Meet the Tommy Gun–Not Just for Depression-Era Gangsters



tommy soldierIntroduction

For those who would love to build a historically-popular weapon, a tommy gun (Thompson machine gun) is a great choice. Although mainly known as a weapon of choice for early to mid-20th century gangsters, the tommy gun as a rich history and is a unique weapon to make a part of one’s personal arsenal.

Tommy gun plans are not difficult to find or access, and the skill level required depends greatly on the model, style, accessories, and extras that will accompany the basic plans.

The tommy gun was one of the first submachine guns to integrate a double-column, double-feed box magazine design, indisputably contributing to its reputation for trustworthiness. Additionally, it outperformed most other submachine (and many other automatic weapons) after being exposed to rain, dirt, and mud.

Tommy Gun History

The Thompson submachine gun did not begin as a gangster’s gun of course, but rather as a weapon designed for military use. It began its illustrious career in 1919, invented by John Thompson, based upon ideas hatched to replace bolt-action weapons used by the American military at that time.

At its inception and just beyond, the gun was named the “Annihilator” and designed for maximum destruction as a hand-held, one-man weapon. However, before the design released it was renamed with the more appropriate and socially acceptable name that it carries to this day.

Although other designs were pursued and pending at the time, the Thompson (tommy) gun is considered the first submachine gun. The BAR’s (Browning automatic rifle) design intended to fill this place in history, but it had already been proven unsuitable for that purpose. At the same time, the Germans worked to create a submachine gun as well, and the Bergmann MP18 was the result of that labor.

Original Manufacturers and Designs

In the beginning, few outside of the military could own a tommy gun due to its price, although there were a few private purchases. To put things in perspective, the cost of the original tommy gun was so prohibitive that it was half the price of a new car during that era.

For that reason, many of the original weapons were owned by agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service, a few law enforcement agencies, and agents of the Irish Republic.

violin case tommyIt is true that tommy guns were the weapons of choice for Depression-era gangsters and Prohibition protestors, but they were just as commonly used by law enforcement agents of those same periods. In 1933, the FBI even began using the weapon in response to a terrible massacre that took place during that time in an attempt to free captured felon Frank Nash.

The early designs of the tommy gun, the Thompson SMG, were used mostly by the military during WWII. The first, M1928A1, had special provisions related to the box/drum magazine, barrel-mounted cooling fins, operated using delayed blowback action, and had a top-mounted charging handle. M1 and M1A1, the next designs employed, instead featured no cooling fins at all, rear sight, no drum magazine provision, straight blowback action operation, and side-mounted charging handle.

Ownership of Tommy Guns

A tommy gun is an automatic weapon, meaning that it is almost illegal to build one without reporting it to the proper authorities. There are forms that must be filled out and filed with the appropriate agencies prior to building the weapon and a few taxes and fees that require payment as well.

Since there is virtually no reason that the average civilian should own a fully-operational tommy gun, many opt to build the gun without the firing mechanism to avoid having to register it with the government.

According to many websites and gun experts, it was the tommy gun that inspired the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934. In some states, the Act restricts ownership of automatic weapons to specific people/agencies, but in other states the gun is altogether illegal without a lot of paperwork, questions, fees, taxes, and requirements.

The government’s hope is almost assuredly to avoid a civilian massacre, but many who own a weapon of this nature do so for historic purposes or because they enjoy collecting them.

Operating a Tommy Gun

Earlier designs of the tommy gun fired at about 1200 rounds per minute, and later versions averaged closer to 600 rpm. It featured a heavy trigger pull and excessive drop-stock, meaning that the barrel tended to drift off target during heavy fire situations.

It was considered heavy for its time when compared with contemporary weapons, and considered quite heavy when compared to similar modern automatic weapons. Since cartridges tended to rattle inside the drum magazine when carried, it proved to be unwieldy and inappropriate for combat situations.

tommy gunA tommy gun is a select-fire (semi- or full automatic) weapon, and fires from an open bolt position that means that, when cocked, the bolt is held totally rearward by the sear.

The bolt release occurs when the gun’s trigger is pressed, progressing toward the chamber and simultaneously firing rounds until trigger release or ammunition exhaustion takes place. With this approach, cook-off is eliminated, which is a serious problem for many closed-bolt firearms due to the heat of the barrel causing ignition of chambered rounds.

These rounds begin firing without control, which can be very dangerous for the person holding the weapon and anyone/anything in the nearby vicinity.