National Firearms Act of 1934


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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.

Cross-references

Second Amendment; Gun Control.

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References in periodicals archive ?
(3.) See National Firearms Act of 1934, [section][section] 7(a),
Might such a "secondary effects" justification validate regulations on firearms, and more specifically, "assault weapons" and those firearms affected by the National Firearms Act of 1934?
The constitutional right to bear arms stems from the Second Amendment, which states that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."(111) Despite this constitutional language, Congress often has imposed limitations on an individual's rights to gun possession.(112) Early examples include: the National Firearms Act of 1934,(113) the Federal Firearms Act of 1938,(114) the Omnibus Crime Control Safe Streets Act,(115) and the Gun Control Act of 1968.(116) During the 1980s, Congress enacted three major acts, in addition to the Gun Free School Zones Act, to combat increasing crime rates: The Firearm Owners Protection Act,(117) The Undetectable Firearms Act,(118) and the Brady Act.(119)
Machine guns, for the record, already are strictly regulated as Class III firearms under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and are legally available only after paying a $200 federal tax and securing the permission of the chief law enforcement officer in the purchaser's locale.
And the answer is "zero." So if we're going to review our gun control laws, we should start by repealing the onerous, cumbersome, worthless, vastly expensive, unconstitutional National Firearms Act of 1934. Right?
But a 1919 excise tax, a 1927 concealable firearms mailing ban, the National Firearms Act of 1934, requiring registration and taxing of machine guns and short-barreled shotguns, and a 1938 dealer licensing requirement, were, to most Americans, irrelevant.
Currently, silencers are restricted under the provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934. The NFA was passed as a way to limit Americans' access to machine guns and heavy weapons.
Thanks to our inane National Firearms Act of 1934. and the even more inane Safe Streets Act of 1968, suppressors are considered Title II weapons -- one must pay a $200 tax and get government approval to possess a suppressor, which is nothing more than a lawn mower muffler.
However, the silver lining to that nasty grey cloud is that this same inflation that gobbles up your hard earned paycheck has finally taken the teeth out of the National Firearms Act of 1934. While $200 is hardly chicken feed for the working stiff, it is certainly not the astronomical sum is was some eight decades ago.
Two major federal statutes regulate the commerce in, and possession of, firearms: the National Firearms Act of 1934 (26 U.S.C.
Ownership requires registration, background checks, and payment of hefty taxes under the National Firearms Act of 1934, or NFA.

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