I Found a Machine Gun: What Should I Do?

There are thousands of machine guns currently in the National Firearms Act registry registered to people born before 1900. Think about that for a moment – every one of those owners is deceased, and those machine guns are still out there somewhere.

Periodically, the family of a deceased veteran will find a machine gun amongst there possessions. There is a straightforward process for passing a registered machine gun to a lawful heir, but it is dependent on the gun actually being legally registered. It is up to the family to locate the paperwork to prove that registration – or else contact the BATF to get a copy of it. Today I am discussing this situation with John Keene of the Morphy auction company. Sgt (retired) Keene is an expert of the NFA and this type of paperwork, and has helped many families through the process. This video is intended to help people in this situation understand how to deal with a gun which may or may not be registered.

John Keene can be contacted at jkeene@morphyauctions.com .



  1. Thanks so much for this video.
    It really would have helped me a while ago. A 08/15 receiver popped up on the local Armslist for 500 bucks. The person obviously found it in the proverbial attic. If I had had this information I would have definitely tried to get the person to go through the process so I could purchase it. As it was, I thought there was no hope and let it go.
    I will be better prepared now.


    • actually if you can find “Capture papers” or an attempt to register a DEWAT (Deactivated War Trophy [Sold in magazines before 1964 a lot]) it can be put into the registry.
      I saw two cases, where a Veteran had papers from his unit in the 1940’s that the BATF finally accepted for it’s registration and a letter from a person who got a letter from the IRS gun units in the late 1950’s telling them they acknowledged their ownership of a deactivated gun that was entered into the registry.
      A receiver for a gun is probably not valuable enough to engage a lawyer to start the fight with ATFE. I know a dealer who won a fight for a “lost paperwork” gun eventually with just a ATF Amnesty number on the gun with an electropencil.
      You have to find a lawyer local to you to start with the government fighting to win the registration. I saw a pristine MP38 A pre-war fully finished one, not a war era one with sheet metal parts. a complete machined gun VERY, VERY rare.) turned in at a “gun buyback” in the 1990’s. if they had of disassembled the gun for parts and turned in the receiver and bolt they could of gotten thousands of dollars selling it.
      With a veteran you need to look through ALL their old War Time stuff. if they have a “capture letter” you can get it legally registered because it was “registered” before 1986, the paperwork just wasn’t filed right. A DEWAT registration is also available if you can find the documents.
      Using a lawyer will allow you to fight and it not be “Accidentally Destroyed” as contraband by accident. There are some people in the government who do NOT like guns.
      If the legal fight is engaged via lawyer they may not learn who ad it, and threaten legal action to force a surrender to avoid felony prosecution. Yes, some offices and Federal Attorneys will do that.
      Plus it allows you to strip OFF valuable no-registered original parts for sale if you lose if .GOV isn’t in possession of it and you lose and must surrender it.

  2. Here is a question; If I am fishing in a creek or river an I find an old car with a Thompson in the boot, and it is very much inoperatable, what is the laws concerning that gun? I have seen such a find on Youtube, where the gun was rusted completely, and no amount of cleaning and gunsmithing work would have brought it back to a firing condition. Is that gun still considered a NFA firearm?

  3. That serial number thing can cause you severe problems even without the weapon in question being NFA.

    One of the young lieutenants in an organization I belonged to tried to register his Chinese-made SKS when he arrived on post. Simple enough, right? Well, small problem–The serial number on his rifle matched another SKS that was already registered, and more importantly, had been reported stolen at another installation several years before. This was about the time that the Provost Marshall was consolidating and digitizing all the records Army-wide, so here the LT was, sitting there in “constructive possession” of what was purportedly stolen property. Serial numbers, right?

    To the layman, they’re unique, and nobody in the Provost Marshall’s office seemed to be aware of the fact that the numbers often repeat across military production, or that there’s a lot of deliberate effort taken to obfuscate things. Add in that the various importers all did different things, and that the BATF didn’t even attempt to ensure that serial numbers weren’t used multiple times, and… Disaster for this young LT. He could not prove that he’d purchased the SKS, which he had, and since the idiots at that other post had never even recorded who the importer was for the stolen gun (all that was in the theft report and the registration was something like “SKS Rifle, SN#1234), well… It was a mess. CID got involved, and their investigators could not tie the LT to having been at that post when the theft occurred, because he was a teenager at the time, and living thousands of miles away with no ties whatsoever to the base in question. But, nonetheless, the hypothesis was that he’d visited, snuck on post, and stolen the rifle out of someone’s quarters. Whole thing got turned over to the commander for a 15-6 disposition, and as the “resident small arms fanatic”, my opinion on the whole thing was asked. I looked at the facts they’d determined, and then basically told the commander that there was no way for anyone to really even be sure that that was the same rifle, because the recorded details for the stolen one were so fuzzy. Hell, the owner wasn’t even sure where the hell he’d bought it. I put together a serial number identification report for the commander, and he wound up telling CID and the Provost Marshal that he wasn’t going to go any further with the prosecution. The LT did lose his rifle, though…

