Just How Rare Are Illegal Machine Gun Charges?

Few communities see busts like the one announced last week that turned up two illegal ‘machine guns’ in a Hopkins home.

“Machine guns” make an eye-grabbing headline whenever they hit the news locally. Four days after against a Hopkins man found with two of the weapons in his home, the article is still the No. 1 story on Patch. A follow-up sits in the No. 3 spot—in no small part because “machine gun” is also in that headline.

There’s good reason such a case garners so much attention. So far this year, there have been just 15 cases statewide charged under the same law as the Hopkins one, according to Minnesota Judicial Branch data compiled in response to a Hopkins Patch inquiry.

In all, the state has seen the following case totals going back four years:

Year Adult Juvenile Total 2009 36 8 44 2010 26 3 29 2011 29 2 31 2012 15 0 15

By contrast, there were 90 murders, 2,230 rapes and 3,363 robberies statewide in 2010 alone, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

But the Hopkins incident is likely even more rare than the judiciary numbers suggest because the applicable law covers illegal guns and parts besides machine guns. The same section of law that prohibits automatic weapons also bans short-barreled shotguns, machine gun conversion kits and trigger activators that increase a gun’s firing rate to that of a machine gun.

The judiciary data does not break down the cases according to the parts or weapons that led to the charges.

It’s also worth noting that even the seemingly simple term “machine gun” covers a wide swathe of firearms. While the term may conjure up images of a military-grade weapon that can protect an isolated outpost from attacking hordes, Minnesota law simply defines a machine gun as a weapon capable of firing more than once with a single trigger pull. 

That broad definition covers submachine guns and automatic handguns that use pistol rounds and many assault rifles—which are the standard infantry weapon and present in many police departments, .

It’s not known exactly what kind of weapons law enforcement found in the March 23 search that led to last week’s charges. The court documents state only that investigators found “two 9 mm rifles (that) appeared to be homemade and were fully automatic, making them ‘machine guns’ as defined by Minnesota statute.”

The Sheriff’s Office declined to say anything about the case beyond what the agency included in Friday’s news release.

But regardless of the specifics of the weapons discovered, it’s a safe bet that Hopkins will be part of a select group of communities to see such a case this year.


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