What is the National Firearms Act?

National Firearms Act tax stamp

$200 tax stamps are legally required to own most NFA-regulated items, such as suppressors. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

The 1934 law that regulates many of the cooler items in the gun world, the National Firearms Act and its associated taxes raises many questions. Here are some answers.

How did the NFA make it into law?

Introduced into the 73rd Congress on May 28, 1934, as H.R. 9741 by U.S. Rep. Robert “Bob” Doughton, a North Carolina Democrat, the legislation sailed through Capitol Hill in less than a month. For historical perspective, the country was amid the Great Depression and lawmakers in the same Democrat-controlled Congress also sped the Securities Act, which established the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, which established the Public Works Administration, to the waiting hands of President Franklin Roosevelt for signature. The measure passed both chambers on a voice vote, with no record of which lawmakers approved it.

The bill that made it through Congress was watered down compared to other proposals at the time, such as HR 9066. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Hatton Sumners, D-TX, H.R. 9066 contained most of the same regulations and restrictions as the NFA but also targeted handguns and added a $5,000 yearly tax on firearm makers and importers. When adjusted for inflation, that figure would approach $100,000 today.

What does the NFA regulate?

While the new law did not outright ban the items under its control, it did require that shotguns and rifles with barrels less than 18 or 16 inches respectively in length, machine guns, firearm “mufflers and silencers” and firearms such as cane guns described as “any other weapons” be regulated and a tax established that was due whenever the device was made or transferred. Likewise, those who produced such items would have to pay a special occupational tax. The base price for most of these taxes was set at $200 per item, per transfer. This was the equivalent of about $3,800 in 2019 dollars.

As noted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was originally part of the IRS until 1972, “The $200 making and transfer taxes on most NFA firearms were considered quite severe and adequate to carry out Congress’ purpose to discourage or eliminate transactions in these firearms.”

The amount of revenue paid into the U.S. Treasury has shifted over the years as, in general, the amount of tax has remained the same. In 1938, just $5,000 was collected. By 1984, $1.2 million was paid. In 2017, the ATF noted that just over $29 million was collected.

The NFA today

Today, the NFA controls the making and transfer of short-barreled rifles (SBR), short-barreled shotguns (SBS), silencers/suppressors, machine guns, AOWs, and destructive devices — with the latter something of a “catch-all” that includes everything from live grenades to anti-tank guns. Registration and tracking of such items are included in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, or NFRTR.

As of February 2018, over 5.5 million items were carried on the record:

AOW 60,706
Destructive Devices 2,818,528
Machine guns 638,260
Short Barreled Rifles 345,323
Short Barreled Shotguns 149,866
Suppressors 1,489,791

Has the NFA been challenged?

As with many controversial laws, the NFA has been the target of numerous legal challenges over its existence. This included the 1937 Sonzinsky case before the Supreme Court, which upheld the law as a valid exercise of the taxing power of Congress. More recently, the office of the current Solicitor General of the United States, Noel Francisco, used Sonzinsky in defense of the NFA in a challenge to the nation’s highest court in the case of a Kansas man found guilty of an NFA violation.

Jeremy Kettler in 2017 was found guilty of violating federal laws concerning the manufacturing and selling of suppressors and was given a year’s probation on a single count of possession of an unregistered NFA item. With the conviction upheld on appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit last October. Aided by gun rights groups, Kettler appealed his case to the Supreme Court in January, arguing that the NFA is unconstitutional and that it is a money-losing tax that produces no effective revenue for the government while effectively criminalizing the devices it controls.

Francisco’s office in May told the court that Kettler’s petition should be denied, saying that it “lacked merit.” The Supreme Court declined to take up Kettler’s petition on June 10.

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Customs puts the Crimp on Banned Gun Parts from China

CBP officer holds gun parts

The items seized were worth some $378,000 and came into a California port in three shipments. (Photo: CBP)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week announced they had intercepted and seized 52,601 firearms parts in violation of the Chinese Arms Embargo. CBP detailed that the parts, worth an estimated $378,000, included sights, stocks, brakes, buffer kits, and grips that were shipped in three batches through the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport. While China legally exported boatloads of firearms to the U.S. in the 1980s, they are currently one of just eight countries barred from sending guns and ammunition to the country.

According to CBP, the parts included a mix of sights, stocks, muzzles, brakes, buffer kits, and grips (Photo: CBP)

According to CBP, the parts included a mix of sights, stocks, brakes, buffer kits, and grips (Photo: CBP)

“We work closely with our strategic partners to ensure import compliance while maintaining the highest standards of security at our nation’s largest seaport,” said LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of the LA/Long Beach Seaport. “This interception underscores the successful collaboration between CBP officers, import specialists, and ATF investigators.”

The current ban on firearms from China was put into place in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton. At the time, the country was reportedly the source of about one-third of all guns and more than half the rifles brought into the U.S. from overseas each year. The firearms prohibition by the Clinton administration came at the same time the White House renewed China’s “Most-Favored-Nation” status for trade privileges despite public outcry over Bejing’s policy of repression on human rights.

