Letter Re: Question About the Transfer of a Pre-1899 Antique Gun

Dear Mr. Rawles,

Thank you for your work on the excellent antique gun FAQ page. I have a question regarding a recent purchase.

I recently acquired an all matching 1897 dated (barrel and receiver tang, both dated 1897) Tula M1891 Mosin Nagant, Finnish capture marked, from my local Cabelas. I would estimate it at 85%+ condition, and it was Finnish Arsenal re-blued and has no importer markings, shiny sharp rifling and not counter bored. The Finns re-worked the Russian stock into the two piece grooved configuration.

The gun was clearly marked “97r” under a T, which makes it an antique dated on the receiver, but the manager and the Cabelas refused to sell the gun as an antique, stating that I had no documented “proof” it was manufactured before the 1898 cutoff, and it had been logged as a modern firearm in their bound book. I reluctantly filled out the 4473 and walked out with the rifle at $399. It would not have lasted another minute on the shelf at current Mosin prices.

Purely from the standpoint of the ATF definition of an antique firearm, it is still an antique.

However, since it was sold as a modern firearm, does this change the classification if I were to re-sell the rifle as antique? (I don’t plan to.) Is the serial now ‘tainted’ to where it will show up as being a modern firearm, if traced? Would there be any way to undo the 4473 record? Or is this just a complete non-issue? Thank you very much for your response. – J.H.

JWR Responds: Just because a FFL dealer fouls up does not change the legal status of the gun itself. He merely created some erroneous paperwork. With that rifle marked as it is on its tang, under Federal law you may now sell it across state lines with NO paperwork. (Although the state laws differ widely, MOST states also exempt pre-1899s.)

The gun itself has not been tainted by the erroneous paperwork. If the status of an antique gun ever comes into question in court, then the burden of proof is on the government to prove that a gun’s receiver was manufactured after December 31st, 1898. Even if it had been re-barreled with a 1940s-dated barrel (as many Mosin-Nagant rifles were, by the Finns), it would STILL be considered an antique. There are many published standard references (including my own pre-1899 FAQ) that would make a laughingstock out of any attempt to prosecute someone for possession of a “firearm” that is in fact a pre-1899 antique.

By the way, there is one important exception to the 1898-cutoff rule: Short-barreled cartridge rifles and shotguns. Even if a cartridge gun was made before 1899, if a rifle is shortened to have a less than a 16″ barrel, or a shotgun is shortened to have a less than a 18″ barrel, then it falls under the National Firearms Act (NFA), and a $200 tax is required before making that modification. There are also some “exceptions to the exception”, which are some “Trapper” model lever action rifles that were shipped from the factory with barrels less than 16 inches long.

Also by the way, I often get e-mails from people who had felony convictions many years ago asking me if they can own pre-1899 guns. That is a sticky legal situation, because Federal law also prohibits them from possessing commercially-loaded ammunition that has crossed state lines. Circumventing that restriction would presumably entail hand loading ammunition inside of one’s own state and somehow documenting that process so that it could be proven in court.