Jeff Knox explains why ‘at Big Sandy, it’s Independence Day twice a year’
By Jeff Knox
Buckeye, Ariz. -(AmmoLand.com)- Nothing says “Freedom!” louder than a few hundred privately owned machine guns all firing at once, especially if they’re firing at exploding targets.
That’s exactly what I experienced this past weekend when I made a quick trip to northwestern Arizona for the Spring Machine Gun Shoot at the Big Sandy Range.
Participants bring guns of every type and size – machine guns, submachine guns, short-barreled rifles, conventional rifles, suppressors, cannons, artillery pieces and even tanks on occasion – along with plenty of ammo to shoot, show off and celebrate the liberty this great nation was founded on.
Due to rampant media misinformation, members of the general public are often confused about civilian possession of machine guns, and even what a “machine gun” actually is. Many members of the general public think that common rifles and pistols are machine guns when they are actually semiautomatic – firing only one shot with each pull of the trigger. That we gun people often talk about semiautomatic guns as “autoloaders” or even “automatics” only adds to the confusion.
The truth is, machine guns, submachine guns and select fire weapons – fully-automatic guns, firing multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger – along with short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, silencers, grenade launchers and other “destructive devices” are all perfectly legal to own in most states. Ownership requires registration, background checks and payment of hefty taxes under a 1934 law known as the National Firearms Act, or NFA. Prior to passage of the NFA, you could buy a Thompson or other full-auto firearm at your local hardware store with no more restrictions than buying a shovel.
In 1986 the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act reformed the 1968 Gun Control Act. As that bill passed into law, an amendment was tacked on freezing the NFA registry and effectively forbidding the sale of any new, full-auto guns to civilians. The so-called “machine gun freeze” capped the total number of machine guns available to the civilian market to only those that were already registered with the federal government – about 175,000 in all. The legally limited supply coupled with soaring demand drove prices for those guns through the roof.
Today, a high-quality, semi-auto AR-15 sells for around $1,200. Compare that to its full-auto cousin, a registered, select-fire M16, which will fetch a price in excess of $30,000 plus an additional $200 excise tax. The only differences between the two guns is that the AR-15 is newer, better made and only fires one shot with each pull of the trigger.
Federally licensed machine gun dealers can buy the latest modern, much more reasonable priced guns to use as sales demonstrators, but the rest of us have to compete for the 175,000.
The vast majority of guns at a Big Sandy Shoot are part of that limited, legacy supply and include many historic guns from World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict. Shooting these guns is comparable to racing vintage collector cars. If something goes wrong and a gun gets wrecked, the owner could easily be out tens of thousands of dollars. But the Big Sandy enthusiasts don’t worry about such pedestrian concerns. Most will burn through several thousand dollars’ worth of ammunition in their three-day outing to Big Sandy, and many of them make the pilgrimage twice a year.
On top of the costs of feeding the guns, participants pay $250 each for their spot on the firing line and often rent an RV to camp in for the weekend, not to mention the expense some participants incur shipping their guns and ammo across the country and back. And most of these machine gun shooters don’t just own one or two of these expensive pieces of history; they often own a dozen or more, pushing the values of many collections into the quarter-million to half-million dollar range or more. But you’d never guess such money was involved based on the demeanor and attitudes of the Big Sandy shooters. They are some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth, helpful, fun-loving people you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Most have extensive knowledge of the history and function of their guns, and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge with the curious, or lend their expertise, tools and spare parts to fellow shooters who run into function problems.
The Big Sandy Shoots are the largest machine gun shoots in the country, drawing hundreds of shooters and hundreds more spectators for each event. Each day offers hours of open shooting with plenty of Sure Shot explosive targets, gun rentals for spectators who want to get in on the action, side matches, training classes, aerial drone targets and night shoots featuring tons of fireworks, tracers and glow-in-the-dark airplanes on Friday and Saturday nights.
Most importantly, the Big Sandy Shoot is a celebration of freedom.
John Adams said that Independence Day should be “solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
At Big Sandy, it’s Independence Day twice a year. If you have the opportunity, you owe it to yourself to attend at least once.
Now the challenge is to repeal the 1986 freeze on new machine guns and bring the price of these fun and useful firearms back down to a place where regular working people can afford to own them – even if we can’t afford to feed them. It’s time to restore the right to all arms, especially those particularly suited to militia service.
The Firearms Coalition has been working toward this goal since 1986, and visiting Big Sandy has strengthened our resolve to redouble our efforts and get it done.
About the Firearms Coalition:
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA.
For more information, visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org.