Archive for ‘Guns’

February 2, 2012

The Bayonet

This Thanksgiving I found myself at a table with my uncle and my cousin’s grandfather, veterans of Vietnam and World War II respectively.  We talked about normal family things, but at some point the conversation turned to war.  With great interest I listened to them exchange stories about the forests of Alsace Lorraine and the jungles surrounding Saigon.  It was at this point that my uncle began talking about Vietnam and his experiences there as an 18 year old Marine.  It’s not hard to feel lazy and sheltered when you’re listening to someone recall their

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January 7, 2012

Insurgency Pistols

The term insurgency has evoked differing connotations over the past century, especially in regards to American foreign relations.  Today we hear of insurgencies in a negative context; evoking images of people fighting against American interests in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  The term “insurgent” has even been linked with the term “terrorist” over the past decade by some who incorrectly assume the terms are synonymous.  But regardless of current political complexities, insurgencies were once very strongly supported by our government and were very useful tools in fighting stronger forces.  One of the best examples of an insurgency is the French

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January 6, 2012

The Uzi, A Kosher Alternative

Of all the weapons shown in 80’s actions movies, perhaps none were as ubiquitous as the Uzi.  Before the rise of all manner of personal defense weapons and machine pistols, the Uzi stood out as a unique, fully-automatic weapon that looked strangely distinct from its assault rifle counterparts.  This gun was different.  It looked just like a pistol, it had a magazine loaded into the grip, a tiny barrel, and was small enough to be wielded single-handedly.  Of all the guns we saw as kids, none were as instantly recognizable as the Uzi, and that’s what added to its mystique.  But these days it seems like the Uzi has begun to fade from prominence.  

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November 19, 2011

ProTac 1L Tactical Flashlight Review – JasonKage

Nowadays you can get “tactical” anything.  A quick Google search of “tactical gear” yields numerous results ranging from tactical pants, tactical boots, tactical bags, tactical gloves,  tactical knives, tactical wallets, tactical pens, tactical hats, and, even, tactical coffee mugs.

Now you can drink coffee like a man, unlike those sissies who ask for cream

Most of this equipment is only good for guys who sit in their BDUs, eating MREs, doing their CBTs, while watching a CDU, and waiting for orders from their CMC.  This last statement is in no way a slight on those who serve in the military; these guys protect our freedom and deserve copious amounts of respect.  Nor is it a jab at those who simply have a thing for tactical gear.  If that’s your thing, go for it.  However, to many of us, most of the stuff of which the “tactical” gear flood is comprised seems just plain redundant, unnecessary, and silly.

Tactical pen, the bane of all muggers and evil standardized tests everywhere

However, there are occasional pieces of gear among the tactical mess that are able to stand their ground against the influx of uselessness and impracticality – if not for the simple reason that they have a use other than being camo-colored or have “tactical” written on the side.  One of these items was given to me yesterday by a good friend of mine.  It’s called the ProTac 1L by Streamlight and it just happens to be, you guessed it, a tactical flashlight.  I know, I know, this sounds like something that crawled out from under the bottom of the tactical crap pile but hear me out.

Firstly, it’s an LED flashlight. It actually has a non-tactical functional use; I mean who hasn’t dropped their keys while trying to get into their car at night, or had a small piece of [insert annoyingly small item here] fall into a dark crevice.   Second, this thing is tiny.  It’s less than an inch in diameter, about 3.35 inches long, and weighs 2 ounces so you can carry it on your person without walking like you have a peg-leg.  Finally, this thing has two main modes of illumination, one significantly brighter than the other (plus a third that will be discussed below).  The brightest mode is freaking bright – about 110 lumens; while the lower mode is about 12 lumens.  This makes a huge difference in battery life (1.75 hrs versus 14 hrs respectively).  Thus, you can conserve battery power when you’re not busy using this thing as a spotlight for your interrogation sessions.

Hang on, I think I've got some AA batteries in my bat pocket...

