Buying A Machine Gun

posted on November 6, 2009
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Free at last, free at last, I thank God I'm free at last. Free at last, free at last, I thank God I'm free at last.

For more than a year now, I’ve been a free man. I moved to Nevada from the original Nanny State, the place where no gun is a good gun—California.

Once established, it’s not easy to pull up stakes and move. But, I did and here I am in Henderson, Nev., cheek-by-jowl to Las Vegas, a city that is the antithesis of everything California represents. In California, everything is either illegal or taxed. In Las Vegas, everything is either free or almost free.

Businesses such as Sierra Bullets and Buck Knives left California because of a suffocating business climate and prohibitive environmental regulations. In Nevada, just down the street from my house, the nation’s largest titanium mine runs 24 hours a day, spewing out fumes and making a hell of a racket, but who cares? It’s the sound and smell of money.

Among my first deeds as a freeman in Nevada was to visit Long Mountain Outfitters. Owned by the same people who put out "Small Arms Review" magazine, Long Mountain specializes in National Firearms Act (NFA) firearmsincluding short-barreled rifles, full-auto firearms, suppressors, explosive devices and other controlled items.

I wanted to buy a machine gun to celebrate my freedom. I’d already acquired several ARs, but the real symbol of my release from serfdom would come in a three-position safety with one of them being labeled “FULL.” I had three candidates in mind: an M16, an HK MP5 and the Thompson. You probably guessed—I went with the Thompson.

I’d shot a lot of M16s when I worked at SureFire (we sold suppressors for M16s) and an M16 is not very effective on full-auto. The rate of fire is too high and you can actually shoot better with controlled pairs.

An MP5 is a lot of fun to shoot, and 9 mm is not (normally) too expensive. I might well have gone for an MP5 if not for the price. Long Mountain told me that a “shooter” grade of a Thompson (non-matching numbers, made by Auto-Ordnance) runs around $16,000 whereas a transferable MP5 costs well over $20,000.

Besides, who can argue with the coolness of a Tommy gun? Sure it’s a clunker with its open-bolt firing mechanism and chugga-chugga rate of fire, but it shoots .45 ACP, which I load on my Dillon and it screams “machine gun” even to those who wouldn’t know a Garand from a garage.

As I looked into buying a machine gun, I learned quite a bit about the so-called “Class III market,” a term based on the ATF's classification of amachine gun license as a Class III license (a regular firearms dealer’s license is a Class I). The Class III business (or, more properly, the NFA market) is a classic example of a closed market.

In 1986, a law that was passed thatcapped the transfer of machine guns and other NFA item to those manufactured prior to 1986. These were designated as “transferable” guns while NFA firearms manufactured after 1986 (so-called “post ‘86” guns) were categorized as “non-transferable.”

Technically, the non-transferable guns could be transferred, but only to Class III dealers or to exempt entities such as law enforcement agencies or the U.S. military. This did was permanently capped the number of transferable guns in circulation with a very predictable result—prices skyrocketed. They stabilized over time, and today prices creep inexorably upward.

Whenever there is a finite number of a given product, price escalates with demand. Right now there is a moderate demand for shooter-grade Thompsons, so I’m okay. I could have bought a collector-grade Thompson from Long Mountain. They had a 1921 Thompson made by Colt with all matching numbers in very good (not great) condition. The price was $21,000.

It won’t be long now before the paperwork is approved and I’ll be a fully certified free man. Thank God I’m free at last!

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