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We're #1! VA Tops List of Machine Gun Ownership
Posted by: GunNut ()
Date: October 22, 2012 01:26PM

Virginia tops U.S. in machine gun owners:

The submachine gun that Richard G. Webster kept in the bedroom of his Franklin County home came to the attention of law enforcement by chance.

After responding to a call about an assault at Webster's house on Sept. 10, 2011, sheriff's deputies were greeted by the heavy scent of marijuana. That led to a search warrant, which led to Webster's Sten Mark III model 9 mm submachine gun.

Webster, 48, pleaded guilty last month in Roanoke's federal court to illegal possession of a machine gun. Such charges are rare in Western Virginia.

Less rare, it seems, are cases of machine guns that are lawfully owned, whether by law enforcement agencies, gun dealers or private citizens.

There were 30,220 registered machine guns in Virginia as of March, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

That's more than any other state in the nation.

Florida and California, with far larger populations than Virginia, ranked second and third in the number of registered machine guns, with 29,128 and 28,774, respectively.

Nationally, there are nearly 500,000 registered machine guns, according to an annual report compiled by the ATF.

Ginger Colbrun, an ATF spokeswoman, declined to say how many of the machine guns — either nationally or in Virginia — are in the hands of police officers, as opposed to private citizens. Because a $200 tax is levied on each registered gun, Colbrun said, privacy issues prevent releasing even a breakdown of ownership by category.

Virginia State Police, which maintains a separate registry of the state's machine gun owners, also declined to provide a breakdown, but for different reasons.

The information is not readily available, spokeswoman Corinne Geller said, and a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a percentage breakdown would take at least six weeks to process.

Not a safety threat

With the two agencies that compile the records declining to elaborate, others were left to speculate about the numbers.

"Why do we have so darn many in Virginia? Who knows?" said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

"When you see a number like that pop out of a report you say, 'Wow, 30,000,'" said Schrad, who years ago researched the use of machine guns as a staff attorney for the Virginia Crime Commission.

But Schrad and others said the fully automatic weapons — not to be confused with the larger class of semi-automatic "assault weapons" — are rarely used to commit crimes.

Federal law defines a machine gun as any weapon that will repeatedly fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.

The number of registered machine guns is on the rise nationally. This year's total of 488,065 is up from about 240,000 in 1995, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

More than 30,000 machine guns in Virginia don't necessarily pose a public safety risk, Schrad said, "because if these guns are registered, they are less of a threat because we know who owns them and who is currently holding them."

Private citizens who want to legally own a machine gun face a lengthy approval process. Meeting the standard requirements for gun ownership — including no felony record, no psychiatric commitments and no domestic assault convictions — is just the beginning.

After passing a background check, applicants must submit their photograph and fingerprints to be used in a registry maintained by the ATF. Also required is a signed statement from the chief law enforcement officer in the locality where the applicant lives, stating there is no indication the machine gun would be used illegally.

(Police departments in Roanoke, Roanoke County and Salem said they receive a few such requests each year. A total of 40 machine guns have been registered since 2002 in Roanoke County, which was the only locality contacted to track those numbers.)

The applicant is also required to affirm that he or she has a "reasonable necessity" to own a machine gun, and to describe what that is.

Only gun dealers with a special license from the federal government are allowed to sell machine guns.

Such stringent requirements, combined with registration records that can make it easy for police to track a weapon, is the reason machine guns don't get used very often by criminals, said Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"Machine guns actually are a really good example of why strong gun laws work," Vice said.

Numbers hard to explain

So assuming that machine guns are not being used by criminals, why does Virginia have so many?

Experts suggested several factors. One is that police departments are taking a more "militarized" approach to fighting crime, with SWAT teams equipped with armored vehicles and high-caliber weaponry.

An increase nationally in the number of machine guns "is at least partly a reflection of the increasing militarization of policing in the past 25 years, which has occurred despite a decline in crime and violence," Gary Kleck, a criminology professor at Florida State University who researches gun issues, wrote in an email.

