By Dan Shea
“So it is that good warriors take their stand on ground where they cannot lose, and do not overlook conditions that make an opponent prone to defeat.” Master Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Q1- I currently have an FFL on file with you at your class 3 business, and I plan on obtaining my Class 3 Dealers License in the near future. I understand the difference between pre-86 transferable, pre-86 dealer sample, and post-86 dealer sample (dept. letterhead) firearms. The question that I have is as follows: When dealing with city, county, or state agencies (police, sheriff, state patrol, etc.) or state national guard units on purchasing weapons from their inventories or armories, how can one readily and reliably tell the difference between a pre-86 transferable from a pre-86 dealer sample from a post-86 firearm?
A1- Knowing what the transfer status is can make or break a dealer who is trying to do business with an agency. This is, of course, the art of the deal. If the machine guns are definitely known to have been in the department since before 1986, or before 1968, you have a chance of “Guessing” the status. You haven’t even thrown in the “Form 10” machine guns yet. None of the guns have exterior markings that say the status, although many of the long time dealers can make a pretty good educated guess. Original Colt markings on an M16A1 can be taken as an indication of transferable (No guarantees though) and if you know the names of the importers who were only active in the 1970’s or early1980’s, any gun with their name is pretty sure to be a Pre 1986 Dealer Sample.
A little background; machine guns that were existing in the United States before 1968, regardless of country of origin, and were registered before November 1968, or during the 1968 Amnesty, are all fully transferable to individuals on a tax paid transfer (Form 4) or if they are legally deactivated war trophies or coming from a government agency, on a tax exempt transfer (Form 5). Machine guns that were manufactured in the US before May 19, 1986, and registered with NFA Branch in the United States and stayed here (With the export exception of temporary export) have the same fully transferable status.
Machine guns that were legally imported to the United States From January 1969 until May 19, 1986 have the status of “Pre-1986 Dealer Samples”, regardless of their original country of manufacture. Some Thompsons were exported during World War II, then imported back into the US during the 1970’s and 1980’s- these are Pre-86 dealer samples, just like Beretta machine guns or any other foreign manufactured gun imported in this time frame. Dealers like to find these guns, because ATF regulations allow for the dealer to keep these firearms in his personal collection after giving up his Special Occupational tax status as a Class 3. These can also be willed to a lawful heir. (This is why grown men try to be adopted by friends who are Class 3 dealers). Traditionally, the Pre-86 dealer sample guns are less expensive than fully transferable guns.
Enter the Hatch Amendment. Public Law 922o. This was the ban on further manufacture of machine guns for private ownership, and it was effective May 19, 1986, commonly referred to as Black Monday. All machine guns either imported after that date, or manufactured after that date are considered “Post-86 Dealer Samples”, and the ATF regulations state that a dealer must dispose of or destroy them when he gives up SOT status. These machine guns are legally existing for dealers to do business with government agencies. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the governments authority to take away the private property of a citizen, and SAR is staying out of that at the moment. Suffice it to say that we feel the whole 1986 ban was unconstitutional to begin with, and since we are politically incorrect at the moment, no one cares to champion the cause in Congress. Post 86 Dealer Samples have a much lower value than fully transferable or Pre-86 Dealer Sample machine guns.
Then, we have the “Form 10” machine guns. There is a provision in the regulations for a government agency to take confiscated or found machine guns (Or other NFA items) and register them for their own use. This is a sort of “Mini-Amnesty” that only applies to Police departments and government affiliated museums. Unfortunately, many PD’s registered machine guns on Form 10’s when they either couldn’t find their original registration papers that would have made the guns transferable, or they didn’t know any better. Yes, I mean if they had used a Form 1 to “Make” the gun for the agency, it would now be a transferable piece. Not exactly Kosher, but I have seen this. Form 10 guns are not allowed to be transferred to dealers for other than destruction. They can be transferred to other law enforcement agencies, or to government affiliated museums.
Now that we have covered all of this ground, we can get to your question. How can you tell the difference? Only by the paperwork, and even then, only with a thorough check at NFA Branch to research the Registry for the status of the firearm in question. In the lower left hand corner of the Form 5 that the agency has the firearm registered on, there should be a rubber stamp marking on any restricted gun.
