The 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) is the first major attempt by the United States government to curb the rate of firearm transfer and circulation in the 1930s. The increased level of misdemeanor led by criminals including the famous duo; Bonny and Clyde between 1930 to 1933 led to an unprecedented wave of gun-related crimes in the United States. This wave of gun violence included the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 and the assassination attempt of the former U.S president Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 among others. These crimes created much concern in the hearts of the US government officials at that time who felt a sort of firearm control had to be established. This led to the establishment of the National Firearms Act of 1934.
The National Firearms Act attempts to regulate the spread of “NFA firearms.” NFA firearms refer to fully automatic firearms, rifles, shotguns, and silencers (also called the firearm sound suppressor). The NFA regulates the spread of shotguns and rifles that have an entire length that is less than 26 inches. Specifically, rifles with a barrel under 16 inches, shotguns with under 18 inches in barrel length, and firearm sound suppressors are all subject to the National Firearms Act. The 1934 NFA attempts to curb the excesses of gun violence by regulating the spread of the above-mentioned firearms and devices through the following means.
- Tax. The National Firearms Act imposed a tax duty of $200 for the transfer of a firearm from one person to another. You may feel the $200 tax isn’t much now, but think of how much value $200 would have had in the 1930s. In 1934, the $200 firearm transfer tax duty was more than the price of most firearms at that time. The federal government did not want to place a ban or restriction on firearms because this would be a direct infringement of the second amendment which emphasized that “……the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Placing a restriction on gun usage and transfer despite this statute would have caused a stir as people, particularly gun enthusiasts might revolt against such restriction. The government of Franklin Roosevelt thus decided to discourage the transfer and spread of firearms under the National Firearms Act by increasing the total amount of money that will be paid for such transfer. The $200 tax has not changed till today.
- Registration. The 1934 NFA mandated dealers and owners of firearms to register the said firearms with the Secretary of the Treasury which is under the umbrella of the US government. Firearms referred to under this section of the 1934 Act included shotguns and rifles having barrels less than 18 inches in length, machine guns, and firearm mufflers and silencers. Subsequently, the “Gun Control Act of 1968” included “destructive devices” (otherwise known as explosives) and firearms over .50 caliber, under the provisions of the NFA.
Due to advancements in firearm production and ambiguity in some parts of the first NFA in 1934, the NFA has been amended a few times to cover some of these new improvements in gun production and also to correct and clarify the ambiguity in the first act.
The Gun Control Act of 1968
The first amendment to the 1934 NFA was made in 1968. This amendment was termed “Title II of the Gun Control Act (GCA). After the assassinations of President Kennedy and some other highly ranked individuals in the US including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, there was a pertinent need to establish stricter restrictions to curb gun violence. Enter “The 1968 GCA”. This amendment was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson and it was aimed at filling the gaps in the 1934 NFA. The 1934 NFA mandated the registration of firearms by all owners and dealers. This was an ambiguous statement because it did not directly give conditions or exceptions. This gap in the 1934 NFA was brought into the limelight by the “Haynes v US case.” The “Haynes case” was about a convicted felon known as Miles Haynes. He was arrested for having an unregistered firearm. He presented his argument that because he was a convicted felon, he couldn’t register the gun because it was illegal for him to have one, and requiring him to register his gun which the NFA mandated will directly be an infringement on his “right not to incriminate himself.” The court ruled the case in favor of Haynes. There were a lot of arguments and mixed emotions about the ruling. However, one thing people seemed to agree on was the fact that the NFA needed to be amended to rid this obscurity.
The 1968 GCA thus introduced stricter regulations on gun production and usage. The 1968 GCA banned the importation of guns that were described as “not used for sporting.” It mandated that all firearms should be marked with a serial number for tracking purposes and the act gave a broader definition to different categories of firearms especially machine guns. The 1968 act recognized the need for control over destructive devices otherwise known as explosives. As a result of the “Haynes v US case”, the 1968 GCA placed restrictions on certain persons on the sale and acquisition of firearms. This category of people includes persons under the age of 18 years, persons discharged from the armed force under dishonorable conditions, convicted felons, fugitives from justice, persons with an addiction to a controlled substance, and aliens (lol, not that alien. This refers to illegal immigrants in the US). The GCA of 1968 was an improvement on the 1934 NFA.
The “Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986
Subsequent adjustments on the GCA include the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 which amended the definition of silencers or suppressors to include devices and parts used in making a silencer. It also excluded ordinary citizens from but allowed government agencies and licensed personnel to transfer machine guns. The 1986 “FOPA” is largely an act for gun owners. The act also limited ATF or FFL inspections to once a year except in exceptional cases (the ATF or FFL inspection is a license check to all persons involved in the manufacturing, sale, and transfer of firearm). It also limited the restrictions on gun shows and overall firearm sales and purchases.
As a result of continuous firearm development and upgrades, there is a constant adjustment to terms and statements in the act. This is a bid to ensure the act is up to date on certain developments in the gun industry. Don’t be shocked if the next amendment involves 3D printed plastic guns.
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NFA accessed @
GCA of 1969 accessed @
A timeline of Major Gun control laws accessed @