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Machine Guns — Can You Own One?

Fun guns with a giggle switch.

Machine Guns — Can You Own One?

COLT M16A2 (PRE-’86)/SOCOM KAC Upper, 5.56 NATO: $35,000

You might be surprised how many Americans (even gun owners) think they are illegal. True, 15 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the possession of “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,” according to the ATF’s definition, plus receivers and certain parts. However, the citizens of 35 states can legally enjoy exercising this aspect of their Second Amendment rights if they are willing to submit to the process of acquiring and registering a machine gun, and assuming they can find one for sale.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 required interested civilians to pay a $200 tax when a machine gun was transferred between one federally registered owner to another. Though $200 may not sound stiff in 2020, in 1934 it was equivalent to $3,867 today. Because it defied the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, the government’s tactic to fight the criminal element of the Gangster era aimed to discourage ownership of machine guns through collecting tax revenue and registering citizens. Though the spirit of the NFA may appear well intended, it yielded regulatory powers to increase the federal government and allowed an infringement on the rights of law-­abiding citizens.

The ATF reports that 630,019 machine guns are registered in the U.S. Though regulated since the passage of the NFA in 1934, there would be more in circulation to meet demand were it not for the Hughes Amendment attached to the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986. The Hughes Amendment banned the sale of machine guns manufactured after the date of enactment to civilians, restricting sales of new machine guns to military, law enforcement and dealers. Though the amendment was controversial, it passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on May 19, 1986. At the time of this writing, the newest machine guns that are transferable between law-­abiding citizens are 34 years old.

Since 1934, there have been two homicides committed with legally owned machine guns. One was a murder of a police informant committed by an Ohio police officer on September 15, 1988. Another was an alleged homicide committed on September 14, 1992, but details are scarce. Machine gun ownership among law-­abiding citizens does not rise to a level of concern such that the Hughes Amendment should exist. It should be repealed.


While gun owners are often poised to defend against new restrictions to the Second Amendment, I challenge readers to consider electing representatives who will fight to reinstate and protect our gun rights. Unfortunately, transferable machine guns command tens of thousands of dollars when they come up for sale, leaving most of us unable to afford owning one. Given the value of a pre-­’86 select-­fire Colt AR-­15 now exceeds $25,000, and some belt-­feds demand six figures, most of the transferable machine guns are acquired by a few. Would these machine gun collectors be willing to risk devaluing their investments to see the availability of these small arms restored to America’s citizenry?


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