By Frank Iannamico
Sale or discounts, those are terms you will seldom, or more accurately, never, see associated with machine guns. Machine guns and most class III items are usually sold-cash up front, and at the advertised price. There are no specials and no discounts. If you aren’t interested, step aside and make room for someone else who is. If you do see any class III items at a low price advertised, you better be the first to call and have a certified check for the full amount ready to send the next day. In all but a very few cases it is a seller’s market. The demand is high. The supply is extremely limited and growing smaller each year.
In years long since past, police departments were a place that machine gun bargains could be found. Old “obsolete” Thompsons, Reisings, Grease Guns and others were traded in by the police for more modern, up-to-date, Colt AR15s, H&Ks and other similar firearms. Alas, today most police departments are well aware of the collector value of their old inventories. “Obsolete” police guns are not usually sold on a sealed bid basis.
Today, the once prolific and inexpensive Thompsons and MP40s are priced out of reach for many potential buyers. Many of these guns are now residing in someone’s collection, and will not be offered for sale until their owner’s heirs inherit them. With demand increasing and the fixed supply dwindling, the situation is only getting worse for those looking to purchase a legal, registered machine gun.
The subject of this article, bargain machine guns, takes a look at and compares some of the less expensive guns that are available. The guns reviewed are on the lower end of today’s fully transferable machine gun price scale. The purpose of this article is to provide some pros and cons of each gun so that you can make an informed decision on what best would suit your interest or needs.
Actually, there are no cheap machine guns. Those reviewed are inexpensive compared to many others that are available. The guns reviewed are still able to be located fairly easily from dealers or individuals. When shopping for a machine gun there are some things you need to be aware of. Most advertised prices do not include the required $200.00 transfer tax. Unless you are a class III dealer, you cannot purchase dealer samples or post 1986 dealer samples. These are the guns you will see advertised at less expensive prices. Individuals cannot purchase these guns. Two words make a machine gun expensive; FULLY TRANSFERABLE. These words mean, quite simply, that you do not have to be a dealer or Class II manufacturer to purchase or possess it (subject to state and local laws).
The guns reviewed in this article are the British Mark II Sten gun, the H&R Model 50 Reising, the U.S. M2 carbine and the M-11. These guns represent today’s machine gun bargains.
The British Sten MKII
The first gun reviewed is the British Sten series. The Sten is a very popular model simply because there were so many produced by class II manufacturers and individuals in the good old days prior to May 1986. In those days, an individual could file a form 1 to make a firearm, and after the approved form came back, obtain a Sten parts kit and a blank receiver tube. They could then manufacture their own machine gun for about $200.00 plus the transfer tax. Many more were built and registered by class II manufacturers as well.
Only the so-called “tube” receiver Stens qualify for bargain machine gun status. A Sten with an original receiver tube can cost up to twice as much as a new manufacture Sten. One can identify whether a Sten is an original gun or a tube gun by looking at the BATF form that it is registered on. In the manufacturer block on the form the name would be of an original manufacturer or it may say unknown. This is most likely an original gun. If it has a class II manufacturer or an individual’s name in the block then it is most likely a tube gun. Some class IIs that made Sten receivers and/or complete guns are; Ciener, CATCO, Interport, Erb, DLO, Wilson, Taylor, Stemple, York Arms and Norrell. These class II manufacturers produced most of the Stens with new receivers.
Any individual or manufacturer who made a new Sten receiver was also required to stamp or engrave their name on the receiver tube. Original Stens are on the Curio and Relics list, and can be transferred into C&R only states. They may go directly to holders of a Curio and Relics license. New receiver Stens are not considered Curio or Relic guns.
There are several models or “Marks” of Stens. The most prolific model is the Mark II. You also may encounter a Mark III or a Mark V Sten. Models other than the common MKII will most likely be priced higher.
The Sten is a 9mm, select-fire submachine gun. The Sten may appear crude, but it is in reality, reliable and rugged. The gun is the usual subgun with an open-bolt and blow-back operated. The Sten’s cyclic rate on full-auto is approximately 600 RPM. Barrel length is 9 inches. Overall length is 30 inches . Unloaded weight is 7.2lbs. The Sten receiver is a simple sheet metal tube. Most of the parts are stamped mild steel. Sten parts are inexpensive and easily obtained from a number of sources.
