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Purchasing or Building an NFA Item—Legally!

So, you've decided that you want to either purchase or build an NFA item; now what? Jumping over the bureaucratic hurdles and getting a tax stamp can be tricky. This article will walk you through the process and hopefully make it a little bit easier.


The National Firearms Act ("NFA") regulates and imposes a statutory excise tax on the manufacture and transfer of certain types of firearms and weapons. These items include short-barreled rifles ("SBRs"), short-barreled shotguns ("SBSs"), suppressors, machine guns, explosive devices, and any other weapons ("AOWs").


Whether you decide to buy or build an NFA item, the requirements are substantially similar. For both, you will need to submit a passport-sized photo, your fingerprints on an FBI Form FD-258, and a $200 (under normal circumstances) payment for the tax. However, when buying an existing NFA item, you will submit an ATF Form 4, and when building an NFA item, you will submit an ATF Form 1. The passport-sized photo can be taken at any drug store or post office that provides passport photo services.


The first step in obtaining an NFA item is deciding how you want to own it, either as an individual or held in a trust. The added benefit of owning an NFA item in a trust is that multiple people can own and possess the item. Let's say that you and your significant other both want to own a silencer; it would be best to have it in a trust. Additionally, you may select your beneficiaries and list them in your trust. This takes your NFA item out of the probate process, so that when the item's owners have passed, it transfers to the beneficiaries without the need to list the item in your Last Will and Testament. If you, as an individual, own the silencer, only you will be able to possess the silencer. If you choose to hold your NFA item in a trust, each member of the trust will have to fill out ATF Form 5320.23, which is the Responsible Person’s Form.


Once you have decided how you want to own an NFA item, the next step is to determine which NFA item you want. For the purposes of this article, let’s say you want an SBR. First, we will go through the process of buying an existing SBR from a Federal Firearms License dealer ("FFL").


Purchasing an NFA Item from an FFL

Once you pick out the SBR you want, you need to get all of your paperwork together to send to the ATF. Remember, the Form 4 is the form required if you intend on purchasing an already existing NFA item from an FFL. Once you have the completed Form 4, your passport-sized photo, and your fingerprints, you will next need to notify the Chief Law Enforcement Officer ("CLEO") of your area by sending them the CLEO copy of the Form 4. This can be done by either mailing the form to the Chief Law Enforcement Officer or by dropping it off at the police station. After you have notified law enforcement, you will send your Form 4, passport-sized photo, fingerprints, $200 tax, and the Responsible Person's Form(s) (if you are purchasing the SBR under a trust's name) to the ATF for approval. You will address the envelope to:


National Firearms Act Division

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

P.O. Box 5015

Portland, OR 97208-5015.

The ATF will then review your documents. Once they approve it, they will send your Form 4 with a tax stamp affixed to the FFL from which you are purchasing the SBR. The FFL will then contact you and notify you that your SBR is ready to be picked up.

Applying For a Tax Stamp to Build an NFA Item

Let’s say you are building an SBR. Obtaining a tax stamp to build an NFA item is very similar to buying a pre-existing item. To apply for a tax stamp to build an SBR, you will fill out an ATF Form 1. Once you have filled out the Form 1, you will again need to notify the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in your area by sending them the CLEO copy of the Form 1. As with a Form 4, this can be done either by mailing the form to the Chief Law Enforcement Officer or by dropping it off at the police station. After that is complete, you will gather the Form 1, your fingerprints, your passport-sized photo, the $200 tax, and the Responsible Person’s Form(s) (if you are building the SBR in a trust's name), and mail it off to the ATF for approval at the same address as above.

Once the ATF reviews your documents and approves them, they will return your Form 1 with a tax stamp affixed. Once you received the tax stamp, you are clear to construct your SBR. Once assembled, you will need to engrave the SBR with a serial number, the SBR's model, the caliber or gauge, the name of the owner, and the city and state where it was made.

Be aware that it can take the ATF months (and, depending on the volume of requests, sometimes over a year) to approve your paperwork and send you your tax stamp. Once you receive either the Form 4 or Form 1 with the tax stamp, you will want to keep a copy of it with the NFA item. If you have the NFA item in a trust, you will want to also keep a copy of the trust paperwork with the item showing that you can possess it. Keep your originals in a safe location. If you are caught without copies of this paperwork with the NFA item, you could end up in legal trouble.


Author: Leslie Rebescher


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website does not contain legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Every case is different, and this material is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of, a licensed attorney.



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Walker & Taylor, PLLC is located in Houston, TX and serves clients in and around Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, and Chambers Counties.


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