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I’m writing a sci-fi story with the protagonist being a superhero/ flying brick. He’s the only super in the world and as a result, many governments, NGO’s, cartels (etc.), and powerful individuals desire his “services”. Plus, he is a trillionaire--long story how he got the $. Some of these people are willing to go to any lengths to force him, if necessary, to bend to their will, so to speak. He was transformed from human to superhuman, so has many relatives and close friends who could be used as pawns and/or kidnapped.

So, the super acquires two 6X6 vehicles, with 3-inch cannons that fire explosive rounds. They are street legal, ie, have all the lights, etc. to drive on the street. Why did he like that particular vehicle? The week before he “flew” into Basel, Switzerland for reasons...and was almost immediately arrested by Eurocorps, ostensibly for flying over French territory without a pilot’s license. (: Curious, he went along with this subterfuge and was driven in a convoy to Strasbourg in a MEV and those AVGP Cougars, plus a Panzerjager 90 with a wire guided missile mount rather than guns. To top it off, they employed an AC-119K gunship with a couple of Vulcan 20mm gatling guns circling overhead. He was impressed by the Cougar’s intimidation factor.

He is attempting to limit any overpowered abilities to prevent total disaster. On advice from ex-military acquaintances, he acquires the cars and publicizes that he has them so they will know he has the weapons.

My question is: can he register/license them and travel in them across the US? I’m not familiar with weapon laws; are they different for each state? He’s located in Florida.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ "He's located in Florida" was all you had to say as far as I'm concerned. Disbelief suspended. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ That's odd. Law SE sends me here for the question because its fiction and you-all close me. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @catsteevens You can bring it up in the meta. Really it's a general SE problem though: your question was viewed over 9000 times, has many answers, some by very high rep WB users, but it only took 5 people to close it. I don't see where they even discussed why. I'll start a reopen vote. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB + Catsteevens Well, here's one thing which could explain people think it's story-based. A lot of the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs takes a lot of space on your question's core, with lots of story-elements (~50% of it). Catsteevens, you should trim a bit of the text and focus on the law issue and only that. Keep the hero's background and superpowers to a minimum : He's the only flying brick trillionnaire in the world, with a kink for armoured 6x6 vehicles with big guns, point. No need to know more about him :). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 1:49

7 Answers 7

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Obligatory 'Not a Lawyer' and also 'Not American' - however, I do like Guns (and own them in my own country) and have a soft-spot for the 2nd Amendment/American Gun law.

Firstly - a 3 inch cannon is a big Cannon. That's 76 mm. That's WW2 era Tank Cannon size. What you have described isn't so much a Car - You've described a WW2 era Tank.

Secondly - My understanding is that since it's a device with a bore greater than .50 Cal - it's a Destructive Device, falls under the auspices of the NFA and must be registered with the ATF. In addition, the Ammunition (being explosive shells) must also be registered with the ATF as those too, are destructive devices.

Thirdly - If you want to drive anywhere and especially if you want cross State-Lines - You'll absolutely need an FFL (Federal Firearms Licence) as otherwise, each time you want to cross a stateline, you would need to notify the ATF.

Fourthly - So long as you have registered the vehicle in a State that allows it, I believe that you can drive it. I read the rules about driving a privately owned tank, but that said the weapons need to be deactivated - but we'll get to that.

So - in short, to do this you would need:

1: Your NFA Tax Stamp and Destructive Device permit for both the Cannon and the Ammunition - not impossible, there is a community of people who own artillery pieces privately in the US under this system.

2: You'll need to get yourself an FFL

3: You'll need to register the vehicle in a State that has more libertarian laws (looking at you Texas and Florida).

I believe that if you do all that, you could achieve this. Look at things like the Big Sandy Machine Gun shoot on youtube - there's a number of videos that show the Artillery pieces, legally there isn't too much difference between towing a 105mm howitzer and the ammunition for it across state lines for such an event and having it integrated in the Car.

Now - based on the other answer and the fact I said I'd get to that in regards to it being in the Car - I believe the prohibition for turreted vehicles may be due to not having the FFL/DD paperwork - I could be wrong here. My presumption is that so long as you have the proper paperwork from the ATF, then you are good to go. I had a quick look and the info was contradictory - some said you couldn't at all, some said the only restriction is the requirement to get the DD permit and the correct FFL, other states have specific regulations in regards to driving Military/historic vehicles.