Original Stens were first manufactured during WWII by the British. During and after the war the Sten was copied and manufactured by several nations. Over 4 million Stens of all models were manufactured by Great Britain alone.
There are many accessories available for the Sten. Magazine pouches, brass catchers, books and manuals are common. Complete spare parts sets (less receiver) are now available at very reasonable prices.
Sten magazines are among the least expensive on the market. Magazines are available in 20, 32 and 50 round capacities. The 50-round mags were originally made for the British Lanchester submachine gun, but will also fit and function in a Sten.
There are several different stocks available for the Sten. The loop, the “T” and the pistol grip are the most common. In my opinion the loop stock is the most ergonomic.
One problem you may encounter with a Sten is that it will not shoot where the sights are set. The sights usually are welded into place and are not easily adjustable. The front sight is set in a dovetail and can be drifted right or left if the weld is cut. To fix the sight in place it most likely will need to be rewelded. The rear sight is best left as is.
The Stens offer a lot of value, and they make good shooters. They are reliable if they were built correctly. I have examined some pretty crude home-built ones. Ask questions before purchasing! The Sten looks like a machine gun and this alone makes it desirable to many folks. It also represents WWII history to others. Parts and magazines are inexpensive. They can be used to compete in the popular subgun matches in the classic categories. The 9mm cartridge is widely available, and is easily reloaded.
The H&R Model 50 Reising
The Reising submachine gun was designed by Eugene Reising during WWII as a possible replacement for the expensive-to-produce Thompson Submachine Gun. The Reising was manufactured exclusively by Harrington and Richardson (H&R) a prominent gun manufacturer who later was awarded government contracts to produce M1 Garands and M14 rifles.
The Reising was adopted by the U.S. Marines in 1941. The Reising’s military career was quite unsuccessful to say the least. The Reising’s disastrous debut in combat with the Marines at Guadalcanal is legendary. Today, over 50 years later, the Reising’s reputation is still tarnished. Its complicated, hand fitted, close tolerance design wasn’t reliable under harsh combat conditions. Parts would not interchange readily between guns. The Reisings that didn’t get destroyed by their Marine owners were relegated to rear echelon duty for the remainder of the war. After the war ended many surplus Reising found their way into police arsenals. The Reisings were very good at fulfilling a police role, where they received regular maintenance and were not subjected to part swapping and harsh field conditions.
Most Reisings available today have come to the class III market from police armories. Most progressive departments that have submachine guns in their inventories have up graded to more modern firearms like the 9mm, M16 or the 50-year-old MP5.
There are several models of the Reising. The Model 50 (the full-stock version) is the most common. The Model 55 Reising is a folding-stock, paratrooper model. The Model 55s are pricey due to their limited numbers. They do not fit into the bargain category.
There are two variations of the model 50. One is the commercial version. The other is the military model, the U.S. Model 50. Both style model 50s were used by the Marines. The military model is most likely a later model, developed to require less machining on the barrel, and for easier disassembly. Both model 50s feature a muzzle compensator. The Model 55 does not. There also exists a Reising Model 60. This is a semiautomatic only rifle. Its appearance is similar, except for a longer 16 inch barrel. The Model 60s are not NFA firearms.
The commercial Reisings are probably the most common. They are identified by a blued finish, have 29 tapered, radial cooling fins on the barrel, and a small trigger guard. They also have a small take-down screw that requires a screw driver to loosen. These Reisings are often offered in original wooden police hardcases. Once inexpensive, these cases now are collector’s items. Very late production Reisings often have smooth, unfinned barrels.
The military Reisings have a dark green parkerized finish. The barrels have 14 radial cooling fins, and the fins are not tapered. The stock has a large trigger guard, and a large take-down screw that is knurled for removal without tools. Note: The trigger guard and the take-down screw are mounted on the wooden stock. It would be possible to encounter a commercial gun with a military stock or vice versa.
The Reising is a .45 ACP, select-fire weapon that is very accurate in the semiauto mode of fire. Its semiauto accuracy is partially due to its closed bolt operation. Full-automatic fire is another story. The Reising is a very light firearm. Being of closed bolt design, it doesn’t require the abnormally heavy bolt of most submachine guns. At only 6.75 lbs., firing 700 rounds per minute of .45 ACP, makes the Reising somewhat difficult to control.