    Moral of the story? Look at your weapons, and ask yourself “How would I prove that I came by this legitimately…?”, and if there are any even slightly questionable things about anything in your collection, figure out how to document and deconflict things as best you can. If that LT had had even a receipt showing where he’d purchased that SKS, the whole thing would have been dropped, and the matter would never have done any damage to his military career. As it was? He was basically screwed–Because of this incident, he wasn’t able to take a platoon when he was supposed to, and that wound up putting him behind the rest of his year group for promotion. He eventually wound up just barely squeaking by, so far as career-track, and eventually got out of the Army well before he should have–He was a pretty switched-on guy, Ranger tabbed, and all the rest. Topped out at Captain, never got a command.

    So, yeah: Make sure you can document your stuff, where you got it, and that you did it legitimately. It would even be a really good idea to keep track of what you sell, and to who you sell it–I know of another case where a guy’s personally imported pistol came back to bite him in the ass, because it got used in a series of murders down in Southern California, and he couldn’t document where or to whom he’d sold the damn thing. The only thing that saved him from being charged was that two or three of the murders occurred while he could prove he was either in Korea or Iraq…

  4. OK, I’m not American, but I’m curious about one potential scenario that could happen over there. Let’s say you discovered a (very valuable) machine gun (or a bunch thereof) that were legally registered to your deceased parent under NFA rules, but the State in which they resided ceased to be “full auto friendly” at some point prior to your parent’s death. Could you get the gun to a Class 3 or similar dealer (which must still exist in states not allowing civilian FA ownership) and have it reside there until such time as the NFA paperwork was sorted out and you could get them to ship it to an out of state auction house to move on? Technically, you would be in possession of an illegal weapon from the moment you discovered it under State or local law, but I’m guessing common sense would prevail in most such situations. It even does here in the UK from time to time.

  5. I worked at a gun store (FFL), Agent came by & told us black powder sales were supposed to be accompanied by a driver’s license #. He told us he was closing our store down. Owner threw him out. Later his supervisor called & apologized.

  6. If we find a MG and we don’t live in Arizona or few others of the U.S, but in another place on the globe, we are in deep shit.So, better watch more FW. It’s not for toying, and not for showing to pals !

  7. I take exception with the ATF being kinder and gentler. Just remember Waco. They are a govt. bureaucracy and their rules of engagement change with the political winds. If I “inherited” a full auto weapon of questionable lineage my first thought would be to give it the deep six. If I had an “insider” with local law enforcement or needed the money I might pursue contacting ATF for registration, stripping it for parts or confiscation. I would still be very nervous about dealing with the “Feds”.

      • Who knows, bureaucracy is full of corrupt people who twist the law to suit their needs. And lots of times they do it just to make the government look righteous, as in the case of Robert Adams vs US government. That case required the governmental prosecution to eventually admit that the basis of the initial gun-seizure warrant was a “tip” from seven years before the ATF raided Mr. Adams’ house for his collection of antique guns (and they smashed every gun they seized, which violated investigation protocol). The judge ordered the ATF to compensate the dude for his messed collection and to publicly apologize for also wrecking his house and littering it with snack bags and pop cans!

      • Some with a longer view of history might say “a mere blink of the eye.” On the other hand, the 1968 amnesty was legit.

  8. Find your registered deceased grandfathers MG in New Jersey and New Jersey will lock you up in State prison for the rest of your life.

  9. Excellent video Ian! Many people are skeptical of any government agency knowing anything. Not to say I trust the BATF, but I’d prefer to handle any issue on the up and up.

  10. Back when I was in the Army, we had a case where a trainee dropped an M-16 out of the back of a truck, and someone picked it up, right there on the installation.
    Now, if you are the recipient of this M-16 you have two options — the smart and legal one which is to pick it up and return it to the authorities; the illegal one of keeping it.
    In the case at hand, there was a third option — the guy held on to it for three weeks and THEN turned it in. The investigators at the installation regarded this as the same as the illegal option. Obey the law.

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