someone in your area will sign your paperwork. Editor's Comment: If you live in
California, don't count on getting a signature from anyone!
The best tip for CLEO signature is to ask NFA owners in your local area where they got
their sign-offs. If they tell you the Sheriff is signing-off on NFA items, then that should
be your ticket to GO! But, go to the Sheriff with some restraint and do not act as if it's a
done deal. Be calm and expect to go through the whole explanation as if he knows
nothing about NFA weapons. Technically, the sign-off should be based on what is or is
not on file under your name, but he may want to take a few moments to size you up test
your knowledge of what's involved, as well as your overall attitude. First impressions
ARE important. The sign-off is the key to owning your machinegun, so don't blow it!
Form 4 and Form 1
Here, we get down to the actual name of the paperwork you will be completing which is
called ATF Form 4, "Application for tax paid transfer and registration of a firearm." This
form is where the CLEO signature goes as well as the "reasonable necessity" statement
for owning an NFA weapon. Along with 2 copies of Form 4, you will need 2 sets of
fingerprint cars and 2 recent, passport style, photos of yourself. One more form required
with signature, in addition to Form 4, is Form 5330.20 which declares that you are a US
citizen. If you are going the corporate route, then you will not need the CLEO signature,
fingerprint cards, or photos.
If you intend to use your AR-15 to convert into a SBR, you must submit ATF Form 1,
"Application to make and register a firearm." The same requirements apply as for the
Form 4. Once approved and re-barreled, you need to have the firearm properly marked to
comply with its new identity. NFA marking of firearms probably requires further study
on your part if this is the option you want to pursue.
When either form is approved and returned, it is highly recommended that it be kept in a
safe deposit box or other safe place. Copies should be made and carried with the NFA
weapon at all times. Although the law says it is only for a Federal agent to question you
on your paperwork, the local police and sheriff may want to question you some day when
you are out shooting and may demand your papers. While this is not legally required, it
may be easiest to show them your paperwork and save a lot of hassle, possible arrest, and
temporary confiscation of your treasure.
For whichever NFA weapon (machinegun) you decide on, and with one exception
discussed later, you must make the transfer from a Class 03 dealer located in your state.
This means that if you buy a machinegun from a Class 03 dealer in another state, it must
be first transferred to your local Class 03 dealer.
If you buy your machinegun from an individual in another state, the transfer will take
place at your local Class 03 dealer as well. The seller must first transfer his machinegun to
your local Class 03 and then it will be transferred to you after your Form 4 paperwork is
At the time you make the transfer, you must still fill out Form 4473 paperwork. Although
not mentioned earlier, you must meet all the requirements for purchasing any other Title 1
firearm such as being 21 years of age, not mentally deficient, and a US Citizen. In other
words, you must answer the questions on Form 4473 and be fully qualified to own a
firearm in your state as with any other firearms purchase, and also pass the NICS
(National Instant Criminal Background Check System) check. This check is waived in
many states that issue the concealed carry license, as long as the transferee is licensed.
The one exception to the above transfer process is buying a machinegun on a Form 4 from
another individual, non-FFL holder, in your same state. This transfer process requires a
face-to-face transaction. In other words, no shipping allowed. However, no Form 4473 is
required for this situation. This is a chance to save some money on your purchase as it
eliminates any miscellaneous transfer fees from your local Class 03 dealer as well as
shipping costs. Probably the way to go if you can swing a local deal on something you
Once the paperwork is approved and returned to the selling entity, you can proceed to
take possession of your long-awaited dream piece. If it's a machine gun, have a large
stockpile of ammo and magazines on hand for the day you go out and run a thousand
rounds through it! That will be a day you will remember for a long time to come. And, it
is likely it will start the urge to get your next machine gun, as this is the sentiment from
many NFA weapon owners. You may want to think twice before you go NFA, it could
change your life!
The basic penalties you face with a violation in NFA firearms are a $250,000 fine and 10
years in Federal Prison. These penalties are set up to be a deterrent to discourage anyone
taking possession of an illegal machinegun. It does a pretty good job for most of us, but
there are still routine cases of persons who violate the law. Some of these cases involve
subtleties of the NFA that are best learned early on to avoid arrest. To be specific on this
point, simple machinegun parts such as M16 and FN-FAL auto-sears are legally
considered machineguns in themselves. Also the internal parts of suppressors are
considered suppressors in themselves. Even installing one M16 fire-control part (hammer,
trigger, disconnector) in a semiautomatic AR-15 transforms it into a machinegun. Each of
the listed examples is a violation of the NFA. For this reason, it is important not to try to
purchase or otherwise own or possess these items without the proper paperwork and tax
stamps. To do so is to invite the rather harsh penalties mentioned above. Any one of these
examples is a fairly easy conviction for an agent of the BATFE to ask a prosecuting
attorney for and get, so be forewarned.
This is as good a place as any to mention that if anyone possesses war trophy machine gun
brought back by a veteran and it is unregistered, it is NOT a transferable weapon and
must be handed over to the proper authorities or face a felony charge for possession.
