Do NFA regulations apply to antique firearms?

Discussion in 'NFA Firearms & Related Items' started by CampingJosh, Oct 23, 2011.

  1. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    I know that firearms manufactured before 1899 are generally exempt from federal firearms regulations, but I'm having trouble finding specific references to this in NFA stuff.

    Here's a little background. Though generally friendly to NFA items, Indiana state law disallows all short-barreled shotguns.
    However, this regulation doesn't apply to shotguns manufactured prior to 1899.
    I am having trouble finding an equivalent exemption within Federal law, though. It may be an issue of familiarity, or it may be an issue of volume :rolleyes:, but I seldom have any trouble at all finding what I'm looking for in Indiana law. Federal law always baffles me though.

    Anyone have any knowledge and a citation? I would love to buy an old SxS and convert it to a short barreled snake destroyer, but I don't want to commit a felony.

    Last edited: Oct 27, 2011
  2. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    It's a question I've wondered about many times.

    The Federal definition of an antique is "made before 1899 or does not use fixed ammunition". There's some other parts, but that will do for this. The "does not used fixed ammunition" part gets around NFA. There were, some 20 or so years back, a bunch of percussion SxS shotguns with about 13 inch barrels. They were advertised as "Confederate Cavalry" guns. ATF had no problem with them. There is currently being made a Howdah pistol in both 56 caliber rifled and 20 gauge smoothbore. If that were fixed cartridge it would certainly be NFA, but it's percussion.
    And we can't forget the Lematt pistol, with it's shotgun center-pin. Definitely a short barreled shotgun, but it's percussion, so it's okay.

    Since part of the "antique gun" thing is exempt from NFA, I would think that all of it would be.

    But before I risked my liberty and bank account, I'd write ATF and get an answer on ATF letterhead. Write, not email or telephone. That way you have a physical document to prove what you were told.

  3. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    Maybe that is the issue I have with the federal side: it's almost all regulation rather than law! I do need to write to ATF and get their take on it. If I remember by the time I get a response back, I'll post on here what I learn from them.

    That Howdah is basically what I would like to make, but I'd rather avoid black powder if I can. I'd much rather make the thing out of a $300 antique from one of the auction sites.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2011
  4. RJay

    RJay Well-Known Member

    Feb 22, 2004
    Goodyear, Arizona
    I don't even try and keep up with the regs becasue I no longer process any NFA guns, but I can tell you, if you make a shotgun with less than 18 inches barrels that fires ammo that you can buy at Wally Would, then it is a sawed off shotgun, it comes under NFA rules.
  5. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007

    You're definitely right that using a shotgun with 2 3/4" chambers would be a sawed off shotgun.

    I think that the 2 3/4" shell wasn't introduced until the 1930s, so a 12 gauge from the 1890s should have 2 5/8" chambers. I have never seen 2 5/8" shotgun shells available for sale (except maybe on some ammo collector's table at a gun show), so I think I should be OK.

    Of course, the above paragraph included two uses of "think" and one of "should," so I will definitely check with ATF. I am working on the letter right now; I will post it on here for comments shortly.
  6. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
  7. Chinook

    Chinook New Member

    As you know, be careful with what you modify.
    Although I do believe that modifying a non-NFA item should be legal, but only those built before the cut-off dates should be A-OK for cuttin. That is purely personal opinion tho! But when my old friend from Florida purchased this, I was sure he had to get a stamp for it... but the simple E-Mail he got back from someone at the BAFTE was... "Why do you think that?"

    I was astonsihed! It wasnt considered an AOW!
    The gentleman said it could be any manufacturer, and practically any model within such manufacturers catalog. ATF ruled that because you have to fold it to fire it, and because of the trigger that sticks out, it resembled a handgun too closely to be removed from its Title 1 classification.

    Attached Files:

  8. Chinook

    Chinook New Member

    Very well drafted Josh! Very well done! the only typo was at the bottom... Where you say..."This muzzle leading version is currently offered for commercial sale by Davide
    Pedersoli & Company..."

