Virginia’s Chesapeake City Council voted last week to donate rather than destroy a rare World War II firearm believed to have popularized the term “assault rifle.”
The Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44) was developed by German gunsmith Hugo Schmeisser in 1942 and was used by the Nazis through the end of the war. Germany produced about 426,000, but because few ended up on North American shores, NFA-compliant models are worth nearly $30,000.
The Chesapeake Police Department confiscated the StG44 in April of 2009 after finding one in a van involved in several hit-and-runs, according to the Virginian-Pilot. The driver, Eugene McGee, was convicted of felony hit-and-run and had his Second Amendment rights revoked.
But rather than destroy the firearm, the city decided in 2010 to donate it. Police spokesman Leo Kosinski told the Pilot that he isn’t sure why it’s taken so long for the donation to occur, though he suspects that whoever came up with the idea has since retired.
The firearm will be sent to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C.
McGee said that the gun had belonged to his grandfather, a WWII veteran who served as an Army sergeant. He mailed the rifle home to Iowa from Europe, and it had been stored in an attic since his death in 1972.
McGee found it when he was 11 or 12, and he and his brother played Army with it, leaving it out in the rain and the snow.
“I’m not proud of how it got confiscated, but I’m proud of him,” he said, referring to his grandfather.
“Sturmgewehr” translates in English to “storm rifle” or “assault rifle.” The firearm began as the Maschinenpistole 43 (MP43/MP44), but the Nazis changed the name in 1944 for propaganda purposes.
Small arms expert Joseph E. Smith notes, however, that “Sturmgewehr” fits the rifle’s function and chambering much better than “Machinenpistole” (231). The MP43/44 was not a submachine gun in the conventional sense of the term (i.e., a small, pistol-caliber weapon). The Sturmgewehr 44 fires the 7.92×33mm Kurz, a cartridge more like the AK-47’s 7.62×39 than the 9x19mm Parabellum fired by most submachine guns.
This is why many point to the StG44 as one of the first select-fire intermediate cartridge firearms, and its conceptual descendants include the AK-47 and the M16.
Though the Germans produced as many as 5,000 StG44s per month by the war’s end, they introduced the exceptionally effective rifle too late to turn the Allied tide (Smith 230).