National Firearms Act of 1934

(redirected from National Firearms Act)
Also found in: Wikipedia.

National Firearms Act of 1934

The first attempt at federal gun-control legislation, the National Firearms Act (NFA) only covered two specific types of guns: machine guns and short-barrel firearms, including sawed-off shotguns. It did not attempt to ban either weapon, but merely to impose a tax on any transfers of such weapons. Despite these limitations, it led to a precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In the 1930s, the United States faced a run of much-publicized gangster violence, led by such well-known criminals as John Dillinger, al capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. The sensationalistic aspect of their crimes convinced the administration of President franklin d. roosevelt that something needed to be done to control the spread of weapons into the general population. U.S. Attorney General homer cummings and his staff began the process of drafting recommended legislation that would achieve this goal.Cummings and his staff quickly determined that, rather than ban weapons and run afoul of the Second Amendment, they would try to tax such weapons out of circulation. As originally proposed, the NFA covered a fairly broad range of weapons, but as passed by Congress, it's scope was narrowed to cover only "A shotgun or rifle having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length, or any other weapon, except a pistol or revolver, from which a shot is discharged by an explosive if such weapon is capable of being concealed on the person, or a machine gun."

The statute levied a $200 tax on each firearm defined as above, for any transfer involving the firearm. The tax was to be paid by the transferor, and to be represented by appropriate stamps to be provided by the commissioner. It was declared unlawful for anyone to sell or receive a firearm in violation of this section, and they could be fined $2,000 and imprisoned for up to five years for violating it.

While the $200 tax does not seem like much in current dollars, it represented a very large amount in 1934—in many cases the tax was more than the cost of the firearm itself. The act also required dealers of the listed firearms to register with the federal government, and also required for firearms sold before the effective date of the act, that "every person possessing a firearm shall register, with the collector of the district in which he resides, the number or other mark identifying such firearm, together with his name, address, place where such firearm is usually kept, and place of business or employment, and, if such person is other than a natural person, the name and home address of an executive officer thereof."

The NFA did not inspire as much controversy in 1934 as gun-control acts do today, in part because of the general public perception that crime was out of control and in part because anti-gun-control groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) did not have nearly the strength or Lobbying power they would later have. In fact, the NRA formed its legislative affairs division, a precursor to its powerful lobbying arm, in 1934 in belated response to the NFA. Nevertheless, the NFA did result in several lawsuits claiming the law was unconstitutional, one of which reached the Supreme Court.

In Miller v. United States, 307 U.S. 174, 59 S.Ct. 816, 83 L.Ed. 1206 (U.S.Ark. 1939), two men were charged with transferring a double barrel 12-gauge shotgun in violation of the NFA. A federal district court quashed the indictment, ruling that the NFA did indeed violate the Second Amendment. But the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, disagreed.

Writing for the court, Justice james mcreynolds famously dismissed the defendants case with this statement: "the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument." McReynolds added that "certainly it is not within Judicial Notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense." He also noted that many states had adopted gun-control laws over the years.

The NFA is still in force, codified in amended form at 26 USCA § 5801 et. seq. As the first federal gun-control legislation, it set the stage for all other federal Gun Control laws, and its legacy overshadows the scope of the law and the limited number of weapons to which it actually applied.

Further readings

Blodgett-Ford, Sayoko. "The Changing Meaning of the Right to Bear Arms." Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal 6.

Heskin, Keersten. 1994. "Easier than Obtaining a Driver's License: The Federal Licensing of Gun Dealers." Florida Law Review 46 (December).

Nosanchuk, Mathew S. 2002. "The Embarrassing Interpretation of the Second Amendment." Northern Kentucky Law Review 29.


Second Amendment; Gun Control.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
Currently, there are petitions asking the government to repeal the National Firearms Act, not to repeal Net Neutrality laws, and urging New York State not to expand abortion services.
Offered in semi-auto and full-auto, until a change in the National Firearms Act in the late '80s prevented the sale of newly manufactured full-auto firearms to civilians, the Tippmann machine guns became an instant collector's prize--if you could find one and afford it!
As you may have read in "Reader Blowback" (June 2019), a reader proclaimed that he is a "2nd Amendment supporter," but opined that there are "too many guns" and that my column, "Quiet Time" (March 2019), that encouraged readers to buy suppressors in compliance with the National Firearms Act (NFA), was "revolting." He added, "Hillary Clinton had a good point about suppressors," a reference to her comments following the tragic shooting at a concert in Las Vegas.
From the original 1934 National Firearms Act, to the most recent ban on bumpfire stocks, the Federal government has a long history of domineering the opinions of a select few on the entire nation.
Where four charges of violations of the National Firearms Act (NFA) were dismissed, that decision must be reversed, as four grenades purchased by the defendant could qualify as explosive devices despite being rendered inoperable.
firearms industry will remain regulated under the National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act, and other federal and state firearms laws.
propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns." In response to that direction the Department reviewed more than 186,000 public comments and made the decision to make clear that the term "machinegun" as used in the National Firearms Act (NFA), as amended, and Gun Control Act, as amended, includes all bump-stock-type devices that harness recoil energy to facilitate the continuous operation of a semiautomatic firearm after a single pull of the trigger.
Combined with our new line of BANSHEE SBRs, DefCan suppressors will give us a strong presence in the NFA (National Firearms Act) market.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 defines a firearm as "any weapon...which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive," or "the frame or receiver of any such weapon." The National Firearms Act, meanwhile, says the frame/receiver is the "part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel."
In the US, fully automatic weapons have been banned since 1986, but bump stocks were described by the ATF in 2010 as "a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act."
Right now, The Hearing Protection Act of 2017 -- misleading in name and extreme - would make it easy for criminals to obtain gun silencers by removing silencers from the National Firearms Act. Now part of the SHARE Act, the so-called Hearing Protection Act legislation would roll back existing federal silencer safety laws and make it easy for anyone, including felons and domestic abusers, to buy silencers without a background check, simply by finding an unlicensed seller.

Full browser ?