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The Hughes Amendment & Machine Guns: What’s the Deal?

There comes a point in every gun owner’s life when they start dreaming of just how much fun it would be to own a fully automatic rifle or even a machine gun.

The wind blowing through your hair, the smell of gunpowder in the air, and spent shell casings falling faster than you can count…

huges amendment 1
Classics like the M60 never goes out of style.

Unfortunately, that is also the point when you find out it’s not so easy to just go and buy a fully automatic weapon, thanks to something known as the “Hughes Amendment.”


So, what is the Hughes Amendment?

Glad you asked. We’re going to talk about what this law covers and how it impacts you as a gun owner. So keep reading.

Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only. 

Table of Contents


What’s the Hughes Deal?

So what’s this Hughes Amendment and why is it raining on our parade?

The Hughes Amendment, as the name implies, was an amendment to the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986. 

The FOPA itself was an update to the Gun Control Act of 1968. This act loosened restrictions on a variety of gun laws, such as no longer requiring records of non-armor piercing ammo purchases. 


In addition to the other firearms regulations in the FOPA, the Hughes Amendment, in particular, added a section banning civilian transfer or ownership of machine gunsexcept for those already legally owned at the time the law went into effect on May 19, 1986.

This means the only remaining machine guns allowed for civilian possession were all made at least 35 years ago! 

Sad goodbye
Not so yay. Goodbye, sweet autos.

The amendment also put our friends at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in charge of any future civilian transfers of these firearms.

So that’s nice. 

atf 16inch meme
Them alphabet bois

What’s a Machine Gun Anyway?

Some of you might be thinking none of this really matters. You have no interest in actually owning a machine gun anyway.

southpark record needle scratch
You weren’t?!

However, it’s important to keep in mind, a machine gun doesn’t just mean the M60 or M240 used by the military.

Under the National Firearms Act of 1934 — yet another set of gun laws separate from the GCA and FOPA — any fully automatic gun falls into the “machine gun” category. This includes a fully automatic AR-15. 

More importantly, an auto sear placed into an AR-15 to make it fully automatic is also legally considered a “machine gun.” Even if it’s not put inside the rest of the AR-15 along with the other M16 parts to make it full-auto, it still counts.

So, transfer and ownership of even the auto sear is limited to only those in circulation prior to the 1986 cutoff.

A drop-in auto sear that sold for over $28,000. Best AR-15 accessory ever.
A drop-in auto sear that sold for over $28,000. Best AR-15 accessory ever. (Rock Island Auction)

Can You Buy a Machine Gun?

With these restrictions, only a limited number of machine guns legally owned by civilians in the US exist.

No new machine guns made after the law went into effect in 1986 are allowed to be transferred or owned by civilians.

So, the guns we had access to 35 years ago are the only ones that can continue to remain in circulation.

If one breaks, or becomes destroyed somehow, there are that many fewer machine guns for us plebs to enjoy.

Which means even less of this!

Transfers of the existing stock are still allowed, of course. But you’ll need to have the money for it.

Since there is a limited number of remaining machine guns in circulation, the price for them has skyrocketed.

Assuming you can afford to pay for one, there are still some additional steps you’ll need to go through with the ATF. 

To complete a machine gun transfer:

  • Both the seller (transferer) and buyer (transferee) must complete an ATF application
  • The buyer has to:
    • Pay a $200 transfer tax to the ATF
    • Submit two ID photos taken from within the past year
    • Submit fingerprints
    • Submit a copy of any state or local permits or licenses required to buy and possess machine guns
    • Go through a background check
Background Check
If you’re not used to a background check already…get ready.


The requirements don’t seem that difficult to meet. And really, the biggest hurdles will be the expense and waiting for approval from the ATF.

If you can find a willing seller and the money to pay for it, all that stands between you and true freedom is an ATF review…and a few (tens of thousands) of dollars! Easy peasy!

Waste Money
Buying an auto firearm be like…

For the rest of us, full-auto will likely be something we experience at gun shows every so often.

On the bright side, shooting semi-auto does help conserve ammo. And with the way ammo prices are going, only shooting semi-auto isn’t the worst thing in the world. 

Have you ever shot a fully automatic firearm? Tell us about your experience so we can envy you! Want to know more about gun laws? Check out Gun Laws by State!

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6 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    the Hughes act will never be repealed, well not until all legally transferable MG's are destroyed. Liberals don't want it, and rich republican's who own FA guns don't want thier 40k gun become utterly worthless overnight.

    August 23, 2021 11:36 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I got caught short when my Class 3 dealers license was unusable because my license was issued after the ban on new machine guns. Are the AR pistol lower receivers serialized separately from AR rifles or are they the same with only the type of stock purchased being the only determiner if it's a pistol or a rifle? If I buy a pistol lower but not buy a complete gun will that allow me to outfit it as a pistol even if the ATF bans them?

    July 27, 2021 3:32 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    William P

    48 yrs ago I fired a Thompson, fully auto, 45 cal. With a drum mag. What a blast! It was not a registered weapon, as the receiver was modified with a fully auto sear. Completed in a machine shop by friends of the guy. He has since passed and probably past it on to a son.

    July 15, 2021 5:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I am fortunate to have a best friend who was a SWAT cop in Las Vegas. Back in 2009, I got to spend two days on the LVMPD/SEAL/Ranger range with an MP5 and a Colt Commando M4. Thanks to the LVMPD, I had hundreds of rounds to play with. The Colt was only controllable in 3 or 4 round bursts. It wasn't all that much fun to shoot. By contrast, the MP5 was a blast. After two days of practice, I was able to place the carbine on full auto and fire one, two, or three-round bursts. At 25 yards, I was able to put those rounds in the head of the target. I was so impressed with the MP5's accuracy, I am determined to own a semiauto copy.

    July 15, 2021 3:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    The 2nd amendment sure was a nice idea. Shame we let 'em gut it.

    April 5, 2021 4:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Also bear in mind some states outright ban possession of machine guns, and some even go as far as defining a machine gun as anything that shoots more than one bullet per single pull of a trigger. This definition would cover bans on binary triggers too.

    April 5, 2021 1:24 pm