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I know, I know. It’s a silly question with a seemingly obvious answer: is it illegal to buy a tank? You would think it would be illegal to buy a tank as a personal vehicle. After all, the U.S. Government probably doesn’t want private citizens to possess such things. However, there’s more to it than you might think. So, is it illegal to buy an armored military machine like a tank?

Yes, you can buy a tank. Better yet, you can buy a tank with a functioning main gun. However, it’s not as straightforward as buying a decommissioned Humvee or police car. For instance, if you want a German Leopard Main Battle Tank (MBT) or the iconic Soviet T-72 with a functioning cannon, you’ll likely need a Federal Destructive Device Permit. 

What’s more, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) may require you to have a Type 9 or Type 11 license as a “Dealer in Destructive Devices” or an “Importer of Destructive Devices,” respectively.

However, at the end of the day, a tank is a vehicle. A massive, destructive, armored vehicle of warfare, but a vehicle nonetheless. As such, you can buy one, store it, display it, or even drive it on your property. That said, most states won’t allow you to drive your tank on public roads in anything other than a reenactment or parade capacity. 

An M4 Sherman tank at Normandie Beach in France.
A WWII-era M4 Sherman display at Normandie Beach | Wirestock via iStock

Moreover, if you wish to fire your tank’s main gun on private property, you’ll almost certainly be limited to a solid shot round rather than a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) or similar round. Still seems cool, right? Well, you might want to think twice.

Sure, I get the appeal; I worked with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) 1st Tank Batallion. They’re loud, imposing, and awesome. However, a tank of any kind isn’t exactly, well, practical. For instance, a Leopard 1A5 MBT weighs over 40 tonnes. That’s more than a fully laden semi-truck in a vehicle less than half the length.