National Firearms Act of 1934
The National Firearms Act was a punitive law originally enacted in 1934 to curtail, if not prohibit, the ability of law-abiding U.S. citizens to purchase shotguns and rifles having barrels less than 18 inches in length, certain firearms described as “any other weapons,” machine guns, and suppressors (collectively, “NFA firearms”). The $200 making and transfer taxes on most NFA firearms were considered draconious enough to carry out the U.S. government’s attempts to discourage or eliminate transactions in these firearms. The $200 tax has not changed since 1934. Further, the NFA also required owners of NFA firearms to register them with the Secretary of the Treasury. The Department of the Treasury could then supply information to State authorities about the registrant’s possession of the NFA firearm. If possession of the NFA firearm violated State laws, then State authorities could prosecute the hapless victim of the NFA’s registration requirement. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the NFA’s registration requirement violated the privilege against self-incrimination under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Haynes v. United States, 390 U.S. 85 (1968).
Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968
Title II amended the NFA in two ways. First, the NFA’s registration requirement was eliminated. As a result, there is no mechanism for a U.S. citizen to register an unregistered NFA firearm already possessed by that person. Second, a provision was added that prohibited the use of any information from an NFA firearm application or registration as evidence against the person in a criminal proceeding regarding a violation of law occurring prior to or concurrently with the filing of the application and registration. Title II also amended the NFA’s definition of “firearms” by adding “destructive devices” and expanding the definition of “machineguns.” NFA firearms are now commonly known as “Title II weapons,” because they are regulated under Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Many people mistakenly refer to Title II weapons as “Class III weapons,” but Class III refers to the dealers of these weapons, rather than the weapons themselves.
Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986
In 1986, the NFA was amended to change the definition of “silencer” by adding combinations of parts for silencers and any part intended for use in the assembly or fabrication of a silencer. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was also amended to prohibit the transfer or possession of machine guns, excluding transfers to or possession of machine guns by government agencies and by U.S. citizens who lawfully possessed them before May 19, 1986.
Source: ATF National Firearms Act Handbook at 1–2, ATF E-Publication 5320.8 (Apr. 2009).