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In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, which barred the private sale and ownership of machine guns. The act grandfathered in machine guns that were registered with the federal government the day Reagan signed the law.
There are restrictions to owning a machine gun, including that owners must register with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Fifteen states have laws that generally prohibit the possession, manufacture or sale of all machine guns.
Following the March 27 mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, President Joe Biden again called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban.
Biden’s campaign promise to pass such a ban has so far stalled amid Republican opposition in Congress.
Speaking about firearms on March 28, Biden defended the rights of Americans to own certain types of guns.
"I’m a Second Amendment guy. I have two shotguns. My sons have shotguns," Biden said. "You know, but our states – you know, everybody thinks somehow the Second Amendment is absolute. You’re not allowed to go out and own a — an automatic weapon. You’re not allowed to own a machine gun."
Biden is wrong about machine guns — many states allow people to own them. The White House did not respond to our request for evidence.
Mark Oliva, spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told PolitiFact "you can own an automatic firearm. It is, however, extremely restrictive."
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defines a machine gun as any weapon that shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
Fifteen states have laws that generally prohibit the possession, manufacture or sale of all machine guns, including machine guns that are possessed, manufactured, or sold in compliance with federal law, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In 1986, Reagan signed the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act,which barred the private sale and ownership of any fully automatic rifles -— machine guns -— that were not already registered with the federal government the day Reagan signed the law.
Residents remain free to buy and transfer machine guns that were registered before May 20, 1986; however, they must meet the requirements of the 1934 National Firearms Act. That law states that to lawfully possess an automatic firearm, someone must register with the ATF, which requires fingerprinting, photo submission, a $200 tax stamp, notification of their chief law enforcement officer and additional background checks, Oliva said.
Rick Vasquez, a firearms consultant and ATF compliance expert for the firearms industry, told us these guns sell for around $15,000 to as much as $80,000 for collectors’ items.
Although there is data on how many guns are registered in the U.S. there is no national gun registry. So, we don’t know with certainty how many guns exist in the U.S. The Trace, a respected news website that writes about guns and gun violence, said some estimates are in the hundreds of millions.
The Trace also found that although there is a paper record of guns manufactured domestically, federally licensed dealers are not required to report sales to the ATF. It is also difficult to quantify private person-to-person sales that do not involve licensed dealers or the number of guns taken out of circulation each year.
ATF’s annual statistical update in 2021 showed 741,146 machine guns nationwide. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan source of reliable polling, found in 2021 that 4 in 10 U.S. adults said they live in a household with a gun of any kind.
Biden said in the U.S., "you’re not allowed to own a machine gun."
Biden is wrong. In 1986, Reagan signed the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, which barred the private sale and ownership of machine guns that were not already registered with the federal government on the day he signed the law. There are restrictions for machine gun ownership, and these guns cost tens of thousands of dollars.
But there is a kernel of truth to Biden’s statement because 15 states ban the possession of machine guns.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
RELATED: All of our fact-checks about guns
White House, Remarks by President Biden on Investing in America, March 28, 2023
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Machine Guns & 50 Caliber, acessed March 29, 2023
Pew Research Center, Key facts about Americans and guns, Sept. 13, 2021
The Trace, How Many Guns Are Circulating in the U.S.? March 6, 2023
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Who may qualify as a certifying official on an ATF Form 1 or ATF Form 4 for the making or transfer of an NFA firearm? Nov. 13, 2020
PolitiFact, Lopez says Reagan banned machine guns, backed assault weapons ban, Jan. 19, 2015
PolitiFact, Barack Obama wrong on limits of US gun laws, machine gun sales, June 4, 2019
Email and telephone interview, Mark Oliva, spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, March 30, 2023
Email interview, Rick Vasquez, firearms expert, March 30, 2023
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