More Info on the Lewis Gun
St. Clair Sheriff's Department thrilled to get a new collectible -- a World War I machine gun
Being Commander of the Catholic War Veterans Post 370 on Illinois 159 south of Belleville hasn't been particularly trying for Mike Anthony -- until they found the machine gun.
"In January, when they found it, the guys called and said they needed to talk to me," Anthony said. "They showed me what they had. I thought it was a beautiful relic but I wondered what we could do with it."
What they had was a Lewis .30-caliber machine gun, manufactured in 1917 by the Savage Arms Co. in Utica, N.Y., according to markings on the gun.
"It was in the closet where we keep the ceremonial rifles we use for salutes," he said.
A few years ago it had been found in the Quonset hut where the post stores its grass cutting equipment, but was moved inside. After that, apparently everyone assumed it had been gotten rid of.
So Anthony went online and did some research that disturbed him.
"I found out it was illegal to have it," he said. "Not only that but there was a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison. So I thought, 'Well, it doesn't work but previous cases showed that if it could be made serviceable, you still could get in trouble.'"
Some guys thought maybe they could give it back to the Savage company, which wanted it for its museum. But that isn't legal either.
Instead, Sheriff Mearl Justus was able to take it off their hands, legally. But the sheriff's department's options are limited as well.
"We can register it and keep it, we can send it to Alton to have it melted down or we can give it to the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosive) and it will be destroyed," said Sgt. John Fulton, administrative assistant with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department.
Fulton said the department is trying to figure out what to do with the gun.
"It's a beautiful machine and we don't want to see it destroyed," he said. "It matches with the Tommy gun we have."
That gun was given to the department in 1927 by the local bankers association so the good guys could keep up with the bad guys. It had been locked up in the safe until it was unearthed, cleaned and tested.
Fulton said the Lewis gun is kind of rare.
"We're trying to track down what pieces are missing," he said. "There is supposed to be a round magazine that mounts on it and the wooden stock is damaged.
"We don't know if it is worth restoring or what we should do with it."
Fulton said pictures of the gun are posted on www.flickr.com/photos/thebadge and he is getting some information about the gun from collectors and enthusiasts, but he wonders whether anyone local knows where it came from and how it got to the Catholic War Vets.
"Somebody must know something," he said.
Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or (800) 642-3878; or e-mail: email@example.com
Capt. Charles Chandler with a Lewis gun and Lt. Roy Kirtland, seated in a Wright Model B Flyer in 1912 after the first successful firing of a machine gun from an airplane. Chandler was the first leader of the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which would later evolve into the U.S. Air Force. - Provided/BND