May 19, 1986 and Machine Guns

If you have ever looked into buying a machine gun you have likely noticed the exorbitant prices. This is due to the Firearm Owners Protection Act passed on May 19, 1986. While the act did much to protect gun owners, it included a restriction on machine guns which became codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922(o).  This restriction forbid the transfer to civilians of any machine gun not already legally owned.

This single section effectively froze the market for machine guns. Firearms already possessed by civilians on Form 4s can still be transferred, but no additional machine guns can be transferred to civilians. This prevented police departments who were upgrading weapons from transferring their old firearms to civilians, it prevented manufacturers from selling new machine guns to civilians, it prevented civilians from manufacturing a machine gun on a Form 1, and it even prevented dealers from selling their stock of machine guns to civilians.

In short, if it wasn’t on a Form 4 on May 19, 1986, it cannot be owned by a civilian. (There are minor exceptions for manufacturers and pre May 19, 1986 dealer samples, and I will cover those in a later post.)

As any macro-economics 101 student can tell you, the machine gun supply has not been able to expand to meet demand. Because supply cannot expand, and is even contracting whenever a machine gun is destroyed, the price of available machine guns has continuously risen since May 19, 1986. Items that would cost less than $2,000.00 to make routinely sell for ten times that.

Unfortunately there is no relief to this regulation in sight. Machine guns, even by the standards of most pro gun organizations, are not something to champion. Bills to amend the NFA normally gain no traction, and we are more likely to debate the sagacity of further bans rather than repealing this outright prohibition on new machine guns. If you want a machine gun, there is no time like the present to buy one. But beware, supply is limited and the cost high.