A few weeks ago, we discussed the real, honest truth about silencers. If you missed that post, you can see it here. Meanwhile, it’s worth a closer look at the legal intricacies of owning items regulated by the National Firearms Act, often just called NFA items. An innocent mistake with something as simple as the storage of one of these items can result in felony charges and jail time for you and/or family members, so following a few basic guidelines is essential. Luckily, even though the ATF makes these laws complicated and illogical, there is an easy and affordable way to simplify things and protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to the dishonest and manipulative practices of these government agencies…through the establishment of a legal trust.
Before we really get into the meat of this, it’s worth noting that laws vary by state, and we’re a firearms dealer, NOT a law firm. In matters where your personal liberty and good legal standing are at stake, we always recommend that you talk to a lawyer who is local to your state and specializes in NFA regulations and firearm laws. Google is never a substitute for sound legal advice. It’s worth a small legal fee now to prevent jail time and felony charges later, wouldn’t you agree?
First of all, you need to know what is considered an NFA item. Usually, the dealership where you purchase your guns and accessories will be able to tell you what is and isn’t NFA regulated, but we believe it’s best for you to have a basic understanding anyway. Ignorance is never an excuse under the law. Better to arm yourself with knowledge first, and you’re that much less likely to fall prey to ATF scheming.
So, what qualifies as an NFA item?
-Fully automatic rifles and pistols. In short, ‘machine guns’ are regulated by the NFA. Whether it has a selector switch and can be fired in full or semi-auto, or it’s completely full-auto, it’s considered an NFA item.
-Suppressors. These are silencers, basically mufflers for your gun. They are actually safer to use than firing without one, but that’s another blog post.
-Short-barreled rifles and shotguns. Okay, if your mind immediately went to “sawed off shotgun,” you’re not alone. We’ll talk about the politics behind this later, but for now, all you need to know is that rifles with a barrel length under 16 inches and shotguns with barrels shorter than 18 inches or any long gun with an overall length of less than 26 inches are regulated under NFA. It is easy to get tripped up by the overall length restriction because the barrel may be longer than the limit but they cut the stock down to accommodate use by someone with shorter length of pull.
-Destructive devices. Oh, doesn’t that sound scary? This is starting to get into the gray area of the National Firearms Act, which can be bad news with the ATF. Right now, the official word is that ‘destructive devices’ are divided into two categories…
Explosive ordinances, meaning things like grenades, rockets, incendiary devices, poison gas, and any parts to make these things, and
Large bore firearms, which would be any projectile weapon with a bore diameter greater than 1/2 inch, which equates to 50 caliber. There are a few exceptions, but we recommend discussing that with your lawyer.
-Any other weapon. If this sounds tricky, that’s because it is. This is more NFA gray area, and another case where you should absolutely consult a reputable lawyer if you’re uncertain at all. Basically, the premise is that any firearm that’s not excluded from NFA regulations is, therefore, included. The legal wording says:
“any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive; a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell; weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading; and any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire.”
If you’re confused, that’s understandable. We’re pretty sure it’s intended to be confusing.
The best way to explain this is to say that, for the most part, any kind of improvised or disguised gun (think cane guns, guns made of non-traditional materials, briefcase guns, belt buckle guns, etc) is an ‘any other weapon.’ Other things that fall into this category are less obvious, like pistols with a second vertical grip (because they look scary?) and pistols that are designed to be fired from the shoulder. We’ll do another post on just the “any other weapon” category in the near future, but for now, your attorney is your best resource.
Honestly, you’re probably not going to have too many issues with the last two NFA categories because most people aren’t really in the market for grenade launchers, and 50 cals are a bit out of most of our price ranges, anyway. Still, it bears repeating that if you’re even the slightest bit uncertain, ask your lawyer. You’re going to be talking to an attorney anyway, because the smartest way to protect yourself from ATF harassment is to set up a legal NFA trust. There’s a compelling reason to do this, too, since the consequences can be dire if you don’t.