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2 Million 9mm Pistols Born in 2018 as Gun Production Numbers Grow

A rack of Diamondback DB9 9mm pistols at the factory in Cocoa Florida

U.S.-based gun makers produced over 8.6 million new firearms last year, with almost a quarter of those being 9mm pistols. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

Initial gun production numbers are in from 2018, showing an increase from the previous year’s figures and the solid popularity of 9mm handguns.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 8,669,259 new firearms of all sorts were produced last year. This is up from 8,327,792 released into commerce in 2017.

The largest single category of firearms produced in 2018 was in pistols chambered larger than .380ACP to 9mm, with 2,281,450 handguns logged. This is up significantly from 1,756,618 in the same category reported in 2017.

By further comparison, 11.49 million new firearms were produced in 2016 — a modern record — while just over 9 million were produced in both 2015 and 2014. Earlier in the century, domestic gun production numbers remained largely constant at between 3 to 4 million from 2000 to 2008 and then began surging upwards to the 2016 peak, coinciding with the administration of President Obama.

The latest information comes as part of the interim installment of the ATF’s Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Report. These reports, compiled from all licensed gun makers in the country large and small, are delayed a year due to the Trade Secrets Act. Because of this, the full 2018 data, broken down by manufacturers, will not be available until next year.

According to the full 2017 report, the top six domestic makers of 9mm pistols in the country by volume– not counting firearms that were imported from overseas– were Smith & Wesson (606,732 produced), Sig Sauer (368,264), Ruger (163,865), SCCY (150,235), Kimber (98,385) and Glock (94,665).

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230 Capitol Hill Dems have Signed on to Ban ‘Assault Weapons’

IWI bullpup

More than 200 lawmakers have signed on to bills that make the 1994 federal Assault Weapon Ban look like a dress rehearsal at gun control (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

With a plan in the House to approve a range of gun control proposals in coming weeks, most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill are also backing a ban on “assault weapons.”

In the House, H.R.1296 has 201 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors along with a sole Republican — U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York. Meanwhile, in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s SB 66 has 30 co-sponsors among fellow Dems and those who caucus with them.

The twin measures are the most ambitious bans proposed in recent years. They would bar the importation, production, or transfer of 205 firearms by name to include a myriad of semi-auto AR-15 and AK-47 variants. Going past that, any semi-auto rifle with a detachable magazine and any “military-style feature” such as a barrel shroud, pistol grip or threaded barrel, would be caught in the net. Even semi-auto rifles with a fixed magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds would be covered by the proposed new bans.

Feinstein’s bill also includes a nationwide ban on adjustable stocks, Thordsen-style stocks such as used in “featureless rifles” marketed in states like California, “assault pistols” that weight more than 50 ounces when unloaded, and popular pistol stabilizing braces that have become widespread in recent years.

Gun control legislation green-lit

House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, last week announced he plans to call his committee back into session early, with a Sept. 4 meeting date, to address gun control. Nadler said at least three bills — the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, the Keep Americans Safe Act, and the Disarm Hate Act — will be marked up by the committee and head to the Democrat-controlled House floor for further consideration.

The bills respectively would help encourage gun confiscation orders through so-called “red flag” laws, ban “high capacity” magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and prevent those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms.

“We will also hold a hearing on September 25th to consider ways to address the dangers posed by assault weapons,” said Nadler.

Elsewhere in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, has refused to bring the Senate back from recess to take up similar legislation but advised earlier this month that Senate Republicans were ready to work on “bipartisan, bicameral” efforts, “without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”

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Beto O’Rourke on AR15s: You Won’t Be Able to Buy Them At All

Beto ORourke on AR15s You Won't Be Able to Buy Them At All cover

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke went to a gun show in the Deep South last week, just after announcing his plan to ration, ban and regulate firearms nationwide should he reach the Oval Office in 2020. (Screenshot via Twitter)

Democrat Presidental candidate Beto O’Rourke announced his gun control platform last week to include a ban on suppressors and common semi-auto firearms — and that’s just for starters.

O’Rourke, a former El Paso City Council member and Congressman who declined to seek re-election in 2018 during a failed bid unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, debuted his plan while on the road in the perma-red Deep South. While stopping at a gun show in Arkansans immediately after, O’Rourke said he listed to gun owners and sellers and “appreciated hearing their perspectives.” However, posting an image on social media of himself under a sign advertising $395 AR-15s, said plainly, “if I’m president, you wouldn’t be able to buy weapons of war for $395. You wouldn’t be able to buy them at all.”

O’Rourke’s plan aims to reverse the current trend that “America is the only country in the world with more guns than people,” and would impose a ban on the manufacturing, sale, and possession of “military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” as well as trigger cranks, silencers and bump stocks. There would be no grandfathering of newly-outlawed guns and devices with “mandatory buybacks” being funded through an unspecified increase in the current 10 to 11 percent excise tax on the firearms industry.