Now, I have a confession to make. I am a slight, slight tactical gear person.  Yes, I traded my tactical pen in for the flashlight (no seriously, I did).  Being a tactical gear-head, as well as having trained for a while various forms of martial-theory, there are a few things that I notice about this flashlight that help to make it worthy of the label tactical.  The first thing I notice is that it’s made of machined aluminum.  This provides for a stout, lightweight frame, which is impact-resistant, which leads to my second observation.  The flashlight also doubles as an impact-weapon.  Around the rim surrounding the head of the light are 3 depressions – these depressions produce the equivalent of short prongs around the rim of the light.  The rim, by nature of the prongs, has less surface area than it would if the rim were equal in depth throughout its circumference.  Less surface area equals greater psi if one is forced to use the rim of the light to strike and/or manipulate someone with the flashlight.

Having my tac-gear hat on, the next thing I notice about this flashlight is that it has a strobe function.  Allow me to back up a minute; I’d mentioned earlier that the bright mode on this light is “freaking bright” and a big part of what makes this light “tactical” is the fact that it is so bright.  If you were to shine the 110 lumens that this flashlight puts out into someone’s eyes, especially in a dark environment and especially if they’re not expecting it, you’re going to temporarily blind them at least long enough to run or take advantage of those wonderful little prongs I described in the above paragraph.   Given the flashlight’s small size and black-color, it’s likely you could be holding the light without anyone noticing you had it, until you hit their eyes with the beam.  Now that I’ve said all that, you’re saying “so you mentioned something about a strobe function, are you now going to tell me that this is the ultimate in tactical raver gear?”

No this is the untimate in tactical raver gear

Actually, the strobe function takes all the good things that occur when you shine the bright setting in someone’s eyes, and can add disorientation, dizziness, vertigo, and a host of other fun effects.  Notice I say “can,” it is important to know that everyone reacts differently to different stimuli and the strobe-effect may just cause the temporary blindness.  With every non-lethal defense tool (pepper spray, mace, tazers, etc.) there is a chance that the person you try it on will shrug it off.  While I’m on the subject of disclaimers, I also want to say that this flashlight, while very cool, will not make you invincible – and anything that I’ve mentioned above should not be tried unless it’s truly necessary.

To close I thought I’d throw in a little trivia.  The tactical crowd wasn’t the first to pick up on the fact that flashlights could be used as a weapon.  Biker gangs used to (and still do) carry around large aluminum flashlights and utilize them as makeshift clubs.  The street name for these flashlights became “kill lights.”  Thus, if you see a guy with a large Maglite hanging from his belt be sure to give him a wide berth.

November 3, 2011

Two Strange Guns From One Strange (Russian) Developer

Russia has always been the unusual kid in the classroom that is the world.  Not quite European, not quite Asian, the Russians have for centuries struggled to find their identity.  Sometimes they fall in with the wrong crowd, sometimes they get an inferiority complex and sometimes they go full art school and just get weird.  But for all their ups and downs with communism, dictators, revolutions and world wars, they’ve always had a soft spot in their heart for military innovation.  And thus in 1927 the Soviets developed the KBP Instrument Design Bureau.  Something like a DARPA, their goal is to develop “high-precision weapon” and their poorly translated website inevitably will have you reading the text in a voice not unlike a Bond villain.  Regardless, through its long history the KBP has overseen the development of numerous military technologies and innovations, ranging from small arms to automatic cannons.  These automatic cannons, no joke, are made to use “depleted uranium enhanced armor-piercing shells.”  And while I know nothing about what that means, it sure does sound dastardly.

Our bullets need more, how you say, poison...

Yeah, that’s the former president, current prime minister, and future president of Russia Vladimir Putin.  His entire persona is based around shirtlessly wrestling tigers and assassinating political opponents and he has an 80% approval rating, so its no surprise that his state-run gun manufacturer makes some pretty crazy weapons.  With all that said, two stand out from the rest.  They are both submachine guns and to varying extents are in use in the Russian military and police.  The first was designed by Salvador Dali himself (citation needed).


