Sure, They're a Blast...

Trainee shouldering an M20 “Super Bazooka” at Camp Rucker, Ala., 1951. While a variety of heavy weapons like bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars were common infantry weapons, the legality of owning them today is a question that needs to be answered before making the acquisition.
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 Trainee shouldering an M20 “Super Bazooka” at Camp Rucker, Ala., 1951. While a variety of heavy weapons like bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars were common infantry weapons, the legality of owning them today is a question that needs to be answered before making the acquisition. John Adams-Graf Collection

Trainee shouldering an M20 “Super Bazooka” at Camp Rucker, Ala., 1951. While a variety of heavy weapons like bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars were common infantry weapons, the legality of owning them today is a question that needs to be answered before making the acquisition. John Adams-Graf Collection

But are bazookas, mortars and other destructive devices legal?

by Peter Suciu

In December 2012, various news organizations reported that “rocket launchers” had been turned in as part of the Los Angeles Police Gun Buyback program. In the accompanying photos, police officers held up a pair of AT-4 rocket launchers, a Swedish-designed weapon that fires an 84mm unguided projectile.

There was just one problem — for the police, that is. The two were actually trainer models. It really should have been obvious to both the police and the news agencies as photos showed that the word “TRAINER” emblazoned on the side of each weapon. These were non-functioning models that were used to train soldiers. This was not one of the LAPD’s finest moments. Someone in the buyback should have figured out these things weren’t actually working versions.

 The M72 LAW is a one-shot anti-tank weapon. Once fired, it is little more than a fiberglass tube. These are routinely sold online and at gun shows. Regardless, these have shown up at gun buyback events and made the headlines. Once fired, These are NOT considered destructive devices. The key is “once fired.”

The M72 LAW is a one-shot anti-tank weapon. Once fired, it is little more than a fiberglass tube. These are routinely sold online and at gun shows. Regardless, these have shown up at gun buyback events and made the headlines. Once fired, These are NOT considered destructive devices. The key is “once fired.”

FIRE AND FORGET

Another AT-4 showed up in December 2017, at a gun buyback in San Francisco. For the record, M72 LAWs (Light Anti-Tank Weapons) have also shown up at gun buybacks in Seattle and New Jersey. These should not have been an issue worth reporting.

This is because the AT-4, like the M72 LAW, is a “fire and forget” weapon — a single shot rocket launcher. Once fired, the tube is really as harmless as a long piece of PVC pipe. In the cases of the buybacks, the police gave out gift cards for what were essentially empty shell casings.

 A pair of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs): The top one a deactivated RPG-7 training round. The bottom is an inert RPG-2 round. Neither has a charge. Therefore, they are not considered destructive devices.

A pair of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs): The top one a deactivated RPG-7 training round. The bottom is an inert RPG-2 round. Neither has a charge. Therefore, they are not considered destructive devices.

It should be noted that live AT-4 rocket launchers (or any similar anti-tank weapon) aren’t really available for civilian sale. Technically, theymight fall into the “destructive device” category according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but Saab Bofors Dynamics, the makers of the AT-4, doesn’t have commercial sales. So, unless someone were to obtain one from the military — something that should never happen — it would be impossible to buy a live one anyway! Those that have been fired, however, do regularly sell to collectors for $200 to $300.

The same is true of the LAW: Once fired, it is just an empty tube not a weapon (unless you plan to use it as a club). Law enforcement officers should know that these weapons can’t be reused — but these items probably look good in the photos of gun buybacks as the unsuspecting public may assume wrongly that these are still capable of doing serious harm.

 An RPG2 that has been properly cut near the firing handle – this actually allows one to see the fins on the RPG round. In addition to being cut a bar has been welded just past the handle, which ensures that the round can’t be loaded fully into the RPG tube.

An RPG2 that has been properly cut near the firing handle – this actually allows one to see the fins on the RPG round. In addition to being cut a bar has been welded just past the handle, which ensures that the round can’t be loaded fully into the RPG tube.

Understanding Destructive Devices

The lines of legality are far less clear with bazookas and similar reusable man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher weapon systems such as the Panzerschreck, Blindecide and Instalaza. These items all fall into the “explosive ordnance” category of destructive devices that are strictly regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 — and revised by the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Gun Control Act of 1968.

 This Spanish Instalaza –—a copy of the American “Super Bazooka” — was sold via a military surplus catalog. It has been properly cut on the side and had a round disc welded to the rear of the muzzle. This was probably overkill to ensure that it was deactivated properly, but it is always better to err on the side of caution.

This Spanish Instalaza –—a copy of the American “Super Bazooka” — was sold via a military surplus catalog. It has been properly cut on the side and had a round disc welded to the rear of the muzzle. This was probably overkill to ensure that it was deactivated properly, but it is always better to err on the side of caution.

