Machine guns, 50-caliber weapons, and other military-grade firearms have no place in our homes, on our gun ranges, or on our hunting grounds. These destructive, deadly weapons of war can wreak havoc with a single pull of the trigger, and the regulation and prohibition of machine guns and 50-caliber weapons are essential steps toward protecting the public.

Background

Machine guns are fully automatic firearms that continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is depressed and ammunition is available. This continuous fire feature makes machine guns hazardous to the general public and appropriate for use only in the military. Federal law prohibits the possession of newly manufactured machine guns, but permits the transfer of machine guns lawfully owned prior to May 19, 1986 (if the transfer is approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives).

Fifty caliber rifles are among the most destructive weapons that may be manufactured and made legally available to civilians in the United States. Fifty caliber rifles are military firearms, used by armed forces across the globe, that combine long range, accuracy, and massive firepower.1 A 50 caliber rifle can hit a target accurately from distances of 1,000 to 2,000 yards, depending on the skill of the shooter, and can reach targets at an even longer range, sacrificing accuracy.2 Designed for use in urban combat situations, these weapons can penetrate structures and destroy or disable light armored vehicles, radar dishes, helicopters, stationary and taxiing airplanes, and other “high-value” military targets.3

Despite the Federal Ban, Machine Guns are Still in Circulation

Although federal law prohibits the possession of newly manufactured machine guns, it allows the transfer of machine guns lawfully owned prior to May 19, 1986, if the transfer is approved by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). As a result, a substantial number of machine guns are still in circulation. As of November 2006, the national registry of machine guns contained registrations for 391,532 machine guns.4 In 2006, ATF seized 1,280 unregistered machine guns.5

Bump Stocks and Trigger Cranks

Additionally, the gun industry has marketed devices such as bump-fire (or bump stock) and trigger crank devices that attach to a firearm and are designed to accelerate the weapon’s rate of fire to rates approaching automatic machine gun fire. These devices skirt the limits of federal law because the federal definition of “machine gun” only applies to weapons that automatically fire multiple rounds with “a single function of the trigger.” Bump-fire devices replace the weapon’s standard shoulder stock and allow the weapon to smoothly slide (or “bump”) back and forth very rapidly between the shooter’s shoulder and trigger finger. By harnessing the weapon’s recoil or kickback, the bump stock causes the trigger to be engaged many times faster than a human could otherwise fire. Trigger cranks attach to a firearm’s trigger guard and similarly enable a shooter to repeatedly pull the trigger in very rapid succession by simply rotating the crank. These devices are marketed as “simulating” automatic fire and are a significant danger to the public. In October 2017, a gunman in Las Vegas used multiple bump fire devices to convert semi-automatic rifles into weapons that fired 9 shots per second. He used those weapons to carry out the deadliest mass shooting attack in modern history. Unfortunately, these devices are currently legal in most states.

50 Caliber Rifles Are Largely Unregulated and Proliferating

Despite their deadly power, or perhaps because of it, 50 caliber rifles are proliferating on the civilian market. Because 50 caliber rifles are considered long guns, they are subject to fewer regulations than handguns.6 In fact, under federal law and the laws of nearly all states, any 18-year-old who passes a background check can buy a 50 caliber rifle.7 In addition, because federal law and the laws of most states do not require private sellers to conduct background checks, criminals can easily obtain 50 caliber rifles at gun shows and elsewhere.

Federal law enforcement officials have identified cases of criminal use of 50 caliber rifles “with a nexus to terrorism, outlaw motorcycle gangs, international and domestic drug trafficking, and violent crime.”8 Fifty caliber rifles sold in the United States are also one of the “guns of choice” of Mexican drug cartels, and have been used “to assassinate Mexican police and other government officials traveling in armored vehicles.”9

The destructive power of the 50 caliber rifle can be magnified by the use of certain types of ammunition that are legal under federal law (although banned in some states). In addition to the standard “ball” round of 50 caliber ammunition, armor-piercing,10 incendiary, and combination armor-piercing and incendiary ammunition for 50 caliber rifles can significantly enhance their destructive capacity,11 particularly against chemical and industrial facilities12 and civil aviation targets.13

Police and the Public Support Banning 50 Caliber Rifles

A 2007 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommended that Congress ban 50 caliber sniper rifles.14 Additionally, 85% of Americans support laws restricting the sale of 50 caliber rifles.15

Summary of Federal Law

Federal legislation to regulate or ban 50 caliber rifles has been introduced several times since 1999, but these efforts have been unsuccessful–no federal law regulates these guns.

