Gun control wish-list: Deregulate the NFA

Ownership of NFA items is a small niche in the overall firearms community, but it’s also a very profitable and growing niche. For those not in the loop, “NFA” stands for National Firearms Act, and “NFA-item” is a catch all term for various types of guns that are regulated by that act. Those guns include:

  • All civilian legal (pre-1986) machine guns/fully automatic weapons
  • Short barreled rifles and shotguns (rifles with a barrel length less than 16 inches, shotguns less than 18)
  • Any Other Weapons (a catch all for guns like Serbu Shorties, and other oddball stuff)
  • Suppressors

NFA also regulates some other stuff like destructive devices, but that’s not within the scope of this article. The political purpose of the NFA when it was passed in the 30s was to effectively ban machine guns, SBRs, and suppressors from civilian possession by imposing a $200 tax on their ownership. Adjusted for inflation, $200 in 1934 would be about $5,000 today, which would make NFA items prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of casual owners.

Walther Colt M4 SBR

As mentioned above, in the past five years in the firearms community, there has been an explosion in NFA ownership, especially with regards to suppressors and short barreled rifles. Suppressors are great tools for introducing new shooters to shooting without needing ear protection in some cases, and short barreled rifles are handy defensive tools for civilian home-defense. As a nation, we’re well past the days of Chicagoland gangsters shooting it out over booze with Thompson SMGs and short barreled BARs, so what can we do to get certain items off the NFA?

Be realistic
The first thing to do is set realistic goals. We are likely never going to get machine guns deregulated, because they’re machine guns. Fully automatic weapons are quite likely a political no-go, so calling for the entire NFA to be tossed out the window probably isn’t going to happen. But suppressors and short barreled rifles? That we could probably actually get to happen. I go back and forth on whether or not short barreled shotguns could make the cut, because on the one hand just like SBR it’s simply an arbitrary length of metal. But the media has portrayed short barreled shotguns as these tools of massive death and destruction, and the pejorative term “sawed-off shotgun” resonates strongly with a lot of middle America. Short barreled rifles have never been really demonized, and instead the site of a (digital) SBR is quite common to the new generation of video game playing gun owners. So for the time being, I’d focus solely on suppressors and SBR.

Be willing to compromise
What would you be willing to give up to get suppressors and SBR off the NFA and treated like regular firearms? To be able to walk into your local fun-shop and buy the Walther manufactured Colt M4-22 SBR pictured and a Gemtech .22 LR can for it, and just have to fill out a 4473 and undergo a NICS check? There are some things I’d be willing to give up, and some things that I’d definitely not. But what sort of compromise would be a fair trade for deregulating the NFA?

I kick it around in my head, and the problem that I come up with is that there isn’t a whole lot I’m willing to give up to get NFA items deregulated. Magazine cap limits? No way. Limits on CCW? Nope. What I would look at would be an expanded background check law – not the defacto gun registration proposed by the administration, but a law that says any private party transfers other than within families must be run through NICS, then set up a simple web service that allows anyone, for a fee of $20 to log in and run an electronic NICS check. Gun control-nazis get their universal background checks, and we get short barreled rifles and suppressors taken off the NFA. That is a compromise I’d be generally willing to accept, with the obvious caveat that the law has to be written well.

However, the reality may be that I don’t need to accept a compromise on this issue at all. As we continue to advance the gun rights ball down the field, there is an ever-growing possibility that suppressors will be deregulated anyway. We’ll have to see how that one plays out. What would you be willing to give up to get suppressors moved off the NFA and regulated like firearms (4473, etc)? What about short barreled rifles?


  1. I’d love to see suppressors and SBRs removed from the NFA list. However, I am absolutely NOT willing to give up anything to get it. Once we state we are willing to compromise too many of our less-stalwart allies start thinking we are willing to let things slide, and then they give away much more than we wish. To be honest I don’t think we need to give anything up to get suppressors taken off, all we truly need is an education campaign that exposes people to the non-Hollywood truth about them, that they don’t turn a gunshot into a whisper.

  2. Deregulate,defund or debolish(mix of destroy&abolish) it . I’m In! With the caveat that DanH mentioned ,I don’t want to give up anything as we have already lost way to much.

  3. I think it’s very dangerous to talk about “what you would be willing to give up” in order to get SBR’s and suppressors out of NFA control. The current Executive Action proposing tightening the standards for NFA trusts is an example of how such compromising can go horribly wrong. NFATCA worked with ATF and in the end, ATF screwed them by using their petition to call for greater restrictions without providing the relief promised.
    The Firearms Coalition has been talking about, and working toward these goals for many years. We had a senator prepared to offer a bill to deregulate suppressors several years ago, but that got side-tracked by a crisis and never got back on track once Obama took over. We are organizing to advance a new plan for de-listing suppressors and SBR’s, repealing the 1986 ban, and revamping definitions in the NFA and GCA. All of this should be pushed now as a way to put the anti’s on the defensive, and get public commitments from the guys who say they’re on our side, so when we again have a rights-friendly White House, it will be harder for them to ignore us.

  4. I’d rather steal from the opposition’s playbook on this one. Loudly demand a repeal of the entire thing, label antis as unreasonable, and re-brand suppressors as safety devices. If you control the language, you control the debate, and who can argue against de-egulating bolt-on hearing protectors? What monster could demand a fee to own a device that protects the the hearing of all children within a 100′ radius? Think of the children’s eardrums!

    Then find a squishy Dem to craft a ‘compromise’ with where only suppressors and maybe SBRs are removed from the NFA. Bonus points if you can slip in an amendment at the last moment to repeal the Hughes amendment. Repeat as necessary every few years, with much histrionics about how unreasonable Dems refuse to compromise or have a ‘national conversation’ until the NFA, GCA, and sporting purposes import requirements are gone.

  5. I’m with Dave in terms of how I think it could work. My pro-gun Dem Senator, Begich, would vote for that “compromise” in a heartbeat.

  6. Using the most recent revocable trust and CLEO sign-off debacle as a guide, I think the best course of action is for us to just stfu publicly about NFA until we actually have a passable plan in the bag. Sending up trial balloons on NFA gets us “responsible parties” for NFA trusts and corporations with no elimination of CLEO sign-off for individual transfers. Or, have a retiring senator and representative quietly slip in a few amendments to repeal Hughes or drop suppressors from NFA just like the anti-rights people used to get Hughes in the first place.

    For the record, I am not willing to compromise on background checks for private party sales in order to get suppressors and SBRs removed from NFA. Private party background checks have long term implications about the government being able to surreptitiously control who owns guns. About the only compromise I would support is increasing the transfer tax on machine guns in order to get Hughes repealed. An M11/nine is a $400 gun that costs $4,000 because of Hughes for a total of $4,200 after transfer ($4,400 if bought from a private party out of state). I’d be okay paying a $2,000 machine gun transfer tax for a new manufacture M11/nine that costs $400 for a grand total of $2,400.

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