Current Gun Laws In the United States

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By: Libby BeSotoro – BeSotoro is a retired Army Senior Officer with a Doctorate in Market Economics and a contributor to  The BrassTacs

“Gun control seems to be the topic du guerre of late. Everyone has an opinion, but few seem to have facts. As a result, the arguments go around and around, no one gets any more informed, no one adjusts their opinion, and the collective intelligence and level of decorum in interaction keeps sinking lower and lower, ultimately resting upon personal attacks with affront concerning insults and entanglement. Soon enough, everything dies down, then another piece of human debris commits an unspeakable act, and this cycle begins again.

Where Are We Now?!

Mostly, ill-informed and emotional driven comments are what is prevalent in today’s discussions. Well, we are about the efficient transfer of information to our readers. So, for anyone who might be interested in facts, we’ve taken the time to explain US gun control laws that are currently written, enacted and on the books [at the federal level].

Topics like this are argued transiently and with insistence, absent accurate information. Regardless of what side you’re on, we ask that you bring a little intelligence to the argument.  To wit, there are three major legislative acts at the federal level that specifically address gun control and regulation in our beloved country. No one wants to argue the lack of enforcement again, because its not as easy and it takes some research.

There are three different acts that you should understand which it’s our job to explain. The National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 which was an attempt to curb enforcement abuse by the ATF.

The National Firearms Act of 1934:

Imposes a statutory excise tax on the manufacture and transfer of certain firearms that mandated their registration. This act was passed shortly after the repeal of Prohibition in anticipation of the Mob activity skyrocketing. In those days the revered Tommy gun was the weapon of choice. They were as prevalent as the AR15 is now, so the government killed two birds with one stone; highly regulate them, and make some money while they’re at it.


The “certain firearms” referenced in the act are weapons requiring a Type 1 Federal Firearms License (FFL) as well as a Class 3 Special Occupation Tax (SOT) to sell, and an ATF Form 4 (transfer of registration) with $200 tax fee to purchase.


Ownership of Title II weapons is not illegal, but they’re heavily regulated at both the State and Federal level. The law applies to these categories and specifications of firearms:

– Machine Guns. As defined in the NFA, a machine gun is “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.” That means all firearms capable of fully automatic fire [including true machine guns, assault rifles, battle rifles, submachine guns, and machine pistols]. Additionally, the frame or receiver of a machine gun and any combination of parts intended to make a machine gun is collectively legally defined as a machine gun.

Also known as the Glock “Key” commonly used by gangs and other criminals, this part is designed to make a semi-automatic pistol into a fully functioning machine pistol

A Glock conversion switch is a part designed and intended for use in converting a semi-automatic Glock pistol into a machine gun. It is, therefore, a “machine gun” as defined in 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). Any parts that can be used to convert a semi-automatic firearm to fully automatic capability are regulated as machine guns. They must be registered and taxes paid under the NFA. US Military issued kits T17 and T18, used to convert an M1 Carbine to an M2, capable of fully automatic fire, and are legally classified as machine guns.

Short Barreled Shotguns. A short-barreled shotgun (SBS) is defined as having a smoothbore barrel or barrels less than 18 inches in length and/or an overall length of less than 26 inches. It must be intended to be fired from the shoulder one shell of shot (pellets) or one projectile at a time.

  •  Short Barreled Rifles. A short-barreled rifle (SBR) is defined as having a rifled barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length, or 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 short barrel rifle need not retain a shoulder stock after modification. 

    An example of an NFA firearm. Shorter than 26 overall inches and also has a Silencer [SIG suppressor]

The ATF regards pistols with shoulder stocks as redesigned to be fired from the shoulder. Modern pistols with shoulder stocks and with barrels less than 16 inches long, or the overall length less than 26 inches, are NFA short barreled rifles.

  •  Explosive Ordnance. Any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas, including bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, mines and similar devices (e.g. grenade launchers, rocket launchers). Parts intended for making such a device are also included. Small rockets, with less than 4 ounces (113 grams) of propellant, are exempt. [Instert Independence day celebrations here]


  • Large Bore Firearms. Any projectile weapon with a bore diameter greater than 1⁄2 inch (50 caliber, 12.7 mm), except for shotguns. Line-throwing devices for marine rescues, such as Lyle guns and rockets for breeching buoys, civilian flare guns, and fireworks are considered non-weapon explosive ordnance.


– Silencers- The legal term silencer, also known as a “suppressor”, is defined as “any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts … intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer.

Silencers not only make shooting safer but abundantly more enjoyable and less annoying for anyone within hearing distance

“Any other weapon”- is a catch-all category covering “any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive,” other than a handgun with a rifled barrel”. This includes improvised firearms. Silencers are considered a firearm even though it does not have its own trigger or firing mechanism, under the NFA books are required to be kept separate of another article 3 [less regulated] firearms.

  • Pistols with a second vertical grip. Many pistols feature a rail below the barrel, commonly used to mount a laser or flashlight. Attaching a vertical grip to this rail constitutes the manufacturing of an AOW firearm, as it is “no longer designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand.” It is, therefore, illegal to place an aftermarket vertical foregrip on any pistol without first registering it as an AOW and paying the $200 “making and registering tax”. Failure to do so is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The Gun Control Act of 1968:

The National Firearms Act of 1934 later became Title II of The Gun Control Act of 1968. Title I prohibited interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers, and importers. The impetus of the bill was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. The rifle that killed him was purchased by mail-order from an ad in the NRA magazine “American Rifleman”. In addition to eliminating the opportunity to buy “mail order guns”, Title I also specified who is restricted in the sale of firearms. The list is relatively comprehensive. Those restrictions and on “the list” is below:

  • Anyone under indictment for or convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, unless expunged.
  •  Any fugitive from justice.
  • Anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)).
  •  Anyone adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to any mental institution.
  • Anyone illegally or unlawfully in the United States
  • Anyone discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions; [Texas church shooter]
  • Anyone who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his citizenship.
  •  Anyone subject to a court order restraining such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child.
  • Anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, unless expunged.
The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986:

Revised the Gun Control Act of 1968. IN GCA 1968, the ATF was given wide latitude in the enforcement of regulations on Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. Allegations of abuse by ATF inspectors soon arose from the NRA and some FFL licensees. A February 1982 report by a Senate subcommittee studying the Second Amendment concluded that an individual right of a private citizen to own and peacefully carry firearms is protected.

These three acts comprise the bulk of firearms regulation in the United States, but more incremental legislative acts have augmented them:

  • Undetectable Firearms Act (1988): Effectively criminalizes, with a few exceptions, the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal content.
  • Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990): Prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
  • Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Requires background checks on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.
  • Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004): Banned semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices.
  • Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005): Prevent firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products. Immediately following the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, Bushmaster Firearms and the Remington Company beat a class action lawsuit [civil] because one of their guns was SAID to have been used in the attack.

And, there you have it. Here is major Federal Gun Control from the beginning up until now. Considering there is not much information to digest, we are amazed that people who put so much effort into arguing put so little corresponding efforts into actually knowing what they are arguing.

Argue smarter, not harder, you can also visit the ATF website for a pretty simplified breakdown of Federal laws around guns as well!

Firearms Shown

Sig Sauer – Rattler (SBR)

Sig Sauer – SRD762 QD (Silencer)

Sig Sauer – Romeo 4H (optic)

Springfield Armory – XD Mod 2 (Pistol)

SureFire – Ryder9 Ti (Silencer)

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Jim Dick

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