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse in a court of law. Don't be caught with an illegal
To recap what we have discussed, you need to complete the following steps to legally
own a machinegun in the US. We are assuming for this example, a machinegun purchased
in the same state you reside.
- Find your desired machinegun or other NFA weapon, be it online or at
your local Class 03 dealer. Pay the dealer in full for your purchase. They
will in-turn give you the ATF Form 4 with their part completed
- Fill out your part of ATF Form 4 in duplicate with the required CLEO
signature, fingerprint cards, photos, US Citizenship form, and a check for
the $200 for the Tax Stamp and remit to the BATFE for approval
- Patiently wait 90 to 180 days for approval to take place
- When ATF Form 4 is approved, it will be returned to the transferring
dealer. They will call you to go in and complete Form 4473, and take
possession of your machinegun and paperwork
- Always make copies of the original ATF Form 4 and transfer Tax Stamp
and keep in a safe place. Always have a copy of your NFA paperwork
when you take the machinegun outside your home or storage place
- Do not loan your machinegun to anyone or let it out of your possession for
any reason, other than to let someone handle or fire the weapon in your
presence. Illegal possession will get both you and the person you loan it to
in BIG trouble! The possible exception to this is if you chose to go the
corporate method of transfer, which may allow other officers of the
corporation to be in possession of the machinegun, as specified in the
- To transport your machinegun across state lines, you must complete ATF
Form 5320.20 requesting permission from the BATFE and reason for
crossing state lines with your NFA weapon. Suppressors-only are exempt
from Form 5320.20 requirements.
One variation to the above is that the sale of a registered machinegun on ATF Form 4
may take place, directly between two individuals residing in the same state without the
use of a Class 03 dealer. It is legal as long as the NFA paperwork is approved and
completed, of course.
To create an ATF Form 1 SBR weapon, the steps are similar except that the paperwork
starts with, and returns to you, the "manufacturer." It may be best to not make the
purchase of the short barrel for your AR-15 until you have the approved paperwork in
your hands. While not likely, you could be charged with intent to create a SBR without
the NFA paperwork just by being in possession of both the AR-15 and the short barrel.
Let caution be your guide.
Further Reading and Information
It is not possible to completely cover the story of owning a machinegun in the space of a
few lines. If this article got your juices flowing to go "full auto," you can do far greater
research on the internet as there are volumes out there concerning this subject.
Call or visit a Class 03 dealer and talk to them. They will undoubtedly have all the basic
questions and answers down pat and may even hand you their version of Frequently
Try to stay with reputable sources for your information as gun forum chat boards may net
you information that may be well intended, but not accurate. Usually, any Class 03 FFL
dealer will be a good source for your questions. There are quite a few online to look at.
Also try the NFATCA (National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association) at
http://www.nfatca.org/join.htm. They are dedicated to the private ownership of NFA
Still Not Ready To Go NFA?
If all the NFA paperwork, rules, regulations, CLEO signature, cost of weapon, tax stamp,
fingerprints, etc, are still a bit too much to absorb or deal with for whatever reasons, you
can do the next best thing.
Several firearms manufacturers offer AK-47s, AR-15s, Mini-Uzis, etc., in Title I, semi-
automatic "pistol" format. These are very close to owning a SBR without any paperwork
as they have the short barrel, high capacity magazine, and same basic receiver of the full
auto version. The obvious limitation is that you will not have a buttstock to help you take
close aim, but the joy of firing an erstwhile "short barrel rifle" and seeing the large fireball
coming of the business end is something that will put a big smile on your face! Shoot it
from the mid-chest level for the best brace and coolest effect or from a bench rest. But,
either way, it is pure fun, especially after the sun has set and it is still light enough to
safely see your intended target and backstop. Take several others with you to shoot. It
will undoubtedly cause at least one of the group to have a personality change in the
process. Next time out, you will likely have two "pistol" owners in the group.
As should be expected, this is not to be considered as a legally binding description of the
NFA process. It is only a guide to stimulate interest in the possibility of owning a fully
automatic firearm in a legal manner. There are many variables involved in this process and
rules and regulations are subject to change without notice. We cannot be held responsible
for your involvement in this venture as the penalties are steep in getting it wrong. YOU
must take full responsibility when dealing with NFA weapons and devices. We would
highly recommend talking to several Class 03 FFL dealers before setting forth on this
venture. You should have all your questions answered completely before buying any
NFA weapon. If you loose part or all of your firearm payment due to some
misunderstanding, change of heart during the approval process, or have your BATFE
paperwork refused, it is basically something you are going to be responsible for, not us.
While this is not likely to happen if you do your research, it is a possibility. This is the
"top drawer" in the firearms world and is not achieved without some financial and
personal cost. It is entirely possible that the Government could recall all privately owned
machineguns, one week, one month, or one year after getting yours, for who-knows-what
reason! This means you could loose your $30,000 Thompson or $20,000 Colt SP1 with
little or no compensation by Uncle Sam. Be advised, all of the above is possible.