The PP-90M1 was developed in the mid 1990’s.  It was designed to be an extremely compact SMG that could fire from a 64 round magazine, no easy task for the SMG class.  It uses overpressure armor piercing ammunition which means the bullets (9x19mm) use far more gunpowder than is typically used for that caliber.  This means it is capable of piercing steel plates at up to 800 rounds per minute.  And none of that is too unusual until you see the weapon itself…

What the hell?

In order to house those 64 rounds, it uses an “innovative” helical magazine.  This design is extremely rare, and though it can hold an incredible amount of ammunition in such a small space, it requires highly complex internal mechanisms in order to function properly.  Except that it doesn’t always function properly, and that is one of the biggest drawbacks of this weapon.  It has a far higher chance of feeding failure than any other type of magazine.  That’s ok though, because when it shoots, it is a very, very powerful weapon.  Which incidentally is also bad news for the PP-90M1.

You see, the charging mechanism to retract the bolt is directly above the barrel, at about an inch difference.  That means in order to cock the gun you basically have to reach in front of it.  Surely this can’t be safe.  But then again, who needs safety when you’re a part of the vodka swilling Putin police.

To save money on red arrows, this points to both where you charge the gun, as well as where you shouldn't be putting your fingers.

It is rumored to be making an appearance in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which to my knowledge is the only video game to ever feature such a weapon.  I actually am very excited to try this out myself.  And speaking of crazy Russian guns developed by the KBP and featured in recent FPS games:


While I spent a lot of time crapping on the PP-90M1, this next weapon is actually a pretty intriguing gun.  It is also a SMG, but it uses the traditional box magazine.  Introduced in 2004, this weapon is now available worldwide, though only in use so far with the Russian Army and various Russian swat teams.  It is part of a class of personal defense weapons, a sub-class of SMGs, made to capitalize of the armor-piercing capabilities of its carbine cousins.  What is interesting about the PP-2000 however is that it has space to hold a secondary magazine, and that magazine can serve as the butt stock for the gun.

It can also be equipped with a normal folding stock, a la the Skorpion, and is capable of being outfitted with all sorts of additions like silencers, tactical lights, and all manner of sights.  It is advertised as being superior to the FN P90 in that while it retains armor piercing capabilities, it also has increased stopping power by making use of jacketed hollow point rounds that have been overpressured.  The gun is advertised on KBP’s website featuring soldiers, fully masked, to really emphasize the nefarious image of their guns.

You don't need to see my face

The  gun recently made an appearance in Battlefield 3 and has risen to the rank of one of my favorite weapons, especially in close quarter combat situations.  With its extremely compact size, unusual design, and powerful capabilities, it looks like where the KBP failed in the 90M1, they got it right with the PP-2000.  Oh, except that the bolt is still over the barrel.

Update:  I have confirmed the PP-90M1 will indeed be in MW3, as per the following screen grab:

Though the gun can use a traditional box magazine as well, I'm happy to see the helix make an appearance

October 18, 2011

The 6 Most Famous Guns in History

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard

The S&W Bodyguard is a .38 caliber, 5 shot snub-nosed revolver that was introduced in the late 1950’s.  It became famous for its use in a famous and highly controversial photograph taken during the Vietnam war, depicting  General Nguyễn Ngọc executing a Viet Cong soldier.  The photographer won a Pulitzer Prize and his photo was influential in turning the public against the Vietnam war.  The S&W Bodyguard remains a popular personal defense weapon to this day, in part due to its high power and small size.  Though which model weapon is depicted is by far the least significant aspect of this photograph, the Bodyguard undeniably played a role in the growing American sentiment against this country’s most unpopular war.

The Philadelphia Deringer

On April 14th, 1865, a play was underway at Ford’s Theater.  It was a comedy, and laughter was to be expected.  According to 1865 standards, one of the funniest lines in the play would be “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh?  Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal.”  It was no gem, but then again Arrested Development was more than a century away.  When the character on stage said the line, laughter erupted, enough to cover even the sound of a gunshot.  John Wilkes Booth rushed behind Lincoln, pointed his Deringer at the back of his head, and history was made.  The gun is a .44 caliber bore pistol, single shot, and used the percussion cap system.  Booth was later shot in the neck in a barn engulfed in flames, and his pistol remains to this day in the Ford’s Theater, which is now a museum.

