What is the National Firearms Act of 1934?

If you’re new to the gun world or even just getting involved, you may have heard the term “NFA” floating around, because of that you might be wondering what the NFA is. Well, the NFA is the acronym for the National Firearms Act of 1934. This is legislation that was passed back in, obviously 1934, in response to the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre…where 7 gang members died.

Yes, legislation was created because gang members killed gang members, all of which were already breaking laws, in the name of safety. At the time, the type of crime politicians claimed the NFA would stop made up less than 2% of violent crimes. Now in 2020, that crime still exists (if anything it’s increased), and we have more severe mass shootings; even though there’s even more restrictions now than then or before.

What does the NFA do?

The National Firearms Act of 1934 created a list of restricted firearms. For the purposes of this post, we won’t be going over explosives (check out Ordinance Lab if you have questions about those), and we won’t be going over machine guns since they got further restricted (and effectively banned) by future legislation.

In order to get one of the items restricted by the NFA you have to jump through some hoops. To get a jump on it, just know that 90% of the time you’re going to be giving the ATF $200 of your money each time you want an NFA item. That $200 is a tax stamp and it is deductible from your income.
Beyond that, I’m going to put you in the hands of an attorney to explain the rest of the process:

Fun Fact: When the National Firearms Act of 1934 was enacted, tax stamps were $200. The average monthly income in the United States at the time was roughly $114 (average annual income of $1,368).

Per Miller v. The United States (1939) the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the National Firearms Act stating that firearms not in common use by the military were not protected by the 2nd Amendment; unfortunately that decision has never been upheld by anyone. If this decision was to be upheld, all of the measurements for short barreled rifles and short barreled shotguns would be completely redone due to what the military commonly uses now. We would also see silencers taken off of the National Firearms Act as they’re now in common use by the military.

An important takeaway is that SCOTUS acknowledged that militias were going to be formed by untrained and free individuals, so the need to keep and bear arms was an essential right held by those outside of military or militia service.

What are the regulated guns?

As stated before, machine guns were originally regulated by the National Firearms Act, however, with newer legislation regulating them further I’m not going adding them to the list, and with explosives being off the beaten path for most people, I won’t be going over those either. So what we will be focusing in on today is:
SBR= Short Barreled Rifles
SBS= Short Barreled Shotguns
AOW= Any Other Weapon

Before I get started, I’m not a lawyer in any capacity. Before beginning a project, it’s always smart to contact a competent firearm attorney with your questions regarding the NFA; not your local tax attorney.

1. SBR or Short Barreled Rifles

The Bare Basics: A short barreled rifle is a rifle that has a barrel that is shorter than 16″ in length and/or has an OAL shorter than 26″.

To start off, let’s talk about the generic definition of what a rifle is per the ATF’s definition. It’s a gun with a rifled barrel, that’s meant to be stabilized with your shoulder, and shot. Obviously their definition of a regular rifle would include having a barrel length of 16″+ and an OAL of 26″+. So, yes. Adding a stock to your Glock turns it into a short barreled rifle. Adding a stock to your 1911 for reenactment purposes also turns it into a short barreled rifle.

Now, let’s talk about work arounds, and grey areas inside of those work arounds.

Work around #1: Rifle caliber pistols. AR pistols, AK pistols, etc. exist for the soul purpose of showing the world of how idiotic the National Firearms Act of 1934 is. These pistols (handguns by the ATF’s definition of intended to be shot using one hand) can be equipped with a stabilizing brace for one handed shooting.

Further more, the ATF has said that you can shoulder the braces when being used, however, you can put the brace on with the intent of shouldering it. Wanna guess how hard it is to prove intent in court?

Quick Note: Speaking of intent, if you have a short barreled upper sitting in a room with a regular lower receiver and no pistol receiver, the ATF can smack you with constructive intent if they see it.

Work Around #2: So, this one relies on the first workaround as it has to do with vertical foregrips. Legally speaking, you cannot add a vertical fore grip to a pistol, as it changes it from being intended to be fired with one hand, to being fired with two hands. This changes the legal definition of the firearm into an AOW.
HOWEVER! If the gun in question is a pistol, initially, with an overall length of 26″ or longer, you can add a vertical foregrip which. Doing so changes it’s legal status from being a “pistol” into being a “firearm”. I know, fucky, right?
The tricky part here is how to measure the overall length. Before 2019 you would get the overall length from measuring the pistol with the brace fully extended (as shown in the image above). Unfortunately, due to the ATF’s free reign on interpreting law and reinterpreting their interpretations, you now have to measure with the brace collapsed or folded (basically, to the end of the buffer tube on AR pistols).