The Roanoke Police Department has 14 registered machine guns, a spokeswoman said. Roanoke County has six. Other police agencies either declined to say how many they had or did not respond to questions.

Another factor is that Virginia, long considered a gun-friendly state, has a large retired military population that might be inclined to own machine guns as collector items.

And with census data ranking the state among the nation's top 10 in personal income, it may be that more Virginians can afford the guns, which can sell for $10,000 or more.

"These are the Mercedes owners of gun owners," Schrad said. "These are people who can afford those kinds of collectibles."

One reason the weapons are so expensive is a law passed by Congress that restricted private citizens from legally possessing machine guns manufactured after 1986. So as the supply remained flat, prices rose.

'A blast to shoot'

For those who can afford them — and want them — machine guns can offer a recreational shooting experience like none other.

"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."

Gun clubs often hold machine gun shoots in rural locations, with participants pumping loads of lead into targets with a single pull of the trigger.

"Fun for the Entire Family," read a flier for one such event in the Roanoke Valley.

Such events are not without risk, however. In Massachusetts, an 8-year-old boy was killed at a machine gun shoot in 2008. According to media accounts at the time, the boy was firing a micro Uzi when it recoiled and turned upward, sending a bullet though his head.

Another concern is when machine guns wind up in the hands of people not allowed to own them — people like Webster of Franklin County.

At a Sept. 26 hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese provided an account of how sheriff's deputies came to find the World War II-era weapon in Webster's Hardy home. (The visit by police also resulted in Webster being charged with possession of marijuana. That misdemeanor charge is pending in state court.)

It's rare for authorities to bring a separate charge of possessing a machine gun such as in Webster's case, said Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for Western Virginia.

What happens more often, he said, is for a suspected drug dealer to be caught in possession of a machine gun. When that happens, the gun charge is often incorporated into the drug prosecution, McGinn said.

While those cases are not common, McGinn said, "we do encounter machine guns from time to time." He did not have firm numbers on how frequently that happens.

Likewise, ATF officials said they could not provide national numbers on illegal machine gun prosecutions.

No details were given during Webster's brief hearing about why he had the weapon. His attorney, Rhonda Overstreet, did not return calls to her office.

If Webster was simply a gun collector who didn't follow the registration rules, his hobby could prove to be costly.

At a sentencing hearing scheduled for January, he faces a fine of up to $250,000, and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

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Re: We're #1! VA Tops List of Machine Gun Ownership
Posted by: Tommy Gunn ()
Date: October 22, 2012 01:38PM

I don't get why so many people think fully automatic weapons are worse than semi-automatic weapons.

If some jackass gangbanger had an automatic weapon, he'd just pull the trigger and empty his clip in a second or two while the cops waited patiently, then the cops could pick him off while he reloads.

Semi-automatics encourage a little more careful aiming and firing. A bolt-action would really force someone to focus on what they're doing.

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Re: We're #1! VA Tops List of Machine Gun Ownership
Posted by: Typical ()
Date: October 22, 2012 02:03PM

Typical. They lead off an article that talks about legally owned Class 3 weapons with an anecdote about police investigating a drug user with an illegally owned weapon. lol

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Re: We're #1! VA Tops List of Machine Gun Ownership
Posted by: Tough One ()
Date: October 22, 2012 04:55PM

Awesome! And our low crime stats compared to other states prove once again, that a well armed society is a polite one. Except in Fairfax, where everyone is a pompous ass :)

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Re: We're #1! VA Tops List of Machine Gun Ownership
Posted by: trogdor! ()
Date: October 22, 2012 07:06PM

Typical Wrote:
> Typical. They lead off an article that talks
> about legally owned Class 3 weapons with an
> anecdote about police investigating a drug user
> with an illegally owned weapon. lol

I wonder if they start their restaurant reviews with a restaurant drunk driving manslaughter story.

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