If you’re new to the National Firearms Act (NFA), it’s likely because you are looking to purchase some NFA arms. You have likely been scratching your head trying to figure out what it all means. Most newcomers are confused with this law, so don’t feel bad if you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around it.
Even those of us who have been engrossed in NFA arms for quite some time still feel a tinge of confusion at times. What better way to get caught up to speed on NFA arms and what the National Firearms Act is all about than by running through a refresher together?
By the time you are finished absorbing all of the information in this article, you will have the ultimate guide to NFA arms at your fingertips for easy study and research. Any time you feel a bit overwhelmed by the National Firearms Act and its laws, you can refer to this guide to lend a helping hand.
So with that, let’s first talk about the National Firearms Act and what it’s all about. Understanding this act will give you a baseline for NFA arms and why they are a part of the National Firearms Act.
1. The National Firearms Act and Why It Was Created
The National Firearms Act was created back on June 26, 1934. As an Act of Congress, the National Firearms Act was implemented in an attempt to curtail the sale of specific firearms. First of all, it’s important to look at how this was done.
The attempted curtail was implemented by tacking on taxes to the NFA arms. The belief was that higher costs would deter the sales of these arms. Did it work? Well, yes and no.
You see, regular Joes certainly had one less reason to buy NFA arms at this point. But those who the National Firearms Act was originally intended for – namely, mobsters and criminals – had more funding than the average Joe and could (begrudgingly) still get their hands on NFA arms without putting too much of a dent in their finances.
Still, this tax was considered absurd to anyone living back in 1934. At $200 a pop, that was the equivalent to just shy of $4,000. Since most people were now financially disqualified from purchasing NFA arms, it essentially made it much easier to identify anyone who was able to buy one.
American citizens who got their hands on these arms were more than likely either rich and powerful or part of organized crime. Of course, the latter was the sole purpose for the creation of the NFA, to begin with.
Thankfully, the $200 tax stamp hasn’t increased through the years, making NFA arms far more affordable for the modern man.
In any event, this brings us to the whole reason that the National Firearms Act was borne in the first place. Toward the end of Prohibition, crime in America was becoming increasingly problematic. Mobs were a major threat to police, largely due to the firepower that they had.
The firearms that mobs were wielding were far too powerful for police forces. It got so out of control that, in some cases, the police didn’t stand a chance if a gunfight were to erupt. Not willing to let these mobsters kill any more police or take over their cities, the need for protection was greater than ever.
And that protection came in the form of laws. Instead of trying to match the mobs’ firepower, it was agreed to attack the problem at the root and try to keep the guns out of their hands through less excessive forces.
It was decided to create an act that would make it more challenging for people to buy NFA arms. Now, taxing American citizens was only one aspect of the NFA. Not only was there a higher total price tag on National Firearms Act arms, but the manufacturers felt the sting, as well.
You have to give it to congress for their creative attempt to limit the sales of these weapons instead of fighting fire with fire.
Instead, they simply added higher manufacturing costs for gun makers, as well as higher taxes on transporting the NFA arms. This all came together to make things trying for buyers, sellers, and manufacturers.
But after 4 years of tightening the grip on National Firearms Act arms, it was clear that further action needed to be taken to keep these arms out of the hands of the American public. So, the Federal Firearms Act (FFA) was created just 4 years after the NFA.
The FFA made it a law that anyone wanting to buy NFA arms had to undergo a background check to ensure that they weren’t convicted felons (which, many mobsters were). What’s more, arms dealers now had to keep a log of everyone who bought a firearm from them.
Furthermore, all gun manufacturers now had to get a federal license for all of their firearms. With so many strict policies in place, it was only a matter of time until the outcry from the public became too loud to ignore.
With so many innocent people affected by the FFA’s new policies, it was eventually decided to repeal the Federal Firearms Act. And in 1968, the FFA was effectively replaced by the Gun Control Act (GCA).
Still, much of the same rules and regulations that made up the FFA were simply adopted by the GCA. Although the GCA has certainly seen its fair share of modifications over the years, its founding principles remain in place to this very day.
2. NFA Arms: What Are They?
The following items are the reason the National Firearms Act was created. They include:
- Short barrel shotguns (SBS)
- Any other weapon (AOW)
- Suppressors (Silencers)
- Short barrel rifles (SBR)
- Destructive devices
- Machine guns
Let’s discuss each entry individually so you have a better understanding of what they are and why they are included.
Short Barrel Shotguns (SBS)
A shotgun is a smooth-bore weapon that has a stock that is designed to fire a ballistics round. In the United States, the barrel of shotguns must be at least 18 inches long. A shotgun that has a barrel shorter than 18 inches is considered a short barrel shotgun.
It’s important to note that there are some firearms that just miss the shotgun mark due to their lack of a stock. As such, these firearms are not affected by the rule of barrel length. Take the Mossberg 590 Shockwave, for example.
This 12-gauge firearm certainly looks like a shotgun. But since it does not have a stock, it isn’t bound to the shotgun code. What’s more, the Mossberg 590 Shockwave measures over 26 inches in length, so it doesn’t fall under “Any Other Weapon” (more on that, next). How’s that for confusing?
Any Other Weapon (AOW)
Perhaps the oddest category of National Firearms Act arms, AOWs are any kind of firearm that doesn’t fit within the parameters of the other entries. These include 12-gauge firearms that are less than 26 inches long.
