Gun Digest

The Legalities of Class III Firearms

Firing a  .308 bolt action with a suppressor by AWC. The suppressor keeps muzzle flash and sound signature to a minimum, making it an asset in tactical operations.

Forty-five states allow legally registered machine guns. These firearms are available to civilians if they were manufactured and registered before the magic date in May, 1986. They are called transferable machine guns. All the usual requirements for gun ownership, and then some, apply.

Actually the form that needs to be filled out has similar questions that are on the Form 4473 that you fill out when purchasing a new gun. There is a part on the form where the application needs to be signed by the chief law enforcement official of the area in which you will keep the gun. This is usually not a problem unless possession violates some ordinance or local law.

Before purchasing or possessing any machine gun or buying or building a silencer, apply for and have the ATF registration and tax stamp for the equipment in hand.

But let’s be specific here and use the proper terms. Select-fire weapons are guns that can fire more than one round with one pull of the trigger. Some select-fire weapons will continue firing until the magazine is empty or the trigger is released and some have the ability to limit the number of rounds fired each time the trigger is pulled, as in the three-shot burst configurations.

All this has been summed up by our phraseology culture as a machine gun and deemed not necessary for private citizens by the anti-gun crowd.

The same goes for the suppressor. This technology allows us to reduce the noise of firearms so that we may shoot without hearing protection and noise to bother our neighbors. But somewhere along the line the “silencer” became an evil assassin’s tool.

Another misconception perpetuated by Hollywood and the media is that it is easy to convert a civilian AR-15 into a select fire weapon. It is not easy. Back in the good old days I built a select fire gun from an all Colt AR-15. It was quite a bit of work to make the conversion and not something just anyone can do in the garage with a hammer and a pipe wrench. It also required some intricate machining to make the parts fit.

The M-16 was a break through in the Vietnam war but had problems at first. It has been our battle weapon for over 30 years.

I wish I still had that gun. Access to M-16 internals is also limited these days. They are available for repairs of existing guns and to law enforcement and military armors. Any yahoo who tells you that you can buy machine parts at the local gun show is an idiot.

There are some malfunctions that could turn an AR-15 into a “machine gun,” but only in respects to the letter of how the law is written. The definition of a machine gun is one that fires more than once with one continuous pull of the trigger. If the disconnector and trigger group are not properly fitted the gun will fire when the trigger is depressed and the disconnector will not hold the hammer for the sear and it will fire when the trigger is released. Two shots for one pull of the trigger. This can also happen when replacing AR parts with M-16 parts incorrectly.

This is by law a machine gun but not near as much fun as a real one. If your AR has this malfunction you need to have it repaired immediately because you can still be prosecuted for possessing a machine gun. To me this would be like getting a DUI on one beer.

I recently saw a CSI show where they inferred that a drop-in auto sear was all that was necessary to turn an AR into a machine gun. If only it were so simple. A drop-in auto sear is just that, drop-in. Factory M-16s have an auto sear that is held in place with a pin that goes through the frame like the other pins that hold in the trigger group. The drop-in fits differently.

The legal AR-15 will still need an M-16 trigger group, a bolt carrier and selector switch to operate. Most likely there would have to be some machining of the receiver also. So what they are saying is only half true. It’s much like CSI’s investigating homicides, arresting offenders, and doing dynamic entries.

Oh that’s right, that isn’t even a half-truth because I am retired from one of those departments that CSI is based on. Problem is voters believe what they see on TV.

AR-15 parts differ from M-16 parts. Some of the differences are subtle like the trigger and disconnector. The bolt carriers have big differences in that the M-16 carrier has more metal further back on the bottom groove. This metal contacts the auto sear when engaged causing a bypass of the trigger sear engagement.

The hammer automatically falls when the bolt closes causing another round to discharge. The safety/selector switch on an M-16 has many more grooves and bumps than an AR switch. These allow proper sear engagement for full-auto fire. The guns are also easily distinguished from common AR-15s by the existence of an auto sear and pin, the differences in the parts, and factory machine guns have auto stamped next to the selector switch. All of the parts have to be installed and tuned for it to work properly.

If you decide that you want to get into this type of weapon you will have to weigh out the costs and fun of owning one. For most defensive purposes, police work, and even many military missions, the full-auto aspect is used very little. Unless you have the need to clear some jungle, heavy brush, or lay down enemy sniper suppression fire, it is an expensive way of having fun. A three-shot burst feature would be like an automatic double (or triple) tap and far more useful for defensive purposes.

The Abraxas suppressor by AWC was developed for the United States military. For civilians, a suppressor can improve shooting skills, and you don’t have to wear ear plugs.

We are taught to double tap for the most effective stopping result even with a carbine. I believe the military employs the three-shot burst for this reason. The triple tap effectiveness is still available with greater efficiency of ammo. I have also shot MP-5s that have full-auto and three-shot bursts. The three-shot burst adds to the effectiveness of the pistol round for stopping power. And I really like the diagramming on the selector switch for the MP-5.

Because of cost, I would not get into one of these weapons for just normal defensive purposes. Unless you believe our terrorist enemies may one day resort to up close and personal combat on American soil I would trade out the select fire gun for a less expensive AR carbine. I bring up the terrorist thing because I don’t believe it is that far-fetched. Ever notice that in terrorist training films they are always shooting at cars, people targets, and other ground targets with machine guns and RPGs?

Know all the NFA rules that apply to the weapon you want to own. These rules are plainly written in a confusing manner. This means they are subject to interpretation. Ask questions of your dealer and the ATF if you have any concerns.

It is better to get these laws right the first time, and if you are of the “it’s better to ask for forgiveness” crowd, you will end up with an upside down smiley face and likely a criminal record. There is very little forgiveness at ATF, especially when it comes to machine guns. A good place to start is the ATF website. There is a downloadable information guide to NFA weapons.

