January 16, 2009
MINORS AND POSSESSION OF MACHINE GUNS
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You asked if minors may possess machine guns under state or federal law. Your question arose in the context of an eight-year old Connecticut child accidentally killed while using a machine gun at a Massachusetts gun range.
This office is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be construed as such.
Neither federal nor state law contains any minimum age requirement for possessing machine guns. Thus, it appears that minors may possess machine guns provided the firearms are otherwise lawfully possessed and registered.
Federal law bars private individuals, including minors, from possessing, acquiring, or transferring machine guns unless the firearm was lawfully possessed and registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) before May 19, 1986. State law prohibits private citizens from possessing any machine gun not registered with ATF and the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
BACKGROUND—THE MASSACHUSETTS CASE
According to various newspaper reports, eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Connecticut, accidentally shot himself in the head while firing a 9-mm Uzi micro submachine gun on October 26, 2008 at Sportsman's Club's annual Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo. This event was organized by C.O.P. Firearms and Training, an Amherst, Massachusetts company run by Pelham, Massachusetts Police Chief Edward Fleury. The Pelham board of selectmen said that Fleury was not acting in his official capacity at the time of the incident, and that neither the town nor the police department sponsored or sanctioned the event.
The advertising flyer (copy attached) stated: “No age limit or licenses required to shoot machine guns, handguns, rifles, or shotguns!!!” and “you will be accompanied to the firing line with a certified instructor to guide you. But you are in control – FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL.” General admission tickets cost $5 each and were free for those under age 16, with additional rental prices depending on the type of firearm.
According to the Boston Globe, a professional instructor familiar with the weapon was beside Christopher when he pulled the trigger. The weapon, capable of firing more than 1,000 rounds a minute, apparently recoiled upwards and backwards, firing a single bullet that struck Christopher in the head. The boy's father, who had given him permission to fire the weapon, was standing behind his son when the accident occurred.
Under Massachusetts law (unlike Connecticut law), it is illegal to provide a machine gun to anyone under age 18 (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 140 § 130). The law contains no exception for providing a machine gun to an eight-year-old, with or without parental permission. The Hampden County Grand Jury has found probable cause to indict three people and the Westfield Sportsman's Club for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the incident that resulted in the death of the eight-year-old. One of them and the club were also indicted for providing a machine gun to a person under age 18.
DEFINITION OF MACHINE GUNS
Federal law defines a “machinegun” 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.” This includes the frame or receiver, any part or combination of parts designed and intended, solely and exclusively, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled (26 USC § 5845(b), 27 CFR §§ 478.11 & 479.11). It does not include “antique firearms” (26 USC § 5845(a) & (g)). State law contains an almost identical definition (CGS § 53-202(a)).
MACHINE GUNS AND THE LAW
Federal law strictly regulates the manufacture, transfer, and possession of machine guns. Among other things, it requires all machine guns to be registered, except those in the possession, or under the control, of the federal government (28 USC § 5841). And it bars private citizens from possessing or transferring any machine gun not in circulation before May 19, 1986 (18 USC § 922(o) & 27 CFR § 478.36). (For a summary of state and federal machine gun laws, see OLR Report 2009-R-0020).
State law prohibits private citizens from possessing any machine gun not registered (1) with ATF pursuant to federal law and (2) with DPS. The firearm must be registered when acquired and annually (CGS § 53-202(g)).
Federal law places numerous restrictions on the possession of firearms generally. But the restrictions do not include a minimum age for possessing machine guns. Specifically, federal law prohibits possession of firearms, including machine guns, by any of the following:
1. anyone under indictment for or convicted of a felony,
2. fugitives from justice,
3. illegal aliens,
4. anyone unlawfully using or addicted to controlled substances,
5. subject to a domestic violence restraining order (issued in accordance with specified terms),
6. veterans discharged under dishonorable conditions,
7. anyone who has been adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution,
8. people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, or
9. anyone who has been convicted of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (18 USC § 922).
State law does not contain a specific list of restrictions on machine gun possession. But by requiring machine guns to be acquired, transferred, and possessed in accordance with the National Firearms Act, it appears to implicitly adopt federal restrictions, which as indicated above do not include a minimum age requirement (CGS § 53-202(g)).
AGE RESTRICTIONS AND FIREARM LAWS
Firearms Other Than Shotguns and Rifles
State Law. Under state law, it is illegal to barter, hire, lend, give, deliver or otherwise transfer handguns to anyone under age 21, except for temporary transfers at a gun range where the firearm is being used under the immediate supervision of a person eligible to possess handguns (CGS § 29-34).
State law prohibits anyone from (1) acquiring a handgun without an eligibility certificate or permit or (2) carrying a handgun on one's person without a permit. The minimum age for getting these credentials is 21 (CGS §§ 29-36f & 29-35).
Federal Law. Federal law prohibits federal firearm licensees (FFLs) from selling or transferring handguns and other firearms (excluding shotguns and rifles) to anyone under age 21 (18 USC § 922(b)).
It, with minor exceptions, prohibits non-licensees from transferring handguns to anyone under age 18 and prohibits such minors from possessing them. Minors under age 18 may generally receive and possess handguns only with a parent or guardian's written permission for limited purposes (e.g., employment, ranching, farming, target practice, or hunting). Also, minors under age 18 who are members of the U. S. Armed Forces or National Guard may possess them on duty (18 USC § 922(x)).
Long Guns (Shotguns and Rifles) and Age Restrictions
State Law. State law allows minors ages 12 to 16 to obtain a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) junior firearms hunting license, allowing them to hunt with firearms under supervision. People over age 16 may get a DEP license for unsupervised firearm hunting (CGS §§ 26-27(a) & 26-38).
Federal Law. Federal law prohibits FFLs from selling or transferring long guns to minors under age 18 (8 USC § 922(b)).
Federal law does not address long gun sales or transfers by non-licensees or long gun possession by minors.