PRINCETON — Surplus property at the sheriff’s department was an item Tuesday on a county commission meeting’s agenda, but a discussion started because instead of a surplus deputy’s cruiser or piece of equipment, the surplus property was an iconic Thompson submachine gun.

Sheriff Tommy Bailey brought the machine gun out of storage after the special county commission meeting. The weapon, in its original carrying case, included its shipping order; according to the faded receipt, Sheriff G.H. Crumpecker purchased the Thompson on April 6, 1938. Operating instructions were included.

A space in the case for a drum magazine was empty, but there were four stick magazines. The machine gun itself was complete. 

“It’s been fired, but it’s been years,” Bailey said.

The Thompson, sometimes known as a Tommy gun, was on the agenda during a special meeting of the Mercer County Commission. Listed as surplus property, Bailey was seeking to sell the Thompson to help raise money for his department’s new SWAT team.

Commissioner Bill Archer asked whether the profits would go into the department’s pistol fund if the antique weapon was sold. Bailey said the money would be spent mainly on SWAT team equipment.

County Clerk Verlin Moye said he believed the submachine gun needed to be preserved. He described it as a capital asset of the county.

“Money comes and goes, but guns of that nature with historical significance, they do not come back,” Moye stated.

Commissioner Greg Puckett, who attended Tuesday’s meeting on a conference call, said he understood that the Thompson has been displayed occasionally in the courthouse rotunda.  Archer said displaying the weapon could be done again, but it would need a new display case – possibly made of bullet-resistant glass – to keep it secure.

“I do understand the sheriff’s need for a tactical team,” Archer said, adding he also understood Moye’s point about needing to preserve an historic firearm. “The public should have a say in it.”

“I’m not in a hurry to sell it,” Bailey said. “I’m not sure I want to sell it.”

County Commissioner Gene Buckner said there was a question about who owns the weapon.

“The problem we have is determining whether the sheriff’s department has the right to sell the gun or if the county decides what to do with the gun. We probably need to do some research and find out what’s going on.”

Buckner said the county commission needed time to do some research before deciding how to proceed. The Thompson submachine gun could be discussed during the September or October county commission meeting, Archer stated later.

Puckett asked about the antique weapon’s value, and Bailey replied it could be between $40,000 to $50,000. A Florida gun dealer once offered $45,000 for it.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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