Carcano Model 91/38 Rifle

Purchased by mail using an alias, Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle became famous as the instrument used to assassinate John F. Kennedy.  He paid $19.95 for the rifle, including postage and handling.  He smuggled it into the Texas School Book Depository wrapped in brown paper and claimed to be delivering curtain rods.  Equipped with a telescopic sight and firing 6.5×52 mm rounds, he fired 3 shots, one of which would kill the president.  The rifle was found hidden behind boxes behind the window he sniped from, and Oswald himself was found hiding in the Texas Theater, having snuck into the film War is Hell.  He was later killed by Jack Ruby, using a Colt Cobra .38.

FN Model 1910

Leading up to World War 1, a complex series of alliances had been developed amonst the European states.  This system of treaties and alliances was extraordinarily fragile and as 1914 approached, those countries were teetering on the brink of war.  If one country was attacked, their allies were obligated to join in, setting off a domino-like effect that would drag country after country into the deadliest conflict the world had ever seen.  Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, thus decided to say to hell with it and assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.  His original plans had failed, but by complete accident, he found himself on the same street as the Archduke, just as the Archduke’s car had stalled.  Seizing upon this opportunity, Princip pistol whipped a pedestrian (just to be a dick) and then fired upon the Austrian’s vehicle, killing him and his wife.  This act is often referred to the shot heard round the world, a phrase also used to describe the opening shots of Lexington and Concord in the American Revolutionary War.  Austria invaded Serbia after the assassination, the situation devolving into a war that accomplished nothing but killed millions, and laid the ground work for the second World War.  Princip used the FN Model 1910 which used a .380 ACP, the same round used in Mac-11s, and the same round used in the Walther PPK.  Princip was of course executed, but the fact remains that one single pull of the trigger could escalate into two World Wars.  It is an odd reality, one that hopefully remains solely a reality of the past.

Walther PPK

The Walther PPK is of course the ubiquitous weapon of British secret agent James Bond, but its role in history reaches far beyond the bonds of cinema.  As certain defeat loomed on the horizon for the Germans in World War II, Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, holed up in their bunker, the Soviets not far from capturing Berlin.  They said their farewells to those around them, and then closed themselves off in Hitler’s personal study.  Moments later, a single gunshot was heard, and Hitler’s valet entered to see what is probably the most famous suicide scene in history.  The air smelt of burnt almonds, a dead giveaway that cyanide had been used.  Eva Braun showed no signs of phsyical trauma on her lifeless body, curled into the fetal position upon a couch.  Beside her lay dead and slumped over, Adolf Hitler.  He had a single gunshot wound to the right temple and blood had poured out, covering the arm of the couch and the floor.  A coward, he committed suicide on the brink of defeat, a man who ordered the deaths of millions dead by his own hand, a .380 ACP round lodged in his brain.  He was drug from the bunker, thrown in a bomb crater, doused in gasoline and set alight.  His body has never been definitively found.

Heckler & Koch HK416

And thus we arrive at the most recent weapon on the list, and thus most relevant to today.  On May 2, 2011, Operation Neptune Star was executed by DEVGRU (informally known as SEAL Team Six) at a compound in the suburbs of Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Seventy-nine commandos stormed the building  that held Osama bin Laden after entering the country under the cover of night.  Upon entry, they were faced with a number of men, women and children.  Three men and a woman were initially killed and a small firefight erupted between the SEALs and bin Laden’s courier.  The courier was killed, and the commandos proceeded through the building.  Bin Laden rushed upstairs, where he fled to a room containing two of his wives.  As the commandos rushed in, one of the women charged the SEALs, was promptly shot in the leg, and both women were pushed aside.  An AK-47 and a Makarov pistol were near bin Laden, but he was shot before he could reach the weapons.  Though it has not be conclusively confirmed which exact weapon was used to kill him, nor which specific soldier pulled the trigger, it is known that this unit is typically equipped with the HK416.  Furthermore, this weapon is optimal for the double tap firing technique, in which two shots are fired in quick succession without taking time to reacquire sights in between shots, and it is known that this is the method in which OBL was killed.  The first shot hit him in the chest, the second in the face.  The bullets were 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, known for their tendency to fragment upon impact.  This had the unique effect of making Osama bin Laden’s brain, in pedestrian terms, explode.  And well, good riddance.

