Tommy Guns Up for Sale

The St. Louis police department put 30 Prohibition-era Thompson submachine guns on the market—and they're going fast.
The St. Louis police department put 30 Prohibition-era Thompson submachine guns on the market—and they're going fast.web photo

If you’ve always wanted a genuine Thompson Submachine Gun, now could be your chance. It looks like the St. Louis Metro Police Department is in need of some new duty weapons, and to fund the expenditure, the department is parting with most of its huge and historic cache of Tommy Guns.

According to this story from guns.com, 27 of the city's 30 Tommy guns will be sold to Midwest Distributors for a solid $22,000 each.

The Kentucky-based firm will pay a total of $618,500 for the transferable .45 ACP, full-auto submachine guns, along with other surplus firearms, according to this story from the St. Louis Dispatch.

The department is also getting $597,000 from the Minneapolis-based Bill Hicks & Co. for 1,749 used Beretta handguns currently carried by the department.

The money will be used to offset the cost of new handguns for the department (the story says they're going with Berettas, but doesn't state what model) at $450 each, as well as a number of AR-15 rifles to supplement officers' sidearms as patrol weapons, the story says.

"The original reason to sell the weapons was to purchase new duty weapons, and we did so well on the sale, we will be able to purchase rifles as well, by our own actions, without using any budget money," said Carol Shepard in the Post-Dispatch story.

It's remarkable to see how much a department can make off surplus firearms, even if they don't have a huge stockpile of extremely collectible historic firearms. We reported in September 2015 that the Honolulu Police Department, in the decidedly anti-gun state of Hawaii, destroyed $575,000 worth of S&W pistols when they switched to a new sidearm, instead of selling them, because Mayor Kirk Caldwell would "not allow the guns to be sold to the general public and end up on the streets of Honolulu."

The guns weren’t even allowed to be sold to active police officers who wanted to purchase them.

In June 2016, the Seattle Police Department decided it would begin melting down its unused firearms instead of selling them, ending a practice that brought in about $30,000 for the department annually.

The St. Louis Thompsons have been in storage since the 1960s and are the remnants of 75 guns acquired by the department to equip special units fighting organized crime and bootlegging operations during Prohibition. Two of the guns will be saved by the city for posterity and for display in the city's crime lab, the story says.

Though the Thompson was invented for combat in World War I, even being touted as the gun that would end trench warfare because of its high rate of full-auto fire and powerful .45 ACP chambering, it didn’t get to the battlefields until the fighting was mostly over. This meant the U.S. government had crates of Thompsons in its inventory and no soldiers to carry them.

While many were sold as surplus to the public, more were sold at discounts to police departments and law enforcement agencies around the nation to help combat increasingly well-armed and violent criminals like John Dillinger and his ilk during Prohibition and The Great Depression.

Guns.com says the St. Louis stockpile was valued at $770,000 in 2012 and included 29 guns held at the city's armory, as well as one that has been housed at the crime lab for ballistic testing purposes. The collection varied among Thompson models, including a pair of early 1921 Colt-made guns, each worth $31,000 each. The cache also includes a World War II-era Auto-Ordinance/Savage M1 dated 1942, valued at $14,000.

After World War II, surplus Tommy guns sold for about $230. In the 1960s, a 1928 Thompson Submachine Gun in mint condition went for $499 retail. You could get a mint M1A1 Thomson for $350.

The story says several agencies have liquidated their stocks of aging Tommy guns in recent years, including a Pennsylvania town that sold a vintage Colt Overstamp on gunbroker.com this past March for $29,000. In 2014, a North Carolina sheriff's department swapped two of its Tommy guns for 88 Bushmaster rifles.

Kinston, North Carolina, had picked up an Overstamp Thompson to ward off tobacco payroll thieves in 1935. They sold it in 2015 for $36,750, which is about the average going price for the model, the story says.