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Friday, 07 March 2014 00:45

State Police Allows Machine Gun Registration Regardless of Trust Ownership

In a letter signed by Superintendent W.S. Flaherty, the Virginia State Police confirmed it will certify registrations of machine guns regardless of whether they are owned by a trust. Flaherty's letter said:

" . . . the State Police has been, for some time, accepting registrations listing the trustee as the person registering the weapon and the trust as the legal entity owning the weapon. This method complies with existing law and meets the requirement of the Virginia State Police as the weapon is registered to a person who is the human face of the legal entity known as a trust. As the State Police has never registered a gun in the name of a trust but only in the name of a person (trustee), all existing registrations formatted in this manner remain valid and new registrations are done in this manner."

While this written statement is good news for existing and prospective machine gun owners in Virginia, Flaherty's letter also reiterated what we argue to be a false interpretation of Virginia law. He claimed the definition of a 'person' in the Virginia Uniform Machine Gun Act (UMGA) does not include a trust. Our analysis concluded the broader rules of interpretation governing the entire Virginia Code does include trust in that definition.

The confusion over this issue first arose because of a legal opinion written by then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Like Superintendant Flaherty's opinion, it quoted the UMGA, but it failed to recognize the Virginia Code's 'general rule of construction'. While the UMGA does not mention trusts, Virginia's general rule of construction states that trusts should be assumed to be part of the definition of a 'person' in statutes just like the UMGA.

While we believe the law is clear, clarity is needed to avoid the future possibility an individual government official will apply their own interpretation of these statutes to the detriment of gun owners. Arsenal Attorneys' Matthew Bergstrom has worked closely with Virginia Delegate David LaRock to find a solution. Initially their efforts resulted in HB 1266. That bill would have simply added 'trust' to the language of the Uniform Machine Gun Act. Unfortunately HB 1266 failed to advance out of the House of Delegates. Consequently we are pursing alternative strategies with Delegate LaRock to overturn the Cuccinelli opinion. To read more about these issues, see our full analysis here.

For now, BATFE will approve transfer of machine guns in Virginia by entities, like the Arsenal Gun Trust, and the Virginia State Police will accept machine gun registrations by a natural person on behalf of a trust. Despite the recent confusion, we are encouraged by the fact elected officials like Delegate LaRock are taking up the concerns of gun owners, particularly with respect to firearms regulated under Title 2 of the National Firearms Act (NFA), such as machine guns, silencers, and short barrel rifles.

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