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Old September 9, 2012, 06:36 PM   #1
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Question about rusted dug-up relics

Does anyone know what the ATF laws are regarding rusted dug-up relics that are non-operable and can't be made operable? I know of a case where a friend of a friend of a house-sitter for the butler of a masseuse may possibly have come across a WW2 heavy MG relic that had been in the ground for 30+ years and is in the condition described above.

When new and functional it would clearly have required being torched and demilled. But in this case, it can't be made functional and the receiver, barrel, etc. is rusted. Is it necessary to have it demilled since it can not be made functional? What is the ATF policy on this and are there any CA laws requiring special treatment of something like this? Does ownership require special paperwork and if so where does one go to submit this paperwork?

Thanks in advance.
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Old September 9, 2012, 07:16 PM   #2
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I'm pretty sure the only way the ATF will accept that "it can't be made functional" is if the receiver is cut into three pieces with a metal-displacing saw/torch, as per their instructions.
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Old September 9, 2012, 07:57 PM   #3
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If true, that would be disappointing to hear. The barrel and receiver are pitted with holes going all the way through. The cancer (rust) has bubbled all the way through and has destroyed the integrity of the steel worse than can be done via than cutting in three places. So torching it is needless and just adds insult to injury.
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Old September 10, 2012, 08:03 AM   #4
Willie Sutton
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These sorts of things are not uncommonly recovered by divers wrom shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks and put on display. I've never heard of anyone being hassled. I can think of a dozen aircraft mounted .50 MG's that are in a variety of places including public displays. There is a German 20mm Oerlekon deck-mounted auto-cannon from the submarine U-352 sitting on the dock behind the dive shop that's been seen by literally tens of thousands of people, and it's never been an issue for anyone. "Maybe" it's still an automatic cannon... maybe not. Figuring it out seems to not be a priority for anyone. Personally I would treat it so it does not continue to deteriorate(harder to do than you might realize) and stick it on the wall. That's just me.


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Old September 10, 2012, 01:45 PM   #5
James K
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Technically, it is an unregistered machinegun, whether it is operable or not. When the law was changed in 1968 to require registration of even deactivated machineguns, the (then) ATTD stated that if the gun was made as a machinegun, even if it was totally inoperable, it was still a machinegun.

Since 1986, it has been impossible for a private entity to register a machinegun, so any attempt to register even an inoperable gun would result in confiscaton of the gun and possible prosecution of the owner.

Now, I don't see a BATFE agent arresting anyone or a U.S. attorney prosecuting over a rusty relic, but AFAIK it would legally be the same as an operable gun.

Just FYI, you can't "torch and demill" an unregistered gun; it is illegal and can't be made legal. You can (if you are really dumb) weld up a registered machinegun, but it would still be registered as "inoperable".

As to salvaged and unregistered automatic weapons being on display, that is interesting but irrelevant. If someone has ten kilos of heroin on his porch in full view of passersby and no one says anything, that does not make the stuff legal.

Jim K
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Old September 10, 2012, 06:56 PM   #6
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I'd suggest just calling your local ATF office and ask them.
At worse they'd confiscate it, at best you could keep it.
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Old September 11, 2012, 10:46 PM   #7
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Thanks everyone for taking time to respond. That's quite a variety of responses. It sounds like ownership of such a relic is problematic at best and a legal liability at worst and something that I will avoid.

Question for James K (or anyone else who cares to respond). You said that a weapon can't be torched and demilled in order to make it legal. Is this true? Torching a receiver turns it essentially into scrap and there shouldn't be anything illegal about owning scrap. I've seen torched MGs offered for sale on ebay (I think).
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