Police OK with state’s plethora of machine guns

Posted: October 27, 2012

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The large number of registered machine guns in Virginia does not appear to be a problem for local law enforcement agencies or public safety.

Virginia had 30,220 registered fully automatic machine guns as of March, which ranked first in the nation, according to the Associated Press.

While the Virginia State Police keep a separate registry of machine gun owners, state law prohibits the agency from releasing certain data — including the number of weapons registered in specific areas — to the public, said Corinne Geller, state police public relations manager, in a phone interview.

However, Lt. Allen Sibert of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said he has never heard of, or investigated, a crime in the area in which the suspect used a machine gun.

“Most of the crimes we would investigate involving weapons or firearms are [committed] with handguns,” he said.

Sibert added that burglaries and home invasions sometimes involve rifles or shotguns — either used by the perpetrators or stolen from residences — but that firearms used in violent crimes in the area are almost exclusively handguns.

According to The AP, the government classifies a machine gun as any weapon that will repeatedly fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.

Bill Randolph, who opened Stonewall Arms LLC on Valley Avenue 10 years ago, would not comment about the number of machine guns his store sells in any given period. But he noted several reasons for their popularity.

“The reason they’re so popular is because you haven’t been able to make a new machine gun to sell since [the Firearm Owners Protection Act in] 1986,” said Randolph, whose store is permitted by its license to sell a wide variety of weapons and accessories.

“With the investment in machine guns, the value’s only going up.”

The federal legislation Randolph referred to “banned the manufacture of machine guns for civilian use and made it unlawful for anyone, not just licensees, to sell firearms to prohibited persons,” such as convicted felons, according to the Department of Justice.

However, any machine guns manufactured and registered before May 19, 1986 — when the bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan — could still be legally owned and transferred by civilians, and the legislation does not prevent most citizens from purchasing machine guns.

Randolph also said the Internet has helped to boost their popularity.

Statewide, machine guns are rarely used to commit crimes, according to Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Cases involving illegal machine guns are also uncommon, Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office for Western Virginia, told The AP.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com