What To Do If You Find An “Illegal” Firearm?

At the height of the Second World War, America had 16 million men under arms. No, not all were carrying weapons on foreign battlefields, but vast numbers were.  At the tail end of the war, ships brought troops home from Europe and the Pacific by the hundreds of thousands.  Unlike today’s service members coming home after a tour in the Middle East who are carefully screened and inspected for possession of unauthorized contraband (war souvenirs and weapons), those troops in the 1940’s were typically not subject to such scrutiny. As a result, an untold amount of weaponry made its way back home to the  States. Maybe your own father or grandfather sneaked back home a nice German MP44 in his duffel bag.

What became of all this weaponry? Some pieces were squirreled away in closets, some were registered with the ATF, as required by the National Firearms Act of 1934,  some were lost, stolen, destroyed or sold off for their parts. Regardless, these “contraband” firearms still show up now and then.

So what would you do if you came into possession (by inheritance or other source, for example) of a non-registered fully automatic firearm? Here are some options:

  1. Say nuttin’ to nobody. Nobody. Keep it and enjoy it for its rich, forbidden history. Remember, however,  that if you are caught with it,  you could be facing a federal felony charge. Is that little guilty pleasure worth the risk? You decide.
  2. Call an ATF field office and report it. I would NOT put it in vehicle and drive down the highway with it to their local office. Have them come to you to pick it up.  Can you imagine having to explain to a police officer in a traffic stop that you were on your way to turn in that Tommy Gun that he discovered in your trunk? “Yeah, right,” he’s thinking.It may not be wise to allow the agents into your residence. Meet them outside.  If they ask to search your residence, politely decline. You do not want federal agents (or any strangers, for that matter)  snooping around your house, do you?  Assert your rights!  Have the firearm wrapped up, or in a case, not in your possession, and definitely not in your hands. Treat it like radioactive plutonium, and point it out to them.  Do not volunteer more information than necessary.  You are being a “good citizen” by following the law and reporting the illegal firearm, and you have no obligation to answer probing questions.
  3. How about “registering” it with the feds and keeping it – legally?  If it has already been registered by a prior owner, then that option might be possible. If not, you will have difficulty making it “legal to own.” The paperwork is really quite something.  Read more here.
  4. You can take it out the desert for one thrilling day of fun, shoot it to your heart’s content, bury it,  and forget it. Risky, if you are caught.
  5.  You can have it torch cut to ATF specs, so that it cannot fire and cannot be readily able to be made whole again. Now you can own it, all chopped up.  What a horrific thought – a beautiful 1920’s era Thompson sub-machine gun, for example, worth at least $25,000 in today’s market, chopped up like waste metal at a dirty salvage yard. I shudder at the thought.

Read what others think about this. As is often the case, the comments are as good or better than the article itself.


At Semper Firearms Training we encourage you to buy a good firearm, get trained in how to use it, get a Nevada CCW permit, and continue your firearms training as part of a defensive lifestyle.

Images courtesy of Oleg Volk