Understanding Class 3 Firearms and the NFA

Class 3 firearms encapsulate a variety of products, all of which need extra TLC because of their high power. However, owning military grade firearms is fun, for lack of a better word. It’s really cool to be able to experience what a lot of civilians don’t.

It’s important to remember that something called the National Firearms Act (NFA) regulates these high-power firearms, and only licensed dealers with a permit can sell them. They are highly collectible, and with a proper understanding, you too could be the proud owner of one of these pieces of equipment.

The National Firearms Act

Originally established in 1934, the NFA created a tax on making and transferring any firearm defined by the act. People who imported, manufactured, and dealt firearms defined by the NFA had to pay a special tax to perform these activities.

The Secretary of the Treasury required that all shotguns, rifles with barrels less than eighteen inches, machineguns, and firearm mufflers or silencers be registered. The ultimate goal was to deter any transactions involving NFA firearms.

If Congress found an unregistered NFA firearm, they assessed a $200 fine. This was the same as the tax imposed on imports, manufacturing, and dealing. It was significant enough in 1934 that Congress hoped it would prohibit these activities, and the tax is still in effect today.

Progression of the Law

In 1968, the NFA was amended with Title II, deeming part of the NFA unconstitutional. People who already possessed NFA firearms were no longer required to pay the fine. It violated their protection against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

Title II also prevents the use of information on any NFA application as evidence in a criminal case. It expands the definition of ‘machine gun’ and adds the term ‘destructive devices.’

Items Defined by the NFA

Firearms, or destructive devices, must meet one or more criteria as listed here to be included.

Machine Guns

The NFA defines a machine gun as “any firearm 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.” Included are parts or combinations of parts intended to manufacture a machine gun, as well as machine gun receivers.

Examples of machine guns are M16 rifles and a registered drop-in auto-sear for an AR-15.

Short-barreled Shotguns

Short-barreled shotguns include any shotgun with a barrel shorter than eighteen inches. Firearms made from shotguns with barrels shorter than twenty-six inches fall into this category as well. This includes sawed-off shotguns if the barrel length is less than eighteen inches.

Short-barreled Rifles

Rifles are firearms fired from the shoulder. They fire one bullet at a time through a rifled barrel. Short-barreled rifles have barrels shorter than sixteen inches, but also include Firearms made from rifles, resulting in a firearm length of fewer than twenty-six inches.

If the rifle has a telescoping stock, this measurement includes the stock fully extended. If the stock is detachable, then the Firearm is measured without the stock. This measurement extends from the end of the muzzle to the front of the breech face.

Short-barreled rifles include M4 Carbines and semi-automatic pistols with shoulder stocks.

Destructive Devices - Explosive Ordinance

Any explosive device, poison gas, or incendiary including grenades, missiles, rockets, bombs, or mines are defined by this ordinance. The definition also includes parts used to make these devices. Claymore mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) qualify as well.

Destructive Devices - Large Bore Firearms

Projectile firearms with bore diameters larger than half an inch are considered large bore firearms. Most shotguns not specified by the ATF are exempt. Antique firearms “not likely to be used as a firearm” also don’t qualify. A manufactured date of 1898 is required for this exemption.


Any device intended to silence, muffle, or diminish the report of a firearm is a silencer. Combinations of parts for the assembly or manufacture of a firearm are included. All commercial silencers on the market today fall into this category.

Any Other Firearm

The NFA includes a clause for any other firearm capable of concealment on a person that can be shot and discharged through the energy of an explosive. It’s a catch-all category including pistols with forward grips and cane guns.

With a better understanding of the NFA and what firearms are included, you can protect yourself and others while still enjoying the use of these military-grade pieces of art.

Online retailers like Grab a Gun specialize in the online sale of all guns and accessories, and you’ll find many NFA firearms for sale including fierce-looking Sig Sauers, this Kriss Vector, and this understated Nordic rifle.

All firearms are subject to NFA purchase guidelines, but now that you know what those are, you don’t have to worry. Happy firing!

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