Federal Definition of a Machine Gun

For purposes of federal law, a machine gun is defined as:

[A]ny weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manually reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.16

Federal Machine Gun Laws Allow Possession of Pre-1986 Models

The federal government first acted to regulate machine guns with the National Firearms Act of 1934. This law imposed a special tax on machine guns that was designed to curtail their sale and possession, and also required registration of machine guns. Later, Congress enacted a stricter law — The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 — banning the possession and transfer of new machine guns. However, this law exempts machine guns manufactured prior to May 19, 1986, as well as machine guns possessed by or manufactured for governmental entities.

The relevant features of both laws are summarized below.

The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986

On May 19, 1986, as part of the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA), Congress banned the transfer and possession of machine guns with two exceptions, described below.17

Exceptions to the Federal Machine Gun Ban

The first exception to the federal machine gun ban is that machine guns lawfully possessed prior to May 19, 1986 may continue to be possessed and transferred, provided they are registered in accordance with requirements of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).18 The second exception is that machine guns may be transferred to or by, or possessed by or under the authority of, the federal government or a state, or a department, agency, or political subdivision thereof.19

As a result of FOPA, a person may not make, manufacture, or import a machine gun unless it is for a government entity.20 (Although there is no explicit ban on manufacturing machine guns, FOPA’s ban on possession of newly manufactured machine guns makes it impossible to manufacture a machine gun lawfully, unless it is specifically intended for a governmental entity.) Unregistered machine guns are contraband, and there is no way to register a previously unregistered machine gun.21

Machine Gun Manufacturers, Importers, and Dealers Must Be Registered

Under FOPA, each person or entity engaged in business as an importer, manufacturer, or dealer of machine guns must register with ATF as a Class 1, 2, or 3 licensee, respectively.22 Any importer, manufacturer, or dealer of machine guns must pay a “special occupational tax” for each place of business of $1,000 a year.23

As a result of FOPA, machine guns may only be imported by a registered importer, and only if they are being imported for sale or distribution to a federal or state agency or political subdivision thereof, or for use by a registered dealer as a sales sample.24 The earlier federal law addressing machine guns, the National Firearms Act of 1934, requires anyone importing a machine gun to first obtain authorization from, and register the machine gun with, ATF.25 It is unlawful for any person to receive or possess a machine gun that was imported in violation of the NFA.26

Similarly, as a result of FOPA, machine guns may only be manufactured by a registered manufacturer, and only if they are being manufactured for sale or distribution to a federal, state, or local agency, for use by a registered dealer as a sales sample, or for exportation.27 The National Firearms Act of 1934 also requires anyone manufacturing a machine gun to register it with ATF.28

Under FOPA, applications to transfer and register machine guns manufactured or imported after May 19, 1986 to a registered machine gun dealer as sales samples will be approved only if the manufacturer or importer establishes by specific information:

  • The expected governmental customers who would require a demonstration of the weapon;
  • The availability of the machine gun to fill subsequent orders;
  • A need for a particular model or interest in seeing a demonstration of a particular weapon, as expressed in letters from governmental entities; and
  • The dealer’s need for the quantity of samples sought to be transferred (if more than one).29

The exportation of machine guns is also regulated.30 Where ATF has issued a permit to export a machine gun, the exporter must furnish proof of the exportation of the machine gun within six months from issuance of the permit.31

“Makers” of Machine Guns Must Be Registered and Pay a Tax

Under the federal machine gun laws, the term “make” includes manufacturing (by someone other than by a manufacturer registered under the National Firearms Act of 1934), putting together, altering, any combination of these, or otherwise producing a machine gun.32 The National Firearms Act of 1934 requires anyone making a machine gun to register it with ATF.33 It is unlawful for any person to make a machine gun, or receive or possess a machine gun that was made, in violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934.34

As a result of FOPA,35 applications to make and register machine guns made on or after May 19, 1986 will be approved only if it is established by specific information that the machine gun is particularly suitable for use by federal, state or local governmental entities and that the making of the weapon is at the request and on behalf of such an entity.36

A person making a machine gun must pay a $200 tax for each machine gun made.37 However, ATF may make exceptions to this tax in certain circumstances.38

National Firearms Act of 1934

The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) taxes the making and transfer of machine guns and certain other weapons. It also imposes an occupational tax on persons and entities that are in the business of importing, manufacturing and dealing in those weapons. (The NFA distinguishes between “making” a weapon, and “manufacturing” a weapon. Only a registered NFA manufacturer can “manufacture” a machine gun; other persons who construct machine guns are “making” them, according to the NFA.39 As detailed below, the law also requires the registration of all machine guns and machine gun transfers, requires that machine guns have serial numbers, regulates the transportation of machine guns, provides for record-keeping by the ATF, and provides for seizure of unregistered machine guns.