To conclude though:

If your Super Hero is on friendly terms with the Government - then getting the ATF to approve both the DD licence and the FFL shouldn't be too difficult.

And let's be honest for a moment - what Police department are going to try and arrest someone who is a superhero and packing a 76mm cannon?

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    $\begingroup$ @catsteevens - I believe that's the primary intended audience, as an FFL allows you to do things like own machine guns. My point more being - that's the legal way that it could be done. Reading a little further - your superhero might need to be 'engaged in commercial activity' - to get the spicy version of the FFL: ffl123.com/ffl-license-frequently-asked-questions-ffl-faqs - but as above, it's not impossible. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, Schwarzenegger rather famously has a tank. Although I suspect it's not his personally so much as it's part of a studio holding but for all practical purposes I understand it to be his tank. Getting the tank seems to be less of a problem than figuring out if it's street legal. If nothing else, there would be a problem with bridges, and the few tanks I looked up all exceeding the maximum allowable weight for the interstate by a good bit. Kinda makes me wonder how Schwarzenegger got it transported.... but there's likely waivers for anything if you know who to ask. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB Plenty of people own tanks in the US. The caveat is that in almost all cases, the guns have been decommissioned (usually at minimum by removing the firing pin) so that they no longer qualify as weapons under federal law. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ There was a Ski resort that had a WWI tank and ammo for awhile. They got rid of it when they ran out of ammo. Use: avalanche control. Yes you can have turreted vehicles. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB Weight limits are per axle. If it is very heavy, they can have specialized heavy-duty flatbeds that have HUGE # of axles. They do move crazy large things like oil rigs, plane engines / chassis, buildings, rockets, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 7:01
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The laws would be different if he existed.

Your protagonist is, I would say, the most important person in the world. Heads of state are important, but they can be replaced if necessary; this guy is unique. There would be laws, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, that specifically applied to him, and laws that specifically excluded him. If he deemed it necessary to have an armored vehicle, the U.S. government would make it legal, and probably would provide it to him at taxpayer expense. The POTUS gets a taxpayer-funded security team, and he's much more expendable than your protagonist.


Edit: When I posted this answer, the question just said that he was a "flying brick" and the world's only superhero. A paragraph has now been added saying that he's powerful enough to destroy the entire Milky Way galaxy. I think that what I wrote above would be true even if his powers were quite limited; the extra powers just make me wonder why he needs a starship tank in the first place.

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  • $\begingroup$ I see what you did there... :P $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ "Laws applied specifically to him" is what the US Constitution calls "bill{s} of attainder", which it prohibits. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ I had in mind laws that apply specifically [not] to supers, which happen to apply only [not] to him in this world. In any case, the Constitution is another law that can be modified if necessary. It just doesn't make sense for Dr. Manhattan to have the same legal status as an ordinary person. Even in the real world the law allows for different categories of citizens with different rights, like adults and minors (and emancipated minors, adults under conservatorship, felons, etc.). Supers would be another class. $\endgroup$
    – benrg
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ Bills of Attainder only refer to laws making something a crime, basically so you can't make it a crime to have an identity. And benrg since he is the only supe, a law that made something criminal only for supes would be tantamount to a bill of attainder. However since this question is about a law that would de-criminalize something for him, that should be ok. Or just make it something that requires a license, and only give the license to him. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ They wouldn't need to make laws that specify him. They just have to describe conditions that only apply to him, or specify a license that they would only give to him. For instance, they would apply to anyone who can break the speed of sound in a municipal area. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 22:38
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Yes... and no...

  • If I recall correctly, it is legal in the U.S. to own any firearm manufactured before 1898. They're considered antiques even if they work. I understand that this is not what you're looking for.

  • Similarly, in most states (but not all) private citizens can own muzzle-loading cannon, even if newly manufactured. Again, I understand this isn't what you're looking for.

  • With fairly complex licensing, a private citizen can own almost anything, including what you're talking about.

BUT!!!

It is not legal in any state under any circumstances to drive on public streets with active, turreted cannons. If I recall correctly, even the military is required to disable armaments before transport on public roads.

