Who Can Own a Full-Auto Machine Gun?

Who Can Own a Full-Auto Machine Gun?

Are Machine Guns Legal?

Despite common misconceptions, law-abiding citizens in the United States have the legal right to own and possess machine guns, also known as full-auto firearms or automatic weapons.

This reality frustrates organizations such as the Giffords Law Center and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for stringent gun control measures and weapons bans. However, the current Supreme Court appears to acknowledge the robust protection afforded by the Second Amendment, safeguarding individuals’ rights to own such firearms.

Depending on the type of Federal Firearms License (FFL) obtained and if the FFL holder becomes a Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT), they can purchase, sell, and even manufacture machine guns legally, regardless of their manufacturing date. This includes the lawful conversion of existing firearms into fully automatic ones. Obtaining an automatic weapon as an FFL holder offers the advantage of acquiring it at dealer cost and with expedited processing.

For private citizens without an FFL, owning a machine gun is still possible but comes with significant hurdles. The available supply is limited, making machine guns for non-FFL holders extremely expensive. Typically, these firearms must be over 35 years old, costing upwards of $15,000, and the transfer process through an ATF Form 4 can take around a year.

In contrast, as an FFL holder, purchasing a new machine gun is more accessible and cost-effective, with prices often below $2,000 and quicker transfer times, usually within a few days.

For example, a private citizen can lawfully own a machine gun only if:

  1. the possessor isn’t a “prohibited person,”
  2. the full-auto machine gun was made before 1986, and
  3. their relevant state law does not ban that firearm (whether banning machine guns outright or any firearm with specific features).

As you can see, machine gun possession by non-FFLs is regulated based on the person (possessor), the firearm itself (when it was made), and where the firearm is possessed (which state).

Table Of Contents

  1. Machine Gun Owners
  2. Legal Machine Guns
  3. Machine Guns and State Law
  4. How to Own a Machine Gun

Machine Gun Owners

Machine gun owners, like all gun owners, must meet specific eligibility criteria and cannot be classified as “prohibited persons” under federal law. A “prohibited person” is defined as someone who is legally barred from possessing firearms or ammunition, which includes machine guns. This classification encompasses individuals who:

  • Have been convicted of a felony.
  • Have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, regardless of whether they served time.
  • Are under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
  • Are fugitives from justice?
  • Are unlawful users of controlled substances.
  • Have been adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.
  • Are illegal aliens.
  • Have received a dishonorable discharge from the military.
  • Have renounced their U.S. citizenship.
  • Are subject to a restraining order related to domestic violence.
  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

It’s essential to understand the nuances of these criteria, particularly regarding convictions for crimes punishable by more than one year, unlawful substance use, and restraining orders related to domestic violence. Compliance with these regulations is crucial for anyone seeking to own or possess a machine gun or any other firearm.

Legal Machine Guns

In 1934, the passage of the National Firearms Act (NFA) imposed restrictions on possessing various types of firearms, including machine guns.

These firearms were deemed “special” due to concerns about gang violence during that era. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), then under the Department of Treasury, was tasked with regulating this particular class of firearms. This regulation involved requiring registration and taxation before lawful possession.

Under the NFA, individuals or entities seeking to possess such firearms were required to pay a $200 federal tax and submit an application for approval by the federal government. Upon approval, the paperwork was returned with a $200 stamp affixed, indicating the tax had been paid and confirming that the listed person or entity was the lawful possessor of the specified NFA firearm.

The NFA covered various types of firearms, including:

  1. Full-auto Machine Guns
  2. Silencers
  3. Short Short-barreled rifles (with barrels under 16 inches in length)
  4. Short Short-barreled shotguns (with barrels under 18 inches in length)
  5. “Any Other Weapons” (AOW) includes pen guns, cane guns, and similar devices.

Under federal law, a machine gun is defined as a firearm that fires more than one bullet for every pull of the trigger. This means that with one trigger pull if the firearm discharges more than one bullet, it is classified as a full-auto or machine gun.

A firearm’s fire rate does not determine whether it is considered a machine gun. Even if a firearm can shoot rapidly, if it only fires one bullet per trigger pull, it is not classified as a machine gun.

Devices like slide-fire stocks, which can simulate full-auto fire by allowing the firearm to move rearward under recoil and then return forward to the stationary trigger finger, do not convert a firearm into a machine gun. These devices only fire one bullet per trigger pull, even though they may create a sporadic full-auto-like effect.

It’s essential to understand the distinction between semiautomatic and fully-automatic firearms. Semiautomatic firearms fire one bullet per trigger pull and are much more common than fully automatic machine guns. Most AR-15-style rifles owned by civilians are semiautomatic and not machine guns. While an AR-15-style rifle can be converted into a machine gun, the vast majority are semiautomatic only.

Assault Machine Gun vs Automatic Machine Gun

The term “assault weapon” does not have a universally agreed-upon definition and is often used in discussions surrounding gun control. It is a term that various individuals and groups have coined to describe certain types of firearms, particularly those with semiautomatic capabilities and features that are perceived as being characteristic of military-style weapons.

However, there is significant debate and controversy over what constitutes an assault weapon. Different jurisdictions may have their definitions and criteria for classifying firearms as assault weapons, often based on specific features such as detachable magazines, pistol grips, flash suppressors, and barrel shrouds.

In the United States, there have been federal and state-level regulations regarding assault weapons. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004, restricted the manufacture and sale of certain semiautomatic firearms with specified features. However, the ban expired, and subsequent attempts to renew or reinstate it at the federal level were unsuccessful.

Many states have enacted assault weapons bans or regulations, which vary in scope and criteria. These laws often restrict the possession, sale, or transfer of firearms that meet specific criteria deemed characteristic of assault weapons.

It is essential to recognize that the term “assault weapon” is politically charged and can evoke strong emotions and opinions on both sides of the gun control debate. Critics of the term argue that it is overly broad, ambiguous, and can unfairly stigmatize certain firearms and gun owners. Proponents of gun control measures often use the term to advocate for restrictions on weapons that they believe pose a heightened risk to public safety, particularly in the context of mass shootings and other violent incidents involving firearms.

Machine Guns and State Law

That’s correct. While machine guns are heavily regulated at the federal level under the National Firearms Act (NFA), individual states also have the authority to impose additional restrictions or outright bans on these firearms.

Some states have prohibited machine gun possession, transfer, or sale altogether, regardless of federal law. Others may allow ownership but subject it to stringent regulations, such as requiring a state-level license or permit, imposing additional taxes or fees, or limiting the types of machine guns that can be owned.

Additionally, as you mentioned, some states have enacted laws that ban certain features commonly associated with assault weapons, which could potentially impact the possession or use of both semiautomatic firearms and fully automatic machine guns. Gun owners must be aware of and comply with the firearms laws of the states they are traveling to or through, as violating these laws can result in serious legal consequences.

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