$200 Machine Gun Tax

While the NFA was enacted by Congress as an exercise of its authority to tax, the law also served to curtail transactions in machine guns and certain other weapons.40 Congress found that these firearms jeopardize the public because of their frequent use in crime.41 The $200 tax on the making or transfer of these weapons was considered quite severe at the time, and adequate to discourage or eliminate transfers of machine guns.42 The $200 tax has not changed since 1934.

Central Registry of Machine Guns

The NFA requires anyone manufacturing, making, importing, or transferring a machine gun (or certain other weapons also regulated by the NFA) to register it with the Secretary of the Treasury.43 The NFA then requires the Secretary to maintain a central registry of all of these weapons that are “not in the possession or under the control of the United States,”44 meaning that the central registry includes machine guns owned by state or local entities, as well as those legally owned by private persons.

The Secretary has delegated the responsibility for maintaining this registry to the National Firearms Act Branch of the ATF.45 The registry is known as the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.46 For each registered machine gun, the ATF’s registry includes:

  • An identification of the machine gun, including serial number; name and address of the manufacturer, maker, or importer, if known; model; caliber, gauge or size; and any other identifying marks on the firearm;
  • The date of registration; and
  • The identification and address of the person entitled to possess the machine gun.47

A person possessing a machine gun must retain proof of registration, which shall be made available to ATF upon request.48

In 2007, the Office of the Inspector General issued a report finding that management and technical deficiencies have created errors in the machine gun registry and limited ATF’s ability to adequately address those errors. ATF staff has not processed applications or entered database information uniformly, causing errors in records, reports, and queries, as well as inconsistent decisions on NFA weapons registration and transfer applications. Further, ATF was not timely in correcting errors and discrepancies in the registry after problems were identified by ATF investigators during compliance inspections of federal firearms licensees.49

Machine Gun Transfers Must Be Registered

With limited exceptions, the NFA requires anyone transferring a machine gun to register it with ATF. (The NFA put this responsibility, along with the $200 tax discussed below, on the transferor, rather than the transferee, in an effort to deter all transfers of machine guns.50) The term “transfer” includes selling, assigning, pledging, leasing, loaning, giving away, or otherwise disposing of the machine gun.51 In order to register a machine gun for transfer, a transferor must get authorization from ATF.52

ATF may not deny a transfer of a previously registered machine gun unless: (1) a federally licensed manufacturer, importer, dealer or collector is transferring a machine gun to an unlicensed person;53 or (2) the transfer, receipt or possession of the machine gun would place the transferee in violation of federal, state or local law.54 As a result, ATF regulations require a law enforcement officer to certify that the receipt and possession of the firearm will not place the transferee in violation of state or local law.55 Note that federal law generally prohibits transfers of all firearms across state lines unless the transferee is a federally licensed manufacturer, importer, dealer or collector, so ATF will also generally not approve interstate transfers.56

Due to a 1968 change in the law, it is illegal for any federally licensed manufacturer, importer, dealer or collector to sell or deliver a machine gun, except as specifically authorized by the Attorney General “consistent with public safety and necessity.” This provision does not apply if the recipient is another federally licensed manufacturer, importer, dealer, collector, or research organization designated by the Attorney General.57 The Attorney General has delegated enforcement of this provision to ATF, which requires that an entity selling or delivering a machine gun to a member of the public first obtain from the recipient a sworn statement providing: (1) the reasons why there is a reasonable necessity for such person to acquire the machine gun, and (2) that such person’s receipt or possession of the machine gun would be consistent with public safety.58

It is unlawful to take possession of a machine gun unless ATF has approved the transfer and registration of the firearm to the new possessor.59 Note that the NFA also requires the transferor of a machine gun to pay a $200 tax for each transfer.60 ATF may make exceptions to this tax in certain circumstances.61

