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Belt-fed Machine Guns: Prepper Weapons?

Posted on November 03 2018

Jeff Kirkham spent a lot of time welding Russian "Dishka" machine guns onto trucks and destroying battlefields with them. He won't say where or when, but he has a lot of stories. Those stories led to questions about how many belt-fed machine guns would be kicking around America after a collapse. It was a critical question for the sequel to Black Autumn.

Jeff made some calls and did some research on the inter web and he arrived at a startling discovery: any guy with a pick axe and a butt-load of patience can gain access to belt-feds and ammo during a SHTF world. The U.S. Army has around 100,000 .50 cal. Ma-deuces and another 900,000 other belt-fed MGs sitting around in bunkers inside the U.S.. In a grid-down world, assuming the U.S. military doesn't show up for work, there would be more belt-feds than we could count. America could easily begin to look like Mogadishu. Given that info, White Wasteland (the fictional sequel to Black Autumn, available now on Amazon) will tell that story--American with a LOT of belt-feds going around causing mischief.

In season eight of the Walking Dead, Negan (the warlord bad guy) uses just TWO .50 caliber M2 belt-feds as his "nuclear weapon" to dominate an entire region. Would belt-feds be that big of a deal?

Jeff Kirkham is the perfect go-to guy for a reality check. Over the last twenty-eight years, he’s battled our country’s enemies in just about every place imaginable, training locals to fight civil unrest and restoring democracy as an Army Green Beret. I sat down with Jeff over coffee and asked him if belt-fed machine guns are worth the stretch for an American preparedness guy.

Off the cuff, his answer: “Hell, yes.”

But, there were conditions.

“One of the biggest prerequisites,” Jeff explained, “is that you belong to a preparedness community. A belt-fed makes a crappy assault rifle — it’s heavy and requires some team work and training to be effective. As a defensive weapon, though, the belt-fed becomes one hell of a force-multiplier.”

I wondered aloud how much good they’d do a regular guy, so Jeff set up a demo with Machine Gun Armory, a gun-maker that produces semi-auto and full-auto versions of the 249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon.) We invited three lucky ReadyMan members to join us up in the Rocky Mountains to see how they’d do with belt-fed SAWs. After a half-hour of basic instruction, Jeff set the boys down to whack some steel gallery targets 400 yards away. Within a few minutes, they were scoring hits. Apparently, belt-feds aren’t only effective, they’re dummy-proof.

With that said, the next question becomes, “Can I even get one?” Since we still live in a country that’s pretty darn great, we can own belt-fed machine guns (in 38 states.) And, in almost all states, we can own semi-automatic versions of those same guns. So, the answer is “yes” with a couple asterisks.

  • the belt-fed may be ridiculously expensive, or
  • the belt-fed may be semi-auto instead of full-auto, or
  • there may be a magazine restriction if you live in a “Nanny State.”

Before we get into the legalese of obtaining a belt-fed, we should pick Jeff’s brain about how a community would even use a belt-fed during civil unrest. Obviously, Jeff’s thinking relates civil unrest “over there” with possible, future civil unrest here.

  1. Prevention. No sound says “no trespassing” like the burp of a belt-fed. If your bug out location employs belt-feds, word will travel fast and the entire region will see your property as a no-go zone. The best gun is the gun that doesn’t have to shoot. Nothing fits that description like a belt-fed. Even Special Operations guys treat opposing belt-feds with considerable respect.
  2. Crowd control. Belt-feds were originally applied in World War One to stop massed charges of infantrymen. No matter how pissed off they may be, a mob of desperate civilians will stop short of plowing into belt-fed machine gun fire. 
  3. Long-distance Attitude Adjustment. When we think of hitting targets in the 1,000 yard range, we think of sniper rifles. But, far more often, the military uses belt-feds to strike targets at extreme range. Especially in .308, 30-06 or .50 BMG, belt-feds prove devastating.
  4. Killing cars. If a driver is thinking about ramming your gate or wall, only one thing will stop him with near-certainty — a belt-fed. One well-placed string of .308 fire will typically make mincemeat of an engine block and turn the car or truck into a smoldering paper weight.

