"NC Sheriff to sell weapon of mass destruction to the drooling masses"

That’s the headline the anti-gun editors of the Raleigh News & Observer probably wanted to write, but they contented themselves with the snippy “NC sheriff seeks to cash in on 1928 Tommy Gun” instead.


A North Carolina sheriff aims to cash in an ancient machine gun officers can’t use to afford modern crime-fighting riot gear it doesn’t own.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has owned a Prohibition-era Thompson submachine gun for decades. The “Tommy Gun” became infamous from its use by both law officers and criminals like Al Capone.

It’s now popular among gun collectors.

The sale of the Thompson is only part of the fun here.

While the Rowan County sheriff is selling this classic firearm, and you may legally purchase one here in North Carolina according to state law, you many not be able to purchase it in some counties in the state because of a provincial carve-out in state laws.

Confused yet?

North Carolina’s 100 sheriffs have county-wide fiefdoms where they have arbitrary discretion to sign off on NFA items (such as machine guns and suppressors), or not, leading to a patchwork where you can legally buy suppressors or collect classic machine guns if you live in one home in one county, but you can’t buy the same gun just down the street once you cross the county line because of that sheriff’s whim, through no fault of your own.

This creates a situation where someone with a machine gun with a sheriff’s sign-off in Chatham County is well within the law to bring a sub-machine like the Thompson to the state capitol of Raleigh (providing he follows all other laws), but a life-long Raleigh resident can’t possess the same weapon, because Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison is one of the Sheriffs that refuses to even consider signing off on NFA items.


Tarheels (including Wake County law enforcement officers) have gone around these nonsensical restrictions via a legal mechanism called “NFA trusts,” which the N.C. Attorney General treats in a very odd way. They claim that items acquired via NFA trusts in North Carolina are illegal, but at the same time, they won’t prosecute people for owning them.

I’m not a lawyer and cannot dispense legal advice, but if something is clearly legal, I would think that the state DOJ would prosecute people for them, not give them a free pass. This suggests to me that the Attorney General’s office wants items acquired via NFA trusts to be considered illegal to discourage the use of trusts to acquire NFA items, but they don’t seem confident enough in their opinion that they want to risk it in court.

It’s a maddening situation, and one that I hope that North Carolina’s Republican legislature and governor might address next session.

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