It’s Expensive, But NOT All That Hard In Most States.
Since I began acquiring an array of World War II and Korean War vintage full-auto machine guns and submachine guns in 2008, many people have written or asked me in person if the process isn’t a morass of red tape.
Actually it is not. Full-autos are illegal in some states. I don’t have a full list of which states do and do not allow them. Everyone needs to check their own state’s laws on that one. On the federal level, full-autos are not prohibited. They are restricted. Each one in private ownership must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Private citizens don’t have to buy a “license” to own full-autos. Dealers must have what is called a Class III Federal Firearms License in order to trade in them. However, individuals such as myself must follow a specific process to buy one that is already in our home state. First we find the one we want to buy and make the deal. Then the seller whether an individual or dealer must fill out what the BATFE terms a Form 4 with his and the buyer’s names, addresses, etc. Also the firearm’s pertinent information must be listed such as manufacturer, serial number, caliber, etc. Then the Form 4 is given to the buyer. (These forms can be printed right off the BATFE’s website.)
After Duke went through the paperwork needed to possess this vintage German
MP40, he started on a roll and now has eight more full-autos.
Once the buyer has the Form 4 he fills in his specific portions such as for what purpose he is buying a full-auto. My answer for nine has always been “to enhance my World War II firearms collection.” Next the buyer must attach a passport photo taken within the last 6 months.
Then the buyer must get his chief local law enforcement officer to sign it. The LEO isn’t giving permission per se but simply saying, “I have no information that the transferee will use the firearm or device described on this application for other than lawful purposes. I have no information that the receipt or possession of the firearm or device described in item 4 would place the transferee in violation of state or local laws.”
Of course this above step could present a stumbling block in some locales. I have heard that some big city chief LEOs do not sign for full-autos as a rule. Evidently it must not be too big a problem because I haven’t heard a lot of people screaming about it. Also the buyer must submit fingerprint cards from the local law enforcement agency.
The final step is to include a check for $200 and then mail the Form 4 to the appropriate address. The payment is a 1-time transfer fee. It is not a yearly fee. Then the waiting starts because each Form 4 is vetted individually. You do not get an automatic pass just because you already have full-autos on Form 4s. For my nine the wait has been as short as 6 weeks and as long as 6 months. If you get impatient you can call the BATFE office and ask them your application’s status. That won’t hurry matters along but you can at least ask. The approved Form 4 will be returned to the seller and then and only then can the buyer take possession of the firearm. The Form 4 must stay with the firearm always.
What if the full-auto you have located is in another state? Matters are only slightly more complicated. If you are the holder of a regular FFL or a Curio & Relics type FFL (C&R) then the seller can ship the firearm directly to you after he receives the approved Form 4. If the individual holds neither type of FFL then the seller in another state must ship the firearm to a Class III dealer in your state where the above described application process begins.
Note the white envelope under Duke’s hand as he shows off his M1 Thompson submachine gun.
It contains the Form 4, which must always remain with the gun.
When in New Zealand in the year 2000 I was surprised to learn that some fellows had full-autos in their collections. Then it was distressing to hear that they could not be fired—at all—never! Such is not true here. Some shooting ranges do not allow full-autos but where legal it is OK to shoot them. On my own home range here in Montana I’ve set up a modest submachine gun range inside my rifle range.
It is also legal to travel out of state with your full-autos but you must have a Form 5230-20 from the BATFE to do so. Again it can be printed right off of their website. Once filled out it can then be mailed or faxed to them for approval. I did this for the first time just this past summer and my approved forms were back in 2 weeks. Here is one warning: When traveling with full-autos you must stay in states that allow them! So knowing what you are doing can prevent troubles.
I am often asked “Isn’t it awfully expensive to shoot those things?” Yes, it can be very expensive to shoot full-autos. Someone once said to me, “Machine guns are the fastest way there is to turn money into noise.” That may be true but no one who has ever fired one of mine came away with a frown. They always are smiling. My stock answer to this question is “Who has the time to shoot them very often? They’re not so expensive when time constraints only allow you to take them out a few times a year.
Like many of you, I was hesitant to enter into the full-auto world. After buying the first one, a German MP40, I was on a roll that has probably ended now: not because it is difficult to buy and own one but because I’ve spent as much money as I can afford on them!
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
After Duke bought his first full-auto he couldn’t stop himself. These four of the nine which he now has in his World War II collection include (from left) British STEN Mk II 9mm, Russian PPsh41 7.62x25mm, US M1 Thompson .45 ACP, and German MP40 9mm.