It’s not surprising when a law enforcement agency wants to trade obsolete firearms for modern ones. It gets a bit more interesting, however, when the the “obsolete” firearms are a pair of Thompson submachine guns in very good shape, and they’re worth enough to be traded for dozens of rifles.

The 1928 Thompson fully automatic submachine guns – commonly referred to as Tommy guns – were gifts to the sheriff’s office but have gone unfired for as long as modern-day department leaders can remember.

Though no longer practical in the field, these collector’s items still may serve a purpose.

Chief Deputy Brad Stanley presented a proposal to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners last Thursday to exchange the two guns and drum magazines for 88 new Bushmaster rifles, a trade valued at about $60,000.

No one alive today is 100% certain about the provenance of the two Thompsons, but they are thought to have been used by payroll guards for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem at a time when payroll was paid in cash instead of checks and the payroll truck coming from the bank needed to be guarded. At some point after the company switched to paychecks, the Thompsons were no longer needed and were donated to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department.

I’m a bit ambivalent about the plan to equip deputies with Bushmaster patrol rifles. While I don’t think that city cops in urban areas with other officers in relatively close proximity for support should have patrol rifles for a number of reasons, deputies after often many miles away from support out in rural areas and may need the extra range than a patrol rifle provides. I simply hope that they are given adequate training for these rifles before they are deployed.