NFA34 – A Historical Overview In 1934, the United States was experiencing a growth in organized crime activities, as well as a rash of bank robberies, particularly in the Midwest. Criminals such as Al Capone, John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Machinegun” Kelly, and the infamous lovebirds Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were becoming legendary. These men and women were often using fully-automatic weapons to commit their crimes. Events such as the “St. Valentine’ Day Massacre” of February 14, 1929 highlighted the ends to which criminals would go to conduct their business. One of the more popular guns of these criminals was the Thompson Sub-Machinegun, a fully-automatic weapon which fires the .45 ACP round. Clyde Barrow was partial to the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, a .30-06 caliber machinegun fed from a 20-round magazine. In 1929, a Thompson SMG sold for $175, with an extra $25 charged for models with a Cutt’s Compensator installed. The Thompson, or Tommy Gun, could be fed with a standard, 20-round box magazine, or either 50 or 100-round drums. The 50-round drums cost $21 in 1929, with a 100-round version costing $25. In Chicago, the criminal underworld bought many of their guns from a dealer named Peter von Frantzius. Von Frantzius would routinely remove the serial numbers from guns for a fee as small as $2. One of the Tommy Guns used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was bought from von Frantzius’ sporting goods store. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the United States Congress passed the National Firearms Act, correctly known as the Act of June 26, 1934. The goal was to go after organized crime by way of their guns of choice. The Act named several types of firearms, required their registration, and imposed taxes on their manufacture and subsequent transfer. The types of firearms named in the NFA are machineguns, short-barrel rifles, short-barrel shotguns, silencers (suppressors), destructive devices, and a catch-all category known as “Any Other Weapons,” or AOW’s. Many in the NFA community would argue that the National Firearms Act was passed simply as a way of keeping Federal Agents employed and as a way of making money for the U.S. government. It should be noted that crimes prosecuted under the NFA are technically tax crimes, as NFA 34 is actually a tax law. Prior to 9/11, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was a regulatory agency under the Internal Revenue Service. Definitions according to NFA 34 Frequently, people refer to NFA weapons as “Class 3” guns. This is actually a misnomer. The National Firearms Act breaks firearms down into two basic categories: Title I and Title II. Title I guns are the guns with which most people are familiar, rifles, shotguns, and handguns. Title II guns are the aforementioned machineguns, silencers, short-barrel rifles, short-barrel shotguns, destructive devices, and “Any Other Weapons.” The confusion comes from years of misinformation, or lack of information regarding the definitions within NFA 34. Commonly, dealers who buy, sell, and trade NFA Title II weapons are known as “Class 3 Dealers.” “Class 3” actually refers to a tax-payer status of federally licensed firearms dealers, or FFL’s. In order to deal in NFA Title II weapons, an FFL must pay an annual Special Occupancy Tax, or SOT. A Class 1 SOT is for a licensed firearms importer. A licensed manufacturer pays a Class 2 SOT, while a dealer pays a Class 3 SOT. The amount of the tax is mostly based on the class, with an additional factor being the gross annual sales of certain SOT’s. Since people wishing to buy an NFA Title II weapon most often buy them from dealers who are Class 3 SOT’s, they came to be simply known as “Class 3 dealers.” Machineguns are defined by NFA 34 as “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.” It also includes parts kits and individual parts designed exclusively for use in a machine gun, or which allow a person to easily build a machine gun. Machine guns include those which fire fully-automatic as well as those which fire in multiple round bursts, such as an M-16A2. It also includes any parts which can easily be converted into a machine gun. These parts and parts sets are covered by a BATFE policy that once a gun is a machine gun, it is always a machine gun. A machine gun can not legally be retrofitted into a semi-automatic only weapon. In addition to the NFA, there are two other pieces of legislation which govern the manufacture, importation, transfer, and ownership of machine guns. The first was the Gun Control Act of 1968, or GCA 68. This act made the civilian ownership of newly imported machineguns illegal. Dealers could own them for demonstrations to law enforcement agencies, however. Also, when the FFL surrendered their license, they could transfer these guns to their private collections. These guns became known as “Dealer Samples.” The second law was the 1986 Firearms Owner’s Protection Act, or FOPA 86. This law made it illegal to manufacture new machine guns for civilian ownership. It effectively closed the NFA Registry to new machineguns. Since May 1986, there have now been three classes of machine guns, “Fully Transferable,” meaning anyone can own one – these were imported prior to 1968, or manufactured in the U.S. before 1986, “Pre-86 Dealer Samples” – guns formerly known as Dealer Samples, and “Post-86 Dealer Samples” – guns which were imported or manufactured after FOPA 86 was passed. With the advent of FOPA 86 and the closure of the