Transportation of Machine Guns

It is illegal for anyone other than a federally licensed manufacturer, importer, dealer or collector62 to transport a machine gun in interstate or foreign commerce except as specifically authorized by the Attorney General, through ATF, consistent with public safety and necessity.63 It is also illegal to transport, deliver, or receive a machine gun in interstate commerce that has not been registered in accordance with the NFA.64

Machine Guns Must Have Identifying Marks

The NFA requires anyone manufacturing, importing or making a machine gun to identify it by:

  • A serial number which may not be readily removed, obliterated or altered;
  • The name of the manufacturer, importer or maker; and
  • Any other identification as the secretary by regulation has prescribed.65

A person who possesses a machine gun that lacks this information must identify it with a serial number and other information as ATF prescribes.66

It is unlawful for any person to receive or own a machine gun that is not identified by a serial number as required by the NFA or that has the serial number or other identification required by the NFA obliterated, removed, changed or altered.67

Record-Keeping and Reporting Regulations

The NFA gives ATF authority to prescribe regulations requiring importers, manufacturers and dealers to keep records of the importation, manufacture, making, receipt, sale or other disposition of machine guns.68 Whenever any machine gun is stolen or lost, the person losing possession must immediately upon discovery of the theft or loss make a report to ATF.69 The NFA prohibits knowingly making or causing to make a false entry in any application, return, or record required by the NFA.70

The NFA prohibits using information obtained from an application, registration or records required to be submitted or retained by a natural person to comply with the NFA as evidence against the person in a criminal proceeding for a violation of law prior to or simultaneous with the application, registration, or records.71 However, this information may be used in a prosecution for furnishing false information.72

ATF officers are authorized to enter during business hours the premises and storage rooms of any manufacturer, importer, or dealer of machine guns, to examine any books, papers, or records required to be kept by the NFA or implementing regulations, as well as any machine guns kept by such manufacturer, importer or dealer on such premises.73 ATF may also require the production, of any books, papers, or records necessary to determine the observance of these laws.74

Seizure of Unregistered Machine Guns

Any machine gun involved in a violation of the NFA is subject to seizure and forfeiture. Forfeited machine guns cannot be sold at public sale, but may be destroyed or transferred within the federal government, or to a state or local government.75

Summary of State Law

Certain states have taken steps to increase security regarding the use of 50 caliber weapons. California and the District of Columbia ban 50 caliber rifles, while Connecticut bans a single model of 50 caliber rifle. Maryland imposes various regulations on transfers of 50 caliber rifles. Despite the risks inherent in the use of 50 caliber handguns, no state bans 50 caliber handguns as of yet.76

For laws banning fifty caliber cartridges, see our summary on Ammunition Regulation.

California 50 caliber Ban

Prohibited Activities: California’s 50 caliber ban prohibits a wide range of activities. It applies to manufacture, possession, distribution, and importation of 50 caliber rifles, as well as sale, offering for sale, and transfer.77

Definition of Banned WeaponCalifornia’s ban on 50 caliber rifles defines the banned weapons based on the type of cartridge they are capable of firing. California’s ban prohibits “50 caliber BMG rifles,” which are defined as any “center fire rifle that can fire a .50 BMG cartridge.” A BMG cartridge is then defined in detail based on specific length and diameter.78

Grandfathering: The California law provides that in order to retain possession of a 50 caliber rifle, any person who lawfully possessed such a weapon prior to January 1, 2005 must have registered it no later than April 30, 2006.79 See our summary on the Registration for features of comprehensive registration laws.

Washington D.C. 50 caliber Ban

The District of Columbia deems .50 BMG rifles unregisterable, thereby prohibiting the possession, sale or other transfer of these firearms.80 The District does not allow the continued possession of such rifles that were possessed prior to the ban’s enactment.

Connecticut Ban on One 50 caliber Model

Connecticut bans the possession, distribution, importation, transportation, and keeping or offering for sale of the “Barrett Light-Fifty model 82A1,” which is included in the state’s definition of assault weapon.81 Connecticut required the registration of assault weapons that were owned prior to the ban’s enactment.82

Maryland 50 caliber Regulations

Maryland is the only other state that in some manner regulates 50 caliber rifles. The state includes the “Barrett light .50 cal. semi-auto” in the list of assault weapons defined as “regulated firearms.” Transfers of regulated firearms in Maryland are subject to enhanced background checks, minimum age restrictions and waiting periods. Moreover, firearms dealers and private or secondary market sellers must comply with additional regulations when transferring a regulated firearm, and purchasers are limited to the purchase of one regulated firearm per month.83

SELECTED LOCAL LAW

San Francisco 50 caliber Ban

An ordinance adopted by the City and County of San Francisco, California, prohibits the sale or transfer of any “50 caliber firearm or 50 caliber cartridge.” The city defines “50 caliber firearm” as any firearm capable of firing a center-fire 50 caliber cartridge, so it includes 50 caliber handguns as well as rifles. The ordinance has been superseded by state law with respect to 50 caliber rifles, but it is still effective with respect to 50 caliber handguns and cartridges.84 

Key Legislative Elements

The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.