Again, a belt-fed is just one gun, with one set of eyeballs behind it. It’s not the end-all be-all for perimeter defense. But, as part of a community-planned defense, one belt-fed takes the place of many men with rifles. Plus, the sheer psychological impact of a belt-fed could achieve the ultimate goal — never having to fight in the first place.

Even if your community doesn’t end up needing such extraordinary defense, your belt-fed would be anything but useless. As a trade item, a man with a belt-fed and ammo in the post-collapse world would be rich beyond compare. Somebody with lots of resources to protect, such as local governments, refineries, hospitals and large ranches, would likely trade great riches for the security of a belt-fed machine gun. Picture a belt-fed as, possibly, worth its weight in gold.

When thinking of belt-feds, most people consign them to the same realm as hand grenades, RPGs and Hellfire missiles — out-of-reach. But, that’s not true.

For starters, if you can buy a rifle, you can buy a belt-fed — at least in semi-auto. Almost every type of common, military belt-fed is now manufactured in a semi-automatic version. And, in most states, you can buy them just like a regular rifle.

According to Jeff, a semi-auto belt-fed is nearly as effective as a full-auto. Semi-autos are cheaper and more appealing when training is concerned. And, you can use them to lay down blankets of fire, stopping every 200 rounds or so to change out barrels. Psychologically, a crowd of angry people could hardly tell the difference between full-auto and semi-auto belt-fed fire.

Rapid rates of fire are over-rated among civilians anyway. Very fast-shooting machine guns, like the German MG-42 (the “Zipper”) or belt-feds tuned for high rates of fire, vibrate in a way that new shooters can’t control. The buzz of a very fast machine gun scrambles the sight picture and makes it hard for a novice machine gunner to apply effective fire. Slower rates of fire aren’t always bad because they’re easy to control.

The price of a semi-auto belt-fed is only a bit higher than a high-end battle rifle. They start around $3,500 (1919A4) and top out around $9,000 (M249 SAW.) You may have to dig a little to find the belt-fed you want, since manufacturers produce them only periodically and in batches. Don’t expect to save a bunch of money on a used belt-fed. They generally hold their value, which is good news for you once you plop one down in your gun safe.

As for full-auto belt feds, as long as you’ve recently won the lottery and as long as you live in one of the 38 states that allow their purchase, you can own most any military belt-fed made before 1984. This includes the M60, the 1919A4, the MG 42/38, the RPD, the Ma-deuce (M2) and the H&K 21. Prices range from $16,000 (1919A4) to $250,000 (249 SAW.)

If you have the means, the best place to shop for a full-auto “transferable” belt-fed is the James D. Julia auction, where premium gun collections are often liquidated. Also, local Class III firearms dealers sometimes get full-autos on consignment. Occasionally, if you dig around enough, you can find transferable full-autos online from reputable dealers.

Some might ask, “Can’t I buy a semi-auto and convert it to full-auto?” 

The answer is, “Maybe, assuming you enjoy the idea of federal prison.”  Modifying any firearm from semi to full-auto is a serious felony; one that is aggressively prosecuted. Plus, most semi-auto belt-feds have been made to fire from a closed bolt, which makes them very hard to convert to full-auto.

No matter. A semi-auto belt-fed costs a fraction of a full-auto and delivers almost the same effect. And, as your spouse probably suspects already, you get the happy by-product of a great post-apocalypse investment — loads of fun on the range today!

Depending on the state-of-your-safe, you should consider a belt-fed. They’re not as over-the-top as they sound and they just plain make sense if you’re part of a preparedness community. For good reason, our military forces rely on them a great deal — and as of this writing, you still have a right to own one. They’re easy to shoot, easy to maintain and they’re a bucket-full of laughs on the range.

(some photos courtesy of James D. Julia Auctioneers)

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1 comment

  • Frank Vazquez: November 08, 2018

    Interesting article. I think they’re (belt feds) still too pricey despite their “usefulness” and capabilities. For most of us we’d be better off buying several firearms and outfitting some of them with heavy barrels and drum magazines. Which brings me to my suggestion that you write an article or make a video about maximizing rifles and even shotguns for doomsday scenarios. Not everybody can buy the “perfect” or status quo, popular gear off the shelf, but are making do with often older and cheaper weapons.

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