NFA FAQ This thread is intended to be a fairly comprehensive set of answers to common questions about ownership of National Firearms Act regulated firearms. As a long-time poster in this sub-forum, I've seen a lot of the same questions asked repeatedly. I wanted to provide a single thread that could be stickied that would provide answers to those questions. I am a Kentucky-licensed attorney, but you should not regard any of the information in this thread as creating an attorney-client relationship between myself and you, the reader. I know a lot about NFA firearms, and NFA trusts specifically, but I certainly don't know everything. The ATF also changes their positions on things from time to time. If you have additions or changes to information in this FAQ, post them. If you have questions that you think are common that should be included in this FAQ, post those as well. What are Title II firearms? What we think of as “normal” guns, whether they are pistols, rifles or shotguns, are Title I firearms. This refers to the section of federal law that regulates their manufacture and sale. Title II firearms are National Firearms Act firearms, including machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, any other weapons, destructive devices and silencers. (Yes, silencers are “firearms” within the definition of the federal law that regulates them.) Some people refer to these firearms as “NFA” guns, referring to the National Firearms Act of 1934 that regulates them. Other people call them “Class III” firearms, because the type of dealer who can sell them is a Class III FFL. Who is the BATFE? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or ATF) is the federal agency that is tasked with regulating firearms. When you submit your forms to get a tax stamp for a Title II firearm, the BATFE processes the paperwork and issues the stamp. Their NFA branch is in West Virginia. What is NFA? NFA stands for National Firearms Act. It refers to the National Firearms Act of 1934, which instituted a punitive tax for certain firearms: machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, any other weapons and destructive devices. The $200 tax was a lot of money in 1934, and was designed to stop people from owning these firearms. Since the cost of the tax has not increased with inflation, ownership of these types of firearms is once again cost-effective, provided you’re willing to jump through a few hoops. Can I really own a machine gun/silencer/short-barreled rifle/short-barreled shotgun/grenade? Many people are under the mistaken impression that machine guns, silencers, and short barreled rifles and shotguns are illegal. In fact, these items are perfectly legal to own in many states, provided you follow federal registration requirements. The 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) requires registration and a tax for the transfer or construction of these items. The registration is accomplished using certain ATF forms. The most common ones are the Form 1 (for construction of a new NFA item), Form 4 (for the transfer of a new NFA item) and Form 5 (for inheritance of an NFA item from an estate). When the ATF has approved your form, you will receive an actual canceled tax stamp in the mail. Can I own a machine gun? Even for the experienced NFA collector, machine guns may be financially out of reach. They are legal to own by following the NFA registration process, but what makes them different from other NFA items is that because of federal laws passed in 1968 and 1986, no new machine guns can be manufactured or imported. That means there is a fixed number of legally registered machine guns in the United States. Supply and demand makes them very expensive. The cheapest available machine guns at this time are MAC-10 machine pistols at approximately $3000. A transferable M16 is closer to $20,000. Since you cannot manufacture your own machine gun, the only way to get one is to buy one on a Form 4 or inherit one on a Form 5. You might be tempted to become a special type of FFL (federal firearms licensee, or gun dealer) in order to get access to cheaper or newer machine guns. Understand that it is a complicated process to become licensed to sell machine guns, and the ATF does not allow you to do it simply to expand your collection—you must be in the business of buying and selling, or manufacturing, machine guns to get this license. It also requires additional taxes and fees that drive up the cost, as well as extensive record-keeping. In short, beware anyone suggesting that you can own newer or cheaper machine guns. When it comes to fully automatic weapons, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Can I own a silencer (or suppressor)? Many people “in the know” refer to these as suppressors, since they suppress the sound of a firearm, but cannot fully silence the noise of a gun firing. However, federal law refers to them as silencers, and that was the name used by their inventor, Hiram Maxim (who also invented the car muffler). It is legal to manufacture new silencers, so you can construct one after submitting a Form 1 to the ATF, or you can buy or inherit one. Modern silencers are much more effective than the