North Carolina sheriff’s dept. wants to swap two Tommy guns for 88 Bushmasters

Looking to modernize its current armory, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina has worked out a deal to trade some old guns for new ones.

While this is common in the law enforcement community, with companies like Glock and SIG often taking in older model guns as trade for smaller numbers of new pistols, the Forsyth County S.O.’s trade is unique. They are hoping to hand over two early transferable Class III Thompson submachine guns in exchange for a truckload of Bushmaster rifles.

tommy guns

From this image, the two Thompson submachine guns owned by the FCSO appear to be very early Model 1928A1 Thompsons judging from their Cutts compensators, distinctive fore grips, and ribbed barrels. (Photo credit AP)

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, with its headquarters in the county seat of Winston-Salem, has a long history. So long in fact, that sometime in the 1930s, they acquired a pair of working Thompson submachine guns.

According to an article in the Winton-Salem Journal, the two guns were believed gifted to the Sheriff’s office from a local tobacco company.

“Sheriff Bill Schatzman said the story he heard was that years ago, the Reynolds tobacco company paid its employees with cash, and the guards on the cash truck were equipped with the Thompson guns. The transition to paychecks made the guns obsolete, so they were donated to the sheriff’s office.”

The thing is the guns are relegated to the armory. Guns that gather dust, even if historically significant, are of little use to a modern law enforcement agency so with that in mind, Chief Deputy Brad Stanley applied to the county commissioners for permission last week to trade the two guns for a cache of 88 Bushmaster rifles valued at $60,000.

“We’re able to take two firearms that have no current applicable use to the sheriff’s office and exchange those for 88 rifles that will be deployed to officers on the street who don’t have them today, at no cost to the county,” Stanley told the W.S. Journal.

“We want to provide our officers with the best equipment and the means to protect themselves. Heaven forbid we have to use any of them,” he continued, noting that ideally each officer would have both a handgun and long gun at their disposal.

The two guns have been in the agency's arsenal since 1936 and have property markings on the buttstocks. Photo credit : AP

The two guns have been in the agency’s arsenal since 1936 and have property markings on the buttstocks. (Photo credit : AP)

The office registered the guns in 1968 in compliance with the Gun Control Act, making them legally transferable through a Class III dealer.

Sherriff Schatzman, retired after a 24-year career with the FBI, knows well how to work the pair of Tommy guns in his agency. During his time with the Bureau, special agents were expected to regularly qualify with then-standard issue Thompson submachine guns. The FBI only retired their large stock of Mr. Thompson’s room brooms in the late 1970s.

The Sheriffs Office, according to their orgchart (pdf) has some 64 full-time, sworn deputies assigned to patrol. In addition, the office runs the county detention center, maintains a reserve unit, a mobile field force, DWI task force, and other taskings, making it clear that the 88 new Bushmasters would be more welcome and better utilized than a pair of old Thompsons sitting in the armory.

The Sharon PA police department decided to keep their early model Thompson subgun, seen here in this image compared to the departments current patrol carbine. Photo credit: The Herald of Sharon

The Sharon PA police department decided to keep their early model Thompson subgun, seen here in this image compared to the departments current patrol carbine. (Photo credit: The Herald of Sharon)

While the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is looking to trade their Tommy guns away, other law enforcement agencies across the country are fighting to keep theirs.

Just last month the small town of Sharon, Pennsylvania, decided that their police force should keep its nontransferable Thompson, donated to the police department by the local bank in case John Dillinger and his crew came to town, rather than chop it up.

In Newport, Kentucky, the local PD wants to get one of their former guns, a Model 1921, back from a Class III dealer who purchased it years ago.

The city is even exploring crowd-sourcing to buy the gun back. Newport, a hotspot during Prohibition for bootleggers, wants the gun for the town museum. The gun has special significance to the town, as it is the birthplace of none other than General John T. Thompson, the inventor of the weapon.

Meanwhile, in Forsyth County, the county commissioners will vote on the property exchange at their Jan. 13 meeting.