The definition of a “destructive device” is found in 26 U.S.C. § 5845. It includes “ any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas, (A) bomb, (B) grenade, (C) rocket having a propellant charge of more than 4 ounces, (D) missile having an explosive charge of more than 1/4 ounce, (E) mine or (F) similar device” and further adds, “Any weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant.”

 By ATF’s criteria, the cut in the tube should be at least the diameter of the bazooka’s tube.

By ATF’s criteria, the cut in the tube should be at least the diameter of the bazooka’s tube.

Thus, a bazooka and the rounds would be considered destructive devices under Title II. These are not illegal but are heavily regulated at both the State and Federal level. There are numerous federal restrictions that are imposed on the ownership of NFA firearms, and this includes an extensive background check, a $200 tax on manufacture or transfer of an NFA firearm, and registration with the NFA registry.

 This close up shows a cut-out in an Israeli-used (Beligan-made) Blindecide anti-tank rocket. These were used in large numbers in the Six Day War of 1967. This weapon is made of fiberglass with a thin aluminum sleeve. Materials don’t matter when it comes to destructive devices.

This close up shows a cut-out in an Israeli-used (Beligan-made) Blindecide anti-tank rocket. These were used in large numbers in the Six Day War of 1967. This weapon is made of fiberglass with a thin aluminum sleeve. Materials don’t matter when it comes to destructive devices.

In addition, some states such as New York and California have provisions that prohibit the ownership of all Title II weapons and devices.

That would appear to make it cut and dried as the law goes, but everything stated above regarding the destructive devices only applies to live or working items. Most bazookas in private collections and even many in museums and other institutions have been deactivated.

 A welded bar in an Israeli-used Blindecide anti-tank weapon will keep any round from being loaded into the weapon.

A welded bar in an Israeli-used Blindecide anti-tank weapon will keep any round from being loaded into the weapon.

Deactivated Bazookas, RPGs and Mortars

When the issue of deactivation comes up, the ATF has very specific guidelines defining what exactly a machine gun is and what it is not. The ATF has explained how a machine gun’s receiver — the key component that determines whether it is in fact a machine gun — must be cut or otherwise modified to keep it from operating.

There are no clear guidelines, however, for bazookas, RPGs, or mortars. According to several sources, a bazooka must have a round hole cut at the rear of the weapon that is at least equal to or larger than the diameter of the bore, and a bar or cap be permanently welded or otherwise attached to keep a rocket from being loaded and/or able to pass through the tube. In the case of the Soviet Bloc RPGs (which are now showing up on the market) these must be deactivated in a similar fashion with a bar preventing the loading of a round.

 An American M20 “Super Bazooka” which has been deactivated by a cut on the rear section of the tube.

An American M20 “Super Bazooka” which has been deactivated by a cut on the rear section of the tube.

The same rules apply to tube artillery including mortars — except in this case the bar must be welded at the top of the tube no more than one inch from the mouth of the muzzle prohibiting a round from being loaded.

In all of the above cases, the actual round would also be considered a “destructive device” if still live.

 The other ATF criteria for a mortar to be considered “deactivated” is a a bar welded across the tube, no less than one inch below the muzzle. This is to ensure that no round can be dropped down the tube.

The other ATF criteria for a mortar to be considered “deactivated” is a a bar welded across the tube, no less than one inch below the muzzle. This is to ensure that no round can be dropped down the tube.

The exception to the rules is in the case where a replica bazooka type weapon is a non-firing replica. In this case, it is simply a metal tube and lacks any internal firing components, so it isn’t necessary to cut the tube or weld a bar. However, as these replicas age and are used in re-enactments there could always be the concern that these could be confused with actual weapons. Collectors should always be cautious in purchasing, transporting, and displaying these items. Law enforcement and the public shouldn’t have to guess as whether it is real and live or a replica!

 A WWII-era Soviet 50mm mortar displays the hole cut in the tube. This is part of the ATF’s description of what constitutes a “deactivated mortar.”

A WWII-era Soviet 50mm mortar displays the hole cut in the tube. This is part of the ATF’s description of what constitutes a “deactivated mortar.”

Now the legality of these items can vary from community to community. Because a “used rocket launcher tube” (the key word being “tube”) aren’t on any federal list for prohibited items, the fact that these could be confused with a live weapon may be an issue. In some cities such as New York, a bazooka, as well as a LAW or AT-4, could still be banned. Collectors are still advised to check with local laws.

 This high-quality Panzerschreck is extremely close to an original —externally. With some weathering, it would be hard for the average collector to determine if this was a real one. This could complicate the ownership of these devices in the years to come!

This high-quality Panzerschreck is extremely close to an original —externally. With some weathering, it would be hard for the average collector to determine if this was a real one. This could complicate the ownership of these devices in the years to come!

None of the above information should be taken as legal advice. Again, collectors are advised to check with federal and local laws regarding the purchase and ownership of bazookas, mortars, and other destructive devices before they bring home the toys!