original Maxim silencers. Unless you own a machine shop, it makes sense for most people to buy a silencer. Because the silencer's serial number must be submitted on the Form 4 to the ATF, the normal process is to go to a dealer that sells silencers and purchase the silencer. The dealer retains the silencer while you're waiting on ATF approval. Once you receive your tax stamp in the mail, you can pick up your new toy. Note that the National Firearms Act uses the term “firearm” in a narrow legal sense to refer to items it covers, and that includes silencers. It make seem weird to call a silencer a firearm, but this specific law does. Can I own a short-barreled rifle or shotgun (SBR and SBS)? Under federal law, rifles must have a barrel of at least 16 inches. Shotguns must have a barrel of at least 18 inches. By applying for a tax stamp, you can chop your shotgun or rifle barrel as short as you like. Possibly the most popular rifle for registering as an SBR these days is the AR15. Because the lower receiver is the firearm, one can register an AR15 as a short-barreled rifle and then change out uppers to multiple configurations. The Form 1 requires you to enter a length and caliber. That doesn't mean you're stuck with that configuration. Once your firearm is registered as a short-barreled rifle, your barrel can be any length or caliber. The ATF wants you to update them if you change configurations “permanently,” but as long as you can swap back to the “original” upper, the ATF doesn't need to know if you swap out for a different upper occasionally. This provides you with the ability to have barrel lengths ranging from as little as 4 inches to 14.5 inches, in calibers from 9mm to 5.56 and all the way up to .50 Beowulf with just one tax stamp. You just have to make sure that your short barreled uppers only ever get installed on a lower receiver registered as a short-barreled rifle or a pistol-configured lower receiver. Can I own an Any Other Weapon (AOW)? Another category of NFA items is the Any Other Weapon. This is something of a catch-all category. Things like pen guns and cane guns fall into this category. The main thing most collectors might want to register as an AOW is a smooth-bore pistol. Shotguns with stocks (or that have EVER had a stock installed) can be made into short-barreled shotguns. But virgin shotgun receivers can be built with a pistol grip only and short barrel. These are registered as Any Other Weapons. Although there is some disagreement on the matter, the ATF also takes the position that a handgun with a vertical forward grip must be registered as an AOW. The AOW has one final difference from other categories of NFA items. Manufacturing or transferring all other NFA items requires a $200 tax. For the AOW, manufacturing is still a $200 tax, but a transfer is only a $5 tax. Can I own a destructive device? The destructive devices category of NFA firearms includes an interesting variety of firearms and weapons. Weapons with a bore larger than half an inch are destructive devices, except for shotguns which the government has deemed “suitable for sporting purposes.” That means that most 12-gauge shotguns are not destructive devices, since they are suitable for sporting purposes, but certain ones are. The “Street Sweeper” is a particular 12-gauge revolving shotgun created for riot control purposes, that was deemed a destructive device. Rifles can also be destructive devices, such as the Lahti 20mm anti-tank rifle, which must be registered. Explosives are also destructive devices. Grenades, mines, bombs, rockets and missiles are all destructive devices, which can be legally owned if the tax stamp is paid. However, a separate $200 tax stamp must be paid for each one, and once you blow it up, that $200 is gone forever. One of the most common destructive devices is the 40mm grenade launcher, whether stand-alone or in M203 configuration for use under the barrel of an M16 or AR15. These launchers are a destructive device requiring a $200 tax stamp, as are any explosive rounds for them. However, non-explosive 40mm rounds are not destructive devices, meaning you can own and fire all the “chalk” rounds you want for your registered 40mm launcher without paying additional taxes. Any device that was never designed to be used as a weapon is not normally a destructive device, so 37mm “flare” launchers are not destructive devices and are a common alternative to 40mm launchers. However, be aware that if you create any “anti-personnel” type rounds for your 37mm, it becomes a destructive device. You may only use flare, smoke and chalk rounds if you intend for it to remain a “non-firearm.” Can I get approved for a tax stamp? As long as you are not a prohibited person, you'll be approved. Which is to say, if you can buy a regular (Title I) firearm at a dealer with no hiccups, then you're good to go. There's nothing particularly special about the ATF's approval process for tax stamp applications—it just takes longer, and for individuals, requires fingerprinting. But everyone who can legally own a firearm can legally own an NFA firearm. Of course, what federal law allows you to own may differ from what your state's laws allow, so