    You probably meant to say LOADING, and not LEADING... But other than that, it is as professional as any letter they recieve, and should be treated in the highest regards.

    Forgot to add this at the end of my last post:eek:... But again... Well done sir!
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2011
  9. medalguy

    medalguy Member

    Feb 20, 2009
    New Mexico
    Keep in mind they can issue an aproval letter, but then they can change their mind at any time in the future and disallow the item, even though you made it under a legal determination. Such is the ways of BATF.
  10. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    First, all Winchester 1897 shotguns in 12 gauge were chambered for 2 3/4" shells, so they've been around since, at least, 1897.

    Second, 2 1/2" shells are readily available, if you know where to look. For that matter, Aguila makes 12 gauge shells that are about 1 1/2" long.

    Has nothing to do with ammo. Has to do with age.
  11. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    Hmm... I really thought there was something about about "readily available" ammo in the definition of antique firearm.

    Just another reason to send that letter to ATF.
  12. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    That "readily available ammo" applies to copies of antiques.

    For example, if I have a Model P Colt single action that was made in 1895, chambered in 45 Colt (which is available everywhere), it is an antique because it was made before 1899.

    If I have another Model P made in 1901, in 45 Colt, it is NOT an antique. Too new.

    But if I have a third Model P, made in 1995, but it's chambered in .450 Ely or .44 Henry RF (which several of the originals were), then it qualifies as an antique, since it is a replica of a gun made prior to 1899 that does not fire fixed ammunition that is readily available in the normal trade.

    Back when I bought my Uberti S&W Russian, it could have been shipped to me directly (although the distributor refused to do that, and insisted on sending it to an FFL) because 44 Russian ammunition had not been made for some 50 years or more. So I had a replica of an antique gun that fired ammo "not readily available". Then Black Hills started making 44 Russian ammo, and it no longer fit the definition of "antique".
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2011
  13. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    Ah ha! It's beginning to make more sense.

    I won't be able to get that letter in the mail until closer to the end of the week (no mail pick up at the house), but I definitely want ATF's take.

    I'm thinking that I also need to purchase for this an antique shotgun made by a manufacturer for whom detailed, unquestioned records of serial numbers are readily available.
  14. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    Yeah, you have to be able to prove it is pre-1899. That can either be serial number, like Colts or Winchesters, or "company went out of business before 1899", or "that gun model was discontinued before 1899".

    Unfortunately not everyone numbered their guns, and even if they did it does not always help. Remington double derringer, for example. They numbered them from 001 to 999, and then started over again at 001. Don't know how many thousand they made, but the numbers never go higher than 999.
  15. Jim K

    Jim K New Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    Watch out, folks.

    The big problem here is that the definition of "antique firearm" differs between Title I (the FFA) and Title II (the NFA). Regular firearms are covered by the FFA and its definition applies, but MG's, SBR's, SBS's are covered by the NFA and its definitions apply.

    In brief, under the FFA, ANY firearm covered by it and made before 1 Jan 1899 is an antique. (So are muzzle loaders, etc, but that is not the issue here.) No matter what ammunition it uses. So a Winchester 1873 made in 1890 is an antique as long as it falls under the FFA.

    But if the gun is shoulder fired and has a short barrel (under 16" for rifles, 18" for shotguns), it is covered by the NFA, which uses the 1 Jan 1899 date also, but ONLY for guns that don't use fixed ammunition or for which ammo is not available in the normal course of trade. (That 1873 Winchester, if it has a 15" barrel, does not fall under the FFA, it falls under the NFA because it has a short barrel.)

    So it matters very much, when discussing what is an antique firearm, to first know what kind of firearm it is, and which section of the law it falls under. A shotgun with a 28" barrel is an FFA firearm, and if made before 1 Jan 1899, is an antique. But another shotgun, with a 15" barrel but otherwise identical, is an NFA firearm, and its date of manufacture is not relevant as long as it can fire readily available ammunition. (Whether it can do so safely is irrelevant - if it can fire readily available ammunition, it is an NFA firearm.)

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