Is It Legal for a Civilian to Own an M16?

The M16 is a well-known rifle because of its mentions in movies referring to the military, so it has become a much-desired gun for individuals to own.

Owning a fully automatic M16 is legal for civilians, but the government paperwork required to acquire one takes more than a year, and the purchased M16 must have been manufactured prior to the 1986 ban. M16 rifles cannot simply be purchased new at a store, and the pre-ban rifles being sold today are in excess of $25,000.

Because of the significant government taxes and restrictions, the government has created a world where only the richest Americans can own an M16.

M16A4 Clone Rifle (Rifle was cleared and purposely left on Burst to show difference between AR15 and M16)

Taking a look at what is an M16.

M16 is a military designation that is given to specific tool previously issued to the majority of US troops. While I served, I was issued an M16A4. “M16” being the small arms platform (rifle), and the “A4” being a set of modifications from the original rifle which was submitted.

So, what differentiates it from the civilian AR15 (Armalite Rifle model 15)? Two things!

M16’s have a select fire option typically Burst but some are Full-Auto
  • The name: The military designates is “M16”, which is specific to the military versions. The civilian designation is AR15 from the original design, however different companies designate their similarly designed rifles to other names as well.
  • Select fire: If it is semi-automatic (one round per action of the trigger), it is not an M16. Part of that military designation is that it is a select fire weapon. Select fire, meaning that it can either shoot semi-automatically, or in burst/full-automatic mode.

To summarize, an M16 is a machine gun and we will be using that term to discuss the legality from this point on.

Slow-Motion Video of two, M16’s 3-round burst

I thought machine guns were illegal?!? Are you saying they are not?

On April 10th, 1986, the Hughes Amendment became law. Democrat William John Hughes proposed an amendment to the National Firearms Act which ensured that only the wealthy and elite would be allowed to own machine guns. This amendment moved machine guns away from just requiring a $200 tax stamp, into an all-out ban on civilian sales of any newly manufactured machine guns.

Supply immediately became fixed while demand continues to grow. Today (September 2021) the price of a legal M16 ranges from $25,000-$50,000+.

As with most gun control laws, they don’t really apply to the wealthy or the elite. But if you have the money and the time to spend, you can legally own one. We will outline the process below.

How to legally purchase an M16, ie. a legal machine gun.

Clone M16’s markings of “FNH USA” and “PROPERTY OF U.S. GOVT.”

1st- You need to find yourself a LOCAL Class 3 firearms dealer with an S.O.T. (Special Occupational Tax). This will be the person you physically pick the M16 up from once you do the rest of the task. You need to talk to them, find out what they charge to do the transfer (all the paperwork involved) and agree to the price of their work, plus the reasonable storage timeframe that will be involved on their end.

2nd- Find a “Pre-1986” N.F.A. (National Firearms Act) registered M16 for sell. There are online websites that help facilitate this, but you dramatically increase your chances if you, have the money to spend, and get socially involved with the person from step one. These items are becoming rarer every year and knowing who is willing to sell them is half of the struggle. As one of the few people in the United States who can deal in these items, I will add in that they become more expensive and harder to find every year.

3rd- Make the purchase and start the paperwork by paying your $200 tax stamp fee. This includes going through a full background check, additionally submitting your fingerprints to the FBI as well. You then must wait somewhere around a year before the bureaucrat’s process your paperwork and grant you your rights back.

4th- If they do not deny, delay, or just flat out lose your paperwork (after cashing your check of course), then you get to go pick up your M16 machine gun.

Summing up the cost:

  • 2-3 days of your life searching and shopping around
  • $200 tax stamp
  • $25,000+
  • 1 year of dealing with one of the few government organizations less efficient than the DMV.

Is there any other way to own one?

There is another way to legally own one that we have not talked about yet.

This is the most invasive way and although it can be considered the cheapest, that is only considering direct dollar value. If you want to get knee-deep in government paperwork and home inspections, you can become a firearms manufacture and apply for your special occupational tax.

M16A4 Clone Rifle (Rifle was cleared and purposely left on Burst to show difference between AR15 and M16)

FFL 07 (Manufacture) SOT2 (Manufacture of NFA items)

Without writing a dissertation, we would not be able to write down everything you need to get done in order to follow the maze of paperwork set forth by the Federal Government. Here is a short summary.

  • Get Federal Firearms License (FFL07) – $150 every 3 years
  • Get Special Occupational Tax (SOT2) – $500-$1000 a year
  • Get Business License – $???? local
  • Sale and Manufacture Firearms

Once you get everything to start operating your business, you must follow through in operating that business. This means you are going to be spending a minimum of a few hours a week plus around a $1000 a year just to legally manufacture your own machine gun.

This still does not include the cost of the materials and the machines that are required to safely do so. I personally have gone this route and I have several machine guns but at the expense of just purchasing one. This seems like a good deal until you realize that any machine gun you make after 1984 has to be destroyed as soon as you stop paying your $500-$1000 yearly bribe to the government.

Do you want one?

Now that you know how to legally own one, is it something you want? Machine guns are fun! However, they are expensive to make in small batches, and even more expensive to operate with todays ammo prices. Just for fun I calculated the per hour rate of running an M16.

For this calculation M16’s are typically in 3-round-burst and calculated as such, while M4’s are typically Full-auto and calculated as such.

I accounted for the time for the machinegun to run through a fully loaded magazine, time for magazine change, time for each trigger pull, and the cost per round. Hope you enjoyed it!