It is really not that hard to transfer one of these guns if you aren’t a bad guy. The form is an Application for Tax Paid Transfer & Firearm Registration Form. One of the best ways to get one transferred is to go through a reputable Class III dealer like Ruben Mendiola of DealerNFA Inc. Whether you buy the gun from him or find one from a private owner who wants to sell it to you, you will need to do the transfer before possessing it.

A dealer is not necessary for a sale of a legally registered machine gun between individuals if it is an in-state transfer. The person buying the gun must submit a Form 4 to the ATF and get it back approved before taking possession. The dealers usually provide the paperwork as there are some areas on the form for them to fill out. This form, after it is approved, will be your permit to posses the gun.

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There will be three copies of this form to fill out. Two will go to the ATF for approval and one is for your records. With the two copies that go to the ATF will be two fingerprint cards that the dealer will give you. If you are doing a transfer between individuals, you can apply to the ATF for all the forms necessary to do the transfer.

The fingerprint cards must be completed by the local sheriff’s office fingerprint section. Also on the form is a place for an ID photo. What they are looking for is the 2-inch x 2-inch size picture that is usually taken for passports and such. This must be firmly attached to the application in the appropriate place. I used spray adhesive with good results. Staples are out. It must be permanent.

Fill out the form completely leaving nothing blank. If it does not apply, put in N/A. This will show you looked at the question and it does not apply to you. Write everything out and don’t abbreviate. Write out the full name of your state.

The ATF has one way they want to see the form filled out and that is the way it needs to be done. This will speed things up and prevent it from getting kicked back. Follow the dealer’s instructions; he is well versed in what the ATF wants to see on the form.

The very first one of these I sent in many years ago took six weeks to get back. That was more than 20 years ago. This is not the case now. Three to five months is the normal wait now. The gun will stay in the possession of the dealer or the private owner until the paper comes through.

If you buy the gun from the dealer you will usually have to put the money up front for the gun until the paperwork comes through. Also, there is a $200 tax on the transfer. This will be sent into the ATF with the application. It is not a fee but a tax. The ATF will actually affix a $200 stamp to the finalized application.

The ATF writes the serial number across the stamp after it is issued so it can only be used for that gun and transfer. You must keep a copy of this form with the gun when transporting it anywhere. The pistol grip handles with a compartment door on the bottom is a good place to store a copy. The copy should always be with the gun and the original should be safe somewhere else.

Why own one of these things? I like them because they are the originals. Almost all the military-type semi-auto guns we enjoy started life as select-fire weapons and were modified for civilian use. I was trained in proper use of select-fire weapons in SWAT and if the need arose it would be a handy thing to have available. Whether the anti-gunners like it or not, we the people are the second line of defense.

With this war on terror that we are engaged in, and it is a war, who is going to protect the home front while our troops are extended all over the world? The police? I have all the respect in the world for what they do but they are not around when you need them and they might be the target of the attack.

The police are not equipped for this kind of call either and SWAT always takes a little time to mobilize. The anti’s argue that banning assault weapons will help keep our police safe. Police don’t need to fear legally armed American citizens and should feel some comfort knowing we are there quietly waiting to back them up if needed.

This article appeared in the April 12, 2010 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to learn more. Click here to load up on a subscription.

I guarantee if the Hollywood Shootout would have happened where I live there would have been some bigger guns on the scene much quicker.

The biggest reason I like select-fire guns is they are a hoot to fire. I don’t mean just spraying the hillside with bullets, although that’s fun too, but tactically controlling the weapon and putting three-shot bursts on center mass accurately and regularly.

Some of my interest for these guns is a left over from my training days, I guess; but I like to keep up the skills I learned. I live in a state, and there are many, where clubs put on machine gun shoots. These are fun to watch and even more fun to compete in. Some of these shoots involve exploding targets, which really add some excitement to the shooting.

Applying for a suppressor is much the same as transferring a machine gun though suppressors aren’t restricted by the May 1986 rule and can be made yesterday. They do require at least a Class II license to sell and also require a $200 tax stamp. As with the machine gun transfer, the dealer will greatly aid in filling out the forms.

Again, pictures and fingerprint cards will have to be sent in with two copies of the form. Legally registered suppressors can also be transferred between individuals after the necessary paperwork is approved.

Silencers have much greater sporting use than do machine guns. There are many no-ears shoots around the country that use suppressed firearms only. I have shot many of the suppressors and guns made by AWC and they make guns much more pleasant to shoot. Some of their suppressors actually have been shown to improve the performance of the weapon.

I tested one of their big .50 cal. suppressors and shot the gun with no ear protection and no blow back on my face. It made the gun more pleasant to shoot and no doubt improved my skills with it.

AWC also makes a suppressor for the .308 rifle, which would be an asset to any tactical unit by keeping muzzle flash and sound signature to minimum. For the civilian it would provide quieter shooting of the gun in practice session. Suppressed weapons for entry teams would make life a lot easier on the team’s ears when shooting inside buildings or cars. We practiced shooting from moving vehicles and pressure from the round, not to mention the noise, was tough to deal with. Suppressed fire would allow the operators to shoot and still hear their partners and the radio.

For personal use and home construction, the application is the same but construction cannot commence until the stamp and approved application is in hand. Suppressors are not that hard to build with some tools and ingenuity. There are some good books on the subject. Most of the better ones are made from machined baffles that contain and direct gasses and pressure around inside the tube until both dissipate. Every part of the suppressor is considered a suppressor by the law, even by itself. So do the paperwork and get a stamp before you start experimenting.

The majority of states allow possession of machine guns and suppressors and with a little effort you can join this community. Just make sure you do things to the letter of the law, and if you have questions… ask the ATF.

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