  • Ban applies to 50 caliber rifles (California, District of Columbia), 50 caliber handguns, and 50 caliber cartridges (San Francisco)
  • Prohibited activities include possession, sale, purchase, transfer, loan, pledge, transportation, distribution, importation, and manufacture of 50 caliber rifles (California bans manufacture, possession, distribution, importation, sale, offering for sale, and transfer)
  • Pre-ban weapons are not grandfathered and instead are to be rendered inoperable or removed from the jurisdiction (District of Columbia)
  • Alternatively, if pre-ban firearms are grandfathered, there is a registration mechanism for grandfathered firearms, with strict limits on transferability, use and storage of pre-ban weapons85 (California)
Notes
  1. Violence Policy Center, Voting From the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, Other Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals with 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles 7-12 (Oct. 2001), at http://www.vpc.org/graphics/rooftop.pdf. ⤴︎
  2. Id. at 8. ⤴︎
  3. Violence Policy Center, Clear and Present Danger: National Security Experts Warn About the Danger of Unrestricted Sales of 50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles to Civilians (July 2005), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/50danger.pdf. ⤴︎
  4. Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-006, June 2007, available at: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/reports/ATF/e0706/back.htm. For more information about what constitutes a “machine gun,” see Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Dept. of Justice, National Firearms Act Handbook 9-15, June 2007. ⤴︎
  5. Id. ⤴︎
  6. Id. at 5; Violence Policy Center, One Shot, One Kill: Civilian Sales of Military Sniper Rifles 41-42 (May 1999), at http://www.vpc.org/graphics/snipcov2.pdfVoting from the Rooftopssupra note 1, at 62-68. Note that while most of the data regarding 50 caliber weapons relates to rifles (which are regulated as long guns), the industry also has introduced 50 caliber handguns. Smith & Wesson, for example, manufactures a handgun that can fire a 50 caliber round and that may be capable of penetrating the highest grade of concealable body armor typically worn by law enforcement officers. Violence Policy Center, Vest Buster: The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum – The Gun Industry’s Latest Challenge to Law Enforcement Body Armor 19 (June 2004), at http://www.vpc.org/graphics/S&W500%20final.pdf. ⤴︎
  7. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (c)(1). By contrast, only adults age 21 or older may buy a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(1), (3), (5). ⤴︎
  8. Office of Special Investigations, U.S. General Accounting Office, Weaponry: Availability of .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles 6-7 (June 30, 1999), at http://www.gao.gov/assets/90/88915.pdf. See also Violence Policy Center, Criminal Use of the 50 Caliber Sniper Rifle Fact Sheet (2013), at http://www.vpc.org/snipercrime.htm (last visited July 8, 2013). ⤴︎
  9. Violence Policy Center, Iron River: Gun Violence and Illegal Firearms Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico Border 20 (Apr. 2009), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/ironriver.pdfSee Colby Goodman & Michel Marizco, U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico: New Data and Insights Illuminate Key Trends and Challengesin Shared Responsibility: U.S.-Mexico Policy Options for Confronting Organized Crime 187 (Eric L. Olson, David A. Shirk & Andrew Selee eds., 2010), at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Shared%20Responsibility%2012.22.10.pdf. ⤴︎
  10. For additional information on armor-piercing ammunition, see the section on Dangerous Ammunition. ⤴︎
  11. Voting From the Rooftopssupra note 1, at 12-20. ⤴︎
  12. See generally Violence Policy Center, Sitting Ducks: The Threat to the Chemical and Refinery Industry from 50 caliber Sniper Rifles (Aug. 2002), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/duckcont.htm. ⤴︎
  13. See generally Violence Policy Center, Just Like Bird Hunting: The Threat to Civil Aviation From 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles (Jan. 2003), at http://www.vpc.org/graphics/birdhuntingstudy.PDF. ⤴︎
  14. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Taking a Stand: Reducing Gun Violence in Our Communities 27 (Sept. 2007), at https://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=%2Fs0LiOkJK5Q%3D&tabid=87. ⤴︎
  15. Tom W. Smith, National Opinion Research Center (NORC)/University of Chicago, Public Attitudes Towards the Regulation of Firearms 3 (Mar. 2007) (discussing the results of the “2006 General Social Survey” NORC/University of Chicago), at http://www.icpgv.org/pdf/NORCPoll.pdf. ⤴︎
