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"Glock could sell the older guns with the higher-capacity magazines for more money than they could sell the newer ones with the 10-round magazines," says Mike Blair, the former police-firearms instructor. "They could sell the ones made pre-ban and all the magazines that went with them, but anything manufactured after September 1994 had to have 10 rounds unless it was for law enforcement."
"I was told (Glock was) selling the used ones for more than they could sell the new ones," Blair adds.
Overland wasn't the only police department to trade in relatively new weapons after the assault-weapon ban (see sidebar), but given its repeated purchases of weapons, it had been one of the most active gun buyers. In a 10-year period, this one small department, with fewer than 50 police officers, purchased at least 257 handguns. And more than 200 guns, thanks to resales and trade-ins, ended up back in the marketplace.
And, just in case the latest semiautomatic weapons weren't enough to keep the peace in Overland, the chief made sure his officers also had access to weapons that may have been more appropriate for war-torn Beirut or Mogadishu than the home of Mr. Wizard's Frozen Custard and Woofies Hotdogs.
About the same time the department was converting to 9mm Glocks, it also bought five Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns (the weapon wielded by the INS agent who grabbed Elián Gonzalez), two Colt AR-15s (civilian versions of the M-16 used in Vietnam) and a USAS 12, a fully automatic anti-riot weapon that fires multiple 12-gauge shotgun shells. Those weapons -- illegal except for use by law enforcement -- were sold by the city to licensed firearms dealers after Williams quit.
Blair quips that it was like a mini-arms race in Overland. "The only thing they ever did (with the MP5s) was shoot 'em on our range. They were never used in any official capacity, because no one was ever trained on how to use them," Blair says. As for the heavy and unwieldy automatic shotgun, Blair describes the weapon as "completely useless, unless you wanted to anchor a boat somewhere. I shot it quite a bit over there at the range. You'd shoot it 30 or 40 times, it'd be so dirty it didn't work. At the time, I didn't know what the purpose of this was. I know now: The purpose was, Eddy Williams wanted something to play with."
Gault agrees: "I shot the thing, and with a fully automatic, you could only put one on the target, and after that, there's like five or six rounds, they're all gone up in the air....You can't hang onto it -- it's a beast. This was just somebody's lark to get these things. They never had practical aspects to those at all."
Mark Brown says he asked the chief why they were buying and trading so many guns. "Williams said, 'Well, you know, we are being outgunned by the drug dealers. They got bigger and more powerful weapons.'" But, Brown says, "it was more than just the guns. Bear in mind, for like five years, Ronnie Wilhoit and Chief Williams kept running up bills of $14,000-$20,000 a year in ammo.... One day, I sat down and figured it out -- each officer would have to shoot like two boxes a day in order to use that kind of ammo. In fact, they hadn't even qualified in a long time. We knew something was wrong there."
Mayor Munsch says that when it came to firearms, he trusted Chief Williams to make the right call. "Let's put it this way," he says. "I pretty well let Eddy Williams or the chief of police run their departments -- it was up to them; it's not up to a mayor or a board of aldermen to decide 'This gun is better than that gun.'"
In fact, says Munsch, Williams was savvy when it came to dealing guns: "When we traded the guns for the other guns, I think it was almost a break-even deal. It'd be like someone coming up to you and saying, 'Hey, you bought a new Cadillac this last year, and we're going to give you a brand-new Cadillac with warranties and a much-updated one with much better for practically nothing.' It's kind of a hard deal to pass up.... When you can get something for practically nothing, that's hard to beat."
But police officers had a different take on what was happening. "These folks had a fixation with firearms," Blair says. "I've never seen somebody buy so many guns in my life for a 50-man police department."
Gault says, "First and foremost, police departments are in the business of taking guns off the street, not putting guns back on the street. Number two, (St. Louis Mayor) Clarence Harmon actually put a bounty out there for people to surrender guns, and the city of St. Louis was buying guns. Now, take those two things and use them as a reference: Overland was buying and selling guns, and they were selling them to whoever wanted to buy them.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line."
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