Introductory Note: The following is not intended to be legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney in your own state. This essay is simply conjecture on possible outcomes of a change in U.S. Treasury Department policy, in response to a recent suggestion by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Your perspective might be substantially different, your situation might not match what I’m suggesting, and “your mileage may vary.” Do not do anything illegal. The window of opportunity that I will describe does not yet exist. So this essay is just some conjectural food for thought.
The recent national kerfluffle over so-called “bumpfire” stocks has prompted thousands of Americans to send comments to the ATF. The NRA also sent a lengthy comment, in opposition. This followed a published Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on bumpfire stocks, that could possibly redefine them as “machineguns.” This NPRM is worse than many commentators had anticipated, in part because the proposed rule has no Grandfather Clause. By the ATF’s own estimates there are more than 350,000 American bumpfire stocks (worth about $96 million) already in circulation. The proposed rule would declare these stocks all contraband unregistered “machineguns”. They would have to be destroyed, taken out of U.S. territory, or turned in, with no compensation to their owners. The proposed unconstitutional “taking” rule provides no method provided to pay the $200 tax to register the stocks as $200 transfer-taxed machineguns.
The 1968 Amnesty
In wording the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA-68), congress included a one-month amnesty period for U.S Citizens to register NFA firearms. That amnesty was conducted from November 2, 1968 to December 1, 1968. it was not very well-publicized. And some gun owners thought that it might be a trap of some sort, leading to eventual confiscation or prosecution. (In fact, it wasn’t. It was actually quite lenient. Even some guns stolen from the U.S. military were allowed to be registered during the amnesty, with no theft charges pressed.) But primarily due to short window of opportunity and poor publicity, the number of guns that were amnesty registered was fairly small.
In addition to the initial 1968 amnesty period, Congress also gave the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to hold additional amnesties, each up to 90 days long. The Treasury Secretary can, at his discretion, launch such amnesty periods “…as the Secretary determines will contribute to the purposes of [the GCA -68 legislation].”
But to date, there have not been any more Federal amnesties held.
Going beyond suggesting that owners of bumpfire stocks be allowed to register them, the NRA’s letter recommended:
In addition to providing amnesty for bump fire stocks, ATF should consider a broader amnesty for “machinegun[s].” When Congress delegated the authority to provide for additional periods of amnesty, there was a clear legislative understanding that amnesty generally serves the purposes of federal firearms laws by bringing “machinegun[s]” and other NFA “firearms” that are currently contraband, and therefore likely to eventually end up in the wrong hands, into the legal market where they have value and are extremely unlikely to be used in crime.
That, in my estimation, was a suggestion that was long overdue!
Why an Amnesty iS Needed
It has been almost 50 years since the first NFA Amnesty was held. A huge number of unregistered machineguns now exist in the United States. One of the reasons for this is because the NFA registry was closed to new entries in 1986. The Hughes Amendment to the Firearms Owners Protection Act (FOPA) artificially froze the number of transferable machineguns–effectively closing the registry for private citizens. Since then, just as is inevitable with other freeze legislation, prices have skyrocketed. A registered AR-15 drop in auto sear (DIAS) or HK auto sear now sells for as much as $31,000! This prohibitively high price coupled with the closed NFA registry has tempted many gun enthusiasts into illicitly making their own machineguns, or converting existing semi-autos into selective fire (full auto) guns. Often the product of youthful exuberance, such “builds” and conversions are felonies that are just awaiting law enforcement detection and prosecution.
So, what if another amnesty is announced by the Treasury Department? This would present some interesting possibilities. If the amnesty wording calls for a suspension of arrests and prosecutions (as it should and must), then it would open up a legal window of opportunity to build, assemble, or convert guns to full auto and register them before the amnesty deadline. And of course any contraband guns that had already been in possession could also be registered. Since the ATF now has a web-based “E-File” portal, the number of transferable machineguns that could be registered is essentially unlimited. The biggest stumbling block would be the $200 NFA tax fee (per item registered), which could add up quickly for people with large gun collections.
One of the easiest guns to convert to military selective fire configuration is the AR-15. This conversion consists of milling clearance cuts for an autosear above the selector switch in the interior of the lower receiver, and also drilling a hole (also above the selector switch) to accept the pin for a military autosear assembly. Note, however, that possession of both an AR-15 and an M16 autosear drilling jig could be seen as “constructive intent” by law enforcement. To keep legal, you presumably could ask a friend who doesn’t own an AR to order one, and set it aside in his home for use during a future amnesty.
Some other guns that are fairly easy to convert are: M1 Carbines, many rifles in the HK 91/93/94 family, and most pre-1982 semi-auto guns that fire from an open bolt. The latter include early Ingram M10/M11 family guns, the original Intratec KG-9 pistols, early (pre-1982) Uzi Carbines, and various .22 rimfire rifles that fire from an open bolt such as as the Voere A6 Gevarm, and the Marlin Model 50.
With M1 Carbines, just the M2 Carbine hammer part could be registered as the only serialized full auto component. (To be registered, you would have to pen engrave a serial number on the side of the hammer.) Surprisingly, just by themselves these hammers are presently unrestricted from sale, and many M1 Carbines are already equipped with them. (Note, however, that possessing both an M1 Carbine and a full set of unregistered M2 conversion parts is considered a felony.)
Similarly, HK G3 friction sears (full auto sears) are presently unrestricted from sale, under Federal law. They sell for less than $25 each. During an amnesty, these sears could be engraved with a serial number and registered as “machineguns.” The potential profit from registering them could be substantial, even if you do not own an HK91 or ever plan to own one.
It might also be possible to assemble “tube” style submachineguns from new 80% complete receiver blanks and mil-surp parts sets. These could include the Karl Gustav M45 (commonly called a “Swedish K”), Sten variants, Sterling, Madsen, Suomi KP/31, CZ20 Series, PPSH, M3 Greasegun, and several other SMGs. This would be a bit of a gamble, because there would doubtless be a shortage of a corresponding number of parts sets, to complete the available tubes. A game of “Musical Chairs” would surely ensue immediately after the amnesty, and a lot of newbie registered tube owners would end up with receivers that they probably could not complete. So, caveat emptor.
One other possibility is full auto registering any semi-auto belt-fed guns that you presently own or that you could obtain while the amnesty window is open. These could include closed bolt semi-auto variants of the M1919 Browning, M2 (.50 caliber) Browning, M60, MG-34, MG-42, HK21, and HK23. Once they were registered as full autos, these semi-autos could be converted via disassembly, careful milling, and reassembly with original mil-surp full auto parts. Conceivably, much of this work could be completed on the NFA-registered guns after the amnesty ends, at your leisure.
Going Whole Hog
It is most likely that if there is an amnesty declared, then $200 would be charged for each registration. But if an amnesty allows “no fee” registration (with no $200 transfer taxes due), then It would probably be worthwhile going whole hog and build or convert a large number of guns. Why? Because once the amnesty ends it is not likely to be repeated for many years–if ever. I can safely predict that the prices of transferable machineguns will first dip, but then start ratcheting up again. Adding new machineguns to the NFA registry in your name would be a very sound investment, with enormous profit potential.
End Note: Again, the preceding is not intended to be legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney in your own state. This essay is simply conjecture on possible outcomes of a change in U.S. Treasury Department policy, in response to a recent suggestion by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Your perspective might be substantially different, your situation might not match what I’m suggesting, and “your mileage may vary.” Again: Do not do anything illegal. – JWR