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Can you own a black powder cannon?

Black powder cannons are a unique relic of history that some firearms enthusiasts wish to own and operate legally. However, there are important regulations and restrictions around owning cannons that must be considered.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about owning black powder cannons in the United States:

  • Black powder cannons are generally legal to own in the United States, but there are some restrictions.
  • Federal law requires a destructive device permit from the ATF to own cannons with a bore over 0.5 inches.
  • Some states require registration or prohibit cannons entirely.
  • Black powder cannons must comply with federal and state regulations for safe storage and transportation.
  • Cannons cannot be loaded or fired without proper permits and supervision.

Federal Destructive Device Laws

Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulates destructive devices, including cannons. Here are some key points on federal cannon laws:

  • Cannons with a bore of over 0.5 inches are classified as destructive devices.
  • Owners must submit fingerprints, photographs, and undergo an extensive background check.
  • A $200 tax is required to register each cannon.
  • Local law enforcement must sign off on the application.
  • Destructive device permits must be renewed every 3 years.
  • Cannons under 0.5 inch bore may be legally owned without a permit.

While the process is extensive, citizens who comply with the law can legally register and own artillery cannons. However, the cannon cannot be loaded or fired without applying for ATF approval each time.

State and Local Regulations

In addition to federal laws, state and local governments often regulate cannons and other destructive devices. Laws vary widely, but may include:

  • Outright bans on private cannon ownership
  • Restrictions on firing cannons
  • Safety inspection requirements
  • Registration and permits for ownership
  • Zoning restrictions on where cannons can be stored and used

States and cities exercise broad authority to limit or prohibit cannons based on public safety concerns. Even if federal requirements are met, a cannon may still be illegal locally.

Transportation and Storage

Proper transportation and storage of cannons is critical to remain in compliance with federal transportation and explosive laws:

  • Cannons must be unloaded and locked during transport using a sturdy carriage.
  • Black powder must be transported separately from the cannon.
  • ATF Form 5400.30 is required to transport registered destructive devices across state lines.
  • Cannons and ammunition should be stored securely in a locked cabinet or room.
  • Local fire and zoning codes may have additional storage requirements.

With large caliber cannons weighing tons, owners must consider how they can safely and legally move and store such oversized historical artifacts.

Usage Regulations

The ATF heavily regulates the use of registered destructive devices. Some requirements include:

  • Use must comply with all state and local ordinances.
  • The ATF requires advance notification before using the cannon.
  • Use must occur at an approved range or designated area.
  • Cannons cannot be loaded or fired while unattended.
  • Sufficient land space is required to ensure safety.

Because cannons are inherently dangerous when fired, the ATF restricts usage to ensure public safety. Unauthorized discharge can bring severe criminal penalties.

Possible Exemptions

Certain cannons may be exempt from destructive device classification. These include:

  • Antique cannons – Those made before 1899 and not redesigned to use modern ammunition.
  • Replica cannons – Non-firing cannon used for reenactments and displays.
  • Signal cannons – Flare guns specifically designed to launch signal flares.
  • Salute cannons – Under 0.5 inches bore and used solely for firing salutes.

While exempted cannons avoid the destructive device registration process, they still must comply with all other state and federal gun laws.


Owning a cannon is legal in most of the United States, but involves stringent registration and use requirements. One must carefully comply with federal laws as well as state and local ordinances that may prohibit cannons or restrict usage. Proper care must be taken during transport, storage, and operation of cannons to avoid endangering the public. With the right licenses, facilities, training, and respect for the law, it is possible for responsible citizens to own historically-interesting black powder cannons.