RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina sheriff looking to trade two vintage Tommy guns for dozens of new rifles for his deputies is doing what law enforcement agencies have done for decades.
The Forsyth County commissioners scheduled a vote Monday on whether to allow the trade of the fully automatic Thompson machine guns owned by its sheriff’s department to a Tennessee gun dealer for 88 new Bushmaster rifles valued at $60,000. Sheriff’s department officials say trading the machine guns seen in gangster movies will help reach a goal of equipping every deputy with a rifle, pistol and a Taser.
Police agencies from rural counties in Ohio to cities such as Elizabeth, N.J., are doing the same - pulling old armaments from storage to unlock their value, said Tracie Hill, the author of two books on Tommy guns who has appraised the value of the old weapons for police departments that own them.
“A lot of police departments are finding out that they’ve got gold sitting around in their armories,” said Hill, of Newark, Ohio. “They’re turning them out to collectors to try to generate revenue and maximize their benefit to the taxpayers.”
Law enforcement agencies have for decades been selling off or trading away the Tommy guns that entered their arsenals from the 1920s into the 1960s, Hill said. It was common for major employers to buy the weapons and give them to police for protection on paydays, when payrolls were met by handing out cash to workers, Hill said.
It’s not clear when the Forsyth County sheriff acquired its Tommy guns. Federal gun registration documents from 1968 state that the sheriff’s department acquired the machine guns sometime before 1936. The .45-caliber weapons are described as 1928 models.
The sheriff’s office sought bids from 23 federal firearms dealers before settling on an offer from Craig’s Firearm Supply Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn. Company executive Wally Johnson declined comment, saying no deal has been completed.
The gun that first appeared after World War I is named for former Army Gen. John T. Thompson, who helped develop the lightweight rifle that would fire bullets as long as the trigger was held. The U.S. and allied militaries used the weapon during WWII. The fully automatic version of the gun is no longer made, Hill said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.