October 16, 2011

The Future of Ray Guns

Is there anything that screams futuristic more than ray guns?  I mean, lets face it, the dream of having flying cars is dead.  But who needs new transportation technology when we have so much potential for new weapons, laying right at our finger tips?  Ray guns, laser guns, plasma rifles, these are the inevitable products of the future right?  Where bullets will be relegated to the dustbin of history, along with beards on presidents and the Virtual Boy.  I do have a dream, and its a dream where the chimes of casings falling to the ground will be as quaint as the gift shop of a Cracker Barrel.

Dad, what caliber lasers did they shoot deer with back in your day?

But ray guns are nothing more than silly dreams thought up by science fiction writers, right?  Well, actually, they may become a reality sooner than we think.  For instance, take a look at the Active Denial System, a device that uses technology similar to that in microwave ovens to disperse crowds.  It’s currently a non-lethal technology whose effects make the victims targets feel as though they are burning alive, by exciting the water molecules in the skin.  So far it has seen no use in combat, and less than .1% of those affected have seen actual blisters occur on the skin.  Of course, they use a very specific amount of energy with the ADS, and there is nothing to say they could not ramp up those GHz to a lethal level.  That would be the easy part.  The more difficult aspect, it would seem, would be reducing the weapon from a cartoonishly sized ACME product to something that could be used on an individual level, i.e. a ray gun.

Preliminary tests show it is very difficult to carry without the help of a Humvee.

Attempts to move past conventional bullet-based weapons isn’t anything new, and there are numerous conspiracies, some based upon sparse and controversial factual evidence, that support the idea that the Nazis toyed with ray gun technology towards the end of World War II.  This class of weapons, not all of which were energy weapons, were deemed the Wunderwaffe (wonder weapons).  The most outrageous example of which would be the German WWII Sonic Cannon, a type of Long Range Acoustic Device that had the effect of shaking apart the enemy from the inside, and claimed to be able to rupture vital internal organs within a set distance by focusing sound waves like a magnifying glass does to sunlight.  It was never effective, nor widely used, because any blasts (which, strangely, are quite common on the battlefield) disrupted the sound waves.

This was also the best defense to such a weapon

It’s believed that Nikola Tesla was possibly the first to attempt to develop an energy based weapon, and he outright claimed to have invented a death ray.  Robert Watson-Watt initially looked at developments in radio to develop a ray gun, but instead used his knowledge to develop something called radar.  Nowdays, DARPA has developed something called the PHaSR Rifle (Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response Rifle), which is non-lethal and used to blind and disorient enemies.  In an attempt to make it as cartoonishly awesome as possible, they designed it to look exactly like this:

Which, while cool to me, I still can’t help but think that without the ability to defend himself, a person armed with this gun is pretty similar to the guy tasked with playing the flute during old school battles.  It may have been fun as hell, but it still doesn’t mean you get to live.  Nevertheless, Directed-Energy Weapons seem to be getting tons of that substantial DARPA money, and I can’t help but believe that within a few decades we’ll see substantial use of ray guns and plasma rifles on the battlefield.  The benefits are obvious.  With projectiles that move at the speed of light, accuracy is greatly enhanced.  Because there is no combustion, recoil would be eliminated.  Without having to carry ammunition, soldiers won’t have to carry as much weight on the battlefield.  And last but certainly not least, the fact that shooting lasers in a war is awesome is something we, as a people, can all agree on.  And those that disagree will have to fight us with outdated bullets, bullets that I assume will only be used in the future to bead those massage chairs.  The major problems in developing these weapons seems to be the blooming effect, where as the energy travels across a distance, it begins to widen and dissipate, thus reducing its effectiveness to a short range.  These problems, of course, are not insurmountable, and it will be interesting to see if the military embraces such a revolutionary change such as the replacement of munitions as the technology becomes viable.

