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The Uzi Is Back!

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The Century International Arms UC-9 Uzi.
The Century International Arms UC-9 Uzi.

Century Arms offers up a civilian-legal classic of the iconic Uzi that still holds promise.

The 9mm UZI Submachine Gun was the “IT” gun of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Its popularity and iconic status exploded immediately following the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan on March 21, 1981.

It was then a photograph showed a U.S. Secret Service Agent with his UZI subgun drawn and held at, shall we call it, a “Hollywood High Ready” position. The muzzle was up by his head. It was a very dynamic photo shot at a moment of national crisis. Until that time most of us didn’t realize that the Secret Service had this weapon in inventory. It became the dream weapon of nearly every cop I knew, rivaling the cool factor of Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum.

I had my first encounter with one, the real full-auto deal at just about the same time. I was an auxiliary deputy, just starting out with a central Ohio sheriff’s office. I had just come in to work one of my first paid special duty details (for a whopping $11 per hour at the time) at an area drag strip during national competitions.

It had been a bad year weather wise at the track, races had been delayed and a tornado had passed near the campground area during the previous evening. Needless to say, the natives were restless. I arrived at the office to pick up my radio when the departments firearms instructor, a sergeant, asked me to help him load the department’s UZI.

“UZI? We have an UZI?!” Of course I jumped at the chance! But why were we loading the UZI? It was then I noticed another sergeant checking out the department 37mm gas launcher and gear. I hadn’t seen that little number before either. The firearms instructor told me that there were a bunch of outlaw bikers out at the track and there was a potential for trouble. And while outlaw bikers might not listen to a cop armed with a .38, they did understand UZI. Cool. I went out to the track, and had just arrived at my duty post when we got a call that all deputies were needed in the campground.

When I got there I saw the aforementioned sergeant stick a mag in the UZI, cock it, and hold it at the same position I saw the Secret Service Agent hold his in. He then walked up to the bikers who seemed to be in a rather foul mood. Seems that some drunken idiot drove his car past their bikes and tents and splattered them with mud.

When this aroused their ire, the surrounding crowd, which looked to be mostly average race fans, started chanting for the bikers to kill the car driver. We had to end up arresting the car driver because he didn’t want to leave. This was after the sergeant had secured his release from the angry bikers with the UZI. In the end as we left, we discovered that the crowd was mad because they lost out on their entertainment.

This caused them to throw dirt clods and bottles at us as we left with our “prize”! A most interesting experience, and I’m glad the UZI and the gas gun were there. I never saw the weapon after that. I should have gotten it for our drug raids when I was on the same agency’s drug unit a year after that. Even though I never saw it again, I was hooked on the UZI design.

A little historical background on the UZI carbine is in order:

The UZI is a related family of open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine guns. Smaller variants are considered to be machine pistols. The UZI was one of the first weapons to use a telescoping bolt design which allows for the magazine to be housed in the pistol grip for a shorter weapon, a design not seen since the Japanese Type II machine pistol.

The first UZI submachine gun was designed by Major Uziel Gal in the late 1940s. The prototype was finished in 1950; first introduced to IDF special forces in 1954, the weapon was placed into general issue two years later.

The UZI has found use as a personal defense weapon by rear-echelon troops, officers, artillery troops and tankers, as well as a frontline weapon by elite light infantry assault forces.The UZI has been exported to over 90 countries. Over its service lifetime, it has been manufactured by Israel Military Industries, FN Herstal, and other manufacturers. From the 1960s through the 1980s, UZI submachine guns were sold to more military and police markets than any other submachine gun ever made.

If you want all the intrinsic details on this weapon and its history you can find plenty at Wikipedia. In fact the picture at the Regan assassination attem I referred to can be found on the Wikipedia web page. The UZI design is good enough that it was kept in front line service by the Israeli Defense Service until 2003.

In order to satisfy the public fascination with the UZI semi-automatic versions of the subgun were produced for sale to civilians without the hassle of the federal tax stamp.

