min read

The National Firearms Act - NFA

The National Firearms Act (NFA) passed June 26, 1934 was the first piece of federal gun control legislation passed in The United States of America. It was basically a feel good piece of legislation that Congress passed to give the illusion of “fighting crime.” In order to understand the roots of NFA’s inception we need to take a look back in time to almost a century ago.

Photo Credit

The early 1900s was a time of turmoil throughout the world. World War I had been raging in Europe since July 28, 1914 and the United States decided to enter the war a few years later in 1917.

In order to raise enough troops, Congress passed and President Wilson signed the Selective Service Act. As a result, 2.8 million men were drafted into the military.

The war officially came to an end November 11, 1918 after the Armistice with Germany was signed. Shortly after the war, mainly because of pressure from the Temperance Movement, the Eighteenth Amendment was passed January 16, 1919 and went into effect a year later on January 17, 1920. This signaled the official start of Prohibition. The federal prohibition of alcohol was a failed experiment to say the least, as it did nothing more than drive an entire industry to the black market and deprive the government of tax revenue.

Photo Credit

To top it all off, the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929 and the economy went into a downward spiral starting The Great Depression which lasted over a decade. With unemployment around 25%, this caused even more desperate people to become “scofflaws” and turn to the lucrative business of making Moonshine to earn a living.

During this time period crime rates soared and criminals were running rampant in the streets giving rise to infamous outlaws such as; Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Faced Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

Prohibition finally came to an end when the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed on December 5, 1933 after the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified but the damage had already been done.

Photo Credit 1, Photo Credit 2, Photo Credit 3

This brings us to the year 1934 and the passage of The National Firearms Act (NFA). As I mentioned before, NFA was a feel-good piece of legislation that Congress passed to satisfy public demand.

Prohibition had been a complete failure; it did nothing to increase the morality of citizens as expected and actually had the opposite effect of creating an entirely new class of criminals.

Combine the new found Outlaw Culture along with the economic hardships of The Great Depression and you have a recipe for disaster. The result was violent incidents like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a string of endless bank robberies throughout the country and police shootouts that fueled public outrage. Instead of simply admitting Prohibition was wrong and move forward, people demanded some type of further action be taken and they chose guns as the scapegoat.

Photo Credit

The National Firearms Act put a $200 excise tax on certain types of firearms and accessories. The targets of this nefarious legislation were; machineguns or fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles or shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches or less than 26 inches in total length, sound suppressors and AOWs (Any Other Weapon) such as a cane or umbrella gun.

A $200 excise tax in 1934 was outrageous and equivalent to about $3,500 hundred dollars today in 2014, quite a sum for your average citizen to muster up.

This legislation did nothing for public safety as criminals just ignored the law and carried on with business as usually. It did however benefit the Treasury Department and its many enforcement agents whom would have been out a job after Prohibition was repealed.

Why is this all important?

Well, to this day the $200 tax stamp remains in place and citizens wishing to obtain such firearms are burdened with piles of paperwork, regulations and hoops to jump through. The law was further modified in 1986 under the Hughes Amendment of the Firearm Owners Protection Act making it so no further machine guns could be added to the registry.

This essentially created a limited supply of fully automatic firearms available to citizens. At the same time it crushed research, development and an entire economic sector.

As a consequence of such action the prices of a legal select-fire NFA registered M16s range from $10,000-$30,000 compared to their semi-automatic AR15 counterparts that go for around $1,000. In essence, NFA has created an artificial scarcity causing the existing fixed supply of weapon’s prices to inflate to an exorbitant level beyond the reach of your average citizen. Furthermore, from a public safety standpoint NFA is moot because rarely if ever are fully-automatic weapons used by citizens to commit crimes and the same can be said for sound suppressors.

While it might have seemed like a good idea to pass The National Firearms Act in 1934, citizens today are still living with the consequences of this overreaching legislation.

No longer are citizens able to be as well armed as their military or law enforcement counterparts. This has created a situation where citizens may at times be unable to keep tyranny in check and are no longer the last safeguard of the Republic. The next time you hear the media calling for gun control and trying to exploit a tragic situation in knee-jerking fashion, just remember the lasting effects The National Firearms Act had on our country.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Guards The Guardians?)

Photo Credit 1, Photo Credit 2

About The Author

Travis Box is currently a college student studying American history with a concentration on the Constitution, Revolutionary War, politics and legislation. As an active hunter for 5 years and a recreational marksman for over a decade, his writing brings with it years of real world experience from both the field and the range.