How to Buy a Machine Gun, Silencer, Short Barrel Rifle or Other NFA Device
Yes, You can legally own a machinegun, silencer or short barrel
Unless you live in one of the few states that prohibit machine guns (listed below) or are a convicted felon you can legally own a fully automatic machine gun or other NFA Device. In most states, if you qualify to own a handgun, you are qualified to own a machine gun. Machine guns are certainly the most fun and most collectible firearms you can own. Their year after year appreciation is unparelled by any other investment category.
The purpose of this page is to provide all the correct and accurate information you might want. However, the rules are very specific and to the uninitiated fairly complex. Violations are serious so we recommend you use a professional well known dealer to help you.
We do this all the time. We process these transfers every day and are very good at navigating these complicated waters.
Our most important recommendation is that you discuss with us what you want to do and let us handle all the paperwork.
This will keep you out of trouble and make everything go much smoother than if you try to do it yourself.
By the way, there are all kinds of urban myths about NFA firearms, the ATF and law enforcement agents. In over 40 years of dealing with the ATF and law enforcement agents with regard to NFA devices we have never had a problem. This is because we play by the rules. Don’t even think about discussing an illegal NFA device with us nor asking us how to make/convert something into an illegal NFA device. Keep in mind that unless the ATF or a law enforcement agent has probable cause to believe you or one of your firearms is involved in a crime they can’t even contact you. Keep in mind that since the ATF registration / transfer forms are tax returns, they are secret — indeed as secret as your personal tax returns. Security is always a concern with any firearm. While we recommend extreme prudence there are no legal requirements for special security for your NFA firearms.
Also, we hear from some people that they don’t want to be on the government’s list. Well, guess what; if you file a tax return (which you probably do) you are already on that list. This is just another tax teturn.
There is no blanket Federal law that prevents private ownership of machine guns, silencers, short barrelled rifles, short barrelled shotguns or other firearms subject to the National Firearms Act (NFA). In fact, machine guns are a very wise and lucrative investment. The reason for this is that in 1986, Congress passed the Firearms Owner’s Protection Act. (Sounds like a good thing, right?) Wrong. There are, however state laws which vary state by state. Since we are licensed in Virginia we will also lead you through the Virginia laws.
This law banned the manufacture, import, and sale of new machine guns to civilians. Any full automatic guns not manufactured and registered with BATFE before May of 1986 cannot be sold or possessed by individual citizens. The fact of the matter is that the universe of machine guns was frozen forever on May 18, 1986.
There are, however, over a quarter million existing “pre-May” machine guns that are perfectly legal to purchase and own. These machine guns are commonly called “transferables” because they can be legally transferred to individuals.
So, how can machine guns be a great investment? It’s as simple as supply and demand. The supply of ‘transferable’ machine guns is fixed by the 1986 ban, and the demand by people who want to own and shoot them is steadily increasing. For instance, a transferable MP5 might sell for $25,000 now and typically sold for $5000 or less some years ago. Unlike stock, bonds, and mutual funds it’s highly unlikely that an MP5 will ever be worthless. In hard times, it may even be worth even more. Machine guns are an investment you can cherish, enjoy shooting, and pass on to future generations.
Aren’t these guns dangerous? Well, like any firearm, they can be misused. However, legal machine guns are never misused. First off, machine gun owners are the most responsible of our citizens. If somebody goes bonker the firearm of choice will not be a valuable $40,000 antique Thompson kept under secure lock and key. It will be an ordinary (cheap) firearm off the street. As of 1995, there were over 240,000 machine guns registered by the BATFE nationwide. About half are owned by civilians and the other half by government agencies. Since 1934, only two homicides have ever been linked to legally owned machine gun, and one was committed by a law enforcement officer, as opposed to a civilian. What that means is that there is essentially no crime committed by individuals owning machine guns. Since these machine guns are already strictly controlled, there has been little or no ‘anti-gun’ pressure on them.
It is obvious why the pro-gun sector loves the NFA — all us good guys get to keep our machine guns and silencers. However, The fact of the matter is that the “antis” love the NFA even more. Indeed they want all firearms under the purview of the NFA with outrageous transfer fees and even more outrageous delays in transfer approvals. So they want to keep the NFA in place — and even expand it.
Now, having said that, if you are still curious or really want to navigate your own way through the thicket of laws and regulations, there is no reason you shouldn’t know all about the laws, the background of machine gun and silencer regulations and the process we live with every day. So enjoy the following.
The Process Ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934, individuals buying machine guns have required the same procedure for each machine gun. 1) Federal transfer form with fingerprints and photographs for the background check. 2) One-time transfer tax of $200 good for life. When your form is approved, a Federal stamp in the amount of $200 is attached to your form certifying approval of the transfer to you. This form is your ‘permission slip’ to own that specific machinegun for the rest of your life.
1. You must be a US citizen over 21
2. You must not have been convicted of a crime
3. You must live in a state and jurisdiction that does not prohibit machineguns.
States that prohibit machineguns: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New York, Rhode Island, Washington. See this site for more info about your state: http://nraila.org/GunLaws/
Getting a Gun Transferred to You
Per the rules setup under the Firearms Owner’s Protection Act, machine guns cannot be transferred interstate between individuals. If you find a transferable machine gun in your state, you can have it transferred directly to you on an ATF Form 4 and we are willing to hold your hand to help you do this correctly.
