Machine Gun Laws


Tennessee Statutes and Regulations

Machine Guns and Class III Weapons

You too can purchase a machine gun or other National Firearms Act weapon because ownership is not restricted under Tennessee law.

There are two kinds of firearms under federal law, title 1 firearms and title 2. Title 1 firearms are long guns (rifles and shotguns), handguns, silencers, and firearm frames or receivers. Most NFA weapons are also title 1 firearms. Title 2 weapons are NFA weapons. Title 2 of the 1968 Gun Control Act is the National Firearms Act (codified at 26 U.S.C. sec. 5801 et seq.), hence NFA. Title 1 is generally referred to as the Gun Control Act of 1968, (18 U.S.C. sec. 921 et seq.). NFA weapons are also sometimes called class 3 weapons, because a class 3 SOT (special occupational taxpayer) is needed to deal in NFA weapons.

NFA weapons include categories such as machine guns, sound suppressors, short barreled shotguns, short barreled rifles, destructive devices and items classified as “any other weapons”. NFA weapons do not include the semi-automatic rifles and shotguns which have been since at least 1994 misclassified by many in Congress, government agencies, and the media as “assault weapons.”

Under the provisions of Federal law, anyone over the age of 21 who is not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm may purchase and own National Firearms Act weapons which include machine guns, sound suppressors (i.e., silencers), short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, an other unusual types of weapons commonly classified as an “Any Other Weapon”, and destructive devices. Tennessee law does not regulate, prohibit possession of or prohibit the purchase of NFA weapons. The applicable code section is Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-1302(b)(7) which provides in relevant part:

(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally or knowingly possesses, manufactures, transports, repairs or sells:

. . . ;

(3) A machine gun;

(4) A short-barrel rifle or shotgun;

(5) Deleted by 2017 Pub.Acts, c. 339, § 3, eff. July 1, 2017.

. . .

(b) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the person’s conduct:

(1) Was incident to the performance of official duty and pursuant to military regulations in the army, navy, air force, coast guard or marine service of the United States or the Tennessee national guard, or was incident to the performance of official duty in a governmental law enforcement agency or a penal institution;

(2) Was incident to engaging in a lawful commercial or business transaction with an organization identified in subdivision (b)(1);

(3) Was incident to using an explosive or an explosive weapon in a manner reasonably related to a lawful industrial or commercial enterprise;

(4) Was incident to using the weapon in a manner reasonably related to a lawful dramatic performance or scientific research;

(5) Was incident to displaying the weapon in a public museum or exhibition;

(6) Was licensed by the state of Tennessee as a manufacturer, importer or dealer in weapons; provided, that the manufacture, import, purchase, possession, sale or disposition of weapons is authorized and incident to carrying on the business for which licensed and is for scientific or research purposes or sale or disposition to the organization designated in subdivision (b)(1); or
(7) Deleted by 2015 Pub.Acts, c. 85, § 1, eff. April 9, 2015.
(8) Deleted by 2014 Pub.Acts, c. 647, § 2, eff. July 1, 2014.

(c) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the person must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:

(1) The person’s conduct was relative to dealing with the weapon solely as a curio, ornament or keepsake, and if the weapon is a type described in subdivisions (a)(1)-(4), that it was in a nonfunctioning condition and could not readily be made operable; or
(2) The possession was brief and occurred as a consequence of having found the weapon or taken it from an aggressor.

(d) It is an exception to the application of subsection (a) that the person acquiring or possessing a weapon described in subdivisions (a)(3) or (a)(4) is in full compliance with the requirements of the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. §§ 5841-5862).

(e) Subsection (a) shall not apply to the possession, manufacture, transportation, repair, or sale of an explosive if:

(1) The person in question is eighteen (18) years of age or older; and
(2) The possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale was incident to creating or using an exploding target for lawful sporting activity, as solely intended by the commercial manufacturer.


(1) An offense under subdivision (a)(1) is a Class B felony.
(2) An offense under subdivisions (a)(2)-(4) is a Class E felony.
(3) An offense under subdivision (a)(6) is a Class C felony.
(4) An offense under subdivisions (a)(7)-(8) is a Class A misdemeanor.

Thus, so long as the machine gun, short barreled rifle or short barreled shotgun are either “non-functioning” or, if functioning, acquired in compliance the National Firearms Act, the weapons may be legally owned by a civilian in Tennessee.

In order to purchase a National Firearms Act weapon, a proposed purchaser must complete an ATF Form 4 – “Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm.” Note that the National Firearms Act was passed in 1934 as part of the Internal Revenue Code at a time when the federal government admitted that it could not ban firearms but asserted that it could tax them in order to regulate their ownership and transfer (as if the criminals who they were concerned about really cared about paying taxes). Therefore, the National Firearms Act is a part of the Internal Revenue Code and imposes transfer taxes on these regulated firearms.

The ATF Form 4 identifies the individual who wants to purchase or acquire the weapon, who it is being transferring the weapon, and a description of the firearm with serial number. It is submitted to the ATF in duplicate with fingerprints, a photograph, and the appropriate transfer tax ($200 for most weapons, $5 for “Any Other Weapons”).

If you already own or are considering the purchase of an NFA item, please at least look into the benefits of doing so through an NFA trust.  One of its primary benefits is the “multiple possessor” characteristic that is not available if the item is registered to a specific individual.  If you are going to use an NFA Trust, be careful.  The ATF will accept almost any legally valid trust for that purpose but a true NFA trust is written specifically to own and manage NFA items and has protections designed to minimize the chance of the weapon being treated as contraband as well as other protections.  Sure, you can use the free trusts on the internet or that your dealer may offer but ask how many of them have actually litigated with the ATF….

The bottom line is that civilians who can legally own firearms can legally own, if registered, machine guns, short barrel firearms, and suppressors in Tennessee.  We recommend that if you desire to do so that you invest in an NFA Trust.