I am less than happy that my grandfather, at one time in his life, was able to walk into the local hardware store and buy a Thompson or Browning automatic rifle without a 4473, a background check, and especially a silly 200 dollar tax and a several-months-long wait on a office full of government employees to file and approve his paperwork. I am unhappy about this as in order for me to own an item that falls under the NFA, I have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, pay an unreasonable tax, and sit and wait. Now, I am fortunate enough to have an NFA trust drafted by the law offices of Sean Cody in Houston, Texas, so I do not have to go to my local chief of police or sheriff and beg for permission to own something that is only difficult to own because it is politically incorrect.
(Full disclosure: I paid my hard earned cash for the services of Sean Cody. Nothing was handed to me for free.)
Now, a NFA trust is a very helpful thing for some of us, even people like me who live in Uber-conservative west Texas. Sit back and I'll tell you why I finally settled on retaining the services of an attorney to draft an NFA trust....
So, about two years ago, I decided I wanted to build myself a suppressor. I got the immense itch to own one, as I was regularly target shooting at the local range. One thing I have done over the last few years is try and introduce as many new shooters to the sport as possible, and with that, I tried to introduce as many female and youth shooters as possible. Now, having taught quite a few youngsters how to safely handle and shoot a gun, I've found that one of the largest problems young people have with shooting is the bang or crack from any firearm, even the minute noise from a .22 pistol or rifle. The recoil was a problem as well, but that could be worked around depending on caliber. I decided that I could more effectively teach people new to the sport if I had at least a .22 suppressor. Anyone who has ever used a suppressor knows that it doesn't remove all the noise, but moderates the sound to a level that is not intimidating.
So, I got on the internet, did a little research on what was required as far as legalities and paperwork, filled out the requisite paperwork, and called down to the local police station and set up an appointment to meet with my (former) chief of police. A couple of days later, I went downtown to meet up with the chief and discuss matters. While there, I was treated with the utmost of respect by the clerk, several detectives, and the handful of officers I happened across. While taking the elevator up to the chief's office, a detective and a officer in uniform inquired what my business was with the chief. I informed them I wanted to discuss getting a signature to obtain a few NFA items, from a suppressor to a AOW and discuss the possibility of getting a machine gun in the future. The officer and detective in the elevator were very friendly and professional, and I got favorable responses from them in the manner that they too, would like to personally own some of the aforementioned items.
I stepped into the chief's office, and immediately was unimpressed by the chief's demeanor. He was very unfriendly and acted as though I were not worth a second of his time. When I inquired as to getting a signature for a suppressor, he laughed in my face and informed me that there was a city ordinance against owning such things, he had never signed off on one, nor had any of his predecessors. He rudely informed me that he had no interested in allowing any citizen to own such a thing. I kept my calm and pleasant demeanor and went ahead and mentioned a machine gun. This was not a good idea.
The chief gave me a very nasty look and informed me that "Under no circumstances should any citizen ever be allowed to own such an item unless perhaps they were one of his officers, and that such items weren't allowed in HIS city".
I informed him that I was also a public servant, although not a police officer, and did not have any intentions of using a weapon in any illegal manner. He dismissed everything else I had to say and rudely asked me to leave. I left the building after signing out and chatting with the clerk briefly. Once I got in my truck, I re-armed myself (no point in carrying in the police station, IMO) and drove straight to the range for a little tension relief. While at the range, I decided to contact the local sheriff and try this whole thing again.
I left the range, and since this is west Texas, there are large spots where there is no cell service whatsoever. I waited until I got back close to town and called the Sheriff's office to try and set up an appointment with him. I not only got to talk to his secretary, but she immediately directed me to the Sheriff. At first, he seemed a bit put-off that I was bothering him right after lunch, and he didn't sound too warm to the topic of NFA items, but he did agree to meet with me the next day.
The next day, I drove outside of town to the county jail/Sheriff's office, disarmed before getting out of my truck, and headed inside, wary of rattlesnakes (seriously, the Sheriff's office is notorious for being surrounded by the buggers, and there is no such thing as a small western diamondback rattler in this region). I was greeted by the Sheriff's secretary, and asked to wait in the hallway until the Sheriff could see me. After 10 minutes or so, the Sheriff came out, shook my hand, and escorted me into his office. We sat and spoke on a number of topics, including my background, education, job history, history of public service, before he finally cut to the chase. He informed me that although he had signed a number of Form 1's and Form 4's in the past, they were always for people he knew well. He did not seem to have a very high opinion of the chief of police, though he hid his distaste well (He informed me that the chief was from Maine, and that they had had a number of disagreements, some of which stemmed from what region the chief was from. He was political about it, and very matter-of-fact.). I was asked why I wanted to own a suppressor and/or a machine gun, what I planned to do with such items, etc. Now, after I went through the entire penal code with him, gave him my CHL and drivers license to copy and run a background check on, the Sheriff finally got down to brass tacks and said, "I don't understand why you want these things. I can't fathom what would possess someone to spend this much money and go to this much trouble to have any of this. However, I believe it is your right to own them, and despite my desire that no one own such things, I support your right to own them. If your background comes back clean, I will sign off on your suppressor, and given that goes well, I will sign off on a machine gun in the future. After all, I'm guessing you already own other firearms, and if you wanted someone dead, a suppressed machine gun would kill someone just as dead as any of the other guns you own. " He then asked me again why I needed a machine gun or suppressor. I responded,
"Sheriff, I've come here to your office today to discuss it with you as a law abiding citizen and an honest man. As far as need, my answer is this. I am proud to live in a country, moreover a free Republic wherein need does not dictate ownership, where my desire to spend my hard-earned money is up to me and solely me. I cannot dictate to you my need to own a big screen television, a large parcel of land to build my own ranch, or a number of other things that people take for granted everyday. I can say that I want them, and that has been reason enough and should suffice."
