Yes, You can legally own a machinegun
Unless you live in one of the few states that prohibit machineguns (listed below) or are a convicted felon you can legally own a fully automatic machine gun. In most states, if you qualify to own a handgun, you are qualified to own a machinegun. Machineguns are certainly the most fun and most collectible firearms you can own.
There is no blanket law that prevent private ownership of machineguns. In fact, macihineguns are a very wise and lucrative investment. The reason for this is that in 1986, Congress passed the Firearms Owner’s Protection Act. (Sounds like a good thing, right?) Wrong.
This law banned the manufacture, import, and sale of new machineguns to civilians. Any guns manufactured and registered with BATFE after May of 1986 cannot be sold or possessed by individual citizens. There is, however, over a quarter million existing “pre-May” machineguns that are perfectly legal to purchase. These machine guns are commonly called “transferables.”
So, how can machineguns be a great investment? It’s as simple as supply and demand. The supply of ‘transferable’ machineguns is fixed by the 1986 ban, and the demand by people who want to own and shoot them is steadily increasing. For instance, a transferable MP5 might sell for $15,000 now, they typically sold for $5000 or less ten years ago. Unlike stock, bonds, and mutual funds it’s highly unlikely that it will ever be worthless. In hard times, they may even be worth more. Machine guns are an investment you can cherish, enjoy shooting, and pass on to future generations.
Aren’t these guns dangerous? Well, like any firearm, they can be misused. However, legal machine guns are never misused. As of 1995, there were over 240,000 machine guns registered by the BATFE nationwide. About half are owned by civilians and the other half by government agencies. Since 1934, only two homocides have been linked to legally owned machine gun, and one was committed by a law enforcement officer, as opposed to a civilian (Zawitz, Marianne,Bureau of Justice Statistics, Guns Used in Crime). What that means is that there is essentially no crime committed by individuals owning machine guns. Since these machineguns are already strictly controlled, there has been little or no ‘anti-gun’ pressure on them.
Ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934, individuals buying machineguns have required the same procedure for each machinegun.
1) Federal transfer form with fingerprints and photographs for the background check.
2) One-time transfer tax of $200.
When your form is approved, a Federal stamp in the amount of $200 is attached to your form certifying approval. This form is your ‘permission slip’ to own that specific machinegun.
1. You must be a US citizen over 21
2. You must not have been convicted of a crime
3. You must live in a state and jurisdiction that does not prohibit machineguns.
Getting a Gun Transferred to You
Per the rules setup under the National Firearms Act, machineguns cannot be transferred interstate between individuals. If you find a transferable machinegun in your state, you can have it transferred directly to you on an ATF Form 4. If you buy a machinegun outside of your state, you must utilize a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) who also has a Special Occupational Tax (SOT) registration to first get the machinegun into your state. These dealers are typically referred to as “class 3 dealers.” They normally charge between $100 and $200 to facilitate the transfer process.
Transfers to dealers usually happen very quickly since there is no background check required (approximately 1-2 weeks). There are 3 types of ATF forms that are typically used for machinegun transfers:
Form 3 (tax exempt): FFL/SOT to FFL/SOT
Form 4 (transfer tax required):
to Individual/Corp (within the same state only)
FFL/SOT to Individual (within the same state only) or FFL
Individual to FFL/SOT
Individual to Curio & Relic FFL (for C&R machineguns only)
Form 5 (tax exempt): Individual (deceased) to Heir (within the same state only)
If you buy the machinegun from an ‘individual’ in another state, he would transfer that gun to your dealer in your state on a Form 4. If you buy the machinegun from an FFL/SOT in another state, he would transfer that machinegun to your dealer in your state on a Form 3.
Once the machinegun is in your state, you must complete the Form 4 to get the machinegun transferred from the FFL/SOT to you.
Completing the Form
The Form 4 is a relatively simple two-page form. If you print it from the ATF web site (http://www.atf.treas.gov/forms/5000.htm#firearms) , you must make sure that both pages are on the same sheet of paper. The form must be completed in duplicate. The first section is the information about the “transferee” (you) and the “transferor” (your dealer). The second section is the information about the gun.
There are three sections on the back page:
1) The standard “yes” and “no” questions you have to answer each time you purchase a gun.
2) Section 15 (“Transferee’s Certification”): This is where you state the reason you want the machinegun. Just be honest. Most people buy machineguns for investment, collecting, target shooting, etc.
3) Section 17 (“Law Enforcement Certification”): You should ask your dealer specifically whom you should go to get this section signed. Most local officials don’t want to sign anything they are unfamiliar with, so it’s important to be directed to the correct government agent or office to deal with this form. If you’re lucky you can get your fingerprints and law enforcement certification done in the same day.
If you are filing your Form 4 as a corporation, partnership, LLC, PA or other legal entity besides ‘individual,’ you do not complete Section 17.
The fingerprint cards and photographs are for your FBI background check. This is a standard background check that is done government job applicants, schools teachers, SEC registrants, etc.
What to Send to ATF:
1) Complete Form 4 in duplicate with original ink signatures, not copies.
2) Certification of US Citizenship Form
3) Two FBI-258 Fingerprint Cards
4) Check for $200
Finding the Right Gun
Most transferable machineguns are owned by individuals. Since the ban in 1986 and the high cost of each machinegun, most FFL/SOT holders do not typically have much inventory. Further, all transferable machineguns are at least 22 years old. So buying a transferable machinegun is a lot like buying a used car. Many of the transferable machineguns are offered for sale may not be accurately represented with respect to condition, function, and authenticity. It’s important to deal with reputable collectors and dealers.
Web sites like sturmgewehr.com and subguns.com have been invaluable to the machinegun community. It’s a good idea to watch the Want To Sell (WTS) posts and discussion forums for a while before you decide to make a move on a gun.
Not all machineguns were created equal. Some guns are just better than others and some are more suited for how you like to shoot or collect.
I typically evaluate a gun in three factors:
a. How much do other people want it?
i. There are many famous machineguns like the MP-40 or Thompson that are very sought-after by collectors. The key factors for any collector are condition, authenticity, and uniqueness. For example, the M11 and MP-40 basically do the same thing, but an MP-40 can sell for five times more than an M11.
a. How fun is the gun to shoot?
i. This is a mostly subjective factor. Some shooters prefer subguns to heavy machineguns or assault rifles. Once you determine your category preference, within each category there are performance and other differences between models. For example, an MP-40 is much more smooth and controllable than an M11.
b. How expensive is it to shoot?
i. A 50 cal. machinegun can get very expensive to run. Also, there are a lot of calibers that are now obsolete and using old/expired ammo may malfunction and damage the machinegun.
a. How expensive and/or rare are spare parts?
b. How often do parts break?
i. Some machinegun designs are fundamentally better designed and built than others.
c. How hard is the gun to service?
i. Some guns were designed to be disposable rather than serviced. The resulting design is much more difficult to service. Replacing a barrel on an MP5 is a good example of a difficult-to-service design.
d. Is there a warrantee?
i. Some of the original manufacturers are still in business and will repair, service, and supply parts for their guns.