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What are the laws about machine guns?

Over the decades, Congress has tried to do something to regulate machine guns, that is FULLY automatic civilian-owned weapons.   Here is a recent history of these attempts starting with the 1986 act that passed and was signed into law.

Sponsor: Sen. James McClure [R-ID, 1973-1990]
Jan 3, 1985
Enacted — Signed by the President
May 19, 1986
The law says that machine guns can be possessed if they are registered and manufactured before 1986. The $200 ATF required by the federal government tax has not changed since 1934.   As of November 2006, the national registry of machine guns contained registrations for 391,532 machine guns. In 2006, ATF seized 1,280 unregistered machine guns. (By some estimates the actual number of registered fully auto weapons is nearer to a half million.)

A new semi-automatic AR-15 can cost as little as $450, fully-automatic weapon cost tens of thousands of dollars regardless of their condition. The Weekly Standard writes that the machine guns can cost upwards of $20,000.

The Washington Examiner explains the process of purchasing a fully auto weapon:


Find a licensed dealer: Back in the 1930’s machine guns, big belt-fed machines like those fired in the First World War, could be ordered through the mail. That’s not possible today. Anyone who wants to own a fully-automatic weapon must find a dealer who possesses not only a Federal Firearms License, they have to find a dealer who has gone through additional background checks and who pays increased licensing fees.

“These dealers are referred to as FFL/SOT (special occupational tax) or Class 3 FFL dealers,” Davis explains over the Federalist. “It is a lengthy and burdensome process that requires extensive investigation by ATF.”

Have a clean record: Before buying a fully-automatic weapon, a person must pay a $200-dollar tax and register an application with the federal government. That means filling out a 12-page application, submitting fingerprints, and sending photos to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Are you a felon? Are you or have you ever been committed to a mental institution? Are you a domestic abuser? Then good luck getting approval. Other than a few parking tickets, are you a citizen in good standing? Also, good luck getting approval. A record of civic responsibility isn’t a guarantee of immediate approved. Click here to read the entire application and click here to read the accompanying questionnaire.

Have a lot of patience: Every application apparently varies but the average time seems to be between 9 months and a year. The good folks at the ATF take their time because they make certain that applicants dot their I’s cross their T’s and are considered safe and responsible to own the fully automatic firearm.

Abide by local, state, and federal gun regulations: Assuming one has the record and the patience to pass the background check along with the actual cash to purchase the firearm, that person now finds themselves subject to a host of new regulations.

As the Free Beacon’s Gutowski explains, the ATF registers the new fully-automatic gun owner. They notify local law enforcement of the name and address of the person who owns the firearm. And they strictly regulate the transportation of these weapons. If a civilian wants to cross state lines with their new purchase (say to attend the Big Sandy machine gun shoot in Arizona), they’ll have to apply for permission.

Sponsor: Rep. William Hughes [D-NJ2, 1975-1994]
Mar 6, 1986
Passed House (Senate next)
Apr 10, 1986
Sponsor: Rep. Edward Feighan [D-OH19, 1983-1992]
Mar 5, 1986
Sponsor: Rep. William Hughes [D-NJ2, 1975-1994]
Mar 5, 1986
Sponsor: Rep. Peter Rodino [D-NJ10, 1949-1988]
Aug 1, 1985

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