Fully transferable machine guns only have an approval there, with some initials of the examiner or other shorthand that NFA Branch ATF used at the time. The rubber stamps will indicate the status.
“Limited to use as a Sales Sample” and “Limited to Law Enforcement Use” are typically examples of “Pre-86 Dealer Sample” restrictions.
Anything that refers to “Restricted Registration; Possession limited to continued compliance with public law 99-308” will be a “Post-86 Dealer Sample”. There have been five or six different variations on this message.
Form 10 restricted guns will be on a Form 10 “Application for Registration of Firearms Acqired by Certain Governmental Agencies.”
These are general guidelines, and the examiners at NFA Branch ATF in Washington DC frequently use the wrong stamp, and ATF is under no obligation to honor the supposed status of a firearm that had paperwork accidentally mis-marked. The only sure way to tell what the status is, is to have NFA Branch research the date the firearm was registered. You can not do this, only the agency can- you can assist by having a letter drawn up for them to sign and send to NFA Branch asking for their research in the matter. Sometimes a PD will want a huge amount of trade for a Thompson they have had since 1950, because they saw the value in some magazine. Only to find out it was a Form 10 gun and it couldn’t be transferred- worth a few hundred dollars in parts at the most. Other times a dealer will stumble onto one of the handful of pre 1968 fully transferable Uzi’s, and get it for a few Glocks and some leather. That is what makes it all worthwhile.
By the way, it is doubtful that your National Guard or Reserve will be transferring any machine guns to you- it is not only against policy, but the military was not required to have any of their firearms registered with the NFRTR.
Q2- Your response to a recent Raffica question commented that mixing HK-93 in-bolt/in stock style recoil buffers may be dangerous. Some 12 years ago, I acquired a Ciener converted HK-93 which came with the In-bolt style buffer and a fixed stock which, per the picture in Raffica, also has a buffer. The HK-93 has seen little use, although, when fired has functioned well. Your comment causes me concern that the “double” buffer systems may be dangerous. I can well understand the potential for problems presented using a non-buffer bolt with a non-buffer stock, but are the same concerns applicable for a buffer-type bolt and buffer-type stock combination? Thanks for considering this questions.
Michael C. Hawker
A2- (This was in SAR Vol 1 No 6, page 10). I have not had the opportunity to compare the two for “Impact point”, but if they don’t interfere with each other, the only real effect I can see is to lessen the strain on either one during the end of the recoil cycle. The problem might arise if they do not miss each other or entirely contact each other, and you have a small area taking the impact. It might only “Torque” the recoil forces, forcing two buffers past each other leading to a mechanical failure, or it might cause more serious damage. Looking at the photos again, I think the two buffers more likely will miss each other entirely, and probably complement each other. The real danger here was to attempt to utilize the HK33 /93 system without the buffer on either the stock or the carrier, in which case you have introduced an unsafe condition to the otherwise superb HK system.
Q3- Do you have any info on the American 180 subgun in .22? When I tell folks about it, they think I am making it all up. We used to have a Police Department until a tax revolt lowered our property taxes. Since then, we have had to contract with the county to have both police and fire protection. I was one of the police reserves that was in on the testing of same weapon. Fired it and like it. Our Police Dept. bought it. It is now in the hand of ———— County, and it is never fired.
A3- I made your letter anonymous on purpose, so that your county Sheriff doesn’t get five hundred phone calls. The American 180 is certainly a very real machine gun, and it is very desirable. Captain Monty is a big fan of this little bullet hose (!800 rpm) and frequently writes on the subject.
The AM-180 uses a 177 round drum (larger ones are available) and fires from the open bolt. Originally it was Austrian, and the Austrian guns are Pre-1986 Dealer Samples, having been brought into the US from 1972 on. There was an American company that made these as well, and they are the transferable guns. Without getting into too much detail here, and spoiling a wonderful series of articles we have coming up in SAR, I would just like to assure your friends that the AM-180 did indeed exist, and many of them were made by about 5 incarnations of the different manufacturers. There was a semi-automatic version as well. Watch SAR for more in-depth on this. And no, I did NOT contact the Sheriff’s department, it wouldn’t be fair….
Questions to: Dan Shea C/O SAR
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N12 (September 1998)|