So, no, what you're asking about isn't street legal. There would need to be special laws passed to permit this vehicle to exist and, as a personal opinion, I find it hard to believe that any such law would be passed in support of a super as obviously compromised as you describe yours to be.

A real-life lesson can be useful

As a teenager I lived in an area with a colorful if cantankerous old man who collected all kinds of military stuff for fun and profit. At one point he ended up with a missile casing. No guts, just the hull. He thought it would be a cool attraction to get himself noticed and charge a five-spot for people to see all the cool stuff he had. He put a rope in the end like a giant fuse and set it up like it was in a position to fire, easily seen from the four-lane road below his house. He thought it was funny.

People started calling local authorities along the lines of "do you know what that schmuck is doing?" Soon the Feds got wind of it and told him to take it down. He said no. They said they'd make him. he said he'd sue them. And a lawsuit transpired. He won the suit... for a while. Eventually the Feds won the suit on appeal and they forced him to take the missile down.

Conclusion

My point? Your super won't be allowed to drive around public streets with turreted cannon. Even if it was legal, it would generate a never-ending stream of "did you know what that schmuck is doing?" calls to authorities at every level of government. They'd pull his license just to stop the phone calls.

You might get an exemption for non-lethal canon. E.G., water canon.

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  • $\begingroup$ So I suppose if he told authorities and LEOs ( and no one else) that he carried no shells for the cannon, officials would still try and force him to get rid of the cars? He is in a compomising position, especiall with all the baddies wanting control over him. Maybe the Feds and states would give him leeway over their rules? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if the super can time travel... back to 1898... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @catsteevens They would. Keep in mind that the number of phone calls authorities would receive as that tank moved over the highways would be enormous. He could paint the tank with a sign, "they're fake! Really!" and no one would care. They'd still call just because the looked like canon. His needs are nearly irrelevant. Your average individual will see the safety of their family and themselves as superior to whatever problems the super might have. Personally, I think you need to write your story and move on. There won't be a way for you as an author to say, "See! It's legal!" $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 20:11
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What if somebody else gets hold of this vehicle?

Governments will concern themselves with what they can control, not what they can't control. The government can't do anything about your super "going hostile", so they're not going to focus on that. But while this superhero is off galvanting across the galaxy, who's watching these vehicles?

What keeps ordinary persons with malicious intent from absconding with the vehicle and committing mass destruction? An answer for this security issue will be the primary focus of governments.

Why does God need a starship?

An "unexplainable" is why the super would require such a vehicle in the first place. You're describing a person who can cause all the intended damage these things are designed to do, by pretty much snapping their fingers. So why do they need mundane military hardware? That is, what capability does it add to them that justifies the risks I mentioned above?

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    $\begingroup$ "Why does God need a starship?" < +1. The whole question falls apart when you ask WHY the superhero even owns this vehicle. It's like asking if a demolition or mining company can own 60mg fireworks... If you already own a small warehouse full of ANFO explosives, a 60mg bottle rocket seems like a moot point. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ The super hired a security/PMC to guard and operate the vehicles. As I said, they're for intimidation purposes mainly, against the many people who want to get to him. He's the only super, ever, in the world and billions can't believe he can do what he can do. Many nefarious orgs. will--at least--attempt to, say, kidnap him, his parents for pawns, and the presence of these cars on US soil can surely make them think twice. He would never actually use the cannons. His abilities are basically useless, he can't use them until he gets a grasp on how they work. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ @cat oh, well the security detachment/PMC would be regulated in the normal way, then. The government will be happy to let your super have capable security. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 21:55
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Numerous states make it very illegal to carry explosive bullets everywhere.

Explosives are dangerous and erratic, and so a citizen carrying explosive rounds is illegal in a lot of states, and is very hard to handle. Each state has their own weapon laws, and there are federal laws that may constrain him as well.

While a lot of states allow you to own such weapons privately, such as Arizona, using them in public on a car is more illegal.

Law enforcement has an exemption in most places.

Law enforcement is allowed to carry all sorts of weaponry. If the federal government is willing to give him authority, because they really want him to do stuff for them perhaps because of mad geniuses or crime gangs, they can make him a law enforcement officer so that he can carry his weapons around everywhere.

