NFATCA Report: 182,619 - Is That All There Is?
By John Brown

That is the number of transferable machine guns that exist in the United States as of November 2007. After an extensive audit of the National Firearms Registry and Transfer Record (NFRTR) by the NFA Branch in November of 2007, that was the number of transferable machine guns determined that were available on the market two and a half years ago. The question of how many guns are available for civilian ownership has been asked many times over the years. Interestingly enough that original number gets smaller every year for reasons that just amaze all of us. We will get into that just a bit later in this session.

What is a transferable machine gun? The answer is relatively simple. A transferable gun is any machine gun that was manufactured prior to May 19, 1986 and was duly registered. It is estimated that on that date there were approximately 250,000 machine guns available to the general public. Unfortunately what has happened over the years since 1986 is that number keeps shrinking every year for a multitude of reasons. Recently, many of you probably heard the incident when a widow called the local ATF office and requested that her late husband’s collection of transferable machine guns be picked up and destroyed. And yes, that is exactly what happened to nearly 100 guns.

When Congress passed the manufacturing regulations on May 19, 1986, it was determined at this point that future production of machine guns could only be owned by the military, law enforcement or a Class Three dealer with the proper documentation to support the purchase. It was at this point in history where we tagged guns manufactured after May of 1986 as “Post Sample” machine guns. Everything else manufactured before hand was either “transferable,” meaning it had been registered with ATF on the NFRTR prior to May 1986 or it was a Pre 1986 Sales Sample that was designated as such as it could only be owned by Class Three dealers. Again, all other guns would be deemed “Post Samples,” none of which could ever be owned by the civilian community. Hence, this is the reason why you can’t own, as a civilian, an H&K 416 or a P90 or many of the guns that we see in the military. We settle for the next best thing in a P90S short barreled rifle (SBR), knowing we will never be able to own the real P90. A simple rule of thumb to always remember: if it was manufactured as a machine gun after May 19, 1986, you can’t own it as a civilian.

The moral to this story is a short one but extremely important for the entire NFA community to understand. As it stands today there are a limited number of machine guns in this country available for the collector, investor or shooter. The number will never increase, unless, with some luck, our community is afforded the opportunity to have additional amnesty periods. This is the only reason why the number of transferables would ever increase. The plain simple truth of the matter is the number 182,619 dwindles every year. Across our country every day people continue to do stupid things which result in confiscation and the consequent destruction of the machine guns manufactured prior to May 19, 1986. Every conceivable reason that you can imagine causes this number to dwindle each year. I shudder to think what the actual number is in 2010.

We all watch the boards where transferable guns come up for sale every day. With the current state of the economy there are many great deals available if you have the funds to support the effort. The number of machine guns available to our community keeps getting smaller every year and the fact that the pricing reacts to the economy is something we have all seen since 1986. What all of us need to remember is this is one commodity that gets smaller every year and that even though pricing fluctuates, the law of supply and demand will always prevail.

Since we all know that the potential for having another amnesty is not likely under the current administration, the cold facts are that we must harbor and hold safe the transferable guns that are available. Machine guns that the general public can own are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of the future. It is imperative that every estate, every individual, and every entity that owns a machine gun that was manufactured prior to 1986 take absolute care to preserve a part of firearms history that we are likely never to revive.

If you are thinking after reading this article, “Duh... I take care of my stuff!” think again. There is only one organization working today to protect your investment beyond what you can do as an individual, in this effort, The National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association (NFATCA). Preservation of our rights of ownership is exactly what we do. Why aren’t you a member and helping preserve a piece of our national heritage?

Come join us and make a difference with your knowledge, expertise and much needed experience. Contact us at www.nfatca.org for more information.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N9 (June 2010)
and was posted online on March 30, 2012


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