H.R. 420/S. 798, the "Veterans' Heritage Firearms Act”

Posted on May 4, 2011

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H.R. 420/S. 798, the "Veterans' Heritage Firearms Act of 2011," introduced by U.S. Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.) in the House and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in the Senate, would provide a 90-day amnesty period during which veterans and their family members could register firearms acquired overseas before Oct. 31, 1968, without fear of prosecution. Congress granted a limited amnesty in 1968, but most veterans did not receive enough notice to participate.

The bill would not apply to all firearms brought home by veterans. The only firearms that normally have to be registered at the federal level are those subject to the National Firearms Act (NFA). More common trophies, such as bolt-action rifles or semi-automatic pistols, need not be registered. Therefore, H.R. 420's proposed amnesty would only apply to machineguns and other NFA firearms. (It also would not apply to “destructive devices” such as bombs and grenades.)

H.R. 420/S. 798 states that “in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary the Attorney General shall accept as true and accurate any affidavit, document, or other evidence submitted by an individual to establish that such firearm meets the requirements.” This allows for the fact that in the chaos of wartime troop movements, many veterans may have acquired war trophy firearms lawfully under military regulations, but without receiving official paperwork to document the guns. Naturally, too, many veterans or their family may have lost such paperwork over the years.

Under the bill, the Attorney General would have to create and distribute clear printed notices providing information regarding the amnesty period and the requirements for registering a firearm during such period.

Recognizing that veterans' trophies represent an important part of the nation's history, H.R. 420 would require the Attorney General to transfer each firearm that has been forfeited to the United States to the first qualified museum that submits a suitable request. The Attorney General would be prohibited from destroying any forfeited firearm until the end of the 5-year period beginning on the date of such a forfeiture. Information about forfeited firearms would have to be made available to the public within 60 days after the forfeiture.

Lastly, H.R. 420/S. 798 would amend federal law relating to machineguns, allowing their “transfer to or by, or possession by, a museum which is open to the public and incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation under applicable State law.” Current law only allows transfer of machineguns to government museums, but many of America’s finest collections of historic firearms are in museums run by private organizations, rather than by the government.

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