Facts are under assault in 2020.
We can't fight back misinformation about the election and COVID-19 without you. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
Joe Biden opposes easy access to “assault weapons.” He has proposed applying the National Firearms Act to semi-automatic firearms like AR-15s, and high-capacity magazines.
The NFA imposes a $200 tax on those who manufacture or transfer certain kinds of firearms, such as short-barreled rifles and machine guns.
It’s unclear whether the tax would apply to all semi-automatic firearms, if it would be charged per unit, or if existing gun-owners would be charged anything at all.
If Joe Biden is elected president, Americans who own certain kinds of guns may owe the federal government some money.
One Facebook post, published Oct. 29 by the page for a Texas-based apparel company, claims that Americans who own semi-automatic firearms or high-capacity magazines would be charged $200 per unit under the Democratic presidential candidate’s gun policy.
"Under Biden’s plan, all semi automatic firearms and 11+ round magazines will be registered under the NFA," the post says. "Each item requires a $200 tax to register. The total above is how much you will be charged to keep firearms and accessories you already own."
If a gun-owner doesn’t comply with the new tax, the Facebook post claims it will "make you a felon."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) Several other groups that support gun rights and conservative tax policies have published similar claims online.
The post includes a worksheet that gun-owners can use to purportedly figure out their tax burden under a Biden administration. It bears the logo of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, an organization that describes itself as a 501(c)(4) organization based in Honolulu. We could not find it registered as such with the Internal Revenue Service.
(Screenshot from Facebook)
As evidence, the Facebook post cites Biden’s plan to address gun violence.
"Go ahead and fact check it," the apparel company wrote in its caption. So we did.
The Facebook post is partially accurate, but it overreaches based on what is known about the Biden campaign’s gun policy.
Biden has not called for a new tax on firearms. He opposes easy access to assault weapons and would ban their manufacture and sale. Existing weapons would be subject to new regulations.
He has proposed applying an existing federal law on machine guns to assault weapons — which can include semi-automatic firearms — and high-capacity magazines. That existing law includes a $200 tax.
However, it’s ultimately unclear whether that tax would apply to all semi-automatic firearms, if it would be charged per unit or if existing gun-owners would be charged anything at all.
Under Biden’s gun policy, Americans who own assault weapons or high-capacity magazines would have two options: sell them to the federal government through a voluntary buyback program or register them under the National Firearms Act.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) passed in 1934. The law imposed a tax on those who manufactured or traded firearms defined in the act, specifically short-barreled rifles and machine guns. It required owners of certain kinds of guns to register them with the Treasury secretary.
"Its underlying purpose was to curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms," the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says on its website. "Congress found these firearms to pose a significant crime problem because of their frequent use in crime."
The law imposed a $200 tax on firearms enumerated in the act, a tax that has not changed since 1934. Those who don’t comply with the tax could face fines or imprisonment, as well as a felony charge.
How would that law apply to what Biden has proposed?
In his platform, Biden links to a legislative proposal from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that supports gun control. The proposal calls for extending the NFA to "all existing assault weapons," namely by prohibiting the manufacture of future firearms or requiring them to be registered under the law.
Biden’s plan would extend those requirements to "assault weapons," a politicized term that many jurisdictions interpret as applying to some semi-automatic firearms. One example is the AR-15 rifle used in several mass shootings.
The Facebook post makes it seem like Biden’s gun policy would require all Americans who own semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines to pay tax on them. But that’s not necessarily the case.
The campaign told us that it defines high-capacity magazines as those that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. However, a spokesperson also said the campaign has not yet ironed out some of the finer details on magazines, such as if owners would be charged per unit.
There’s also a question of how a Biden administration would define "assault weapons" — and whether it would include all semi-automatic firearms, as the post says. A Biden campaign spokesperson told us that the precise definition of "assault weapon" would be worked out during the legislative process.
In this photo taken March 15, 2017, AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop. (AP)
"A semi-automatic weapon is just one that fires a single bullet with each pull of the trigger, and automatically reloads itself for the next shot — as opposed to, say, an automatic weapon," said Joseph Blocher, co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law. "All assault weapons (unless modified) are semi-automatic; most semi-automatics are not assault weapons."
It’s also not certain that Biden’s proposal would automatically trigger a $200 tax for people who already own semi-automatic firearms.
The NFA was amended in 1968 to provide a 30-day amnesty period in which unregistered firearms could be registered with the federal government for free. The new law, titled the Gun Control Act, also says ATF can issue new amnesty periods of up to 90 days.
Those kinds of amnesty periods could also apply to Biden’s proposal.
"Actual legislation implementing the proposal could certainly allow for registration without paying the initial tax and instead keep the tax only for manufacturing or transferring registered weapons," said Jake Charles, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law. "The original NFA registration requirement didn’t mandate a fee for then-existing weapons that were required to be registered."
This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections #Chatbot on WhatsApp.
Americans for Tax Reform, "Biden to Impose $200 Gun Tax," Oct. 28, 2020
Axios, "What the deadliest mass shootings have in common," Sept. 7, 2019
CNBC, "Definition of what’s actually an ‘assault weapon’ is a highly contentious issue," Feb. 21, 2018
Cornell Legal Information Institute, 26 U.S. Code CHAPTER 53—MACHINE GUNS, DESTRUCTIVE DEVICES, AND CERTAIN OTHER FIREARMS
Cornell Legal Information Institute, 26 U.S. Code § 5871.Penalties
Email from a Joe Biden campaign spokesperson, Oct. 30, 2020
Email from Jake Charles, co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, Oct. 30, 2020
Email from Joseph Blocher, co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, Oct. 30, 2020
Facebook post, Oct. 29, 2020
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Assault Weapons, accessed Oct. 30, 2020
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, RE REGULATION OF ASSAULT WEAPONS UNDER THE NATIONAL FIREARMS ACT, March 5, 2018
Hawaii Firearms Coalition, About page, accessed Oct. 29, 2020
Internal Revenue Service, Tax Exempt Organization Search, accessed Oct. 29, 2020
Interview with a Joe Biden campaign spokesperson, Oct. 30, 2020
JoeBiden.com, "THE BIDEN PLAN TO END OUR GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC," accessed Oct. 29, 2020
National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, "Anti-gun Politicians Seek to Tax Your Second Amendment Rights Into Oblivion," Sept. 8, 2020
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm, accessed Oct. 29, 2020
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Firearms Guide - Identification of Firearms Within the Purview of the National Firearms Act, accessed Oct. 29, 2020
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, National Firearms Act, accessed Oct. 29, 2020
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, CHAPTER 3. REGISTRATION OF NFA FIREARMS
The Wall Street Journal, "Mass Shootings Draw Attention to ‘Drum Magazines,’" Aug. 16, 2019