Aaand as you could guess, getting the OAL is still open to further interpretation by the ATF, which requires gun owners to be constantly in the loop. Otherwise they may end up committing a felony without knowing it and the ATF doesn’t care if you were ignorant to their last second reinterpretation.

Work Around #3: Any pinned/welded/permanently attached muzzle devices count towards barrel length. So if you have a 10″ barrel and permanently attach a 6″ muzzle device, you legally don’t have a short barreled rifle.

2. SBS or Short Barreled Shotguns

The bare basics: A short barreled shotgun is a shotgun that has a barrel shorter than 18″ in length.

As with rifles, let’s talk about the black & white definition the ATF has for shotguns. A shotgun if a gun that is designed to be fired from the shoulder while using a shotgun shell, pretty simple, yeah? Obviously their definition of a regular shotgun is one with a barrel length of 18″+ and it has to have an OAL (overall length) of 26″+.

Fun Fact: Rifle calibers larger than 0.5″ are restricted as Destructive Devices. Shotgun calibers/gauges aren’t as long as the Attorney General deems the caliber as being suitable for sporting purposes.

Work Around #1: Mossberg Shockwave (and similar).
The Shockwave literally bounces away from every definition in the book.

  1. It’s not a handgun, its OAL is over 26″ and has a smooth bore.
  2. It’s not an AOW because it’s OAL is over/at 26″.
  3. It’s not a rifle, it doesn’t have a rifled barrel.
  4. It’s not a shotgun, as it isn’t designed to be shouldered.
  5. It’s not a destructive device because it uses… you guessed it, shotgun shells.

Because of all of those little things, the Mossberg Shockwave (and similar) are considered “firearms”, just like handguns, regular rifles, and regular shotguns.

Work Around #2: Taurus Judge and Smith & Wesson Governor
Neither of these guns fall into the shotgun category, so let’s explain why:

  1. Neither were designed to be fired from the shoulder.
  2. Both have rifled barrels
  3. Caliber/Gauge smaller than .50″ (above would make them Destructive Devices)
  4. It never had an OAL of 26″+

Work Around #3: Shotgun Pistols

For all intents and purposes, this is the same work around as with rifle calibered pistols, except instead of the barrel length being below 16″, the barrel length is below 18″. This includes having the ability to attach a vertical fore-grip if the overall length is at, or exceeds 26″.

3. AOW or Any Other Weapon

AOWs are firearms that fall outside of the “firearm” category, but don’t fit other traditional categories such as short barreled rifles and short barreled shotguns. The world of AOWs is a very confusing one filled with a lot of grey areas that are left open to the ATF to interpret willy-nilly. Since there’s no…static definition of what an AOW is, I’ll just give you some examples.

1. Pistols (of all varieties) with an overall length below 26″ with a vertical foregrip attached.

2. Wallet Holsters. If the wallet holster is permanently attached to the gun (meaning the gun can’t be removed from it to draw from) it’s considered an AOW.
Definitions on what is or isn’t an AOW with wallet holsters varies, and honestly their stupid either way.

3. Anything that isn’t by appearance a firearm.

Unfortunately there aren’t any workarounds for AOW, but there are two different prices for the tax stamp required for them.
If you’re buying the AOW from a shop or a friend, the cost of the tax stamp is $5. If you’re building it though, it’s $200 sadly.

4. Silencers/Suppressors/Mufflers/Whatever

Silencers, as legally termed, and patented, are any devices created to muffle/deafen/quite the noise created by a firearm when being shot. Technically if you purchase a pillow with the intent of using it as a silencer, that pillow is now a regulated item by the guidelines of the National Firearms Act.

Unfortunately the reasons silencers got added was…pretty bad. To make it a long story short, in 1934 family’s were starving, and the government wanted people to have a harder time poaching wild game to feed their families. So, they added silencers to the NFA list. It had no affect on criminals, naturally and it had no affect on the rich that could afford to eat. It only affected the low class (since there wasn’t really a middle class at the time).

Work Arounds: None really exist.
You can serialize an adapter for using fuel filter suppressors and file a stamp for that so you can change out the filter periodically, but it’s not really a work around.

Bonus Fact: At one point the ATF actually outlawed shoestrings and had them listed as a regulated item that required a $200 tax stamp.

Hopefully if you’re new to the firearm community you can see why a great many gun owners are adamantly opposed to any more gun control legislation. Everything that has been being pushed for, or has passed, has been done in the past, or already exists on the books. None of it has worked and none of it has prevented the crime it was supposed to stop; if anything that crime has increased over time.

The only people who are truly affected by the above laws are those who are trying to do everything right, not those who are actively seeking out people to turn into victims.

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