ATF NFA Handbook Cover

History of Gun Bans in America Pt. 1 – The NFA

In this series, we will look at some of the firearms regulations that have affected the entire country – sometimes only briefly, other times still to this day. Our first such regulation of interest will be the National Firearms Act.

This legislation was put into effect June 26, 1934, and continues to limit the ease of ownership of many items, including suppressors, short barreled rifles, machine guns, and other items labeled “destructive devices.” Known in short as the NFA, it was purportedly established in response to violent crime during the prohibition era, as well as the attempted assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Of course, as we know, making it difficult for the common citizen to acquire weapons does not make criminals less likely to use them in the commission of a crime. Regardless, the NFA still exists and forces citizens to submit a $200 tax in exchange for a “tax stamp” that acts as proof that the bearer is not breaking the law by owning it. Interestingly, the $200 tax has remained static since 1934 – if the tax had fluctuated with inflation, it would now be around $3,500 per stamp.

While many aspects of the NFA have remained constant, such as the items regulated being suppressors, short barreled rifles and shotguns, machine guns, and “destructive devices” (grenades, missiles, poison gas, etc.), the NFA itself has changed in minor ways over the years. For one, the original barrel length legally required not to be a SBR was 18” – the same as it is now for shotguns – but it was changed to 16” for both centerfire and rimfire rifles. Additionally, the NFA was initially intended to ban (or at least regulate away) all “concealable” weapons – including pistols and revolvers. While these are not regulated by the NFA, SBRs and SBSs are, regardless of how concealable they really are.

The process for obtaining NFA items is confusing and turns many off to the potential of rounding out their firearm collection – whether for recreational or defensive purposes. SBRs and suppressors have real, tangible benefits to home defensive roles, which is precisely why Law Enforcement and Military units that operate in enclosed spaces use them. In order to lawfully obtain or manufacture an NFA item, there are certain “forms” that must be completed.

The “Form 1” is for manufacturing an NFA item. This is typically when you use a lower receiver from an AR-15 and attach an upper receiver with a barrel length of less than 16” – also known as an SBR. If you are making this SBR from a lower receiver that was not initially registered as a SBR, you are “manufacturing” the NFA item, thus you must complete the Form 1. The same goes for manufacturing your own sound suppressor, or any device that turns a non-NFA item into one.

If you are buying an NFA item that is already in the registry, whether from an individual or a gun shop, it must be “transferred” through a Form 3/Form 4. The Form 3 is not subject to the $200 tax and is typically used for transporting the NFA item between dealers in different states. In other words, if you want a suppressor that a dealer in Wisconsin has, but you live in Texas, you need to have the dealer submit a Form 3 to send it to your dealer. Then, you can submit a Form 4, which is subject to the $200 tax, to have the suppressor transferred to you, the private individual (or, if you have a trust set up, transferred to that trust).

Again, the laws for various NFA items vary from state to state, and it would not be prudent to see this article as legal advice for obtaining an NFA item. Rather, look at it as a little bit of history and a little bit of de-mystifying the vagaries of NFA ownership.

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