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Unloading machine guns could raise big bucks for Canton

The Canton Police Department is considering selling two 80-year-old submachine guns and using the proceeds to pay for new and better equipment for the force — before the federal government possibly bans such weapons.


“Somewhere, somehow, the town acquired them. We can’t use them; there is no need to have them sitting in our arms room gathering dust,” said Canton Alderman Ed Underwood. “I’ve been advocating to sell them for quite a while.”

Three Thompson submachine guns, or “Tommy guns,” were given to the Canton Police Department sometime in the 1930s. The weapons are similar to the gun used by Johnny Depp in “Public Enemies,” a flick about notorious criminal John Dillinger. Little is known about where Canton’s submachine guns came from. 

“The historical side of it is a little grey,” said Canton Police Chief Bryan Whitner.

But what is known is that the firearms are valuable. The town sold one of the three last year. It netted $24,000 for the department — money that was then used to buy all new service weapons, police shotguns and tasers for officers on the force.

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“It was a much needed requisition,” Whitner said.

With new firearm legislation being debated at the federal level, Canton leaders want to get the weapons out of their hands before selling them possibly becomes illegal. If Congress passed a new gun control bill preventing the sale of submachine guns, the town would lose out on potential revenue. Whitner estimated that the two remaining “Tommy guns” will sell for about $48,000 total.

One is worth about $28,000 and the other, which needs its barrel replaced, is valued at about $20,000. However, if the town decides its worth their money to fix the barrel, Canton Police Department could fetch even more for the second gun.

Whitner already has a list of equipment the money could be used for, including high quality, undercover surveillance gear for drug stings, a new vehicle and tactical weaponry such as an AR-15.

During a time when funding is still tight all over, town and county departments are looking at any and every avenue for additional money. 

“We are trying to be self-sustaining,” Whitner said. “It reduces the burden on the taxpayer.”

And the sale of old submachine guns, which the police have no use for, is the perfect way to raise a decent amount of new money for desired equipment upgrades.

“We would be able to obtain a lot of money off them,” Underwood said.

The Canton Board of Aldermen voted unanimously earlier this month to sell off the last two “Tommy guns,” but the town cannot just auction them off to anyone. There are strict federal regulations as to how to sell such weaponry and who can buy it.

“It’s not something you want on the street,” Whitner said.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives oversees the sale and manufacturing of machine guns. Using a government-permitted middleman, the town can sell the old guns to someone who is licensed to own it — a process that will take more than a couple of months.

“There is an extensive amount of paperwork that has to go to the federal government,” Whitner said.

Any money earned from the sale of the guns will go into the town’s general fund, where it will sit until the police department requests it.

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