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Are fully-automatic weapons legal to have?

Is it legal for the average citizen to possess a fully-automatic weapon?

It’s the sound of the rapid fire of gunshots that rang down from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on the Route 91 country music festival that has many believing it came from one if not more automatic rifles. Las Vegas Police Department announced more than a dozen weapons were found in the hotel room, but specifics regarding the types of those weapons is unknown.

In addition to the weapons at the hotel, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said police retrieved 18 firearms, explosives, and several thousand rounds of ammunition at the gunman’s home.

Automatic weapons, also known as machine guns, can be legally owned by private citizens as long as the weapon was made before May of 1986 and is registered with the federal government.

Any machine gun made or imported after 1986 can only legally be owned by a licensed dealer, police, or military.

“You can't just buy it. You can't just go buy it and if you are, you are buying from somebody who is on the extreme sides of illegal. Almost to be considered treasonous by the U.S government and they will throw the book at you as hard as they possibly can,” Dylan Stocker with Old Arms of Idaho, LLC said.

Back in 1934, Congress started regulating automatic weapons. Owners were required to pay a $200 tax, provide their fingerprints and photograph, and obtain approval from the chief law enforcement officer in the area.

All those requirements, except for police approval, are still in place today. All automatic weapons are on the National Firearms Act registry and tracked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“The ATF is ultimately looking to make sure that they're doing their diligence to track where this item is going, who they're going too, what serial number it was, and keeping a quality record of what that was and where it was,” Stocker said.

Any automatic weapon not registered with the ATF is considered to be illegal and must be destroyed.

You also cannot go back and register the weapon. For example, if you were to inherit a machine gun made before 1986 from a family member and it wasn’t registered with the ATF, it must be destroyed.

The ATF, as of April 2017, had a little over 630,000 machine guns registered in the National Firearms Act registry.

Automatic weapons both registered with the federal government and made before 1986 can be sold or transferred to the average citizen. The citizen is required to pay the $200 tax, provide their fingerprint and photograph, and undergo an extensive background check, which Stocker says can sometimes take up to a year.

Stocker also says these weapons can be very costly, sometimes reaching prices of up to $50,000.

There are ways to modify a semi-automatic weapon, one that fires one bullet at a time, and make it fully-automatic; however, making any modification like that is illegal.