Here we are talking about general purpose military machine-guns and guns designed primarily to fire full power ammo on full automatic like the M60 and Browning .30 cal and the lighter squad level weapons like the M249 SAW and the W.W.II BAR. Full fledged machine guns are more robust than selective fire rifles and are built to handle sustained full auto fire. Most true machine guns are not capable of semi-auto fire. Most of these are actually available legally as class III collectors' arms and range in price from $3500 (used rebuilt Browning .30) to $40,000 (vintage Stoner 63 in excellent condition) on the legal market. Black market prices are significantly lower.
Since machineguns are generally intended to fire bursts of three to twelve shots at a time, reliability is critical. The internal and feed mechanism must work correctly or the weapon is nearly useless. A machine gun is just as it is named, a machine first and a gun second. In order for a machine to be worth anything, it has to run well. Just like a car motor, the gun must have proper timing and be able to smoothly consume fuel (ammunition) and expend waste (belts and empty cases). It takes a lot more design and manufacturing effort to build a machine-gun as opposed to an automatic rifle or subgun. Unlike rifles, machineguns usually expend the brass near the gun. Most of the FN and Browning machineguns will expend the brass directly beneath the weapon.
Expect most black market units to be stolen military hardware with a sprinkling of clandestine manufactured guns made from a combination of spare parts, rebuilt components and parts copied from samples or blueprints. Some of the bigger law enforcement agencies issue machine guns to special response teams, but this is rarely justified in the course of normal law enforcement as sniper rifles are the preferred long range support weapons for police. Another source of illegal machineguns is smuggling. While it is not nearly as lucrative to smuggle machineguns at it is narcotics, they do find their way into North America from time to time. The rarest machineguns on the market are those which have been stolen from legal collectors or manufacturers.
In some unusual cases, these guns have been sold by their owners and simply reported stolen but the price difference between black market guns and legitimate transfers is so broad that such transactions are extremely rare. In the rare cases when it does happen, it is often related to disinterested heirs who simply want fast cash out of a collection from a deceased collector and there are legal hurdles to the heir keeping the weapons. Two cases I head of, one where the heir lived in a state that did not allow for legal Class 3 weapon ownership, and another where the heir was a convicted felon. In those cases, the weapons were sold and gone well before BATF was notified of the death of the owner. This can be even more confusing by the fact that many owners of these weapons who bought them before the 1986 cutoff were not required to update registrations or contact information with the BATF and kept the ownership of the weapons secret even from family members, often electing to cache the weapons in a hidden location. That brings the confusion as to whether or not the ownership of the weapons was even disclosed to the probate lawyers or executor of the estate, such as what makes convictions for these kinds of illegal transactions very rare.
Machine guns usually feed ammo in belts by means of highly engineered mechanisms. Three types are the most common. The first is the cloth belt, as used in the Browning .30 cal. It is the least reliable. The second is the disintegrating link belt, probably the most common, and third is the non-disintegrating link belt, common and reliable, but unliked by many soldiers because it is tricky to maintain and the belts are not always reusable. Some, like the British Bren gun, feed from a magazine. The M249 SAW feed from a magazine as an option, although many variants are not particularly reliable with magazines.
Cloth belt fed guns can work well if they are properly maintained and care is taken to keep the ammo situated evenly in the belt. Expect to use this type of gun for fixed defense or mounted on a vehicle. Again, we are talking almost exclusively about the classic Browning .30 cal of WWII fame. These guns do trade for as little as $350 on the world market. Spare belts (unloaded) to range from $5 to $30. A similar gun called the FN-30 will trade even cheaper. The FN-30 was primarily used on vehicles and can be found on boats along the African coast.
I recommend that if you are going to get a Machine gun, get one that takes a disintegrating link belt, even if it means paying more. The NATO standard is used by the M60 and FN machine guns. They call it the M13 disintegrating link. These links are ejected from the gun separate from the brass casing. You can recover them and use them plenty of times. You can buy the links by military surplus incredibly cheap. Be careful with some European models like the MG3 that take a similar but different link that is actually hard to get.
