Machine Guns & Automatic Weapons in Washington State

We sometimes get questions as to whether a machine gun qualifies for Curio/Relic status under federal regulations. Any such items must comply with the National Firearms Act of 1934 and also local state law.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives will not allow transfer of ANY automatic weapon into Washington state since July 1, 1994 (except departmental purchases). Thus, there are no exceptions for antiques under Washington state law per RCW 9.41.190 and the definitions under RCW 9.41.010.

Prior to legislative changes in RCW 9.41.190, it was theoretically legal law to own an automatic weapon if you were in the armed forces, provided that BATFE would provide the $200.00 tax stamp.

RCW 9.41.190 stated the following:

It is unlawful for any person to manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under control, any machine gun or any part thereof capable of use or assembling or repairing any machine gun: Provided, however, That such limitation shall not apply to any peace officer in the discharge of official duty, or to any officer or member of the armed forces of the United States or the state of Washington: Provided further, That this section does not apply to a person, including an employee of such person, who or which is exempt from or licensed under the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. section 5801 et seq.), and engaged in the production, manufacture or testing of weapons or equipment to be used or purchased by the armed forces of the United States, and having a United States government industrial security clearance.

See 1991 Washington State Attorney General Opinion.

Note: The previous language (above) pertaining to discharge of official duty only applied to LEOs and certain personnel with industrial security clearances. But see the current version of RCW 9.41.190 below:

RCW 9.41.190

Unlawful firearmsExceptions.

*** CHANGE IN 2022 *** (SEE 1705-S.SL) ***

(1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, it is unlawful for any person to:

(a) Manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under control, any machine gun, bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle;

(b) Manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under control, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in a machine gun, bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, or in converting a weapon into a machine gun, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle;

(c) Assemble or repair any machine gun, bump-fire stock, undetectable firearm, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle; or

(d) Manufacture an untraceable firearm with the intent to sell the untraceable firearm.

(2) It is not unlawful for a person to manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, assemble, or repair, or have in possession or under control, a short-barreled rifle, or any part designed or intended solely and exclusively for use in a short-barreled rifle or in converting a weapon into a short-barreled rifle, if the person is in compliance with applicable federal law.

(3) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to:

(a) Any peace officer in the discharge of official duty or traveling to or from official duty, or to any officer or member of the armed forces of the United States or the state of Washington in the discharge of official duty or traveling to or from official duty; or

(b) A person, including an employee of such person if the employee has undergone fingerprinting and a background check, who or which is exempt from or licensed under federal law, and engaged in the production, manufacture, repair, or testing of machine guns, bump-fire stocks, short-barreled shotguns, or short-barreled rifles:

(i) To be used or purchased by the armed forces of the United States;

(ii) To be used or purchased by federal, state, county, or municipal law enforcement agencies; or

(iii) For exportation in compliance with all applicable federal laws and regulations.

(4) It shall be an affirmative defense to a prosecution brought under this section that the machine gun or short-barreled shotgun was acquired prior to July 1, 1994, and is possessed in compliance with federal law.

(5) Any person violating this section is guilty of a class C felony.

Machine guns possessed prior to July 1, 1994 seem to be grandfathered in.

Where there may be gray areas which are subject to interpretation, obtaining a legal opinion shows that you at least conducted your due diligence if you end up in court. The previous 1991 Washington AGO Opinion referenced above (AGO 1991 No. 26) at  https://www.atg.wa.gov/ago-opinions/application-machine-gun-prohibition-members-armed-forces seems to no longer apply due to changes in RCW 9.41.090 that include the addition of language referring to discharge of official duty.

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