The NRA of Automatic Weapons
A group of machine-gun enthusiasts goes mainstream.

Vendor at the Knob Creek Gun Range


Eliana Johnson

Even among gun aficionados, the collection and use of automatic weapons has not historically been a mainstream hobby, and it has not always been looked upon kindly. But that is changing. If there once was “some baggage attached to it,” Folloder says, “it’s not there now.” “We’re actually out in the open in the broad daylight talking to regular people about machine guns and suppressors, things that were in the past relegated to the backrooms and the dark shadows. We’re in a different place now.”

Even today, though, many Americans mistakenly believe that owning an automatic weapon is illegal. Folloder is dedicated to correcting the record. He wants people to know that “you can lawfully own this stuff, depending on where you live, as long as you’ve got patience and diligence.”

The recent surge in gun ownership may be one of the unintended consequences of the gun-control policies embraced by both the Obama and the Clinton administrations. Folloder says his clients are driven by a “rational or irrational fear” that the federal government or various states will criminalize or otherwise prevent the ownership of machine guns and other weapons regulated by the NFA. “People are buying them now because they can, they have the resources to do it, and they think that in some way, somehow they’ll be restricted.”

Weapons regulated by the NFA, according to Folloder, are unlikely to be touched by federal regulation now or in the future. “I have a little bit of difficulty seeing that anything could be done to eliminate the NFA. I don’t see that as something that’s even on the radar screen right now.”

Passed in 1934, the NFA was an attempt to limit the circulation of firearms by imposing a tax on the purchase of machine guns and short-barrel weapons. The weapons covered by the Act are the most heavily regulated in the United States, and, says Folloder, his clients have great need for guidance in navigating the regulations.

Today, weapons must be registered, and purchases — or “transfers” — must occur in the state where the purchaser resides. The ATF must preapprove all transfers. Given the demand and the resulting bureaucratic backlog, Folloder says, somebody who today purchases a weapon regulated by the NFA “knows he will be waiting for upwards of a year to get the toy that he paid for.”

“This community goes to great lengths not just to abide by the laws but to abide by very complex and onerous laws,” Folloder notes. Given the time, the effort, and, above all, the money required to obtain an NFA weapon, you’re not going to use it in a crime, he argues. “If you’re going to pay $80,000, $90,000, or $100,000 on a gun, that gun is not going to be used in a crime, there is too much invested in it. People are not going to go through this effort just to turn into a gangster. It just doesn’t happen.”

While gangsters wielding automatic weapons haven’t materialized, many enthusiastic and devoted collectors have. “You get one or two people together and it may be an eccentric hobby,” Folloder remarks. “You get thousands, tens of thousands, and you start having conventions.”

Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.