The Reising is fairly well constructed. The receiver is made of milled steel, not sheet metal. Many of the internal parts are steel stampings. The closed bolt locks by tilting up into a step milled into the receiver. The firing pin is spring loaded. The selector is mounted on the right side of the receiver. It slides into three positions; Safe, auto and semi-auto. If the gun is cocked and in the full-auto position, the cocking handle must be retracted about 1/4” to move the selector into the semiauto position. The cocking or charging handle is located underneath the barrel. There is an oval hole cut in the stock to allow access to it.
For all their faults as military weapons, the Reisings make a great recreational machine gun. They are not tube guns or conversions. They are on the ATF’s Curio and Relics list. This makes them attractive to C&R license holders or residents of “C&R only” states.
In a civilian environment the Reisings are reliable, although if they are not periodically maintained, unreliability may be encountered. The .45 ACP cartridge is very common and easily reloaded. Many shooters prefer the more powerful .45 caliber over the 9mm in a subgun. The Reising is one of the very few inexpensive .45 ACP submachine guns available.
Original magazines are rather expensive and only come in 12 or 20 round capacities. In the past this was a drawback to the owners of Reisings. Today however, relatively inexpensive aftermarket 30-round capacity magazines are offered. In my experience, these magazines are reliable. They fit and function the same as the original mags. Parts are not especially common, but they are available. You just have to look harder to find them.
The U.S. M2 Carbine
One point that needs to be made immediately is that “bargain” M2 Carbines will be semiautomatic M1 Carbines that have been converted in the M2 configuration by a class II manufacturer or an individual prior to May 1986. Original M2 Carbines, like original Stens, don’t fit into the bargain category. Original M2 Carbines are considered Curio & Relics. Converted M1 carbines are not.
There are also aftermarket carbines offered in the full-auto configuration. Some manufacturers of these might be; Plainfield, Iver Johnson, National Ordnance, Santa Fe, Alpine Industries, or Universal. These are not manufactured military guns. Although many parts may be military, the receivers are not.
Also available are registered carbine part kits. The BATF considers several combinations of M2 carbine parts by themselves to be a machine-guns, even though the parts alone are unable to fire a single shot. The advantage to these kits are that they can be moved to another carbine if needed or desired. The disadvantage is that the kits are often the same price as a complete registered receiver carbine. The parts kits usually only include the parts the BATF considers to be a machine-gun. There are actually a few more parts needed to make a carbine selectfire. (See SAR Vol 1 Nos 2&3 for an indepth analysis of M2 Carbines)
The carbine is not usually considered a submachine gun. The carbine falls somewhere in between a subgun and an assault rifle. Its cartridge is too powerful for subgun status and too weak for assault rifle classification. The carbine is normally not allowed to participate in most subgun matches because its cartridge is deemed too powerful for safety in such events.
The M1/M2 Carbine, like the Reising, suffers from a poor wartime reputation. In the carbine’s case it is usually disdained because of its lack of power. None the less the carbine had a considerable service life. M1 and M2 Carbines were issued in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and countless other lesser known conflicts. Like the Reising, many carbines ended up in police departments, or were given to other countries as foreign aid.
The M2 Carbine has on occasion been criticized as being unreliable. It has been my experience to find that there are several reasons that a carbine won’t function correctly. Worn or non-original parts, weak ammunition, and aftermarket 30-round magazines.
There are a few parts on a carbine that will cause ejection failures and related problems. In most cases replacement of these parts will cure any problems you may be having. These parts are: the ejector spring, the extractor and the extractor spring. These parts are all part of the bolt assembly.
The carbine is fun to shoot and reliable if original parts and magazines are used. The carbine is great for those who would like a little more horsepower than the usual pistol-caliber subgun offers. The carbine in full-auto (at about 750 RPM) is somewhat difficult to handle due to its light 5.5 pound weight. In the semiauto mode it is very accurate up to 200+ yards, something few subguns can match.
Due to the huge amount of carbines produced, and their long service life, spare parts, accessories and magazines are in abundance. Recently, many new parts including barrels, have become available at very reasonable prices.
