You may recall that Mitt Romney screwed the pooch on machine gun laws in the last presidential debate: “We, of course, don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.” Not true! As long as a machine gun was lawfully possessed and registered before May 19, 1986 and its owner satisfies all the other capricious local, state and federal laws surrounding their ownership (e.g. you gotta tell the ATF about interstate transportation), no problemo. In fact, roanoke.com reports that the ATF reports that the United States is home to around half-a-million legally registered fully automatic firearms. And proudly trumpets the fact that Old Dominion leads the country in machine gun ownership. OK, maybe not so proudly . . .
The submachine gun that Richard G. Webster kept in the bedroom of his Franklin County home came to the attention of law enforcement by chance.
After responding to a call about an assault at Webster’s house on Sept. 10, 2011, sheriff’s deputies were greeted by the heavy scent of marijuana. That led to a search warrant, which led to Webster’s Sten Mark III model 9 mm submachine gun.
Webster, 48, pleaded guilty last month in Roanoke’s federal court to illegal possession of a machine gun. Such charges are rare in Western Virginia.
Less rare, it seems, are cases of machine guns that are lawfully owned, whether by law enforcement agencies, gun dealers or private citizens.
See what they did there? Why did writer Laurence Hammack lead with a story of illegal machine gun possession when the headline reads Virginia tops U.S. in machine gun owners ? That’s machine gun profiling that is! Never mind. Data dump:
There were 30,220 registered machine guns in Virginia as of March, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
That’s more than any other state in the nation.
Florida and California, with far larger populations than Virginia, ranked second and third in the number of registered machine guns, with 29,128 and 28,774, respectively.
So now you know. How about a demographic breakdown or some info on the type of guns registered? ‘Cause those numbers also include police machine guns.
Their rising numbers—240k in 1995 to 488,065 today—could shed some light on that whole police militarization thing. Uh, no.
Ginger Colbrun, an ATF spokeswoman, declined to say how many of the machine guns — either nationally or in Virginia — are in the hands of police officers, as opposed to private citizens. Because a $200 tax is levied on each registered gun, Colbrun said, privacy issues prevent releasing even a breakdown of ownership by category.
Virginia State Police, which maintains a separate registry of the state’s machine gun owners, also declined to provide a breakdown, but for different reasons.
The information is not readily available, spokeswoman Corinne Geller said, and a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a percentage breakdown would take at least six weeks to process.
Hey, you’re gonna love this one. Apparently, the fact that “so few” (any?) of VA’s machine guns are used in a crime is proof positive that America should have a more “thorough” vetting process for firearms ownership and gun registration.
Such stringent requirements, combined with registration records that can make it easy for police to track a weapon, is the reason machine guns don’t get used very often by criminals, said Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Machine guns actually are a really good example of why strong gun laws work,” Vice said.