A look at an early 20th century firearm regulation.
(700 words)

I Am Not A Lawyer. I’ve never taken a prelaw course, I’ve never attended a Law School. My interactions with lawyers have been few and far between. What I am is a geek that enjoys understanding. I will often spend far too much time figuring something out that I will never use again. Until I need it.

In looking at the history of firearm regulation, the first federal firearm regulation is the National Firearms Act of 1934. It was my understanding that the next major firearms regulation was the Gun Control Act of 1968. This was followed by the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act in 1985, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994(AWB) and a few others since then.

At the state level, there were few from 1791 through the 1850s. The first real infringements on the state level happened after the War of Northern Aggression. The first major state level bill was New York’s Sullivan Act of 1911.

I completely missed the Federal Firearms Act of 1938.

Because Robert Spitzer cited the Federal Firearms Act, I became aware of it. I found the original text.

Constitutional Basis For the Infringement

Whereas the NFA is based on the power of the state to impose taxes, the Federal Firearms Act is based on Congress’ power to regulate interstate or foreign commerce.

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription, National Archives § 8, (last visited Jun. 25, 2023)

The “Interstate commerce clause” is what too many federal regulations and departments are built on.

The term “interstate or foreign commerce” means commerce between any State, Territory, or possession (including the Philippine Islands but not including the Canal Zone), or the District of Columbia, and any place outside thereof ; or between points within the same State, Territory, or possession (including the Philippine Islands but not including the Canal Zone), or the District of Columbia, but through any place outside thereof ; or within any Territory or possession or the District of Columbia.
, Federal Firearms Act 15 U.S.C. 1250–52 §§ 901–910 ¶ 2 (U.S.)

It looks like they are saying that if a firearm passes through any other state and back into its original state, it was involved in interstate commerce. It could also mean that commerce that is 100% intrastate is still considered interstate.

It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a crime of violence or is a fugitive from justice to receive any firearm violence. or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, and the possession of a firearm or ammunition by any such person shall be presumptive evidence that such firearm or ammunition was shipped or transported or received, as the case may be, by such person in violation of this Act.
§§ 901-910 sec. 2(f)

Double emphasis added.

This is the wordsmithing used to allow them to reach past the Tenth Amendment. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people..

Since the federal government can forbid the citizens of a state from possessing firearms, they instead say that a citizen of a state can’t possess a firearm that was part of interstate commerce.

What Did The Federal Firearms Act Do?

It made it unlawful

  • Transport firearms or ammunition without a license
  • Receive firearms or ammunition from an entity without a license
  • To transfer firearms or ammunition to an entity that is not licensed.
  • Ship to a person under indictment for a crime of violence
  • Receive firearms or ammunition while under indictment for a crime of violence
  • Ship to a person convicted of a crime of violence
  • Transport or traffic in stolen firearms or ammunition
  • Transport firearms from which the serial number has been removed

It created the Federal Firearms License with record keeping requirements.

Licensed dealers shall maintain such permanent records of importation shipment, and other disposal of firearms and ammunition as the Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe.
§§ 901-910 sec. 3(d)


When I looked at the hearings regarding the NFA, I read the same arguments and emotional blackmail that today’s infringers use. The only real difference seems to be that the lawmakers worked to find ways of making their infringements constitutional.

The interstate commerce clause has been abused for far too long.


, Federal Firearms Act 15 U.S.C. 1250–52 (U.S.)
The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription, National Archives, (last visited Jun. 25, 2023)
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By awa

3 thoughts on “Federal Firearms Act — June 30, 1938”
  1. Firearms are the ONLY tool blamed for the actions of humans… hammers, knives, hand tools, vehicles, alcohol never blamed.. just firearms..

    1. Some people are blaming big pickups for increased pedestrian fatalities. (Big SUVs, not so much, EVs almost never.)
      Personally I think pedestrians in condition white with their eyes on their cellphone is part of the problem, but that doesn’t make headlines.

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