The Sheriff smiled, nodded his head in agreement, and said, "You're absolutely right about that." He then informed me he would be in touch, and ushered me out.
Now, this is somewhat of a success story, at least compared to the previous LEO I spoke with, and other horror stories I've heard. Only thing is, I wound up moving to the neighboring county three months later, and as such, could no longer get this Sheriff to sign off on my NFA items. Needless to say, I hated to be grilled by any LEO on the topic, but at least the Sheriff was supportive of his constituents rights. My current sheriff is rumored to not be as friendly on NFA items, so I just said to hell with it and got a trust set up. One of the biggest reasons for the trust aside from the LEO sign off was that my wife has access to my safe. If you do an individual trust, no one else is legally allowed to access your NFA items without your presence, period, no exceptions. With a trust, I could list my wife as a trustee, and she could retain access to my safe and any NFA items therein without being in violation of the law. In the case of my death, she would retain possession of the weapons until my beneficiary was old enough to take possession of them. This was another upside to the trust. If you have an NFA item that was done on an individual transfer and you die or become incapacitated, it is my understanding that the items in question will be destroyed by the ATF.*
I was reading Sean's post about the CSGV and their lies that criminals are able to easily obtain machine guns and "silencers" without a background check via a trust, and had to chuckle just a little.
A trust does keep you from having to go grovel in front of your local lead peace officer and give him/her a reason or list of reasons why you deserve to spend your money in a legal manner in which you choose. There is no LEO sign off, no fingerprints, and no passport-style photos required. However, there is still a Form 4473 filled out by your local dealer once the transfer is approved by the ATF. The exception to this is if you are buying a machine gun that is classified as a C&R, or Curio and Relic, those machine guns are shipped straight to your doorstep. The only thing about the C&R weapons is that in order to buy them, you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork with the ATF as the C&R is considered a type of FFL by the ATF. They will already have done the necessary background checks as required by federal law before you are issued your C&R collectors paperwork. There is nothing about an NFA transfer that sidesteps the law, whether you are doing an individual transfer, a trust/estate transfer, or a corporation transfer.
*The list of things that I am NOT is a long one. I am not a gunsmith, for instance. I am not an engineer (yet), nor do I claim to be one. My blogname is meant as a joke. I am not a even-remotely-competent machinist, and I am certainly not a lawyer. If you want to know the particulars of a trust or any law dealing with the NFA, contact Sean Cody at the above linked website and discuss it with him. I will say that I was 100% happy with my business dealings with Mr. Cody, he had my NFA trust drafted and emailed to me within a couple hours of payment, and he has been very helpful with any questions I've had about filing forms with the ATF, aaaaannndddd, if there is an issue with the trust with the ATF, I can defer to him to take care of it. A NFA trust can be drafted by anyone using Quicken or Legal Zoom with some work, but if you're going to invest in anything NFA related, this is not the place to be a cheapskate. If you incorrectly draft a trust, file it with the ATF, and take possession of an NFA weapon, you may then be charged with illegal possession. Despite what the CSGV is "reporting", the ATF is using extreme scrutiny with any trust filed with them.
Suffice to say that an NFA trust makes for fun collecting. If I decide tomorrow that I want another suppressor, instead of having to go through all the normal BS of an individual transfer, i.e. get passport photos done, schedule time to meet with the local chief LEO, and get professionally fingerprinted, I simply fill out a Form 1 to manufacture (I can manufacture suppressors in my garage), toss those forms in a large envelope with a check for 200 dollars and a copy of my trust and send it to the ATF, and then wait for the approved forms to return with the tax stamp on them. I can then manufacture my suppressor. The same thing would apply if I wanted to simply go buy a suppressor instead of build one, but it would require a Form 4 for transfer and would require that I had gone to a local NFA dealer and picked out a suppressor and had the dealer send his information with the trust and Form 4 to the ATF. Once the Form4 is approved and arrives in the mail, I can go to the NFA dealer and pick up my suppressor.
A similar scenario would be building a short-barreled rifle or shotgun. If I wanted a short-barreled AR rifle, I simply fill out a Form 1 to manufacture, send the form, a 200 dollar check, and a copy of my trust off to the ATF. When it returns, I take the AR receiver I listed on the Form 1 (there is a spot on the form 1 for a serial number), stamp the name of my trust and current address on the receiver, and then go buy the length of upper receiver I want and head to the range.
Of course, while a trust is beneficial to anyone wanting to own an NFA item, it really helps garage gun builders like me, since a suppressor sold in stores for 200-800 dollars costs me less than 50 bucks to build, and I don't have to leave home to get all the paperwork set up and mailed out.