As such, there is a litany of oddball firearms that have to be included for a variety of reasons. You’ve likely seen several weird guns in movies, like ink pens that double as guns, and the like. But the truth is, there are inconspicuous guns out there that actually do exist.
Because of this, there need to be laws in place that ensure that everyone walking down the street isn’t secretly carrying a shotgun disguised as an umbrella. We’ve come across lighters that are guns, canes that are shotguns, and much more.
Defining all of these guns would be impossible without the National Firearms Acts, or more precisely, the AOW category.
As a brief aside, it’s worth noting that AOW arms have a much more affordable tax stamp associated with them. For just a paltry five bucks, you can transfer AOW arms without breaking the bank.
Yes, suppressors are considered NFA arms, as well. It might sound strange to some people but silencing the audible pop that normally comes with firearms could certainly give someone the upper hand in a gun battle.
While serious gun aficionados might get up in arms over the differences between suppressors and silencers, the ATF classifies them as the same thing when defining the National Firearms Act. As such, you’re going to need to go through the proper channels when dealing with either.
A suppressor or silencer is any device that readily attaches to a firearm for the purpose of quieting its audible blast when fired.
Short Barrel Rifles (SBR)
We now know what short-barrel shotguns consist of, so let’s explore short barrel rifles (SBRs). These arms are any rifle that has a barrel shorter than 16 inches in length. A rifle, by definition, is a firearm that projects a ballistic round through a barrel of a certain length.
It is interesting (confusing?) that the NFA never defined the calibers related to the SBRs. All that is mentioned are the barrel and stock.
Because of this, you can legally own a pistol that fires rifle-caliber rounds. Strange, no? There are clearly some kinks to be worked out as it pertains to the National Firearms Act. Of course, there haven’t been any modifications for quite some time, and it doesn’t look like there are going to be any modifications any time soon.
This is great news for anyone keen on short barrel rifles and large-caliber pistols. You have a little bit of wiggle room in the firearms you buy, as long as they are within the legal parameters defined by the National Firearms Act.
There’s a lot to wrap your head around here, so try to stick with us as we explain which arms are considered destructive devices.
First of all, destructive devices must be more than .50 caliber. With that said, this doesn’t include most shotguns. What it does include consists of weapons that project mortars, poison gas, explosives, missiles, grenades, and other like ballistics.
Now, there are certain shotguns that do miss the mark on being shotguns and are defined as destructive devices. What designates these “shotguns” as such?
It really comes down to whether they can or can’t be used for hunting purposes. Namely, the AA-12 and the Streetsweeper.
If a firearm is capable of delivering more than a single round with the pull of the trigger, it is defined as a machine gun. This includes weaponry with burst-fire capabilities and any special devices that are designed to convert existing weaponry into fully automatic firearms.
But regardless of how or why they can quickly fire off more than a single round, the National Firearms Act views them as machine guns.
It’s interesting to note that Mac pistols manufactured after 1982 are considered machine guns, as well. This is because of the open-bolt configuration that allows them to deliver more than a single round with each trigger pull.
3. How the NFA Affected Imports
It’s worth mentioning that imported arms were affected by the NFA. For quite a while, imports played a hand in NFA arms. In fact, they contributed to the NFA in a big way. This is because imported machine guns came at a lower cost.
During World War II, imported NFA arms like machine guns could be had for less than the $200 tax stamp. This continued to be big business for imported NFA arms until the aforementioned Gun Control Act of 1968 came into fruition.
Lo and behold, the rules and regulations outlined in the GCA stated that it was no longer legal to import NFA arms. But it didn’t end there. A clause on sporting was added later, as well, that made it illegal to import certain short-barrel shotguns, AK pistols, and suppressors.
4. How to Buy NFA Arms and Items
OK, you picked out your NFA arms and/or items and are ready to make things legal. Before you make your purchase, it’s important to first know and understand your state’s laws. You may learn that it is illegal for you to even own particular NFA arms where you live, voiding any reason to continue with the sale.
That’s right. Some states prohibit possessing or carrying NFA arms, and you certainly don’t want to risk getting into serious trouble by fudging information to get those arms in your hands.
Once you are privy to your local laws, you’re going to need to have a few things ready to ensure the transfer of NFA arms to you. These include:
- You must notify your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer
- All appropriate ATF Forms filled out and filed accordingly
- Check or money order for the amount of the tax stamp
- Photograph of yourself (like that found in a passport)
- A clean background check (non-felon)
- Fill out and submit 2 fingerprint forms
- You must be over 21 years old
It’s also important to note that although you will need to contact your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer to inform them of your intention to purchase NFA arms, you don’t need their permission to do so.
When purchasing NFA arms, you may do so as an individual, corporation, or trust. Since your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer isn’t required to sign off your arms, this eliminates some of the hassles of dealing with the National Firearms Act.
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Now that you know which items fall under the National Firearms Act, you can more easily purchase the arms and items you want without fear of missing anything important. It’s critical to remember that the National Firearms Act is not meant to prevent you from obtaining a NFA weapon, but rather to ensure that safety is always the priority.
Furthermore, you should have a better understanding of building an NFA trust with the weapons included in the NFA. Be sure to explore our website and blog entries for more information on the firearms and items that make up the National Firearms Act.