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When politicians attempt to ban things via regulations and taxes, weird results usually follow. In the case of automatic firearms, the stage was set by the enactment of the bizarre National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, which was upheld by the infamous U.S. v. Miller decision. Under the NFA, full-auto firearms have to be registered with the federal government and a $200 tax paid. The “tax” at the time of enactment was the equivalent of $4,000 today, on items that varied in value from 1/10th the amount of the tax to roughly same amount for a Thompson sub machine gun . . .

The crafters of the NFA admitted that the amount was a way to subvert the Second Amendment through taxation rather than an outright ban. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions gutted the meaning of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution, rendering the reporting requirement for interstate travel of the firearms moot. Some states are attempting to restore that limit on federal power today.

The second part of the charade occurred in 1986, when a controversial vote on the 1986 firearms owners protection act was used to place a ban on the manufacture or import of full-auto firearms for civilian use, effectively freezing the number of automatic firearms legally available to those registered with the BATF at the time the law went into effect.  Because of increasing demand and a fixed supply, the price of these guns sky-rocketed. Thompson submachine guns, highly desired by collectors, rose more than most. Today, legal Thompsons run from $30,000 to $50,000.

The Sheriff’s Department in Forsyth County, North Carolina, recently discovered that they own a couple of vintage 1928 Tommy guns and they’ve engineered a deal to trade them for some rifles. Most people would think that unloading a couple of antique firearms for 88 brand new ARs would be a good deal. Most people would be wrong.


FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. – Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman defended his department’s request to trade two vintage Thompson submachine guns for 88 new Bushmaster rifles as county commissioners reignited their debate on Thursday.

Apprarently, some people in the county think it might be a good idea to hang onto the Thompsons, which have some historical value.

Commissioner Mark Baker asked if the board decided to keep one gun for historical purposes and trade the other, could the county get 44 rifles. Schatzman didn’t know.

Sheriff Schatzman mentioned that keeping the guns and putting them on display involved serious costs of its own:

“What would you do with a diamond ring if it was worth $30 to $50,000? How would you display it? Would you put armed guards around it or just put it in an alarmed case?” Schatzman asked.

(Baker) was confused by the Tommy gun concerns.

“They’ve been in a dark room collecting dust and rust for the last 50 years,” Schatzman said. “Why are they so important today? I ask that question in all honesty. I don’t know the answer.”

Readers know the answer to that question, at least in part. They are so important today because those who want to undercut the Second Amendment have managed to put laws in place that create artificial shortages and perverse economic incentives. Just as intended by the government back in 1934.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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  1. Heh. This story looks familiar. Too bad stupid politicians are getting in the way. I don’t understand the point of keeping one gun under glass. Thompson’s don’t have “historical value” unless they were used by someone of note. These were donated by RJ Reynolds to the PD and most likely never used. Ergo, no “historical value.” They have value as shooters, to shooters.

  2. I don’t believe in destroying history, but I also don’t believe any taxpayer funded entity has any responsibility to preserve history just for the sake of doing so when it costs money. In fact I’d say their responsibility is to reduce the burden on tax payers as much as possible. Trading these off preserves history in the hands of someone that cares, AND gets the dept something they need at no cost. Win-win.

  3. I’m pleasantly surprised that the politicians questions and concerns were so reasonable. I thought this article would be about someone wanting to destroy them.

  4. If the town would like to display them that’s peachy, put em in city hall under glass. But take the money out of city’s halls budget and give it to the department, which is trying to be practical.

  5. A politician who wants to show off this gun…how can that be bad? What would you rather have: 1. The militarization of police with 88 more ARs? 2, The militarization of police having 44 more ARs? Neither is great, but I would rather have the 2nd.

    • It’s easy to say that in a vacuum. Do you know anything about Forsyth County, or how big their Sheriff’s department is?

      I’ll help. Forsyth County encompasses Winston-Salem, NC and has a population in excess of 350k people. The Sheriff’s department has 532 employees as of 2012. I realize some of those are support, and not “active,” but still, 88 ARs doesn’t seem like a lot when you’re talking about a group of that size.

      • Yeah. Besides, a cop having an AR-15 doesn’t necessarily make them “militarized.” It’s about attitude, their actions and how they perceive their fellow citizens moreso than the small arms they possess.

        While outrageous equipment like MRAPs, tracked armored vehicles, and belt-fed machine guns would probably indicate that they’re militarized ridiculous cops, an AR-15 is no big deal, IMO.

      • “…but still, 88 ARs doesn’t seem like a lot…”

        88 may not seem like a lot until they’re pointed at you.

      • I’m still waiting for the replacement for my Vietnam era M-16A1. Despite having (or not having, Frank from the NSA) any ARs in my safes, I have to use what my department issues. I’d really enjoy a new AR, and I bet most of these cops would as well.

