What is an NFA item, and how can I buy one?

Dirty Dog

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When firearms are discussed, it is not uncommon to hear the term "NFA" or "NFA item". I'm going to talk about what "NFA item" means, and how you can legally obtain these items in the U.S.A.

What is an NFA item?

The NFA refers to the National Firearm Act of 1934. The NFA specifies groups or types of items that are regulated, and sets forth the procedures to legal obtain those items. The specific items restricted are any firearm capable of firing more than one round with each trigger pull (full auto or burst), shotguns with a barrel less than 18" or an overall length less than 26", rifles with a barrel less than 16" or an overall length of less than 26", any suppressor, any disguised or improvised firearm, and any explosive device.

How can I legally purchase an NFA item?

There are at least three different ways you can legally obtain NFA items.

The first method is to become a dealer. You will need to obtain an FFL (Federal Firearms License) to become a gun dealer. The cost of this varies depending on exactly what you'd like to be able to buy, sell, and import. On top of this, you will need to register as an SOT (Special Occupational Taxpayer). This costs $500-$1000 per year, but allows you to buy and sell NFA items. When you buy one, this is the only option that doesn't require you to pay a $200 tax fee and go through another 6 month ATF/FBI check. You will often hear people call this a "Class 3 license" or "Class 3 FFL" but those terms are really not correct.

The other two methods start out the same. You purchase one or more NFA items. The items must be physically retained by the FFL until your paperwork is completed. You get a stack of paperwork and fill it out. You send some of it to your local sheriff or a judge to get signed. This notifies them that you are purchasing NFA items. Once those forms are returned, you send all your paperwork, and a check for $200 to the ATF. In about 6 months, you will get them back with a tax stamp attached. Make copies. When you take an NFA item out of your property, you need to have this with you. I keep copies in the glovebox and my range bag. The originals are in a firesafe.

Using this method, the item can belong to you, or to a trust.

If the item belongs to you, you CANNOT transfer it to another party. If, for example, you pass away, nobody is allowed to touch the NFA item(s). The item must be transferred to an FFL SOT and then transferred (with all the above paperwork shuffling) to the new owner.

The other method is to set up a trust. When you do so, you list trustees and designate one of them to become the owner of the trust in case of your death. Each of those people will undergo a background check when the trust is established, and on your demise the NFA items will be automatically transferred to them. Obviously, this saves a ton of hassle.

The first suppressor I bought was transferred to me directly. Since then, I have set up a trust and transferred ownership of my various NFA items to it.

The process is not nearly as painful as it might seem. Most FFL SOT gun shops will handle it for you. My favorite shop works through Silencer Shop. They have a kiosk in the shop that walks you through the process. It took less than 10 minutes of my time. The designated trustees just had to drop by and spend 10 minutes of their time as well. Then you twiddle your thumbs while the paperwork percolates through the alphabet soup of government offices. When it's finished, you get an e-mail with your paperwork and tax stamp attached as a PDF. Print it out and head to the gun shop to pick up your items.

It should go without saying, but you will want to do some research into the laws that apply to your items. For example, the ATF is perfectly fine with you traveling across state lines with your suppressor (but check state law...) but you cannot cross state lines with any other NFA device without first notifying the ATF and obtaining permission. The laws are every bit as confusing as you'd expect.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I had a 01 FFL license in the 1980s, when you could run a business without a storefront. When they changed the rules, I gave up my license. I had a Curio and Relic license recently, but gave that up as well; not many C&R eligible items available anymore, and many gun dealers don't know how to deal with them, so they'll insist on a transfer to a Class 01 dealer, meaning I have to pay a transfer fee anyway, so what's the point.

I've never owned any NFA items. They're cool and all but I have no desire or need for a suppressor, SBR, or full-auto weapons. I had all my fun with that type of thing on the taxpayer's dime in the 1980s.

Nothing against them; just don't want any.
 
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Dirty Dog

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I've never owned any NFA items. They're cool and all but I have no desire or need for a suppressor, SBR, or full-auto weapons. I had all my fun with that type of thing on the taxpayer's dime in the 1980s.

Nothing against them; just don't want any.
I shoot a fair bit for fun, and I like being able to hear. Hence suppressors. They also reduce muzzle flip, make follow up shots quicker, and reduce muzzle flash, which is good for vision.

I do not own any full-auto weapons. I've never been a fan of the Spray & Pray School of Marksmanship.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I shoot a fair bit for fun, and I like being able to hear. Hence suppressors. They also reduce muzzle flip, make follow up shots quicker, and reduce muzzle flash, which is good for vision.

I do not own any full-auto weapons. I've never been a fan of the Spray & Pray School of Marksmanship.
Micky Mouse Ears cost less and I can cross state lines with 'em. ;)
 

Bill Mattocks

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There are no restrictions on crossing state lines with suppressors.
Except state laws, where applicable. But I'm splitting hairs. I'm not against suppressors and I agree with the reasons why a person would want one. I just haven't found a use case that applies to me, that's all. I'm not putting them down. It's like electric cars. I think they're cool, I just don't have a need for one and don't want one at this time.
 
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Dirty Dog

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Except state laws, where applicable.
A common misconception. This is the actual text of the applicable federal law:

禮 926A Interstate transportation of firearms. Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision there of, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the drivers compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

In other words, I am completely within my rights to travel through one of the 8 states in which suppressors are illegal. I just have to make sure any suppressed weapon is unloaded, securely locked, and inaccessible. I can't take a suppressor to a state where they are illegal and stay there for my vacation, but I can absolutely travel through them with it. I use the same locking gun cases I use when flying with a firearm.

For that matter, it's important to check the validity of your concealed carry permit when you travel across state lines. While most states offer reciprocity, there are those that do not. In some of those states, it's fine to have the gun in your car, but you cannot get out while wearing it. In others, you're required to disarm and place the weapon in a locked, inaccessible compartment.

It's important to note that I am talking specifically about suppressors. While you can transport any NFA items across states which outright ban them, it is necessary to file a form with the ATF before traveling across state lines with any NFA item other than a suppressor.

I'm in no way trying to convince you to go buy any of these items. I'm simply providing information to anyone who is interested.
 
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