If you buy a machine gun outside of your state, you must utilize a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) who also has a Special Occupational Tax (SOT) registration to first get the machine gun into your state. These dealers are typically referred to as “class 3 dealers” because their SOT registration is a “class 3” tax. They normally charge a few hundred dollars for this service to facilitate the transfer process. However, we at Historic Arms don’t charge our clients for this service.
Transfers between SOT dealers usually happen very quickly since there is no background check required (usually 3-4 weeks).
There are 3 types of ATF forms that are typically used for machinegun transfers:
Form 3 (tax exempt): FFL/SOT to FFL/SOT
Form 4 (transfer tax required): between:
Individuals/Corps/Trusts (within the same state only) or
FFL/SOT to Individuals/Corps/Trusts (within the same state only) or
FFL (non SOT) or Individual/Corp/Trust to FFL/SOT or
Individual to Curio & Relic FFL (for C&R firearms only)
Form 5 (tax exempt): Individual (deceased) to Heir (within the same state only)
If you buy the NFA device from an ‘individual’ in another state, he must transfer that gun to your dealer in your state on a Form 4 and somebody pays the $200 tax. If you buy the NFA device from an FFL/SOT in another state, he would transfer that NFA device to your dealer in your state on a Form 3 tax free.
Once the NFA device is in your state, your dealer and you must complete the Form 4 and somebody pays the $200 tax (to get the NFA device transferred from the FFL/SOT to you.
Completing the Form
The Form 4 is a relatively simple two-page form. If you print it from the ATF web site ttp://www.atf.treas.gov/forms/5000.htm#firearms) , you must make sure that both pages are on the same sheet of paper. The form must be completed in duplicate. The first section is the information about the “transferee” (you) and the “transferor” (your dealer). The second section is the information about the NFA device.
There are three sections on the back page:
1) The standard “yes” and “no” questions you have to answer each time you purchase a gun.
2) Section 15 (“Transferee’s Certification”): This is where you state the reason you want the NFA device. Just be honest. Most people buy machineguns for investment, collecting, target shooting, etc. A statement “All legal purposes” is acceptable.
3) Section 17 (“Law Enforcement Certification”): You should ask your dealer specifically whom you should go to get this section signed. Most local officials don’t want to sign anything they are unfamiliar with, so it’s important to be directed to the correct government agent or office to deal with this form. If you’re lucky you can get your fingerprints and law enforcement certification done in the same day.
If you are filing your Form 4 as a corporation, partnership, LLC, PA or other legal entity besides ‘individual,’ you do not complete Section 17. The fingerprint cards and photographs are for your FBI background check. This is a standard background check that is done government job applicants, schools teachers, SEC registrants, etc.
What to Send to ATF: 1) Complete Form 4 in duplicate with photographs attached (if required) with original ink signatures, not copies. 2) Certification of US Citizenship Form 3) Two FBI-258 Fingerprint Cards 4) Check for $200
Finding the Right Gun
Most transferable machine guns are owned by individuals. Since the ban in 1986 and the high cost of each machinegun, most FFL/SOT holders (unlike Historic Arms) do not typically have much inventory. Further, all transferable machine guns are at least 27 years old. So buying a transferable machine gun is a lot like buying a used car. Many of the transferable machine guns are offered for sale may not be accurately represented with respect to condition, function, and authenticity. It’s important to deal with reputable collectors and dealers. There are major scams out there. Our section “Beware of NFA Scams” is a must read. Some guns are just better than others and some are more suited for how you like to shoot or collect.
We typically evaluate a gun as to three factors:
1. Collectability: How much do other people want it? There are many famous machineguns like the MP-40, Thompson or M16 that are very sought-after by collectors. The key factors for any collector are condition, authenticity, and uniqueness. For example, the M11 and MP-40 basically do the same thing, but an MP-40 routinely sells for five times more than an M11.
a. How fun is the gun to shoot? This is a mostly subjective factor. Some shooters prefer subguns to heavy machine guns or assault rifles. Others swear by the big belt-fed or M16 / HK assault rifles. Once you determine your category preference, within each category there are performance and other differences between models. For example, an MP-40 is much more smooth and controllable than an M11.
b. How expensive is it to shoot? A 50 cal. machinegun is the ultimate blast but can get very expensive to run. Also, there are a lot of calibers that are now obsolete and using old/expired ammo may malfunction and damage the machinegun.
a. How expensive and/or rare are spare parts?
b. How often do parts break? Some machine gun designs are fundamentally better designed and built than others.
c. How hard is the gun to service? Some guns were designed to be disposable rather than serviced. The resulting design is much more difficult to service. Replacing a barrel on an MP5 is a good example of a difficult-to-service design.
d. Is your dealer capable of supporting you if you experience difficulty. Here at Historic Arms we have experianced gunsmiths on staff and, indeed, even have a Colt Certified Armorer on staff.
The fact of the matter is that what you really want just might not be available. Given that these guns are very liquid and moving up in value all the time you might be well advised to compromise and buy now what you can afford while you continue to look for what else might become available later.