Sharon police keeping Tommy gun meant for Dillinger

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SHARON, Pa. (AP) — A western Pennsylvania police department is doing some housecleaning at its station but plans to keep a Thompson submachine gun that, according to local legend, was purchased so the city’s cops would have a “level playing field” if Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger ever came to town.


Sharon police Chief Mike Menster said he’d like to display the gun but doesn’t think it’s practical. Attempts to sell it to a museum so the 26-officer department in this city of nearly 14,000 residents can buy other weapons have been nixed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


“It was bought for law enforcement use and they told us in a letter that it could only be used for law enforcement or sold for parts,” Lt. Gerald Smith told a Scranton newspaper.


A gun dealer once offered the city $600 for the Tommy gun’s signature circular magazine, which holds 50 .45-caliber bullets, but the city about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh passed on that and other offers for parts of the gun, Smith said.


Menster said the gun was last fired in the 1990s, but it still works as far as he knows. “It would be nice if we could safely display it, but I don’t know how you would do it,” the chief said.


The issue of whether to keep the gun came up because the department is clearing out some old records and such, and Councilman Tom Burke, a retired police chief, asked if now might be the time to get rid of the gun, too.


Menster said he’s been told that McDowell National Bank bought the gun and gave it to the police department as a hedge against Dillinger coming to town.


“The story goes that all the banks were worried about being robbed and they knew Dillinger had a Tommy gun so they wanted to level the playing field,” Menster said.


Dillinger was killed in a gunbattle with FBI agents as he left a Chicago movie theater in July 1934. McDowell National was bought out by Union National Corporation of Pittsburgh in 1982.


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