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Prohibition Era Tommy Gun Sales

Discussion in 'Firearms Research' started by 7.62mm.ak47, May 5, 2011.

  1. 7.62mm.ak47

    7.62mm.ak47 Well-Known Member

    You see them in movies all the time and I know they were available to the public but were they sold as full-auto or restricted to semi-auto? Wikipedia said that the MSRP was $200 in the days when $400 would buy you a new car.
  2. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    Up until the 1934 National Firearms Act became law, you could buy a full-auto Thompson at the local hardware store if they had them in stock, or have them order you one if they didn't.

    Of course you could also buy dynamite, blasting caps, & fuse at the hardware store too!
    You could still do that when I was a boy in the 1950's.

    No paperwork, no MG tax, and no questions ask by anybody.
    Unfortunately, that was in the midst of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.
    So most all folks were more interested in trying to buy food then sub-machineguns & ammo for them.

    Auto Ordnance even ran magazine and newspaper adds showing a cowboy hosing down rustlers from the front porch of the bunk house with a Thompson.

    And extolling the virtues of a sub-machinegun for all sorts of vermin control on the farm & ranch!

    Last edited: May 5, 2011
  3. 7.62mm.ak47

    7.62mm.ak47 Well-Known Member

    Lol that's awesome. I wish I lived back then even more so now. So after 1934 they were still sold but just semi or were did they stop being sold altogether?
  4. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Well-Known Member

    Thompson Model of 1921 was select fire: it had a single/full auto switch and a seperate safety.

    In 1927 AutoOrdnance introduced a semi-auto carbine model, essential a few M1921s with a "selector" fixed on single. The Thompson Submachine Gun designation was milled out and semiautomatic carbine stamped in its place. A lot of police departments converted them back to select fire just by installing a full auto fire control group, but left the model stamp the same.

    The semi-auto "M1927" sold today is a complete internal redesign (not easy to convert at all) and is usually seen with a 16.5" barrel.

    At the time the Thompson was sold legally at $200 retail, Al Capone offered to buy Thompsons for $3000 no questions asked. By 1934, federal law was passed requiring federal registration and a tax ($200) equal to the retail price of the gun. The tommy guns used by Dillinger were stolen from police stations and the BARs used by Bonnie and Clyde were stolen from National Guard armories, but the authorities had to do something about the machine gun menace.

    Thompson M1921s and the "Navy" M1928 were sold for police, private security, military, and the few private citizens willing go throiugh the federal registration process. Only about 15,000 Thompsons were made in 1921 by Colt for Auto Ordnance and AO still had a few thousand of the original batch in inventory in 1939 as WWII heated up. The Tommy Gun reputation was not based on widespread use, but widespread exposure in lurid news and gangster movies.
  5. 7.62mm.ak47

    7.62mm.ak47 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the good info. Do you have any idea how they were able to break into secure areas like police stations and armories? Bribes perhaps?
  6. 7.62mm.ak47

    7.62mm.ak47 Well-Known Member

    Lol yea. From what I hear, Illinois isn't the gun lovers paradise right now.
  7. hso

    hso Moderator Staff Member

    Most states allow SBRs. IL is just ill.
  8. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Well-Known Member

    During WWII the Stembridge Gun Rental Co., one of the Hollywood movie studio arsenals, loaned fifty of its tommy guns to the US govt war effort. It is doubtful that Al Capone's bootleg gang ever owned fifty tommy guns. A case can be made that the movie studios making gangster movies owned more tommy guns than the gangsters ever did. Some publicised "machine gun" crimes such as the ambush of a gang figure in a phone booth were actually carried out with conventional pistols, but "tommy gun massacre" made great headlines and good movies.

    The Prohibition Era effectively spanned 1919 to 1933, and overlapped the brief era of the motorized bank robbers. There was very little overlap between the bootlegging gangs and the bank robbery gangs. But they all were popularly portrayed in the news and movies as using tommy guns. Some bootleggers considered the bank robbers bad publicity.

    Prohibition started with the passage of the Volstead Act to enforce the 18th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing the sale of "intoxicating liquor". It was enforced by the Bureau of Prohibition under the Internal Revenue Service of the Treasury Department, the "revenuers" who collected taxes on alcohol. The Bureau of Prohibition is the parent agency of today's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

    The definition of "intoxicating liquor" was thought by some temperance supporters to mean whiskey, rum, and other distilled liquor. It became practically all alcoholic beverages including beer and wine in actual enforcement. "Intoxicating liquor" is like today's "assault weapon" a prohibitionist term that expands in scope once accepted.

    The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. In the meantime, the profits from the import, manufacture, sales of illegal alcohol controlled by organized crime led to the establishment of powerful gangs known to use massive firepower in turf wars, like the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre when Al Capone's gang executed seven members of Bugs Moran's gang using two pump shotguns, a tommy gun with a 50 shot drum magazine and a tommy gun with a 20 shot stick magazine.

    The collapse of the economy in 1929's stock market crash started the Great Depression. Especially during 1933-1934 motorized bank robbery gangs like the Dillinger, "Ma" Barker, Machinegun Kelly and Bonnie and Clyde gangs used machineguns to outgun police and used automobiles to cross state lines to escape local police. Sometimes pictured in the media as modern day "Robin Hoods" and other times portrayed as Public Enemies, the motorized robbers spurred the US Department of Justice BOI (Bureau of Investigation) to become the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) armed and authorized to pursue certain federal criminals (eg, bank robbers) across state lines. The tommy gun became the FBI signature weapon.

    The 1934 National Firearms Act was passed in answer to public outcry over the highly publicised gangland use of machineguns, silencers, and rifles and shotguns sawn-off to make concealable weapons. FDR's attorney general Homer Cummings acknowledged that under the Second Amendment firearms could not be banned outright by the federal govt, but applied "regulation" via a tax stamp equal to the sales price of a M1921 Thompson, $200, and complicated federal registration rules designed to discourage private ownership.

    There is suspicion that the US 1934 NFA, like the earlier British 1920 Firearms Act, was passed for reasons other than crime control. British internal documents released under the 75-year official secret limit expired showed the discussions leading up to the 1920 Act were mostly about fear of a revolution by disgruntled war veterans in the style of the 1917 Russian Revolution. In the US in 1932, 17,000 disgruntled WWI veterans had marched on Washington DC to demand their promised war bonuses and some see a connection there to the 1934 Act.
  9. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    There is little doubt that the NFA had a lot more to do with government fear of the people than with crime. As usual, crime was the excuse, not the reason. NJ Sen. Lautenberg has been quoted as saying (about an "assault rifle" ban), "I don't give a damn about crime, I want to disarm the American people."

    The Model 1927 Thompson was semi-auto only in that the selector was fixed in the semi position, so the disconnector was always up. It was therefore, easy to convert to full auto and, I understand, is considered a machinegun by BATFE today because of that.


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