North Carolina sheriff swaps Bonnie and Clyde-era ‘Tommy Guns’ for new arms

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A North Carolina sheriff has pulled off a deal that should make everyone but the bad guys happy.

When two vintage Thompson fully automatic submachine guns -- better known as “Tommy Guns”-- were discovered collecting dust in the Forsyth County armory, Sheriff William Schatzman immediately realized their value. They weren't worth anything in the hands of his officers, but to a collector, it was like a law enforcement version of "Antiques Roadshow."

“We recently moved to a new facility, and we noticed what we had in our inventory during that process,” Schatzman told “It’s just like when you move to a new house. You start inventory and discover these things.


“We said, ‘What are they worth?’ When we found out we started to see if we could make a trade,” Schatzman said.

The Sheriff’s Department soon discovered that the pair of vintage guns, made in 1928 and donated by the RJ Reynolds tobacco company decades ago, could fetch $30,000 apiece. Since Schatzman runs a police department and not a museum, he pursued a trade in a firearms police supplier, ultimately netting 88 Bushmaster rifles for the old-time gangster guns.

“We came up with an idea to see if we could trade them in,” Schatzman told “We were able to get equipment we needed at no expense to the taxpayer and that’s a good thing.”

Schatzman's department sent out requests to 23 firearms dealers before striking a deal with Craig’s Firearm Supply, of Knoxville, Tenn.

“It took about a year, but we have finalized a deal and it should be completed at the end of this month,” the sheriff said.

The Tommy Guns are generally illegal, but, in this case, the pair was registered during a one-month amnesty period and thus allowed to be sold to collectors.

“The Thompsons are vintage but not streetworthy,” Schatzman said. “This trade will help us with obtaining what we need for today.”

The Sheriff’s Department also was able to use other weapons in the trade, including 14 Smith & Wesson revolvers, for nearly 200 Glock .45-caliber magazines and other replacement parts for the officers’ sidearms.

“The magazines and other parts wear out over time, [so] it is necessary that they are replaced,” Schatzman said.

The Thompson, or Tommy Gun, gained popularity in the 1920’s during the era of prohibition when it was favored by police and criminals alike.

In a recent article in local newspaper Winston-Salem Journal, Schatzman spoke of how he himself was familiar with the Thompson since he used it to qualify during training for the FBI and how political leaders decided that the Tommy Gun was not a proper tool for law-enforcement. Hundreds of the guns were destroyed as a result.

“Because of the stigma attached to the Tommy Gun and the organized crime and the bad guys back in the early days, it was determined that these weapons were not applicable to modern day,” he said to the paper.