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The Good Old Days

By Frank Iannamico

Occasionally, someone will post an old “machine guns for sale” advertisement from the 1960s on one of the popular Class III oriented internet boards, with the ads featuring unbelievably low prices compared to those encountered today. When a young enthusiast reads the ads, they often wish they could travel back in time.

Well, it’s hard to believe today, but during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s machine guns, although far less expensive, were not selling as quickly as they do currently. One reason for relatively slow machine gun sales in those days was that few knew the protocol of buying a machine gun or where to find one for sale. There was basically no single source of information on machine gun ownership. The subject of Class III firearms was largely ignored by the mainstream supermarket gun magazines. There were only a few dealers that dealt in Class III. For example, in 1965 there was a reported total of only three Class III dealers in the entire country. Probably the best known of the early dealers was the controversial Curtis Earl, through his catalogs and advertising. Mr. Earl predicted that machine guns would continually escalate in price. On the back of his catalogs was a bar graph titled Machine Guns Your Best Investment. The graph illustrated from 1965 to 1979 an increase of 2,080 percent in machine gun prices, with a yearly average increase of 149 percent.

One obstacle to the purchase of a machine gun was the $200 federal transfer tax. Few individuals had sufficient disposable income during the economic recessions of the 1970s and 1980s to pay $500 for an M16A1 rifle and an additional $200 for the transfer tax. Of course, there were many cheaper full-autos available; Sten submachine guns with new manufacture receiver tubes could be had for around $125 retail, and MAC-10s and Smith & Wesson Model 76 submachine guns were available for even less. However, the mindset of many at the time was “I’m not paying a $200 tax on a $125 Sten.” Although many, justifiably, complain about the astronomical...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N8 (October 2017)
and was posted online on August 18, 2017

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