Sale of antique Tommy gun brings Minnesota county $37K

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A weapon once used in the fight against Depression-era bootleggers is now fetching a pretty penny for Steele County.

The Owatonna People's Press reports a Thompson submachine gun that's belonged to the county since 1935 was rediscovered in a basement cleanup a few years ago and is being sold to an Arizona gun collector for $37,500.

Sheriff Lon Thiele tells the People's Press “This is a win-win for the county when I can surplus my budget and put a piece of history in a private museum and not on the street.” Thiele says the buyer operates a museum and plans to display the gun on a wall in a secure setting.

The Tommy gun earned a place in American history during the 1920s and '30s. The Smithsonian, which keeps one at the National Museum of American History, says it was developed just as World War I was ending. Instead of selling the gun to the military, its manufacturer found a market among the country's police departments and it then became popular with Prohibition-era gangsters.

While the one that turned up in the basement was acquired by Steele County in 1935, Thiele tells the People's Press it was made in 1921. That would put it in the first batch of Thompson guns that were mass-produced after the prototype developed by Gen. John Thompson (left) was tested.

The weaponry used to fight gangsters changed quite a bit during the decades that Steele County's gun was gathering dust. That makes Owatonna's Tommy gun an artifact, and a valuable one at that. Now the sheriff tells the newspaper that value will be used on modern-day needs:

“When I found out this gun could fetch anywhere from $35,000 to $55,000, that’s a squad car, that’s an (automated external defibrillator) or other equipment we could use without taking out of the budget.”

County commissioners approved the sale this week and also authorized money for the gun to be delivered to Arizona in person, the People's Press says.

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