Private Tank Owners Roll Out Heavy Weaponry; A Spin in Parking Lot [By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS/WSJ]
“Lance Miller, a 41-year-old from Loudonville, Ohio, sold his elegant little Stuart, a tank famous for its service in the Pacific, for $200,000 to raise money to restore his dream tank—a 1943 Sherman. “It’s sort of the pinnacle of military-vehicle collection to have a piece of armor,” Mr. Miller says.
He says he has put about $280,000 into his Sherman so far and expects to spend as much as $75,000 more. “You get a tank, you end up with an ex-wife,” warns Mr. Miller, who has one of each.”
A tank in the U.S. can have operational guns, if the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and state laws don’t prohibit it. The permit costs $200, and the applicant must swear he hasn’t been a “fugitive from justice,” “adjudicated mentally defective” or convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A local law-enforcement official, usually a sheriff or police chief, has to sign off on the application.
Tanks generally aren’t street-legal, so owners usually drive them off-road or on other private property. Some say local authorities sometimes make exceptions for parades, a quick test drive or a trip to the gas station.
Tank owners point out that criminals have hardly ever used tanks for nefarious purposes. One exception came in 1995, when Army veteran Shawn Nelson stole a Patton tank from a National Guard Armory and, for 30 minutes, rampaged through San Diego streets, before being shot dead by police.
Still, local authorities sometimes look askance at 20-ton weapons on their turf.
Earlier this month, Mr. Bauer, the Texas banker, took his Chaffee out for a spin in his warehouse parking lot. He had rigged the .50-caliber machine gun on the turret with a propane system that generates the noise and muzzle flash of gunfire, without the bullets. He fired off several bursts.
Minutes later, two Port Lavaca police cruisers pulled up. The first officer rolled down the window and asked dryly: “You know why we’re here, right?”