Massachusetts has some of the strictest laws in the union when it comes to firearms (at least when this was written in December of 2023), but through some hard work and a lot of money there is a path to lawful machine gun ownership via the “Machine Gun License”. This is sometimes called a green card. If you are starting as just a normal MA firearms owner (which is to say you have a License to Carry) then this process is going to take about two years, although some of the steps you can execute concurrently. If you have no license to start with then add five or six months and ~$200.
First some background, machine guns federally are regulated via the National Firearms Act. They are defined as “any weapon which 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.” Prior to 1986, anyone could buy a machine gun so long as they registered it with the federal government. In 1986 with the passage of the Firearms Owners Protection Act the registry of machine guns was closed (via the Hughes amendment). Today you can no longer register a newly produced machine gun. However, any gun registered prior to the closure of the registry is still legal to own and transfer. These guns are colloquially called transferables and this is the kind of gun you will most likely be trying to get. A machine gun is a NFA item. You may also hear it called a class three or title II weapon.
Before we get in to it, remember I am not a lawyer. Be sure you understand the law and what you are doing before you make a mistake!
These are the steps I took on the path to lawful ownership:
Step Zero: Acquire a vast amount of patience as it will be sorely tested over this process.
Step One: Acquire a Curio and Relics license. This is a type of Federal Firearms License (type three). The boon to this (outside of how it helps us to get a machine gun license) is the ability to ship firearms older than 50 years (or ones that are explicitly noted as curios) straight to your door without having to go through a dealer. Usually a firearm transfer must take place through a dealer (a holder of a federal firearms license) in your state. You need this license because MA law says it will not issue a machine gun license unless you are: “a bona fide collector of firearms” (General Laws Part I Title XX Chapter 140 Section 131 Part o). How does your local PD (who you will be submitting your application to) determine this? By asking for a C&R license. Even if you are not into machine gun ownership, this license is very useful for collecting so you should have it anyways. The law does not explicitly state you need this license, but I was asked for it and so have a number of other people.
This form is submitted to the government (the ATF). It costs $30 and will take about three to four months to process. If you complete the form properly and you are not a prohibited person the government must issue you this license.
Step Two: Now that you have a C&R license go ahead and submit your machine gun license application to your local PD. Each PD has their own policy regarding this license. This license is “may issue” so some PDs will not issue it at all. Some may require you to prove you are a bona fide collector (which is why we got the C&R license). Some may require nothing. In my case they required my C&R license and they wanted to do an in person inspection of my storage setup. Your mileage will vary. This will cost you $100 and will take about six months.
Step Three (OPTIONAL): You may wish to acquire a NFA trust. I got mine via this site. This used to be a workaround if your local police chief would not approve your form four (see step six), but now that is no longer required. It may make things easier for your beneficiaries if the trust holds your NFA items. It may also make things easier if you have a partner and wish to share your NFA items with them. There is no downside (aside from the extra paperwork) to putting things in a NFA trust to start with, but it can be expensive if you decide later on you want to transfer them into the trust.
Step Four: Now that you have your machine gun license and your NFA trust (if you wanted it) you will actually need to find a machine gun. This will obviously be the hardest and most expensive part. You will probably need somewhere between $8,000 – $10,000 to get your feet in the door. You can use this site, to judge where the market for your particular gun is at. The easiest solution is to find one for sale locally as then you can just do a private transfer. If you have to go out of state your best bet would be an auction house like Rock Island or Morphys Auction. If you do this then you will have to have the auction house transfer the gun to a local dealer who you will then work with. Buying a non-C&R gun out of state means you must transfer that gun to an instate dealer who will then transfer it to you. This will slow down the process by a month or two and will add $150 to $300 to your expenses. The local dealer must have an addition to their federal firearms license to transfer machine guns (Class 3 – Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT)). One such dealer in MA is GFA Armstec. Make sure you have your dealer lined up before executing your transfer. You could also engage with a machine gun dealer like DealerNFA, but their prices will be high compared to the rest of the market. Remember, all the guns you will look at will be from 1986 or older which means they are grandfathered in and not subject to MA’s 1994 “assault weapon” ban. However, if you wish to purchase new magazines for your piece they must comply with the 10 round magazine limit (unless they are preban magazines).
Step Five: Once you have located a possible purchase, take some time to inspect it. If it is a private purchase, ask the owner about their use of it and any issue or quirks it has. Verify they have a valid tax stamp (example here) to prove legal ownership. Look at it in person if possible. If it is at an auction house, go to the preview day if possible. Always ask questions if you have doubts.
Step Six: Regardless of if you are doing a private transfer or working with an auction house/dealer you will fill and submit ATF Form Four. This form, that both you and the seller fill out, will tell the government that this gun is being transferred to you. Take your time and carefully fill it out. You will need to include a passport style picture and fingerprints. You will also be required to pay for $200 for the transfer. When the form is approved you will receive a tax stamp to prove your ownership. Finally, you must submit a copy of this form to your local police chief. This process can take eight months to a year. Check current wait times here. In some cases you can efile, but I had to submit a paper form. It took 11 months for that form to be approved. The completed form and tax stamp will be sent to the current owner (or dealer you are working with) who can then legally transfer ownership to you.
Step Seven: While you wait you will need to find some place to shoot. Many clubs in MA prohibit full auto. One such club that allows it is Harvard Sportsmen’s Club. Another is Leominster Sportsmen’s Association.
Step Eight: Insure your property. You now have a very expensive, highly regulated piece of property. It makes sense to insure it and you can do so affordably. I use Gun and Trophy Insurance. You can insure $50,000 worth of your collection for under $200.
Welcome to a very exclusive club. MA says there are only 306 active machine gun licenses as of 7/1/2022.
Finally, It is worth noting that if you ever move you will have to let the government know.