Many people have speculated that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Craig Paddock used automatic weapons in his savage attack that killed 58 people and wounded over 500 others, and in the wake of such speculation much misinformation has been purveyed about the laws regulating automatic weapons in the United States.
Here is a brief collection of data designed to set the record straight, largely derived from Sean Davis at The Federalist:
- Fully automatic weapons are defined as weapons that can fire multiple rounds with only one pull of the trigger; a semi-automatic weapon will fire one round for each pull of the trigger and prepare the gun to fire another round once the trigger is re-pulled.
- The National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted in 1934; it was amended by the Gun Control Act in 1968 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986. The Firearm Owners Protection Act amended the National Firearms Act to include within the definition of “machinegun” any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in converting a weapon to a machinegun.
- You must have a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to manufacture, sell, or own any “NFA” weapon. “NFA” forearms are, as defined by ATF: a shotgun having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length; a weapon made from a shotgun if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length; a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; a weapon made from a rifle if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length; a machinegun; any silencer (as defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code); and a destructive device.
- Regular gun manufacturers and dealers must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to legally make and sell non-NFA firearms. Others wanting to make or sell NFA items must obtain an additional license as well as an FFL.
- It is illegal for any private civilian to own any fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986. The ATF’s official handbook on NFA laws and regulations states it is to make new replacement parts for pre-1986 machine guns.
- Pre-1986 machine guns may be sold only by a Class 3 FFL and must be registered with the ATF, which necessitates extensive background checks; they can take as long as a year and require fingerprints and a photo; the owner is then added a federal gun registry and matches it to the serial number of the licensed NFA item.
- Under Nevada state law, NFA items are only legal if they have been legally obtained and registered under federal law.