Are Machine Guns Legal

Are Machine Guns Legal?

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The short answer is ‘Yes!’ but there are some things you need to know.

While there are all kinds, types, brands, styles, etc. of of machine guns, there is really only one important distinction that needs to be made… When was the machine gun manufactured?   The reason that the date is so important, is because a law was passes in 1986 that made the manufacture of most machine guns illegal.   However, machine guns manufactured prior to 1986 were grandfathered, so they can be legally transferred (bought & sold).

The 1986 law effectively divided machine guns into two distinct classes:

  1. Maching Guns manufactured before May 19, 1986, and
  2. Machine Guns manufactured on or after May 19, 1986

Pre 1986 Machine Guns

You have two options when it comes to purchasing a machine gun that was manufactured before 1986. 1st – Purchase with a Form 4, 2nd – Get a C & R License.   We will cover each of these methods in a bit more detail below.

Form 4

To purchase a machine gun using a Form 4, all you need to do is submit a Form 4 Application to the ATF.   And, of course, you need to verify it’s legal to own maching guns in your state.   There are some Pros and Cons to this method of purchasing a machine gun:


  1. Fairly simple process – Just Create your $69 Gun Trust, fill out your Form 4 & Form 23, then pick up your machine gun after you receive your Tax Stamp.   For detailed insturctions you can read our article Ten Steps to a Tax Stamp
  2. Pre 1986 Machine Guns are transferable – This means you can sell your machine gun down the road.   But, why would you ever want to do that?!
  3. Easy to come by – There are lots of pre 1986 machine guns on the market.


  1. The biggest negative to this method is the expense.   Because manufacturing machine guns became illegal (except for military & law enforcemtn)in 1986, the number of these transferrable machine guns is limited.   for example, a Fully-Automatic Colt M4 might cost as much as $30,000.
  2. The other negative is that these guns are at least 30 years old.   That means they’ve had thousands upon thousands of rounds fired through them.   Getting replacements parts for the fully-automatic mechanisms of these guns can be a serious pain.

Curios & Relics License

To be considered a Curio & Relic by the ATF, a machine gun must meet one of the following conditions:

  1. manufactured at least 50 years ago; or
  2. certified as a curio or relic of museum interest by the curator of a municipal, State, or Federal museum that exhibits firearms; or
  3. derive a substantial amount of its monetary value from the fact that it is novel, rare, bizarre, or associated with some historical event, period, or figure

You will have to obtain a Type 03 FFL – Collector of Curios and Relics, which costs $30 for a 3-year license.   Getting a Type 03 FFL is easier than Type 01 FFL, but you are more limited in what you can do.   Just like the Form 4 method, there are some Pros and Cons to purchasing a machine gun with a C & R license:


  1. You can buy and sell curios or relics at any location
  2. You can buy and sell to a licensee or a nonlicensee residing in the same State, who is not otherwise prohibited by the GCA,
  3. You can buy and sell to to any other Federal firearms licensee in any State


  1. C & R firearms are usually expensive
  2. By definition, C & R firearms are Old
  3. You can’t “engage in the business” of buying and selling curios and relics, which means you can’t buy and sell to earn a living
  4. Cannot acquire firearms other than curios or relics using a collector’s license.
  5. Licensed collectors have no special privileges with regard to firearms that are not curios or relics.

Post 1986 Machine Guns

There are two ways to acquire a post 1986 machine gun… You can Build or you can Buy?   You can purchase post 1986 machine guns if you are a Class 3 Firearms Dealer.   Or, you can build machine guns if you are a Class 2 Firearms Manufacturer.   But, just like pre ’86 machine guns, there are some big considerations to take into account.

To purchase a machine gun manufactured after 1986 you must be a Class 3 Dealer.   Once you become a Class 3 Dealer you can purchase brand new “Dealer Sample” machine guns.   However, there are definitely some things you need to consider:

Pros to gettign your Class 3 Dealer License:

  1. By far the biggest benefit is the price.   The same Fully-Automatic Colt M4 ($30,000 in the previous example) might only cost $1,500
  2. You are buying a brand new machine gun – not some 50 year-old piece of scrap metal
  3. after becomming a Class 3 Dealer, you can easily obtain silencers, SBR’s, SBS’s, etc., without paying the $200 for each item.


  1. The process of becomming a Class 3 Dealer requires obtaining your Federal Firearms License (FFL) and then paying your Special Occupation Tax (SOT).   The process involves a lot of paperwork and an interview with an ATF Investigator.
  2. The initial cost of your Type 01 FFL is $200.   The license is good for three years and costs $90 to renew for each three-year period.
  3. The cost of the SOT is $500 every year.   If you don’t pay the fee every year, you have to turn over all of your NFA items to the ATF.
  4. The biggest hurdle is probably the ATF Law Letter requirement.   In order to be approved to possess a Dealer Sample machine gun, you have to obtain a letter from a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) indicating they need a particular type of firearm and that they want you to demonstrate the firearm for them.   You need to get a Law Letter for each machine gun that you want to purchase, which is a pain inthe ass.   Recently the ATF determined that you can use one Law Letter to buy Two identical machine guns.   These letters are hard to come by, as CLEO’s don’t want to be held responsible for putting fully automatic machine guns into circulation.   However, with a little persistance, you will be able to find a CLEO somewhere that will sign the law Letter.
  5. Additionally you can never sell your machine gun to anyone other than another Class 3 Dealer.

To manufacture a machine gun you must be a Class 2 Manufacturer.   Once you become a Class 2 Dealer you can build all the “dealer Sample” machine guns you want.   But… you guessed it… there are some major drawbacks to this route:

The biggest downside to getting a Class 2 Manufacturer License is the cost

  1. FFL Type 7 – $150 (every 3 years)
  2. Class 2 SOT – $500 (every year)
  3. ITAR – $2,250 (every year)

So which route should you choose?

All of the options are good, but they each have their particular Pro’s and Con’s.   If you are going to be able to recuperate some of your expenses by selling NFA Firearms, you should consider the manufacturing route.   If you have a buddy that is a CLEO somewhere, maybe the Class 3 option will work best.   Or, if you can afford it, skip the FFL/SOT headache all together and buy a Pre ’86 Machine Gun.

We hope this article helped you out.   Good Luck!

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