Recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a state-by-state breakdown of machine gun ownership in the U.S.
Topping the list was the great state of Virginia, with 30,220 registered fully automatic machine guns as of March. Florida was second on the list with a total of 29,128 and California was third with 28,774.
In total, across the country, there are 488,065 registered machine guns, which is more than double the total in 1995, approximately 240,000.
Ownership details, i.e. whether they’re owned by law enforcement or private citizens, were not released for privacy reasons, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colburn told the Roanoke Times.
To own a fully automatic firearm, one has to wade through a ton of red tape in addition to paying a $200 tax.
One has to, for example, pass a background check, submit photo ID and fingerprints for the ATF Registry, obtain a signed statement from the local chief of police saying that the firearm will not be used illegally, and explain why he/she has a “reasonable necessity” to own the firearm.
In short, it’s a hassle. But one that Virginians, more than anyone else, are prepared to go through. Why is that?
“Why do we have so darn many in Virginia? Who knows?” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Roanoke Times.
“When you see a number like that pop out of a report you say, ‘Wow, 30,000,'” added Schrad, who has researched machine gun use in the past as a lawyer for the Virginia Crime Commission.
Schrad also said that although that’s a lot of machine guns, they don’t necessarily pose a threat to public safety “because if these guns are registered, they are less of a threat because we know who owns them and who is currently holding them.”
In this vein, gun control advocates see the onerous machine gun application and registration process as a model for how all firearms should be regulated.
“Machine guns actually are a really good example of why strong gun laws work,” Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the Roanoke Times.
(In my opinion, the fact that machine guns are rarely used in crimes has nothing to do with the stringent regulations and everything to do with the availability and ubiquity of other firearms on the black market).
Though, back to the initial question, why are there so many machine guns in Virginia?
The experts who spoke to the RT pointed to the large population of retired military personnel in Old Dominion (assuming vets are more prone to collecting) or the increased use of military-style weapons by law enforcement as possible reasons to explain it.
However, it may just be that Virginians know how to have a good time.
“They are a blast to shoot,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.
“They are a hell of a lot of fun. Shooting a gun is fun anyway, and this just magnifies it.”
On a side note, someone should send this to Mitt Romney, who in last week’s debate said “We, of course, don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons”.
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