Non-disintegrating link belt fed guns are common in Eastern Europe and client states of the former Soviet Union. They are reliable, but not particularly convenient to use or carry. Unlike disintegrating links, they cannot be snapped together to form belts of varying lengths. The belts come in set lengths and that's that. At best, you can connect belts using special links, or can cut the belts to specific lengths, but reconnecting them is a pain one they have been cut. If a belt is fired halfway through the gun, the unloaded section just hangs off to the side to tangle in your gear or whatever is nearby. Proponents of this system say this is better than individual links coming off and jamming up the gun at a bad moment.
Prices can vary widely depending on the local market and the type of gun. From what I have seen, the M249 Saw is the hottest item on the black market. Two grand is about average for one heisted from a military base or police department a really nice new one can go as high as six thousand dollars. Legal collector's version can cost as much as much as a new BMW.
This earlier model SAW is unreliable with box magazines but has an adjustable rate of fire and is reliable with belted ammo. Although the stock appears similar to that of the FN paratroop rifle, the stock does not fold. Most troops who have used the SAW like it. The weapon is light enough to swing around "Rambo" style, but retains sufficient punch to riddle light vehicles and aircraft.
Probably the best and least common version of the SAW for survivors, special operations and law enforcement is the compact "Para" model. It features a collapsible stock and a shorter barrel. They are found with airborne, special forces, and some police organizations. You give up a little range but get a lot more portable package.
An emerging option is a belt feed conversion for otherwise magazine fed guns. One of the most eagerly awaited accessories for the AR15 and M16 rifles is the Ares Defense Systems Shrike conversion unit that makes a standard AR type gun into a compact belt fed weapon. Since this conversion unit is not a firearm in and of itself, it will probably be available on the open market. It will operate in the semi-auto only mode with semi-auto lowers and in select fire with a military pattern M16 receiver. The device is costly in relation to a standard M4, but still considerably cheaper than the M249.
.30 Browning guns are usually cheap firepower, but ad in the tripod and belts and the price will go up. Recently modified Israeli pattern guns seem best, as many can take commonly available disintegrating link belts and can be relatively easy to set up in .308/7.62 NATO, .30-06, and 8mm. A lot of the collectors will favor the 8mm conversion simply because of the availability of large amounts of cheap surplus ammo.
.50 Cal Browning guns start around $5000. They have been issued by practically every nation in the world at one time or another since the 1930's. This has placed a large number on the open market from time to time. This is not a weapon for the cheapskate survivor. Ammo approaches a dollar a shot and is fired up at the rate of five per second. I am told that used Browning .50 caliber guns are available on the world market for around $1500 to $2000 each. Both the .30 and .50 caliber Browning machineguns can be found on boats and ships in parts of the world where piracy is a problem.
Some long barreled AK variants with bipods can be converted to full auto in order to serve in this role, although this is presently illegal for guns intended to be sold to collectors (the guns can be converted by dealers for use as sales samples to law enforcement and military agencies). Several good machine guns are available on the world market for reasonably cheap prices to anybody with the balls to get them from the point of purchase to back home on the retreat. Older Belt fed machine guns can be had for as low as $320 from third world armies that are looking to subsidize new upgrades. A machine gun gives you the ability to lay down a suppressive fire that will slow, stop, or shatter an opponent's advance. Machine guns are effective against most vehicles and low flying aircraft. They are most useful for point defense in built up areas and can be mounted on vehicles traveling in convoy. The are not particularly useful in dense swamps or heavily wooded terrain. Machine guns make an unmistakable telltale sound that is nearly impossible to suppress and could only be considered for actual deployment in a scenario three or higher situation. In rare circumstances, (with cooperation of local authorities) they can be considered for retreat defense against a well-armed criminal element. The possession of a class III permit and legal justification to use deadly force against criminal attack are all of the cooperation that you would really need to have legally, but local attitudes and outside agitation may dictate the politically expedient actions of authorities, in spite of your constitutional rights.
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