Carbine ammunition is common in both surplus and newly manufactured forms. Reloading is fairly common. Brass and projectiles are offered by several manufacturers. Due to its high pressure and gas operation, cast lead bullets are not recommended for use in the carbine.
Carbide dies are offered by several companies. I have found it necessary to lube carbine cases, even when using carbide dies. It adds an extra step to the reloading process, but makes it less of a struggle. The ammunition produced is more reliable.
The carbine is a good choice for a shooter who would like a gun closer to the performance of an assault rifle, but at less cost. Magazines, parts and accessories are plentiful and inexpensive. Ammunition is slightly more expensive and less common than the 9mm or .45. Reloading is a little more difficult as well.
Of all the guns reviewed, the carbine looks the least like a machine gun. This fact alone turns off many buyers! The M2 carbine can be fitted with an inexpensive, after-market copy of the WWII M1A1 paratrooper stock for a more aggressive appearance. Original M1A1 stocks are not cut for the M2 configuration, while most aftermarket versions are.
The M-11 is probably most famous for its compact size and extremely fast cyclic rate of 1200+ rounds per minute. While this fast cyclic rate looks awesome on TV and in the movies, its real world application is limited to wasting ammo. The M-11 has often been described as a bullet hose. Of all the bargain machine guns reviewed it is certainly the most sinister appearing. It sounds great for about 1.5 seconds, the time it takes to blow through a 32 round magazine.
The M-11 is a descendant of the famous MAC-10 submachine gun. It is smaller and lighter than a MAC 10. An M11/9mm weights 3.75 pounds empty, and has an over all length of 23inches with the wire stock extended, (13 inches with the stock retracted). Receiver construction is a heavy gauge sheet metal, formed and welded together. Barrel length is 5.25”. The parkerized finish is dark gray/ black. Normal magazine capacity is 32 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
The M-11 design, like the MAC-10 has been manufactured by several different companies, the original Military Armament Corporation MAC, (.380 caliber), RPB Industries and most recently by S.W.D. Inc.
There is also a rare .380 caliber MAC. These are priced much higher than a 9mm version, the reason being that the .380 cartridge’s velocity is inherently subsonic. This makes the .380 version attractive to those who desire a suppressed subgun.
A major drawback to the M-11 is its 32-round magazines. They are made of plastic, and the lips will wear out with extended use. The plastic magazine that was examined with the M-11 in this article had over 3000 rounds through it, and showed no sign of wear what-so-ever. I am in no way implying that they don’t wear out, I am trying to convey how long a plastic mag may last. For many folks 3000 rounds is only a few weeks shooting.
The M-11/9mm is the only bargain machine gun in this article that wasn’t a common issue military firearm. Brand new-in-the-box, M-11s are still available from many class III dealers.
There is some good news; The M-11/9mm probably can be purchased cheaper than any other firearm in this review. Many people are attracted by its definite submachine gun appearance.
The magazine problem can be solved by the addition of a kit available to convert the M11/9mm to use inexpensive Sten magazines. The cost of the conversion is easily off- set by the price and utility of the inexpensive Sten magazines.
The M-11/9mm can also be altered to be very competitive in subgun contests. For a more in-depth story see Captain Monty’s informative article “Task Slow Fire M11” in Small Arms Review, Volume 1 Number 1, and “Vanguard M-11” Volume 1 Number 11.
The M11/9mm in its original configuration has few attributes, although many people like its look and the fast cyclic rate. On the plus side, it can be altered, and there are parts available to do so inexpensively. It has been proven to be a viable competitor when properly configured. An M-11 can still be purchased brand new in-the-box. That is one thing the other arms in this review cannot boast of, except perhaps for an after-market M1/M2 carbine.
The M11 fires the very common 9mm cartridge. The 9mm parabellum cartridges are available as surplus, new manufacture and are easily reloaded. You will need a lot of them.
So concludes this overview of bargain machine guns. Machine guns though they may appear expensive, are in reality a very good investment. The prices are sure to continue to spiral upward, as they have done consistently over the past ten years. The quantities of transferable guns are shrinking. Prices are rising almost daily, as interest grows in machine guns and other Class III items . There is no better time to buy than now.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N11 (August 1998)|