  16. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(23); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. See also 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). ⤴︎
  17. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o). ⤴︎
  18. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o)(2)(B). See also 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d); 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.36, 479.105. ⤴︎
  19. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o)(2)(A); 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.36, 479.105. ⤴︎
  20. 27 C.F.R. § 479.105. ⤴︎
  21. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Dept. of Justice, National Firearms Act Handbook 25, June 2007. State and local police organizations may register machine guns acquired through seizure, forfeiture, or abandonment. Id. at 23. ⤴︎
  22. 26 U.S.C. § 5802; 27 C.F.R. § 479.31 et seq. An “importer” is any person who is engaged in the business of importing or bringing firearms into the United States. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(l). A “manufacturer” is any person who is engaged in the business of manufacturing machine guns. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(m). A “dealer” is any person, not a manufacturer or importer, who is engaged in the business of selling, renting, leasing, or loaning machine guns and includes pawnbrokers who accept machine guns as collateral for loans. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(k). ⤴︎
  23. 26 U.S.C. § 5801; 27 C.F.R. § 479.31 et seq. If the importer’s or manufacturer’s gross receipts per taxable period are less than $500,000, this tax may be reduced to $500. It is illegal to engage in business as an importer, manufacturer, or dealer of machine guns without having paid this tax or registered with ATF. 26 U.S.C. § 5861(a). ⤴︎
  24. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); 27 C.F.R. § 479.105(c). With respect to machine guns, the more lenient provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934 regarding importation were superseded by the FOPA. See 26 U.S.C. § 5844. ⤴︎
  25. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(b). The procedure for getting ATF authorization for the importation of a machine gun and for registering a newly imported machine gun is set forth at 27 C.F.R. § 479.112. ⤴︎
  26. 26 U.S.C. § 5861(k). ⤴︎
  27. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); 27 C.F.R. § 479.105(c). ⤴︎
  28. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(b). A manufacturer of a machine gun may register it by notifying ATF of the manufacture as ATF regulations prescribe. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(c). The procedure for obtaining authorization from ATF for the manufacturer of a machine gun and for registering a newly manufactured machine gun are available at 27 C.F.R. § 479.103. ⤴︎
  29. 27 C.F.R. § 479.105(d). ⤴︎
  30. See 27 C.F.R. §§ 479.110 et seq., 479.193. ⤴︎
  31. 27 C.F.R. § 479.118. ⤴︎
  32. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(i); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. ⤴︎
  33. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(b). A maker of a machine gun may register it by obtaining authorization from ATF prior to making it in accordance with ATF regulations. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(c). The procedure for obtaining authorization from ATF for the making of a machine gun and for registering a newly made machine gun are available at 26 U.S.C. § 5822; 27 C.F.R. § 479.62 et seq. ⤴︎
  34. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. ⤴︎
  35. 18 U.S.C. § 922(o). ⤴︎
  36. 27 C.F.R. § 479.105(e). ⤴︎
  37. 26 U.S.C. § 5821; 27 C.F.R. § 479.61. ⤴︎
  38. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5851-5853. ⤴︎
  39. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(i); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. ⤴︎
  40. National Firearms Act Handbook, supra note 21, at 1. ⤴︎
  41. Id. ⤴︎
  42. Id. ⤴︎
  43. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(b). ⤴︎
  44. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(a). ⤴︎
  45. As part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, ATF was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice, effective January 24, 2003. National Firearms Act Handbook, supra note 21, at 3. ⤴︎
  46. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Brochure of the National Firearms Act Branchavailable at http://www.atf.gov/pub/nfab/. ⤴︎
  47. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(a). See also 27 C.F.R. §§ 479.84, 479.101, 479.105. ⤴︎
  48. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(e); 27 C.F.R. § 479.101(e). ⤴︎
