In an answer to a question during last night’s presidential debate about assault weapons, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said, “we of course don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.” Fully automatic weapons — guns that fire continuously when the trigger is held down — are legal to possess in the U.S. but are tightly regulated, says the Los Angeles Times. The National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Hughes Amendment in 1986 have all placed limits on how automatic guns can be bought and sold, but did not make it illegal to possess them entirely.
Purchasing one requires submitting fingerprints and photographs to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, going through an FBI background check, and paying a $200 tax, among other requirements. Only automatic weapons manufactured and registered with the federal government before 1986 can be bought, owned, and sold. In the debate with President Obama, Romney said he doesn't want to see tighter restrictions put in place on guns. In 2004, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law a ban on the sale of some assault weapons in the state. Obama administration officials have called for a renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 and expired in 2004.