NFA Weapons

The original National Firearms Act (NFA) was originally passed in 1934. On its surface it was just a tax on certain weapons, but it was really an attempt to limit crime. The weapons specified in the NFA were commonly used by gangs of the time, including the weapons used in the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Congress wanted to make it harder if not impossible for people to acquire these weapons. This law imposed a $200 tax on the manufacture and transfer of NFA classified weapons, that amount is still the same today. In 1934 $200 would be worth approximately $3,500 today, putting up a considerable hurdle to obtaining these weapons for most people. The weapons that this Act addressed include silencers, machine guns, short barreled rifles and shotguns (rifles or shot guns with barrels less that 18 inches long), and AOWs “any other weapon”. The NFA also required all the weapons it listed to be registered with the Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1968, a 5th amendment issue with the National Firearms Act was discovered and caused the act to lose its power. In the case Haynes v. United States he pointed out the flaw that everyone has to register their weapons. Haynes was a convicted felon and so could not legally own a firearm. He argued that by forcing him to register his weapon where the information would go right to the government and lead to his arrest that it was self-incrimination and thus violated the 5th amendment. The court ruled in favor of Haynes and as a result "To eliminate the defects revealed by Haynes, Congress amended the Act so that only a possessor who lawfully makes, manufactures, or imports firearms can and must register them". This lead to Title II which fixed the 5th Amendment issue and also added destructive devises to the list of NFA weapons.

Today there are only a few states that require registration of firearms and criminals still cannot be charged for not registering a gun due to the self-incrimination it causes. Individual states also have their own restrictions on NFA weapons. While some states have no restrictions such as Alaska, others very strict guidelines on NFA classified weapons such as California and there is a lot of ground in between the two. The state definitions for different NFA weapons may vary from the federal definition. Most of the time federal and state guidelines do not apply to weapons that are classified as antiques or curious and relics.


18 U.S.C., § 921(a)(3)

Note: This section is intended to provide basic guidance in understanding firearm terminology. Please bear in mind that these illustrations do not necessarily depict importable firearms.

The term “Firearm” means:

  • Any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;
  • The frame or receiver of any such weapon;
  • Any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or
  • Any destructive device.

Antique Firearm

18 USC § 921-

  • any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898; or
  • any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph (A) if such replica—
  • is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or
  • uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade; or
  • any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. For purposes of this subparagraph, the term “antique firearm” shall not include any weapon which incorporates a firearm frame or receiver, any firearm which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon, or any muzzle loading weapon which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof.

Curious and Relics

27 CFR 478.11

Firearm curios or relics include firearms which have special value to collectors because they possess some qualities not ordinarily associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons. To be recognized as curios or relics, firearms must fall within one of the following categories:

AOW – Any Other Weapon

26 U.S.C. § 5845(E)

For the purposes of the National Firearms Act, the term “Any Other Weapon” means:
  • Any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive;
  • A pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell;
  • Weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading; and
  • Any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire.
Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.


26 U.S.C. § 5845(b)

For the purposes of the National Firearms Act the term Machinegun means:
  • Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger
  • The frame or receiver of any such weapon
  • Any part designed and intended solely and exclusively or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, or
  • Any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
  • Note: Due to the similarity in appearance and general configuration of semiautomatic firearms, a comprehensive examination of the firearm and/or its component parts is required to correctly determine its classification.

Short Barreled Shotgun

18 USC § 921

  • The term “shotgun” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.
  • The term “short-barreled shotgun” means a shotgun having one or more barrels less than eighteen inches in length and any weapon made from a shotgun (whether by alteration, modification or otherwise) if such a weapon as modified has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.

Short Barreled Rifle

18 USC § 921

  • The term “rifle” means a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.
  • The term “short-barreled rifle” means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.

Destructive Device

18 USC § 921

  • any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas–
  • bomb,
  • grenade,
  • rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
  • missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
  • mine, or
  • device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
  • any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and
  • any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.
  • The term “destructive device” shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684 (2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Attorney General finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes.

Silencers, Suppressers, and Mufflers

18 USC § 921

  • The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.