The recently released annual report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) indicates there are approximately 500,000 registered machine guns nationally, with Virginia leading the country in registered full-auto firearms.
As of March 2012, Virginia was home to 30,220 registered machine guns. Florida had the second-highest total with 29,128, followed by California with 28,774, Texas with 28,690 and Maryland with 23,709.
According to BATFE, for the purposes of the National Firearms Act the term "Machinegun" means:
- 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
- The frame or receiver of any such weapon
- Any part designed and intended solely and exclusively or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, or
- Any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
The exact breakdown of the number of machine guns owned by private citizens versus law-enforcement agencies is not public information, due to BATFE privacy issues.
The sale of fully automatic machine guns to civilians has been restricted since 1934, and a majority of today's private (civilian) owners are collectors. They undergo a rigorous FBI-background check, submit applications to BATFE with fingerprints, a photograph and signed affidavit from their local chief law enforcement office and pay a tax of $200 per firearm.
Machine guns available for private ownership can also be incredibly expensive, thanks to the National Firearms Act and the Hughes Amendment to the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986.
Under the 1986 law, machine guns manufactured after 1986 cannot be owned by civilians. As a result, the number of machine guns available to the average collector and potential buyer is severely limited, resulting in prices of $10,000 or more per gun.