registry, the supply of transferable machine guns has remained at the level it was in 1986, with the loss of any guns destroyed in the meantime, with none added to the list. However, the demand for transferable machine guns has increased. As with all markets, when supply is limited and demand is increased, the price increases. This has caused machine guns which sold for next to nothing in 1986 to be worth as much as a new car. For example, a licensed manufacturer can build a new M-16 for less than $500. However, a 21-year old, transferable M-16 costs $9,000 to $15,000. Thompson SMG’s now sell for $14,000 to $24,000 depending on condition. That’s a big difference from the 1929 price of $175. The next category of NFA Title II weapons are silencers, or, more correctly, suppressors. A silencer is a device which alters or muffles the gunshot of a firearm, or any part or parts designed exclusively to manufacture a silencer. When NFA 34 was written, silencers were readily available through mail order, at costs below $10 each. As the Great Depression was in full swing by 1934, there was concern by wildlife management folks that silencers would be used by poachers. Therefore, silencers were added to NFA 34, in order to control illegal hunting. Would you believe that silencers were invented by the same person who invented the muffler on your car, at the same time, and for the same general purpose, controlling noise pollution? Unfortunately, Hollywood has often demonized an effective safety device. In most of socialist Europe, where guns are often difficult to acquire, silencers are often sold inexpensively, over-the-counter, with as many controls as any other firearms accessory, such as a magazine. The use of silencers is looked upon as a means to protect the hearing of both the shooter and those in their vicinity. Why should the people around us, who aren’t taking part in our sport, have to suffer hearing loss because of us, when there is such an easy way to avoid that damage? The National Firearms Act defines a rifle as a shoulder-fired weapon, which uses a rifled bore to discharge a shot. According to NFA 34, a Title I rifle has a barrel in excess of 16 inches, and an overall length in excess of 26 inches. A short-barrel rifle is a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches, or an overall length less than 26 inches. Likewise, a shotgun is defined as a shoulder-fired, smooth bore firearm with a barrel in excess of 18 inches, and an overall length in excess of 26 inches. A short-barrel shotgun is a shotgun with a barrel shorter than 18 inches, or an overall length less than 26 inches. So, now you’re asking, “Why the differences in required barrel lengths?” Well, when NFA was written and enacted, the barrel lengths were the same, 18 inches. However, there were several manufacturers who were building .22 calibers rifles with 16 inch barrels, and they petitioned the government to change the law. In a moment of logical clarity, the government recognized that .22 caliber rifles were meant as sporting rifles, not as tools of the criminal trade, and changed the law accordingly. Another category of Title II weapons is destructive devices, commonly referred to as DD’s. There are really two types of DD’s: explosive destructive devices, and large-bore destructive devices. Explosive DD’s include explosive, incendiary, or poisonous gas, grenades, bombs, and rockets containing a propellant charge in excess of four ounces, missiles with an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce, mines, and similar devices. So, yes, you can own fragmentation grenades and Hellfire Anti-Tank Guided Missiles; so long as you pay the tax and BATFE approves of it. The second types of DD’s, large-bore devices, include weapons with barrel diameters in excess of one-half inch, except shotguns which BATFE feel have a sporting purpose. In recent memory, BATFE has ruled that shotguns such as the USAS-12, LAW-12 and Street Sweeper are destructive devices, requiring them to have been registered as such. Some other commonly seen destructive devices are M-203 and M-79 grenade launchers, mortars, and breach-loaded cannons. These are all legal to own, at least on the Federal level, as long as taxes are paid. The last category of NFA Title II weapons are known as “Any Other Weapons.” Essentially, this is a catch-all category. They are defined within NFA 34 as: “any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed, or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.” Some frequently encountered AOW’s include pen guns and cane guns. Others you might not be so familiar with include the Heckler & Koch Operational Briefcase for the MP-5K submachine gun, which allows an MP-5K to be fired from inside the briefcase, and the Serbu Super Shorty, which is a smooth-bore handgun built using Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 receivers (Author’s note: My company, Elite Tactical Systems, Inc. also manufactures AOW’s using 870 receivers.). Are you ready for an example of bureaucratic nonsense? North American Arms, a manufacturer of miniature .22 revolvers, built a wallet holster for their mini-revolvers. In 1997, BATFE ruled that since the gun could be concealed on the person and fired from within the holster, they must be registered as an AOW when used in conjunction with the wallet holster. There are also similar holsters on the market for High-Standard Derringers. When not used with the wallets, the guns are Title I weapons. But, even when in close proximity to one of the holsters, the guns are considered AOW’s.