In the NFA world there are three types of machine guns: Pre-Samples, Post-Samples and Transferable machine guns. So let's start with some U.S. History to understand why these three categories exist.
Machine guns were regulated as much as any other gun until 1934...you could actually buy a machine gun from a mail order catalog. This act did not ban machine guns but did put a hefty tax on them during this time period. The $200 tax price is still the same today, but back then that payment was often times just as much as the gun itself. The next piece of legislation passed was in 1968 which stated that firearms which had no sporting purpose were not able to be sold to civilians. Machine guns as a whole were determined to have no sporting purpose, and, thus, any machine guns imported after 1968 are not able to be owned by civilians. The last piece of legislation was passed in 1986 and stated that no new machine guns were allowed to be registered. The government defined new as anything after May 19, 1986. So for machine guns to be transferable they had to be registered before the cut off date of May 19, 1986 and not imported after 1968. These regulations are where we get the categories for machine guns from.
Pre-Sample guns are guns that were imported into the U.S. after 1968 but before May 19, 1986. The only people who can own these imported guns are dealers, military, and police agencies. The approved form on Pre Samples will be clearly stamped “Limited to use as a Sales Sample.”
The next category is Post-Sample Machine guns, which are guns manufactured or imported after May 19, 1986. These guns can only be purchased by dealers, manufacturers, military and police agencies. But for a dealer to make the purchase they must have a Law Letter from law enforcement. The only time a law letter is not needed is if the Post Samples are in possession of a dealer that is going out of business will no longer carry their license, then the guns can be sold to a dealer without a law letter. Post Sample guns are clearly marked with a stamp that says “Restricted” on the approved ATF form 3.
The last category is Transferable Machine guns which are guns that were not imported after 1968 and registered with the federal government before May 19, 1986. Anyone who is 21 years of age and can legally purchase a Title 1 gun can own a transferable machine gun. Well those are the three categories of machine guns.
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