Disclaimer: There are states in which full auto is prohibited, but to learn more about full auto limitations at the federal level, read on.
How did I get to play with the full auto AR and AK? It’s perfectly legal. Perhaps its the media’s inability continually changing definition of “assault rifles,” but there seems to be a lot of public misconception about the legality of full auto firearms. My goal with this post is to clarify some of that.
The restriction of fully automatic firearms is regulated by the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. With the passage of FOPA, the United States Federal Government declared it illegal to make a new fully automatic firearm, convert a semi automatic firearm to fire in full auto, or to import a fully automatic firearm unless “transferred to the U.S. Government (USG) or a law enforcement agency, or to a Federal firearms licensee for use as a USG or law enforcement sales sample.” (27 CFR 479.105(d)). This means that any full auto firearm manufactured in the US or imported to the US before May 19, 1986 is legal for anyone who is willing to pay a one time $200 tax stamp (per firearm) to own a full auto or burst fire gun. However, due to the fixed supply of fully automatic firearms that currently exist in the US that are available for civilian purchase, the price for the qualifying full auto guns is outrageous. For example, I found a full auto MP-40 described as being in “85% condition” for sale on GunBroker.com for the starting price of $14,000. Although, depending on the firearm, it is not uncommon to find prices upwards of $20k.
For the thrifty types who’d like to make their own full auto firearms, there is a legal outlet: they must have a license to manufacture NFA firearms and must also pay a special occupational tax as a class 3 dealer. That SOT tax is usually $1000 (there are special circumstances under which that tax is reduced to $500). Those with qualifying Federal Firearms Licenses who have that ATF approval can only sell the full auto firearms they manufacture to law enforcement or government entities. And, should these dealers chose to forgo renewing their licenses and paying their annual tax fee, they must then destroy any NFA item they created under that class 3 license.
Essentially, there is a great wad of red tape (and a number of restrictions) associated with making your own full auto firearm (the ATF considers even owning a full auto sear tantamount to owning a full auto gun), but it is entirely possible. But, all you need to be the owner of your very own pre-1986 full auto firearm is a whole lot of cash.
Reference for this article: United States Department of Justice ATF NFA firearms FAQ