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Legally Armed: V21N6

By Teresa G. Ficaretta, Esq. & Johanna Reeves, Esq.

DEWAT Firearms and How They Are Regulated Under Federal Law

We regularly receive inquiries from firearms collectors who have acquired a “DEWAT” and ask us for advice on how to register the firearm under the National Firearms Act (NFA). “DEWAT” is an acronym for “deactivated war trophy” and generally refers to firearms that WWII-era servicemen bring back to the United States as war trophies or souvenirs. There appears to be confusion in the firearms community on the significance of a DEWAT classification and whether registration documents with this label mean a particular firearm is lawfully registered and transferable under the NFA.

This article addresses the original DEWAT Program established by the United States in 1945, implementation of the program by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and how amendments to the statute in 1968 affect the registration status of firearms registered under the program.

I. Background

A. Statutory Background and History

Congress enacted the NFA, 26 U.S.C. Chapter 53, in 1934 to address firearms violence involving machineguns, short barrel shotguns, short barrel rifles, silencers and other concealable weapons. The NFA requires registration of all such firearms, approval of firearm transfers in advance and payment of a $200 transfer tax for each firearm transferred. As enacted in 1934, the statute allowed possessors of NFA firearms to register their firearms by completing a form and submitting it without tax as long as the submission was within 60 days of the date of enactment of the statute.¹

The NFA also included exemptions from the $200 transfer tax for any firearm which was “unserviceable” and which was transferred as a “curiosity or ornament.” The term “unserviceable” was not defined in the statute until 1968, as discussed below.

Significantly, the statute as enacted in 1934 defined the term “machinegun” as follows:

Machinegun—The term “machine gun” means any weapon which shoots, or is designed to shoot, automatically or semi-automatically, more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.

Thus, as enacted, the NFA did not regulate receivers for machineguns as “machineguns.”

In 1968, the Gun Control Act amended the NFA in a...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N6 (July 2017)
and was posted online on May 19, 2017

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