  49. Office of the Inspector General, US Department of Justice, Semiannual Report to Congress: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives, April 1, 2007-September 30, 2007, available at: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/semiannual/0711/atf.htm. ⤴︎
  50. National Firearms Act Handbook, supra note 21, at 1. ⤴︎
  51. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(j); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. ⤴︎
  52. 26 U.S.C. § 5841(b). The procedure for getting authorization from ATF and registering a transferred machine gun is set forth at 26 U.S.C. § 5812(a); 27 C.F.R. § 479.84 et seq. ⤴︎
  53. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(4). ⤴︎
  54. 26 U.S.C. § 5812(a). ⤴︎
  55. 27 C.F.R. § 479.85. ⤴︎
  56. 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3), (5), (b)(3); National Firearms Act Handbook, supra note 21, at 55. ⤴︎
  57. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(4). ⤴︎
  58. 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.98, 478.145. ⤴︎
  59. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5812(b), 5841(c). It is also unlawful to transfer a machine gun in violation of the NFA, or to receive or possess a machine gun that is not registered in compliance with the NFA, or that was transferred to the person in violation of the NFA. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. ⤴︎
  60. 26 U.S.C. § 5811. ⤴︎
  61. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5851-5853. As previously noted, taxable “transfers” include selling, assigning, pledging, leasing, loaning, giving away, or otherwise disposing of the machine gun. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(j); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. However, when a machine gun is being transferred from the estate of a deceased person who lawfully possessed it to the person’s lawful heir, the transfer is not subject to the $200 tax, although the executor or administrator of the estate must still register the machine gun by seeking ATF’s approval prior to the transfer. National Firearms Act Handbook, supra note 21, at 57-58. ⤴︎
  62. “Collectors” of firearms are licensed pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 923. ⤴︎
  63. 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(4); 27 C.F.R. § 478.28. ⤴︎
  64. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. ⤴︎
  65. 26 U.S.C. § 5842(a). ⤴︎
  66. 26 U.S.C. § 5842(b). See 27 C.F.R. § 479.102. ⤴︎
  67. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. ⤴︎
  68. 26 U.S.C. § 5843. ATF’s regulations regarding these records are set forth at 27 C.F.R. § 479.131. ⤴︎
  69. 27 C.F.R. § 479.141. ⤴︎
  70. 26 U.S.C. § 5861. ⤴︎
  71. 26 U.S.C. § 5848(a); 27 C.F.R. § 479.23. ⤴︎
  72. 26 U.S.C. § 5848(b); 27 C.F.R. § 479.23. ⤴︎
  73. 27 C.F.R. § 479.22. ⤴︎
  74. Id. ⤴︎
  75. 26 U.S.C. §§ 5871-5872; 27 C.F.R. § 479.182. ⤴︎
  76. This summary only addresses 50 caliber weapons. The Law Center has not completed an analysis of state and local laws governing machine guns. ⤴︎
  77. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16790, 30500-31115. California’s ban on 50 caliber rifles was adopted after a number of local cities and counties in California imposed local bans on these weapons. See, e.g., Los Angeles, Cal., Municipal Code ch. V, art. 5, § 55.18; San Francisco, Cal., Police Code art. 9, § 613.10-1. ⤴︎
  78. Under the definition of “destructive device,” California also bans the possession, sale, offer for sale, and knowing transportation of incendiary and tracer ammunition that is equal to or less than .60 caliber, for use in rifles, including .50 caliber rifles. Cal. Penal Code §§ 16460, 18710, 18730. Connecticut also bans distribution, transportation, importation, sale and transfer of armor piercing or incendiary 50 caliber bullets. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-202l. ⤴︎
  79. Registration is critical to any law that exempts pre-ban weapons. Without such a provision, it would be nearly impossible to enforce a possession ban, because there would be no way to determine the date an individual acquired possession of a banned weapon. ⤴︎
  80. D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2502.02(a)(7), 7-2505.01, 7-2505.02(a), (c). ⤴︎
  81. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-202a(1)(A)(i). ⤴︎
  82. Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53-202a – 53-202o. ⤴︎
  83. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-101(r)(2)(ix), 5-102 – 5-143. ⤴︎
  84. San Francisco, Cal., Police Code art. 9 § 613.10-1. ⤴︎
  85. See our summary on the Registration for features of comprehensive registration laws. The most comprehensive system of regulating the purchase, possession and ownership of firearms combines registration of firearms with licensing of gun owners. Additional information on licensing of firearm owners is contained in our summary on Licensing. ⤴︎