October 6, 2011

The AK-47 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love This Gun

The AK-47 is probably the most universally recognized weapons in the world.  Developed at the end of World War II, it was released in 1947 by its namesake, Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Known in Russian as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, which roughly translated means Automatic Kalashnikov, this weapon has gone on to be used in nearly every conflict since its introduction.  Mass production of the weapon in Russia and former Soviet satellites and allies, as well as a market flooded with counterfeits, has made this weapon dirt cheap and easily accessible.  Add in the fact that it is one of the most durable weapons in the world, one of the easiest to use, and one in which there are countless variants that use interchangeable parts, and you have the perfect recipe for use by militaries ranging from the largest in the world to loose knit guerrilla and revolutionary groups.

Mikhail Kalashnikov desired to be a poet, but was conscripted to fight in WWII by the Red Army and was assigned to be a tank driver and mechanic.  While in the hospital during an illness, he heard complaints about the weapons of the time, and knew of the problems first-hand in his own experience.  He set to work to design a new weapon, and based many of his designs, including the gas operation, off of the very first assault rifle in the world, the German made StG 44 (Sturmgewehr 44), as well as the component layout of the M1 Garand .  The design proved to be popular and was adopted as the USSR’s assault rifle of choice.  The 1947 model would go on to serve as the basis for the many variants of the AK-47 seen today.

The first main variant came in 1959, designated the AKM, which stood for Kalashnikov’s Modernized Assault Rifle.  This design mainly improved the ability to mass produce the rifle but did not change the ammunition type to be used.  Both rifles use the 7.62x39mm round.  This round is mass produced and extremely cheap as compared to other ammunition types, further aiding the worldwide popularity of the weapon.  These rounds are considered armor piercing and the Chinese production of the round features a steel core, making them illegal under Federal law to import into the United States.  The casings are tapered to aid in the ejection of the case after firing, which helps prevent stovepipe jams during automatic fire.  This tapering is what leads to the iconic curvature of the AK-47’s magazines, as the back of the bullet is larger in diameter than the end of the casing.  Furthermore, the bullet is prone to fragmentation upon impact, creating serious internal injuries outside of the scope of original penetration.  Bullets that do not fragment result in far less serious injuries.

But lets be honest, this going through your chest is always going to be a serious injury.

Then in 1974 the AKM was phased out in favor of the more modern AK-74 model.  This weapon resulted from the growing trend in modern militaries of using smaller ammunition in order to increase accuracy and allow soldiers to carry more bullets.  The weapon is still approximately 50% interchangeable with older models, in terms of parts, but the main difference are the adaptations for use of the 5.45x39mm bullets instead.  This type of ammunition is also steel core and possesses a full metal jacket, which makes this weapon armor piercing as well.

With smaller ammunition, the AK-74 is often seen with reduced or absent stocks, resulting in a lighter weapon and thus more mobility.  This is a testament to the gun’s adaptability, allowing for not only modification or removal of the stocks, but also the ability to equip all manner of AK’s with scopes, grenade launcher attachments, bayonets, drum magazines, and other such mods as the user may require.

We have of course seen this weapon in countless video games, typically used by the enemies, be they Soviets or any manner of insurgent.  The weapons are usually accurately depicted as being rather inaccurate, loud, and powerful.  The weapon has proliferated widely across the world and has been used in countless revolutions, and this fact is evidenced by the flags of countries, organizations and other groups such as Zimbabwe, Hezbollah, East Timor, and the army of Iran.  It is widely used as the weapon of choice in the drug cartels of Mexico, where it is known as the Ram’s Horn, due to its curved magazine resembling the curvature of the horn of, you guessed it, a ram.  It is the most smuggled weapon in the United States and is heavily regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  The Chinese government has made wide use of counterfeits of this rifle, as have many other countries, due to the ease of reverse engineering the gun.