Consider this: imagine you’ve purchased a suppressor to improve the accuracy and safety of your favorite rifle. You didn’t use a trust because it seemed too complicated and you didn’t want to pay legal fees in addition to the tax stamp you had to purchase to get the suppressor. It’s not a big deal, you reason, since you’re the only one that’s going to be using it anyway. Your wife isn’t even interested in shooting.
When you purchase an NFA item, the ATF has the right to conduct up to one annual inspection of the premises where the item is kept, within some limits. Let’s say an ATF agent comes by your home for this inspection while you’re at work. Your wife, already scared because there are government agents knocking on the door, doesn’t want to do something wrong, so she lets them in and agrees to the inspection. Of course, she knows the code to the gun safe where the suppressor is kept, so she goes ahead and opens it up for the AFT.
Uh oh. Now, you’re not home, and the ATF has just discovered that your wife, who is not legally allowed to have possession of that regulated item, is actually in dominion and control of it in your absence. According to the law, you’re both guilty of a felony.
I’m not saying that the ATF will have the right to knock on your door at any time, day or night, and demand entry if you purchase an NFA item, by the way. You don’t forfeit any of your 4th Amendment rights when you make the decision to legally own an NFA item. For more clarification on that, you can read this article by The Law Office of John Pierce, Esq., who we highly recommend to Virginia residents.
What I am saying is that something as innocent as keeping your NFA item in a safe to which someone else in your household knows the code is enough to consider you a felon, unless you’re smart and you set up an NFA trust.
Trusts are also a form of insurance. May you live to be 120, but in the unlikely event that something does happen to you, a NFA trust will make sure that your valuable firearms and accessories are handled by your family members after your death instead of the courts. You have a Will to handle succession, right? Setting up a trust is just as important to make sure there are no major legal issues and your surviving family isn’t left in a risky situation.
And, of course, we all value our privacy, don’t we? Purchasing NFA items through a legal trust bypasses the need for fingerprint cards, law enforcement sign-offs, and the collection of your personal information. It can also save you administrative fees and speed the process for getting your NFA items, all while preserving your confidentiality and protecting you from excess government interference.
So how do you set up a trust?
You need to find a local attorney who specializes in firearm trusts. In Virginia, we send our customers and friends to The Law Office of John Pierce, Esq. with great confidence. If you live in another state, feel free to contact us and we’ll try our best to find a good referral for someone near you. While there are some websites out there that promise to set up a trust for you online, instantly, and mail it to you within 24 hours for a flat fee, we haven’t personally had any experience with those services and we advocate using a lawyer who will be available to answer your questions throughout the process. Saving money is great, but saving money at the cost of your peace of mind and legal security is an expensive tradeoff.
Make sure that your trust includes anyone who is going to have access to your NFA items, like spouses and adult children. Again, this is something to discuss with your attorney to make sure you’re getting the best legal protection possible. It’s wise to make sure that everyone included in your trust understands why you’re setting it up and what it means for them. All interested parties should have at least a basic understanding of the legality and responsibility involved with having access to NFA items.
Once your trust is set up, any NFA purchases are going to be made by the trust instead of by an individual in the trust. That’s an important distinction. Just tell the dealer where you’re making a purchase that you’re going to be buying through your NFA trust, and they should know what to do.
It’s okay if you don’t feel like an expert just yet. You don’t have to be. By working with a reputable lawyer in your own state, you’ll learn more about any local restrictions, and you’ll get all the specialized information you need to protect yourself from ATF manipulation.
What if you’ve already purchased an NFA item without a trust, and now you want to change that? You can absolutely transfer an item from your individual ownership to the trust…but you’ll have to pay the tax stamp again, because, legally, that item is changing ownership. It’s best to set up a trust BEFORE purchasing any NFA items if you can help it.
We know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really quite simple. Your attorney will walk you through everything you need to do, and in as little as a few days, you’ll be ready to exercise your rights with an extra layer of protection from government meddling. Owning NFA items is rewarding and fun…especially when you know how to beat the system.