  6. More “assault rifles” for cops is not a wise idea. Sooner or later, they will use them to shoot up innocent people and their pets during SWAT-style raids based on overdue library books or some other pretext.

    Why doesn’t the town just sell the guns and use the money to hire someone useful, like an EMT?

    • The AR-15s probably will be used to replace shotguns. As a police long gun replacement for shotguns, the AR-15 makes a great deal of sense. Just as much, if not more intimidation value, more precise shot placement, excellent ergonomics for small deputies of both sexes, triple the effective range.

      As a political bonus, the more people familiar and seeing AR-15s as a normal part of society, the better.

        • Considering our group often totes the AR as no different than a pistol, thats a pretty hypocritical thing to say.
          They arent getting full auto SBRs. They are getting standard AR15s the same as any consumer would purchase.
          Police should absolutely be allowed an AR15 in their car rack.

    • I like Ralph’s point, sell them to the highest bidder and use the money for something useful, EMTs and expanded EMT training/equipment being at the top of that list.

      If they are not going to keep and use them get the absolute top dollar for them, and play up their history in the sale. Hell, RJ Reynolds estate may even buy them and give them BACK to them, again, in which case they could sell them twice. The revenue generating options are mind boggling!!!!!!

  7. Why doesn’t the town put them into a gun auction and then use the proceeds to buy better AR’s than the Bushmasters. Seeing what rare firearms are bringing in auctions, they might clear better than the $60,000 they are talking about. That way the guns are safe from destruction and the PD gets its AR’s.

    • The dept will just claim the Bushys are not working properly in a year or so, demand the county buy them all new SIGs, and the Bushys will be sold off to LEOs in house for 150 bucks each. NC is notorious for this crap. Google “NC ALE Kimbers” if you want to see how NC depts play the gun trading game. Hint, the taxpayer always LOSES.

    • It is a good suggestion and deserves a serious answer. There are a number of possibilities. First, there is a good chance that the AR15s are a discounted deal to get the Thompsons, so that could make the deal sweeter than it seems.

      However, it could also be that the deal is really easy to do, requiring little or no work on the part of the Sheriffs Department, and (they probably thought) little publicity or chance of controversy. An auction, on the other hand, takes more work and much greater chance of publicity.

      With the chance to slide this deal by under the radar long gone, an auction makes more sense. Maybe these Thompsons, in the heated market we have been seeing, could bring $50K each! If I were on the County commission, that is what I would push for now. The value of the Thompsons went up considerably as soon as they garnered nationwide attention.

  8. 88 more guns on the street? think of the children. They should buy 88 ARs and melt them all down.

    • The Moms/Mayors/Morons Against Guns gang all stuck up for Chris Dorner. He was being persecuted because of his race, ya know, so flipping out and shooting up LA was justifiable.

  9. Sad that a police agency is having trouble acquiring needed equipment because of this, but at the same time, welcome to our world.

    FWIW, those Thompsons are remarkable pieces of engineering. I hope wherever they end up, they wind up in the hands of someone who’ll appreciate them.

  10. Alright. Sell the guns, get the money, and buy more practical guns. If it can’t be 88 AR-15s, then maybe a couple hundred new GLOCKs for the department. Or some of those nice Dodge patrol cars. Just… something. Seems like a win for everybody involved.

    The police department should’ve just sold first and asked later.

  11. While I am firmly against the wanton militarization of the police in this country, I am 100% in favor of officers having an AR or equivalent in their patrol car to use when deemed necessary. As long as they aren’t walking around in public with them on single point slings on a daily basis, I say go for it.

    Think about it. If you knew you were likely going to be in a gunfight, would you want to be limited to a sidearm for the sake of political correctness? No. You’d pick your favorite MSR, so why shouldn’t police officers, who are infinitely more likely to have to fire upon someone (who could very well be firing back) than the average gun owner, have the same option?

      • I don’t see anything in your post or in the linked article that indicates he was happy about the destruction of the Thompsons. He stated that it happened, and he explained the reasons why at that time it was felt necessary. We’re talking about something that happened probably 30 years ago, if not more. He went on to say that “I’m sensitive to history and its necessity for the county … but I think the benefit derived exceeds the historical value.” It seems that while he may not be in agreement with you about their historical value (a point on which you and I also disagree to some degree), he seems perfectly aware (not at all “clueless” as you put it) of their actual financial value, since he’s in favor of using them as trade to get what he needs.

        • Perhaps “happy” is too strong a term, but he clearly had no problem with the FBI destroying hundreds of Tommy guns rather than sell them.

          As for “clueless”, I think the quote indicates that while he may know that they are valuable, he is clueless as to why.

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