Individual states may also give him law enforcement authority if they want his help. In states that refuse to give him such privileges, it would be harder to explode things.

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  • $\begingroup$ He already has indicated that he would not work for LE and would not be an active vigilante looking to stop crimes/criminals. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ He doesn't actually need to work for law enforcement to be registered as a law enforcement officer. The government could give him that power because they don't want to piss off the guy who could break their planet, and because they hope to subtly influence him to handle their problems. For example, if he's short of money they could tell him where a nearby crime gang is and he could seize their assets. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ Some explosives are erratic; some are extremely stable. $\endgroup$
    – nasch
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 23:46
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YES


If you're going to go armoured, you might as well buy a tank. US citizens can in fact legally own tanks. You often find antique, decommissioned tanks, fighter planes, artillery pieces, etc in front of VFW and American Legion posts. Anyone with the money and wherewithal can buy, own, and operate a tank whose weapon systems have been demilitarised (made inoperable). After all, a tank is essentially a caterpillar, only painted camo in stead of yellow.


Your guy would need to follow state and local road restrictions for heavy vehicles. Tanks with metal tracks can't be driven on the street unless the links are shod with rubber or your guy obtains a set of parade treads, which are all rubber.


Furthermore, it is legal to own an operational tank in the US, but you can only do so for research purposes or reenactment. Your guy would need to obtain a Federal Destructive Device Permit.

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    $\begingroup$ As an example, the Demolition Ranch youtube channel has done videos using a Skorpion tank with a functioning 76mm cannon. OP might want to reach out to Matt about what they needed to do in order to legally operate it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 17:02
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I have no idea why anyone would even try to solve this riddle legally. Your answer is no.

But you can still make this work to fit your story.

First off, you imply he is known of. Many want his services, so to say. So he is not hiding. He is also capable of eliminating the whole world and universe at his lowest setting if I read that correctly. How he convinced the world this was not just a false claim is for you to decide.

So because he is known, and in Florida, you could make the argument that he is a special classification and not an ordinary US citizen. You will have to invent a classification for him, which is not beyond reality. Think "department of homeland security" and you can extrapolate what the US government would do if they need something to be legalized.

Your normal citizen laws no longer apply. Constitution is more of a guideline for him. The US makes exceptions because he is on their land and they claim him as a wonder of their culture. They cannot control him, but they can indulge him and do what they can to make him believe they are on his side and are his primary guardians.

So, he needs armored vehicles? More or less the batmobile? Operating with impunity? Not a problem, he is sworn in as a deputized agent of anti-terrorism or whatever the going jargon is. This is pretty much the only way to get around the numerous federal and state laws regarding firearms, explosives, and equipment. These laws are definitely too prohibitive to get around as a normal citizen without being sent to prison immediately. But as a government agent, or specialized class, or even an outfit declared as a contracted unit of the military, you could fabricate a special annex of the law just for him and disregard the technicalities of his handling and operating these weapons.

You could even have the vehicles provide to him BY the US government. Maybe even publicly as like a "thank you guardian of truth and justice" or whatever pompous lie they would spill out to pacify the people into thinking arming this superhuman was a grace by the government and not an act of desperation to pacify something they couldn't stop if they wanted to.

The gun laws of this country are pretty loose compared to the rest of the world, but they are by no means unregulated. An FFL would do you no good here. It would be revoked the second you stepped over any of the numerous legal lines related to anything he is operating or handling. There is no civilian designation that allows you to operate a vehicle with a functional cannon that fires explosive ordinances within any public space. If you had such clearance, as through any of the NFA forms or stamps, you would be subject to strict control and they would definitely require you to specify the round count and intended usage on a per use basis. Think pre-ban machine guns in states like TX, AAZ, NM, etc. You can own them. You can shoot them. But you have to do so according to a pretty specific schedule and operating outside those realms is illegal. Unless insert your special case here

Your requirements aren't too far off of what Batman seems to have at his disposal. Nobody seems to question why the government doesn't go after him for having all this obviously non-civilian equipment. But yet, there he is. If a special designation is too much to orchestrate, you can always do what DC does for mr Wayne... Nobody seems to be able to stop or capture him or his gear so he just gets away with it regardless of the laws.

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