County Wants To Sell Its Tommy Gun

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Rural Rowan County in the center of North Carolina has had in its possession for decades one former US government owned Thompson submachine gun. Now they want to pass it on for the right price.

How did they get a Tommy gun?

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(Screen capture from video on the Salisbury Post website showing Rowan County Sheriffs armory with numerous Remington 870s, Mossberg 500s, and one Tommy gun)

An article in the Salisbury Post , the local newspaper for the area, mentions that the Thompson has been sitting quietly in the Sheriff's department armory since 1966. It is a Model 1928 with US Navy markings that meant it could have been used in World War 2. After the war, many of these guns were transferred later to local state law enforcement agencies who in turn farmed them out to county sheriffs and municipal police forces. No one for sure knows the story of how it was acquired. The article mentions that:

"Officers like Capt. Jerry Davis, a 31-year officer at the department, said the weapon was one of many handed out to rural law enforcement agencies across the Southeast in the 1960s and '70s as civil rights demonstrations brewed.

"Back then, they had, ya know, a lot of civil unrest," Davis said. "Most of your sheriff's offices didn't have a lot of funding, so the federal government released, like, riot gear, equipment and firearms to local agencies."

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(The Tommy gun owned by RCSO is a US Navy marked M1928A1 with a very low serial number range. Guns of this type were issued to Navy See Bee, Beach Control, and UDT units which saw some of the toughest combat in WWII. This alone makes the gun extremely collectable. Photo from the Salisbury Post. )

Rowan County SO issued the gun as late as 2000 to its special response team for use in entry team scenarios, but since then has had it under lock and key as it is too valuable to leave the armory.

Up for sale

So if you are an agency that has a collectable early model civilian Tommy gun that still works but is too precious to use? You sell it to buy guns you can right? A 1928A1 Thompson with a US Government transfer document was recently listed in an auction starting at $18K which is a lot of cheese for a cash-strapped department.

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(Tommy guns were actually very common in law enforcement from 1921 through the 1970s, only replaced then by the S&W M76, HKMP5, and today by .223 caliber patrol carbines)

With that in mind, the sheriff's department is putting the gun up for auction and hopes to get enough money to buy new tactical gear for its deputies. That is, as long as everything goes as planned.

Could the Feds upset it?

Well, that's the thing. The Rowan County Sherriff's office can and may sell thier Tommy gun as long as it is on the BATFE's National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record as a transferrable machinegun. While it was manufactured before the National Firearms Act of 1934, it still needed to be registered to be legal. Now law enforcement agencies have certain leeway in that, but that margin of error goes away when they try to get rid of it. If it's not simply can't be sold.

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Any machine gun involved in a violation of the NFA is subject to seizure and forfeiture, which means that if the Sherriff's machinegun is not registered and they try to transfer it, the ATF can step in a seize it. Forfeited machine guns cannot be sold at public sale, but may be destroyed or transferred within the federal government, or to a state or local government. Which again, could mean that either the local taxpayers of Rowan County could be without the use of the gun that has protected them for fifty years, or any funds derived from its sale.

It's not so far-fetched. In 2007, a library in Nahant, Massachusetts tried to sell an old German Maxim gun that had been captured in France in 1918 and mailed to the town by a doughboy from the area for display. Well, the ATF stepped in and for a couple years it seemed the only option they library had with the unregistered machinegun was to destroy it. After three years of wrangling, they were finally able to sell it to the Museum of the Appalachia in Tennessee for $10,000-- provided the ATF rendered it inoperable.

Then there is always the specter of dormant ownership. If the gun was only loaned to Rowan County and still belongs to Uncle Sam, Uncle may want it back.

Here's to hoping Rowan County, owns it, has it registered, and the old Tommy finds a happy new owner.

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