The major news of today is, however, the fact that the originator of the AK-47, Russia, is no longer happy with the weapon and is actively seeking out its replacement.  It is reported that Russia currently owns enough AK-47s and its variants that they could equip their army ten times over, and experts estimate that there are enough of these rifles to equip all of the world’s armies combined.  So though the weapon is currently 64 years old, it is doubtful we will see it disappear any time soon.

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September 26, 2011

“The Gun That Made The Twenties Roar”

Every so often the government decides to make something everyone loves illegal.  In the twenties, politicians saw the sea of citizens before them, enjoying a beer with friends, and thought it would be a great idea to make that a crime.  Thus we were blessed with the only amendment to the constitution ever to be repealed, one that left Americans with a hangover the shakes for the next decade or so.

Evidence democracy just doesn't work

During this time, World War I had just ended, prohibition-related crime was on the rise, and World War II was on the horizon.  Americans of all walks of life dropped their beers and picked up their brooms.  The trench broom that is.  Yes indeed, America saw the birth of the Thompson Submachine Gun, a glorious weapon that would become a symbol of the time.

The Thompson SMG, or Tommy Gun as its more popularly known, was invented by John T. Thompson in 1919.  Before that time, machine guns were heavy weapons, usually mounted, and lacked any real amount of portability.  The Tommy Gun was a cell phone in a world of landlines.  Thompson had envisioned a new portable weapon that soldiers could use, ones that were fully automatic to replace the bolt action rifles that had seen so much use in WWI.  It was to be a trench broom, as he called it, used to sweep the trenches of those villainous krouts.   His original name for the weapon was the Annihilator, but he soon realized comic book sounding names might make his fine weapon less respectable.  Not to be deterred, the media would later crown this gun with all manner of names, including the Chicago Typewriter, Chopper, Chicago Piano, and the now ubiquitous Tommy Gun.

Fat, drunk and armed to the teeth. Churchill was more American that most Americans.

The gun was extremely popular at the time, and gained widespread use by the Allies in WWII.  It’s early versions sported an impressive 1,200 rounds per minute and large drum magazines, but this was slowed down in later models because of the extreme recoil and reduced accuracy.  Compared to modern SMGs, the Tommy Gun was a rather heavy weapon, around 11lbs without ammunition.  Regardless, it was a huge innovation and revolutionized the armories of organizations ranging from militaries, police, and gangsters alike.  It used the large Browning-made .45 ACP round because the gun’s creator, John Thompson, insisted on a “real man-stopper” type of ammunition.  The gun is no longer in service, having been phased out in most NATO countries and replaced by the Heckler & Koch MP5.  Some replaced it with the Uzi.  But while it is certainly a dated gun, coming it at 92 years old, it was certainly an influential weapon in its centenarian existence.

But though it was mostly used in WWII and by police departments and new government crime fighting agencies, the gun will forever remain a symbol of prohibition-era gangsters.  The first real recognition of this relationship came about as a result of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though it sounds like a massacre invented by the greeting card industry, it was in fact a mass murder that occurred during a gang war in Chicago.  On February 14, 1929 Al Capone’s gang, the South Side Italian Gang, hired men to line up seven people associated with the North Side Irish Gang against a wall and (spoiler alert) shoot them up with Tommy Guns.  The South Side men were dressed as businessmen and police officers.  Though, like Prohibition, this seemed like a good idea at the time, it was the beginning of the end of Al Capone’s influence.  And with the end of Prohibition came the end of the Golden Age of gangsters, and with it the decline of the Thompson SMG in America’s collective imagination.  It was the death of the classy gangster.  And thus we’ve gone from this:

To this:

The Tommy Gun may just be a relic of the past, but we do see it resurface from time to time in conflicts.  The most recent conflict to make use of this antique was the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took place between 1992 and 1995.  And the FBI only stopped using it in 1976, when the US Government officially declared it obsolete.  Though to this day, violinists everywhere are looked upon with deep seated suspicion, a lasting impact of this once great weapon.