The action was changed to closed bolt and the barrel was lengthened to 19.8 inches to satisfy federal requirements. There was also an UZI Pistol and a Micro-UZI in .380. Unfortunately it seemed that I never had enough cash available to buy one.

Eventually, importation was stopped by administrative stroke of the pen by former President George H.W. Bush, which also temporarily choked off the supply of civilian legal semi-auto AK-47’s, at least for a few years. Well now, I have my chance again, because Century Arms International has introduced its own variant of the UZI semi-auto carbine for sale here, the UC9.

The UC-9 is made from an assortment of genuine UZI parts and assembled here in the U.S. It has the same 19.8 long barrel of the previously imported model, and like it, is semi-automatic only, having been converted to fire from a closed bolt from the original open bolt of the full auto capable original.

At 9 lbs., the UC-9 is no lightweight, but in return you get a mostly steel weapon that makes handling even the hottest 9mm rounds an effortless task-yet the gun is very compact at only 24 inches overall with the stock folded, and a mere 31.5 inches with the stock extended.

The UC-9 provides lot of close range firepower within that package and comes with (according to the online catalogue) with two 32 round all steel magazines. However the hard copy of the catalogue says it comes with 4 magazines-which my sample did.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the manual of arms for the semi-automatic carbine, it is rather straight forward. There is a safety/selector switch which is located above the vertical grip on the left side (the UZI is somewhat unique in that the magazines are loaded through the same vertical grip-and not ahead of it on the receiver).

There is also a grip safety a’ la the 1911 pistol (which must be depressed to cock the gun), and a cocking handle located on top of the receiver in a fashion similar to the 1928 Thompson Sub-machinegun.

The magazine latch/release is located at the base on the bottom left side of the grip, below the plastic grip panel. For ease of carry, there is a single point sling swivel directly above the horizontal foregrip. Sights are an rudimentary affair with rear the rear sight containing two apertures-one marked for 200 meters (a bit of a stretch) and another for a more reasonable 100 meters.

Just ahead of the rear sight assembly is a button for release of the top cover of the receiver and disassembly. There is no bolt hold open latch (since the design was originally open bolt) and, because this is a weapon that was designed in the late 1940’s there is no built in attachment points for vertical foregrips, lights, lasers, optical sights or any of the items we deem as essential for the operation of our 21st Century weapons systems.

But that certainly doesn’t mean the UC-9 is not a useful weapon to the contrary-is represents the ultimate in rugged and durable firepower for close range use. How many other semi-automatic weapons of any kind come with 4 magazines? That fact alone is also a plus.

Are there any drawbacks to the UC-9? Only one that I can see, and that is the trigger. When the open bolt design was converted to closed bolt, well, it didn’t totally convert it.

Yes, the bolt is closed when the gun fires, but the pull is long and feels like it still is an open bolt operation. There are massive parts that move at the moment of fire. Not the standard fare, but certainly it can be gotten used to and compensated for with practice. The UZI never was a match weapon, nor can it be expected to be. It was designed to deliver high volumes of close range firepower and it still does even in its semi-auto only guise.

So what is the UC-9 good for? Well it is great fun shooting a historic piece for one thing. Especially for me, since I have always wanted to fire one. But it is STILL a viable defensive piece.

The stock folds to a compact 24 inches, and quickly expands to full shoulder length in a split second. Its parkerized finish allows it to be stowed in a vehicle trunk (where legal) with 128 rounds at the ready, or in the back of a pickup truck or jeep/atv on a farm or ranch.

It would also be great for an RV, boat, or even as a survival weapon in private aircraft for rough country use. And it certainly can be kept ready to go for home defense. And while the UC-9 could be fired like a pistol with the stock folded, remember it’s gonna weigh at least another pound with a loaded magazine in place, take a moment and shoot it with the stock extended-it is a carbine after all!

So, all of this is an academic exercise until I actually got a chance to fire the UC-9, an experience I captured on the accompanying video. I didn’t know what to expect exactly other than a very low level of recoil and the reliable functioning of the UZI design when made with UZI parts. I was not disappointed.

