'An a**-load of guns': Cops still counting weapons seized in S. Carolina home

Stacks of guns are seen in a shipping container belonging to Brent Nicholson in Pageland, South Carolina, November 10, 2015. © Jason Miczek
How much time does it take to count over 5,000 guns? Apparently, 6 weeks is not enough, as a South Carolina police department discovered facing an "ass-load of guns" captured in one house in October. The other question is, how they were collected?

Brent Nicholson, 51, of Chesterfield County, South Carolina, was arrested in late October after local law enforcement discovered a collection of weapons and other, possibly stolen, materials and equipment at his home and at properties belonging to his family.

Authorities now believe many of the firearms were stolen, including hundreds that had their serial numbers scrubbed to avoid being traced.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks said Nicholson may have been selling guns. The relative lack of handguns found among the large cache of firearms suggested to Brooks that Nicholson "had a market for those and was moving them north," though the sheriff stressed that the collection and Nicholson's possible connection to illegal gun sales were still under investigation.

“This has completely changed our definition of an ass-load of guns,” Brooks said, according to Reuters, adding, “I don’t know if there’s ever been [a seizure of firearms] this big anywhere before."

A spokesperson with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told Reuters that the arsenal found in Chesterfield County may, in fact, be the largest gun cache ever recovered by law enforcement in the United States.

Many of some 230,000 firearms stolen every year in the US move up the "Iron Pipeline" from the Southern states to the north of the US, often through South Carolina.

Since many states, including South Carolina, do not monitor private gun purchases ‒ including person-to-person sales or gun show sales made by unlicensed dealers ‒ many guns in the cache will be difficult to track.

Locals in Chesterfield County, especially those who know Nicholson, said he and his family have a long history of buying and collecting firearms, and that they should not be punished for amassing a legal collection.

“Everybody knew he’d buy guns; his father bought ‘em, his grandfather bought ‘em,” said Al Padgett, a family acquaintance who runs a booth at a local flea market. “He collected ‘em, hoarded ‘em, but I never knew him to sell a gun. Not one. He did everyone a favor keeping ‘em off the street.”

Sharon Nicholson told Reuters that her husband bought the guns legally.

Nicholson was initially arrested in nearby Union County, North Carolina, after being pulled over for a traffic violation. Police found several guns in the vehicle.

“He was going up to Union County to do something with those guns; we don’t know what,” Brooks said. “We’ve got information that he was moving some of these goods and … we’re looking at his activities to see if he was part of something more organized.”

Authorities spent six days removing materials from Nicholson's collection, including guns, hundreds of ammunition cases, taxidermy items, hunting mounts, air compressors, four-wheelers, and various tools, many of which police believe Nicholson acquired illegally. It took four 40-foot tractor-trailers to take the weapons and other loot away, according to local media reports.

Nicholson also faces charges related to trafficking in opiates, in particular hydrocodone.

READ MORE: More than 1 mass shooting per day in 2015? Reddit group keeping count

Lack of a uniform national gun registration and patchwork state laws have led to a bevy of untraceable guns across the US, like many found in Nicholson's collection.

President Barack Obama and many fellow Democrats have called for reform of gun-sale laws, citing rampant gun violence in the US, including the Wednesday attack in San Bernardino, California. The Republican Party has resisted gun control efforts.

According to shootingtracker.com, there have been 355 mass shootings ‒ at least four people injured or killed by gunfire including the perpetrator or perpetrators ‒ so far in 2015.

On Thursday, one day after the San Bernardino shooting spree that killed 14 people and wounded 21 others, the US Senate voted down proposals to strengthen federal gun laws. Republican opposition helped kill a Democratic effort to expand background checks for gun purchases made online, as well as a proposal to demand more scrutiny of gun sales to those on the US "terror watch lists."