Raffica: December 1997

By Dan Shea

“In no place of modern war are machine guns so valuable as during a retreat. If properly handled, they make the pursuit so difficult and costly as to render the retreat a far less dangerous undertaking than it used to be. One successful ambush by machine-guns is worth more than the most stubborn stand, for it imposes caution on the enemy as nothing else can.” Major C. H. B. Pridham in “Superiority of Fire” 1945

The wisdom culled from the War to End All Wars, as filtered through the experiences of the machine gunners of the Second World War is evident all through Pridham’s book. Raffica likes to point these lessons out, because the growth and direction of much of today’s machine gun design is to convert the role of the machine gun from an area weapon to solely use as a point weapon. While we applaud the new designs, the desire of Raffica is to throw in the cautionary note that the machine gun has it’s roots in a cross between infantry and artillery, and in order to keep the best of it’s abilities, the machine gunner should have training in the old ways, not just the scoped three round burst that is in vogue at the moment. No offense to the modern, but three men on a Vickers with a good ammo supply have saved many a soldier’s life as he scrambled back from a soured engagement.

Does this translate into validating “keeping the hammer down” at civilian machine gun shoots? Not really. Military training and recreational shooting are two entirely different things. However, there is an overlap- the passing of knowledge. There is an anecdote that I would like to relate regarding a meeting of some young Marines and an old Mainer at the North Country Shoot. There was a contest for beltfed shooters, and the Marine Captain entered his troops with the M249 SAW. The contest was a “Bake-off”, two teams at a time trying to perform certain tasks with the machine gun, one trying to beat the other’s time, and the winner moving up to the next round. The young Marine who was firing the machine gun got into position, bipod supported prone, and lined up his weapon. His opponent was an old Maine machine gunner, who had a 1919A4 Browning .30 on a 1917 mount, with a chair behind it for him to sit in. When the firing started, the Mainer stood on his trigger, manipulated his T & E, and quickly completed his tasks, long before the Marine (Recently back from Desert Storm) could complete part one- he was firing three round bursts.
The Marines were embarrassed, which was exhibited in traditional military manner, a severe and colorful ass-chewing by the Captain. “How could you let that old but respectable fuddy duddy civilian beat a UNITED STATES MARINE?” I wandered over and had a talk with the Captain (Not revealing the fact that I was an Army veteran, of course). The course of fire had demanded that the machine gunner first pulverize a cinder block at 50 yards, then cut off a standing log that was 8” thick and had a black cutoff line on it, then hit a piece of ditch dynamite that was taped to a stick at 100 yards. The course was designed to show some operator skill in various machine gun tasks- engaging hard targets to remove them, and some point firing as well. (We didn’t have the adequate range to work out a beaten zone, enfilade, or defilade test).

My suggestion to the Captain was that he put the M249’s away. The 5.56mm round was not very good for the destruction work. Something in .30 caliber would be better suited for this work. He took out an M60E3, and I told him to use his oldest, most worn barrel. The trick the old Mainer knew, was that with a worn out barrel, the bullet tumble is almost immediate, and tearing up buildings or forests is much easier with that type of action. It’s old soldier’s lore, and it works. The next competition came up, and the Corps fared much better this time.

Are civilian shoots totally useless tactically? Not in my opinion, as long as the lore gets passed along to the ones who may need to know it. Besides, the camaraderie is great!

Q1- What is the story with the Benelli shotguns? I had heard that they were made with a collapsing stock, yet I have never been able to order one. Is this available? JR again

A1- At the Modern Day Marine Expo in Quantico, I was walking by HK’s tables, and noticed this odd looking stock- and remembered your letter. It’s a top folder on an M3 Super 90. The stock was sturdy, and I was quite impressed with it- although it was a little odd in the way that it extended the height of the shotgun when it was folded. HK said they were not bringing them in for civilian sales, because it became a dreaded Assault Shotgun with the folding stock, but they are offering it to the military.


Here we go again…. The FFL Newsletter dated August 1997 Volume 1, has gotten everyone upset. The rumor of the week is that a dealer can no longer keep any machine guns when he gives up his Special Occupational Taxpayer Status, unless he had possession of them before May 19, 1986. Obviously, a whole lot of Class 3 dealers have got their panties in a bunch. (Myself included when I first read it!) It’s not true, friends, it’s simply a mistake. Here is the offending passage from the FFL Newsletter, page 4:


Licensees who are qualified to deal in NFA weapons and decide not to renew their payment of special (occupational) tax must transfer all registered machineguns to another properly qualified licensee who has a legitimate need for the weapons. The weapons may also be exported in accordance with the regulations in 27 C.F.R. 179.114-179.119. These transfers must occur before the expiration of the license and special tax status. Otherwise, the machineguns must be abandoned to ATF or are subject to seizure.

However, qualified dealers who are sole proprietors may retain machineguns they lawfully possessed prior to May 19, 1986, the effective date of 18 U.S.C. 922(o). Dealers who wish to retain such weapons should make an entry in the acquisition and disposition book indicating that the weapons are now in their possession as an individual. These machineguns are still subject to the restrictions of the NFA and may only be transferred to approved law enforcement agencies.

Licensees who are corporations or partnerships and intend to discontinue business in NFA weapons may not retain registered machineguns, irrespective of their date of manufacture or importation. These licensees must dispose of all NFA weapons, including machineguns, prior to discontinuing business.

Obviously, the problem is in the second paragraph. There is no change in the law. Apparently the person who wrote this article misunderstood the 1986 law. I called NFA Branch of the ATF in Washington DC, and they informed me that this has been the source of a LOT of phone calls, and there definitely has been no change. Unless you are discussing a Post 86 Dealer Sample machine gun, the sole proprietor can just sign out the firearms to his personal ownership. Partners and Corporations have to pay the transfer tax, but each case may be judged individually, so check with NFA Branch. The ATF newsletter is referring to the Post 86 Dealer Samples only regarding having to surrender them or transfer them out.

Questions to: Dan Shea c/o SAR

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N3 (December 1997)
and was posted online on November 24, 2017


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