Semi-automatic versions of sub-machine guns have been on the U.S. market since Auto-Ordnance brought out the Thompson 1927-a1 in the 1970s. Other notable makes include the Uzi Model A which began importation in 1980, and the numerous MAC-10 type guns that began to appear in the early 1980s.
The expiration of the assault weapon ban in 2004 has brought a new generation of semi-automatic versions of classic military weaponry of the world. Many are based on Soviet designs. There are a lot of former East Block guns on the world arms market that can be bought cheap.
Of course functional select-fire guns cannot be imported for the civilian market. So U.S. importers began destroying the receivers of original guns and imported the parts kits. Then gun designers and tinkerers sat down and figured out how to make these things work in semi-automatic.
These semi sub guns (SSG?) are designed to comply with current law. Select-fire open-bolt mechanisms were changed to closed bolt semi-automatic operation. The BATFE must approve any design that skates near the edge of automatic operation.
It must be impossible to readily convert any design to automatic function, either by modification of existing parts or substitution of “readily available” parts. In all truth, these SSG are really new designs that have cosmetic resemblance to the select-fire version. Original stocks, handles, sights, magazines or other parts may be used but significant manufacture of new parts is done.
In addition to semi-auto only function, the new guns must comply with other areas of federal law. A rifle must have a barrel at least 16.1 inches long and have a total length of 26 inches. With most of the existing designs this requires a longer barrel than the original model. Older SMG’s usually had barrels that were six to 14 inches long. The longer barrels on the SSG change the profile quite a bit. Some models, like the British Sten or U.S.M3a1 Grease Gun really look silly with the 16-inch tube.
Handgun versions of guns such as the MAC-10 series can fit the original profile but will lack the collapsible stock. Some of the new designs even have an original folding stock welded in the closed position. This is to give the gun the appearance of the real thing.
In the last few months I have had the opportunity to try out three of the semi-auto sub guns. A Suomi 9mm rifle, PPSh 41 rifle and PPS 43 pistol. The Suomi and PPSh are manufactured by TNW Firearms https://www.tnwfirearms.com. They were ordered for local customers, not to test for this column. That idea occurred to me later.
Finland manufactured about 80,000 Suomi Model 1931 sub-machine guns in 9mm. Production ended in 1944. They were fitted with a 12.25-inch barrel and fire from an open bolt. The TNW semi automatic version fires from a closed bolt. It has a 16-inch barrel and the original barrel shroud was lengthened to cover some of the extra length.
The new gun keeps the unusual operating handle, which is located below the receiver at the back of the action. Magazines were made that hold 30 or 50 rounds as well as a 71-round drum. The Suomi currently retails in the $450 to $550 range.
The TNW gun I tried was built using an as-new stock and other parts. It is finished with a gray Parkerizing.
I fired two 30-round magazines through it. The rifle worked OK using Winchester and Finnish SAKO-made surplus ball ammo. One stovepipe jam and a couple failures to fire old ammo were the only issues. I was just plinking and did not have formal targets beyond a few old cans. Accuracy was to area of aim at my 25-yard range. Both I and the new owner of this gun thought it a bit heavy.
Three weeks after I sold the Suomi, another customer ordered a PPSh-41 rifle, also made by TNW but purchased from another source. This was when I decided these guns might be a good topic for a column.
The Russians used the PPSh model 1941 submachine gun during WWII. More than five million were made from 1941 to 1947. It was chambered for the 7.62x25mm cartridge also used in the Tokarev TT-33 pistol. The Russians sometimes called their PPSh a pa-pa-sha. It fired from an open bolt, has a 10.3-inch barrel and uses 35-round stick or 71-round drum magazines.
The TNW version was built with a Polish marked stock and other original parts. The barrel, barrel shroud and receiver are all new manufacture. It is finished with gray Parkerizing. The gun was shipped with a single stick magazine. I had to find some of the drums. They are what make this model neat. I ordered the drum on line and when it arrived I took the gun out back to try. Yes, my customer had been informed I would be testing his gun. The PPSh-41 currently retails in the $900 to $1000 range.
First, I gotta say this gun is heavy. It weighed in at 12 pounds 7 ounces with a loaded 71-round drum on my shipping scale. I would not want to have to carry this one all day. I wonder if they could make the barrel shroud from thinner steel, to lighten it up a bit? Function was spotty but I will attribute most of it to the ammo I used.
I did not happen to have much of the cheap surplus 7.62×25 on hand to try. My first drum was filled with 25 rounds of 1950s-era Czech surplus and 45 rounds of Norinco 1980s vintage steel-cased commercial ammo. The Czech ammo had hard primers and there were more than a dozen failures to fire in the first 25 rounds, as well as a few jams and failures to eject. Subsequent sessions used other mixed 7.62x25mm surplus I found in my stash. Bulgarian, Selior & Belot, and unknown manufacture.
Several more failures to fire. The most shots I got in one string was about 25 with the Norinco ammo. I am thinking this gun is a bit ammo sensitive. Some surplus ammo will have primers too hard for reliable operation. The factory manual suggests using new production ammo and warns of the poor reliability of surplus ammunition.
The final model I tried was the PPS-43 pistol. I bought this one at a gun show last weekend. The PPS 1943 was adopted in Russia in 1943. It was a re-design of the PPSh-41 made from sheet steel stampings. It used the same 35-round stick magazines. The drums will not fit the stamped magazine housing.
The new pistol is imported to the U.S. by Inter Ordnance https://www.ioinc.us. These currently retail for $450 to $550. It is made in Radom, Poland by Pioneer. This is an all-new gun. The folding metal stock is welded in the closed position. It has a 10-inch barrel and the weight is about 7.5 pounds. Finally, a sub-machine gun look-alike that looks like the real thing. I can grip the magazine and spray from the hip, just like the war movies! My initial range session was satisfactory. It fired 35 rounds of the Norinco commercial ammunition with only two stove pipe stoppages. Now, I’m out of 7.62×25 ammo, so I really need to find some more.
Whether you are a military history buff or just enjoy the look and feel of old submachine guns, these three are fine examples of what’s available for you.
This article appeared in the January 3, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.