It's no secret the debate swirling about an assault weapons ban is turning into a business boom for gun dealers. KPRC Local 2 has found the same is true for the sale of machine guns and military-style weapons. They're huge and powerful and they can be bought legally in Houston.
"If you can buy a handgun, you can buy a machine gun," said Cris Parsons, general manager of Houston Armory.
The small gun store in Stafford is packed full of machine guns, short-barrel rifles, even 50-caliber weapons. Customers are paying big bucks for it all.
"The guy spending $800 at Academy is not the guy who comes in here," said Parsons. "The average gun in my shop runs $3,000 and up."
Parsons has plenty of weapons that cost much more. Parsons showed KPRC Local 2 machine guns with price tags of $40,000. Another custom machine gun set -- that includes a night-vision scope -- costs $30,000. A 50-caliber military-style weapon costs $75,000.
"It's not the need for the gun, it's the desire for the gun," said Parsons. "People want things that other people don't have and can't have. The exclusivity behind NFA weapons are what drives people."
NFA is the National Firearms Act. It's the federal rule that makes buying these kinds of weapons legal. For every sale, there is loads of detailed paperwork, federal background checks and a $200 tax that goes to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Then, there's a six- to eight-month waiting period to take the weapon home. The ATF also tracks nearly every move the weapon makes from there.
"The registration is person specific, serial-number specific and includes locations," Parsons said. "When you transport, you notify ATF. If you cross state lines, there are forms you fill out. If I want to send a weapon to get painted, I have to file paperwork to send it to the paint guy."
Despite all the rules, customers are lining up. Along with the big machine guns, they're buying silencers and fully-automatic handguns -- all weapons that can only be sold at a Class 3 specialized gun dealer, like Houston Armory. Business is so good that Parsons said he's looking to add a large, full-time shooting range to the store.
Parsons said researchers have not found any evidence from the ATF that shows any of Class 3 weapons sold nationwide have been used in a crime. Parsons said the key to safe gun ownership is controlling who gets a weapon, not what the weapon can do.