Forsyth Co. commissioners approve Tommy gun trade

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Lauren Carroll/Journal

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After a month of lengthy debates, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a request from the sheriff’s office to trade two 1928 fully automatic Thompson submachine guns for 88 new semi-automatic Bushmaster rifles.

The item took up fewer than 5 minutes during the meeting. The vote came with little fanfare, with only a handful of citizens present.

While commissioners expressed varied opinions about the proposal at a briefing last week, only Commissioner Bill Whiteheart voted against it on Monday.

Afterward Whiteheart questioned the sheriff’s office’s need for 88 more high-powered rifles when it already has 66 and only has eight cars on patrol at a time. He also said he was in favor of keeping at least one of the Tommy guns, as some community members have suggested.

“I believe that having 154 guns like the AR-15 assault rifle that our military uses … is a genuine overkill for any sheriff’s department in North Carolina,” Whiteheart said.

Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said afterward that she had been in favor of opening up the Tommy guns for public bid but decided to vote in favor of the trade after hearing from County Attorney Davida Martin that it appears the county couldn’t do so.

“We needed to find closure,” Whisenhunt said.

Last week the commissioners asked Martin to further research who was legally authorized to acquire the machine guns, since some members of the public wanted to bid on them.

Martin informed the board on Monday that she spoke to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who told her that based on the date the weapons were acquired and the form under which they were registered with the government, the guns could only be owned by another government entity or a class 3 firearms dealer.

The trade was approved with the caveat that the ATF’s National Firearms Act branch in West Virginia confirms that Craig’s Firearm Supply meets the qualifications to acquire them.

Sheriff Bill Schatzman said afterward that he was pleased with the vote.

“We’re just trying to protect the county and protect our staff … and to save the taxpayers money,” Schatzman said.

The sheriff’s office valued the trade at about $60,000.

Last month, the commissioners tabled the proposal based on questions about the ownership of the guns. Some community members claimed that Will Reynolds had paid the sheriff’s office to keep them on display in the 1970s, but no additional information was brought forward Monday.

The item that generated the most discussion on Monday was a zoning text amendment regarding solar farms, but the board agreed to delay the item for two weeks at the recommendation of Board Chairman Richard Linville.

The proposal is to define solar farms in the Unified Development Ordinances and create additional screening requirements.

Whiteheart proposed altering the buffer requirements to provide more options and be less restrictive for property owners. The board postponed the vote so planning staff can review his suggestions.

Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to let Winston-Salem Tennis Inc. lease the tennis facilities at Tanglewood Park. Randy Pate Tennis Academy did not rebid on the lease at the end of its five-year term.

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