Monday, November 6, 2017

The American market for machine guns

Here's an extensive excerpt from a long article on on the (complicated) legal status of machine gun sales in the U.S. (Machine guns have some similarities to artifacts made of elephant ivory: it is legal to own old ones but not new ones...)

Machine Guns Are Legal: A Practical Guide to Full Auto

"For the sake of this article, the word “machine gun” will meet the ATF’s definition: Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
The machine gun was invented by American Hiram Maxim, and interestingly enough, the USA is one of the few countries on the planet where regular folks can in fact own a fully automatic firearm. In fact, machine guns have never been illegal in the USA on a federal level. They are heavily regulated, but not illegal at all.
The timeline of machine gun legislation is as follows:
Prior to 1934, machine guns were not regulated any differently than any other firearm. You could quite literally order a machine gun from a mail order catalog… and people did. Thompsons for example initially did not interest the military too terribly much, but the gunsfound a niche with individuals seeking personal protection, police agencies, and unfortunately, gangsters.  ...
"Prompted by prohibition era gangsters and the rise of organized crime (law enforcement was seriously outgunned by the likes of bad guy like Dillinger), the United States drafted the National Firearms Act which passed in 1934. The National Firearms Act did not ban machine guns, but it made them impossible to afford for most people. To buy a machine gun under the 1934 NFA, an individual needs to submit the following (the procedure remains unchanged even today):
  • Pay a tax of $200, which in 1934 was worth over $3,500
  • Fill out a lengthy application to register your gun with the federal government
  • Submit photographs
  • Submit passport photos
  • Get your chief law enforcement official to sign your application
  • Wait for the results of your background check to come back
A violation of the national firearms act results in a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison, a $100,000 fine, and forfeiture of the individual’s right to own or possess firearms in the future.
The next big piece of legislation pertinent to machine guns occurred in 1968 with the GunControl Act. The Gun Control Act established that imported firearms that had “no sporting purpose” were not able to be sold to civilians. Machine guns as a whole were determined to have no sporting purpose, and thus any MG imported after ’68 are able to be owned only by dealers, military, and police agencies. One bit of good this act did was allowed for a registration amnesty. It became apparent that there were so many unregistered machine gunsin the US that had been brought back by veterans, that they should be able to register them tax free. Luckily many of them did, but the amnesty ended after just one month (the feds owe us another few months, this humble author believes).
The last piece of machine gun legislation is to many the coup de grace. In 1986 the FirearmOwners Protection Act was intended to prevent the federal government from creating a registry of gun owners. At the last minute, William Hughes added an amendment that called for the banning of machine guns. Charlie Rangel said that the “amendment in the nature of a substitute, as amended, was agreed to.” However, after the voice vote on the Hughes Amendment, Rangel ignored a plea to take a recorded vote and moved on to Recorded Vote 74 where the Hughes Amendment failed. The bill passed on a motion to recommit. Despite the controversial amendment, the Senate adopted H.R. 4332 as an amendment to the final bill. The bill was subsequently passed and signed on May 19, 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. Thus, Reagan’s signature banned the registration of new machine guns in the USA.
So what does this mean? This is where it gets complicated:
  • Machine guns are not illegal, but it is illegal to make and register new ones on a form 1 (as you would do for an SBR)
  • There is no way around the May 19th, 1986 date. if the machine gun in question was made after that date, you may not own it (unless you are a dealer)
Also, there are three types of machine guns that determine the gun’s legal status:
  • Transferable: Guns registered prior to May 19th, 1986 that are able to be owned by everyone. There are only 182,619 transferable machine guns according to the ATF.
  • Pre-Samples: Machine guns imported after 1968 but before May 19th, 1986. The 1968 GCA established that machine guns with no sporting purposes could not be sold to civilians. Dealers can however buy them and keep them after they give up their licenses. As a general rule, pre-samples cost about half that of a transferable.
  • Post-Samples: Machine guns made after the May 19th, 1986 cutoff date. These are only for dealers, manufacturers, military, and police. A manufacturer who pays $500 a year is permitted by the federal government to manufacture these. A dealer (who is not a manufacturer) may acquire these if a police agency provides a “demo letter”. A demo letter is simply a letter from a PD asking you to acquire a sample gun for them to test and evaluate for potential purchase. Unfortunately dealers must sell or destroy post samples when they give up their license.

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