I tested the carbine during a rare break in the miserable Ohio weather we were having at a distance of about 30 feet taking the carbine literally straight from the box.

I firmly believe in testing weapons this way. For me, if I have to clean lube and reassemble a gun in order to make sure it goes bang reliability before I can shoot it-well, I don’t want it. Although this is standard practice for a lot of writers and certainly for a lot of meticulous shooters, I think the average shooter is going to do just what I do, and have always done-open the box, take the gun out, make sure that there is nothing plugging the bore, read the directions (or maybe not) load it and shoot it.

For some folks they may purchase a defensive weapon like a pistol and just load it and leave it without test firing it and expect it to work if they need it in an emergency. Yeah, I know, we definitely aren’t supposed to do that, but the majority of new shooters aren’t blessed with a backyard range to testfire any gun that comes along, so that’s what happens in real life more than we might expect. And that is how I ran the testfire for the video.

I had previously handled the gun to get a little familiar with it and its operational system, and as you can see by watching the video, I wasn’t quite familiar enough. Not being used to a grip safety that needs to be depressed to operate the bolt (a’la the Springfield Armory XD Pistols) caused me a couple of issues in clearing and checking the chamber, until I remembered the safety.

I loaded one of the magazines with Winchester white box 115 gr. Ball ammo and made ready. In my preparatory work with the UC-9’s heavy trigger (which after all is a conversion from an open bolt firing system to a closed bolt system), I didn’t know how much I would like this gun, or how it would fulfill what I see as its proper role and mission.

I can tell you that shooting the UC-9 had to be the most pleasant firearm surprise in my life. I rolled back the trigger until the gun went “bang.”

When I did fire the gun, I was immediately surprised to find that the trigger somehow seemed smoother. This was probably because, and this is just a guess as I am definitely not an engineer, that the firing pin had something to strike rather than just open air to punch into like it did while dry firing.

Anyway, this and the anticipated lack of recoil caused me to immediately break into a big grin accompanied by the thought “oh this is so cool”. I was firing from a standing position. After firing the first 3 shots into the center of a standard OPOTC qualification silhouette, I re-adjusted my point of aim.

I ran off the rest of the magazine into the head area, which struck just slightly low for a 5 inch or so group. Now DON’T take this as any sort of indication of the UC-9’s accuracy potential as I was grinning, looking at the target with each of the shots, and thinking about how much fun the UC-9 is!!! I wasn’t exactly in the precision sniper mode. In fact, I hadn’t been this excited by a gun test in a long time.

There was not a bobble or hitch with the UC-9 during the testfire. After I finished the first mag, I asked my sister in law Mandy if she had ever shot a gun before, and she hadn’t. I asked if she wanted to try a few rounds, assuring her it was a lot of fun and that there was no recoil. She said “yes” with just a little bit of hesitation.

I loaded up for her again, instructed her in the basics of shooting and let her have it-instructing her to aim for the center of the silhouette, where I had placed my first few rounds. Her first few shots were in the chin area. Soon she got the hang of the sights, and dumped the rest of the round into the center of the silhouette, all with the same big grin that I had!

Boys and girls, you have got to get one of these! Not only are you shooting a piece of history, but you are shooting weapon of reasonable close range power which, because of its zero recoil and 9mm pistol cartridge, is just plain fun-without all the blast of 5.56mm and larger cartridges.

This is especially important if you are limited to firing your guns at indoor ranges-it saves a lot of wear and tear on you. Finally, this piece of history is still battle capable.

Time to expand your horizons folks! 20 years ago the UZI carbine was THE gun to have. It disappeared due to some ill-advised and unconstitutional presidential executive orders which banned its import-but its back, and its built here in the U.S. My hat is off to the folks at Century Arms!

Thanks for bringing back a classic that I have always wanted to shoot, but never had a chance to-until now. And at a price in the $800 range, the UC-9 is impossible to beat. Now, I’m going to get some more ammo, and keep shooting.

Century Arms

This article appeared in the July 18, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. 

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