Is It Really Legal To Buy And Own A Tank? Here's What The Law Says

Almost every kid in America has probably dreamed at least once of owning a military-grade tank. You can't deny that tanks are naturally impressive, even if you're not a fan of guns or war machinery. It's a giant metal box that rolls around on treads and points gigantic cannons at things -– just paint some hot rod flames on it, and you'd have something out of a "G.I. Joe" playset.

Now, an ordinary person probably shouldn't be able to get their hands on an actual tank. That's the kind of responsibility that most people definitely can't handle, and that's not even considering that a tank typically costs around $18,000 at the bare minimum. But if we temporarily put aside any hangups of cost and morality, could a nonmilitary individual buy and own a tank based on the laws of the United States? Surprisingly enough, the answer is actually yes, at least within certain conditions.

Legal loopholes of tank ownership

According to United States law, a private citizen is permitted to own a decommissioned military tank, and in fact, you can find them pretty readily at higher-end auctions. The only major catch is that the tank can't be functional -– its motor and treads can work, but its cannon can't, and you're not allowed to buy or own any ammunition for it. This is why most decommissioned tanks are sold in nonfunctioning states. If you want to drive it around, you'll have to fix it yourself, but if you do, you can drive all you want. A handful of U.S. states even permit tanks to be driven on public roads with properly rubberized treads, though for the most part, you'll need to keep your mayhem on private property.

If you want to get technical about it, a private citizen can own a fully functioning tank, cannon included. To make that happen, though, you would need to possess a federally-issued Destructive Device permit, and the government isn't giving you one of those just because you ask nicely. Even if you have military training, you need to go through a bevy of licensure and background checks, and even if you have the permit, you're only allowed to use the cannon in extremely specific circumstances. Overall, the distinction isn't really worth it.

A tank is an option if you're fabulously wealthy and want a quirky lawn ornament — an expensive, inconvenient option.