It can only play one song

September 14, 2011

The FN P90

After last week’s look at the Skorpion, its time to jump back over the Iron Curtain and take a look at the NATO SMG of choice for users ranging from police SWAT teams to international counter-terrorism units.  Yes indeed, its the FN P90’s time to shine.

The P90 uses a 50 round magazine, unique in that it is horizontally loaded onto the top of the weapon, which can easily be seen above.  It fires the FN 5.7x28mm round which is small caliber and designed to penetrate Kevlar.  The spent casings are ejected directly out of the bottom of the weapon, preventing any obstruction in the user’s view.  It is symmetrical, meaning that left-handed users are able to use it unmodified.  It fires at an incredible 900 rounds per minute, and if you held the trigger down on a full magazine, it would be depleted in just 3.3 seconds.  An SMG in this respect is thus better suited for semiautomatic fire, and in fact FN later produced a semiautomatic version of the P90.

The P90 was introduced in 1990 (hence the 90 in its name) by the Belgian company FN Herstal.  Their aim was to produce a new SMG that was more than just an automatic pistol, something that could penetrate body armor.  To help achieve the seemingly conflicting goals of obtaining both high penetration like an assault rifle and the mobility and compactness of a small machine gun, FN used a new concept at the time, the bullpup design.  By having the firing mechanism within the stock of the weapon, they were able to greatly shorten the weapon while allowing the barrel length necessary for accuracy and high velocity rounds.  The gun is visually unique in that it has ergonomically designed grips and trigger guards.

I see your taillight's out

The first I had heard of this gun was, you guessed it, in Goldeneye 64.  In this game it was called the RCP90 and was one of the best weapons offered in the multiplayer.  The game designers decided to bump up the magazine capacity to 80 rounds and retained the bullet penetrating and high rate-of-fire characteristics of the weapon.  At times it was also possible to duel wield the guns, though in reality blazing full-auto with two bullpups would be unbelievably difficult.  But to hell with realism, I doubt anyone was worried about it while running through the jungle, RCP90 in the right hand, grenade launcher in the left.  In multiplayer games with power weapons, often times the games would revolve around who could control the RCP90 respawn area, a testament to the gun’s impressive statistics, which, though exaggerated, still remain largely true to life.

Cartridges do not fly out the side of the FN P90, but instead the bottom

The FN P90 is currently used in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, and is expected to return in Modern Warfare 3.  It has also been featured in games such as Perfect Dark, Metal Gear Solid, Timesplitters, Battlefield, and Fallout.  The bank robbers in Taxi, multiple characters in multiple Bond films, the police in I, Robot, and the fake police officers in Hostage all use the P90, as do countless more.

The P90 makes an appearance in the Fallout series

The FN P90 made its debut in the Gulf War, used by Belgian forces.  It was used later that decade in the successful Peruvian military engagement that ended the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis in Operation Chavin de Huantar.  The hostage takers were equipped with body armor, yet all were killed and 71 hostages rescued, greatly aided by the fact that the P90 is one of the few SMGs that fire armor-penetrating bullets.  More recently that bastion of democracy, Muammar Gaddafi, had his troops use the P90 and other weapons on his own citizens, which worked well when most of his supporters refused to fire on their countrymen and defected.  This gave the impoverished rebel forces a significant cache of weapons that were used in the successful uprising.

We won, but we still live in Libya. A mixed victory, to be sure.

The FN P90 is now twenty-one years old, but continues to see wide use in over forty countries to this day.  The Houston Police Department was the first American department to adopt this weapon, and to keep ahead of the game, were the first to use it in a shootout.  Now it is in use with over 200 organizations in America, including the secret service.  Its originality of design, bullpup configuration, use of small caliber, high velocity ammunition, and wide acceptance among NATO countries has allowed the FN P90 to be an originator of concepts in this next generation of firearms.  I attempted to buy a P90 off the internet to test it out myself, but wound up with something else entirely.

Either way, I got some guns out of it