It’s unclear how the former Taneytown police chief obtained two machine guns he is charged with illegally possessing and transferring, but the fully automatic firearms in question are far easier for a law enforcement official to purchase for their department than they would be for a member of the public to legally obtain, a local machine gun dealer and former federal agent told the Times.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged former Taneytown police Chief William Tyler with possessing and transferring two Ruger .223 caliber, model KAC556 machine guns. The charges, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, are unclear regarding when the firearms were produced or how Tyler obtained the weapons.
The search warrants executed Jan. 15 at the Taneytown Police Department; Tyler’s residence in Fairfield, Pennsylvania; and another home in the Pennsylvania town remain sealed, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Machine guns manufactured before 1986 can be transferred and sold by individuals registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said David Chipman, a senior policy adviser at Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit organization aimed at curbing gun violence.
Chipman was an ATF special agent for 25 years. “I was the gun police,” he said.
There are roughly 200,000 machine guns made before 1986 in circulation, driving the price of such weapons into the tens of thousands, Chipman said.
To own a pre-1986 machine gun, an individual has to pass a background check and submit an application to the ATF including fingerprints and photos, Chipman said. Civilians are limited to purchasing from a finite amount of older automatic firearms.
Post-’86 machine guns are only available for military and law enforcement, he added.
The fully automatic guns Tyler has been charged with possessing and transferring are a variation of Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc.’s Mini-14 rifles, said Skip Edgley, owner of S & J Arms Co., a machine gun dealer in Sykesville.
Edgley has a Class III license, meaning he can buy and sell machine guns made before 1986 to appropriately registered individuals and newer fully automatic firearms to law enforcement agencies.
A police chief who wanted to buy a machine gun for his department could go to a machine gun dealer with a letter — on department letterhead — stating that he wanted to buy a certain machine gun, and that dealer could sell it to the chief, Edgley said.
Automatic weapons police departments obtain for official use are supposed to be used exclusively for the department duty, Chipman said. The former ATF agent added that he saw cases where a law enforcement official bought automatic firearms under the auspices of their position, but employed the guns for personal use.
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“When police departments come forward and they have this exemption that they can buy new machine guns, you’re buying it for official use,” Chipman said. “So there would be that crime if you never intended it for official use.”
Tyler’s charges say he knowingly transferred the Ruger machine guns. The term “transfer” is preferred to “sell” because it exempts the federal authorities from having to prove that any exchange of money happened when an illegal weapon changed ownership, Chipman said.
“It’s a legal term that just says ownership travels,” Chipman said, “and sometimes it’s not just from person to person it’s from entity to person.”
Chipman said he has handled machine gun cases involving police officials before.
“Police are entrusted to have special access to weaponry because of the jobs they do,” he said, “and when that gets confused with weaponry for personal use, it’s a whole different thing.”
Tyler’s initial appearance and arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. in Courtroom 5B before U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander. Court records show Tyler is represented by Baltimore-based attorney Robert W. Biddle.
Tyler was placed on administrative leave after the search warrants were executed. The City of Taneytown accepted his resignation Jan. 30.