Those looking to purchase a firearm under would-be President O’Rourke’s plan would face universal background checks, national gun licensing requirements and be limited to one gun acquisition per month, which would have to be registered. Those who sell more than five guns in a year would have to become licensed dealers. With some exceptions, the minimum age for purchasing a firearm would be set at 21.

However, the number of guns available to purchase could be limited for even well-qualified and vetted buyers, as, according to O’Rourke’s platform, “all new handguns will be microstamped.” California has a similar requirement for new semi-auto handguns for the consumer market, which no current manufacturer says they can meet due to technical reasons, a sticking point which has brought that state into a series of prolonged lawsuits with firearms industry trade groups who argue it is a “slow-motion ban on handguns.”

Other bullet points from O’Rourke’s plan include declaring gun violence to be a public health emergency, establishing a federal red flag law, and moves to open social media platforms and internet hosting companies to a variety of lawsuits designed to block content.

According to national poll aggregator Real Clear Politics, O’Rourke is currently polling in sixth place among declared Democrat Presidental candidates, between South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ.

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Gun Owners, 2A Groups Challenge California ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban

AR-15 with Magpul D60 mag and 30 round PMAGs

California has had a ban on many otherwise ordinary semi-autos since 1989 (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

Three gun owners allied with pro-gun groups filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against California officials challenging the state’s “assault weapon” ban. The gun owners — James Miller, Patrick Russ, and Ryan Peterson — argue that the state’s longstanding prohibition on many commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms violates the Second Amendment.

The lawsuit names California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and others as defendants and is supported by the Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, the California Gun Rights Foundation and San Diego County Gun Owners, the latter of which has signed on as a co-plaintiff.

“The government cannot ban the constitutionally-protected firearms at issue in this case,” said attorney George M. Lee, representing the gun owners. “We look forward to proving that the State’s statutes, policies, and practices at issue, in this case, are both unconstitutional and irrational.”

The 19-page complaint argues that the firearms banned by the current law are “exactly the sorts of lawful weapons in common use that law-abiding people possess at home for lawful purposes and exactly what they would bring to service in militia duty should such cause be necessary.” Going on to hold that the Second Amendment is not a second-class right, the filing argues the increasing layers of bans established in California since the state first moved to outlaw certain guns in 1989 continue to step on that right with increasingly heavy boots.

While the three gun owners in the case admit they own AR-15-style firearms, their guns have been retrofitted to have fixed magazines as mandated by state law to be compliant– unlike the same rifles ordinarily found in virtually every other state that has no such requirement. This requirement, outlines the filing, is incompatible with a ruling issued by a federal court in March that found the state’s prohibition on the possession of large-capacity magazines was unconstitutional.

“This is a straight-forward case to protect our clients’ constitutional rights and property,” said John Dillon, an attorney for the gun owners. “The State of California’s ban on these firearms will fail constitutional scrutiny for the same reasons that its ban on firearm magazines did.”

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Gun Control Advocates Pile on to Derail Supreme Court 2A Case

A rack of Springfield muskets and rifles

A case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could see a New York City gun restriction knocked down, setting what gun control advocates fear could set a precedent. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

This week saw a flurry of activity as lawmakers and gun control groups weigh in on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a New York gun restriction.

Over a dozen new legal briefs were posted Monday in the case brought by gun owners challenging the constitutionality of the Big Apple’s “premises permit” scheme, a local New York City law that drastically restricts the ability to leave one’s premises with a firearm. The new filings come from five Senate Democrats — Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie Hirono, Richard Blumenthal, Richard Durbin, and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as 139 Dems in the House, with the lawmakers taking New York’s side.

“Legislatures, from the municipal to the national, should be free to adopt common-sense solutions to our nation’s gun violence epidemic that do not infringe core Second Amendment rights, without limiting those solutions only to the ‘least restrictive’ means or the most historically analogous method,”House Democrats argue in their brief.

Similar filings came from the states of New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia as well as anti-gun groups such as Everytown and March for Our Lives, all angling to insulate the city from a ruling which could prove to be a huge victory for Second Amendment advocates.

While the city’s restriction on taking firearms from an owner’s licensed premises to a second home or shooting range outside of the city was previously upheld by lower and appellate courts, the Supreme Court agreed in January to hear a further challenge to the law — the first such move by the court on a major gun case since 2010. This triggered a response by New York City officials to try to short circuit the case while local and state lawmakers repealed the restriction, arguing that the subject was moot.

Nonetheless, the nation’s high court has remained steadfast and kept the case on their docket, setting the stage for the challenge to continue. Since then, 120 Republican GOP members of Congress have filed a brief in support of the gun owners, followed by another brief submitted by the allied attorneys general or governors of 24 red states. Add to this are separate briefs from dozens of gun rights groups ranging from Gun Owners of California and the Firearms Policy Coalition to Black Guns Matter, the Liberal Gun Club, and the Pink Pistols.

Importantly, the U.S. Justice Department has also gone on record as being against New York’s gun restriction with the office of Noel Francisco, the U.S. Solicitor General, saying, “The ban all but negates the textually protected right to bear arms, and interferes with the right to keep arms as well.”

The Supreme Court has distributed the case for their October conference.

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