The Urban Legend Of The NFA And Search Warrants
As a shooter in addition to a lawyer, I get to hear some pretty interesting fairy tales. Among the most persistent rumors among the NFA community is this one: “If I get an NFA item, the BATFE can enter my home without a warrant and search for illegal guns or anything else it wants.” This couldn’t be more false.
Rumors Begin With A Kernel Of Truth
While this rumor is false, it does have some basis in truth. However, that truth pales in comparison to the rumor. The Firearms Owner Protection Act (FOPA) included various requirements placed on Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs). Among these was a reduced requirement for law enforcement to acquire a warrant. The typical legal standard for a warrant is a showing of “probable cause.” However, the FOPA, vis-à-vis FFLs, reduced the warrant requirement from “probable cause” to “reasonable cause,” as established in 18 USC Section 923(g)(1)(A):
“The Attorney General, when he has reasonable cause to believe a violation of this chapter has occurred and that evidence thereof may be found on such premises, may, upon demonstrating such cause before a Federal magistrate judge and securing from such magistrate judge a warrant authorizing entry…”
Thus, FOPA reduced the showing needed by law enforcement to get a search warrant to search a FFL, not anyone else. A search warrant is still required, whether it is to search a FFL or another person or entity.
No Waiver Of Constitutional Rights With NFA Ownership
As you can see above, you do not waive your 4th Amendment rights when you acquire NFA items. Law enforcement must still have probable cause and a warrant to search your home, business, etc. If you are a FFL, that requirement is slightly diminished via FOPA, but a warrant is still required. So, sleep easy knowing that no one is going to kick down your door for the sole reason that you own NFA items.