if you live in a state that isn't NFA friendly, you will be denied a tax stamp. But you should be doing that research before you ever submit your tax stamp application. What is an NFA trust/gun trust? A trust is a traditional estate planning document. The revocable living trust is a trust which can be revoked or changed as long as the creator is still alive. When people refer to an NFA trust or gun trust, they are referring to a revocable living trust which is being used to own particular types of firearms. By using a trust, some of the more thorny problems related to ownership of Title II firearms can be avoided. What is a Form 1? The ATF’s Form 1 is the form that you must fill out if you want to make or manufacture a new Title II firearm. The registry is closed for machine guns, but all other types of Title II firearms can be legally manufactured by individuals. The tooling and machines required to make an effective suppressor may not be available to everyone, but many people manufacture their own short-barreled rifles by cutting down the barrel or installing a shorter barrel. If you want to put a barrel of less than 16 inches on your AR15, for instance, you will need to file a Form 1 with the ATF. What is a Form 3? The ATF’s Form 3 is a form used to transfer a Title II firearm from one Class III dealer to another, usually from outside of the state. If you buy a Title II firearm from outside Kentucky, it will be transferred to your dealer on a Form 3. What is a Form 4? The ATF’s Form 4 is the form you must fill out to buy a Title II firearm. If you buy a silencer from your Class III dealer, you’ll fill out the Form 4. Once the ATF approves your application, you’ll receive the Form 4 back with a cancelled tax stamp on it, and then you can pick up your silencer from the dealer. What is a Form 5? The ATF’s Form 5 is used for the tax-free transfer of Title II firearms from a deceased person’s estate to their heirs. A Form 5 will be used to transfer the Title II firearms out of your trust once you die. What is Form 5320.20? You may not cross state lines with certain Title II firearms without BATFE approval. This the form you submit to them for approval. It can be sent by fax, and comes back much more quickly than the other ATF forms listed. Silencers do not need an approved Form 5320.20 before you cross state lines. Every other type of Title II firearm requires this form. If you plan to shoot just across the border all the time, you can get approval from the ATF for a year-long period. Just submit the 5320.20 once a year. This form must also be submitted if you’re moving out of state. What is a CLEO? CLEO stands for chief law enforcement official. It is the person in your area who can sign off on your individual ownership of Title II firearms. In many areas, the CLEO refuses to sign off on Form 1s or Form 4s. Some of them just don’t like the idea of civilians owning these highly regulated firearms. Others think that signing the forms will open them up to liability if something happens with the firearms. (This is not true, by the way.) Regardless, the CLEO is the person who often stands in the way of you acquiring Title II firearms. By using a trust to acquire Title II firearms, you bypass the requirement of CLEO sign-off. This isn’t a “loophole.” It’s just how trusts work under federal law. What is a Class III/Class 3 dealer? In order to sell regular (Title I) firearms, you must have a federal firearms license (FFL). An FFL (federal firearms licensee) who sells Title II firearms must pay an additional Special Occupational Tax (SOT). To deal in NFA or Title II firearms, that SOT is a Class 3. (To make Title II firearms, the dealer must be a Class 2 SOT.) In shorthand, dealers in Title II firearms are often called Class III dealers. If you want to own Title II firearms, you’ll probably quickly become familiar with your local Class III dealer. There are numerous such dealers across Kentucky. What fees do I have to pay to own Title II firearms? There is no “license” to own Title II firearms. If you can own a regular firearm, you can own a Title II firearm. Each time you buy or make a Title II firearm, you must pay the BATFE a $200 tax (except if you’re transferring an AOW, which is a mere $5 tax). Once the tax is paid, you do not have to pay any yearly fees or any other fees. What is a tax stamp? A tax stamp is an actual stamp that proves that you have paid the $200 tax to the BATFE in order to legally own a Title II firearm. It will be affixed to your Form 1 or Form 4 and “cancelled.” It’s important to keep it in a safe place. What should I do with my tax stamp? Your tax stamp is the proof that you have paid the required tax to the BATFE. It is very valuable document, and you should keep it in a safety deposit box or fire safe. Make a copy to keep with your firearm, just in case a law enforcement official ever wants to see it. If you lose your tax stamp, you could end up in real trouble. The BATFE is supposed to keep a registry of all Title II firearms and their current owners, but the registry has been proven to be incomplete and out-of-date. It’s important to keep your own proof that you legally own your Title II firearms.