Last week I wrote about the 1986 machine gun ban, and this week I wanted to elaborate on dealer sample machine guns.
Generally, dealer samples are the machine guns that gun shops keep to demonstrate a particular firearm. Today, the military or a local police department may wish to test a firearm out before ordering enough for the whole department. In days gone by, i.e. before May 19, 1986, civilians could also demo a machine gun before buying one.
When the Firearm Owners Protection Act was passed on May 19, 1986 two classes of dealer samples were created. Those owned by gun shops before the passing of the law, i.e. pre-1986 dealer samples, and those purchased by gun shops after the passing of the law, i.e. post-1986 dealer samples. It was clear to the ATF that post dealer samples could only be owned by gun shops actively developing firearms or selling firearms to government entities. The FOPA allowed for nothing else. Unfortunately, interpreting the FOPA as to pre-1986 dealer samples was more difficult.
The FOPA provided that no machine gun could be owned by civilians unless it was legally owned prior to May 19, 1986. All pre-1986 dealer samples were legally owned by civilians, but the ATF interpreted the law as strictly as possible. The ATF deemed that ownership as stock of a FFL shop was distinctly different than ownership by a civilian on a Form 4. Therefore the ATF will not let pre-1986 dealer samples be transferred to anyone without a FFL with a class III license. Sadly, these firearms will never be registered on a Form 4.
However, the ATF recognized that the firearms were legally owned by civilians prior to the FOPA and therefore could remain in civilian hands. By their interpretation, any FFL with a class III license may purchase a pre-dealer sample. Additionally, by a quirk in the law designed to handle FFL inventory on the closing of a business, the owner of the FFL may take personal possession of the machine gun upon the closing of the business. However, the law still prevents the new owner from selling the firearm to anyone other than another FFL with a class III license. (Note that ability to take personal possession of a dealer sample only applies to pre-1986 samples and not post-1986.)
In summary, if you want to buy a machine gun on a Form 4, you will have to avoid pre and post dealer samples. These firearms are only available to a FFL with a class III license.