1980’s Assault Pistols and Civilian Submachine Guns: Why did these exist?


The 1980's was a time of amazing action movies, known for gratuitous violence, and machine pistols. Infamous guns like the Tec-9 and the Uzi dominated pop-culture, from video games (Operation Wolf) to music (Guns 'n Roses, Public Enemy). The intrinsic pop-culture marketing ensure that these guns, the Uzi, the MAC, the Tec-9, sold well, but serious shooters and gun collectors have ever since been stuck with the question: what is the point of these guns, which are neither target pistols nor carry pistols?

The heyday of the submachine gun had been from the second world war through the early cold war, until the full power battle rifles like the FAL and M14 began to be supplanted by intermediate power assault rifles like the M16. With the bolt-action and even selective fire battle rifles, a high capacity pistol-caliber support weapon was valuable in urban and jungle warfare. In addition, as many submachine guns were quite compact with folding or collapsible stocks, they could be issued to vehicle crews and artillery as self defense weapons.

The MAC-10


Assault rifles excelled in every area where submachine guns had been dominant, so by the mid 70's, submachine guns were falling out of favor with militaries the world over. This was a bad time to come up with new, innovative designs of submachine guns, but this was the period when Gordon Ingram designed a cheap, compact machine pistol in 45ACP and 9mm: the Ingram M10, from Military Armament Corporation…the MAC 10. This was followed by several related designs, the M11 and later the M11/9. While the M10 found some success with governments, particularly with special forces, it never saw widespread adoption, and soon fell by the wayside. Military Armaments Corporation, losing money, looked to expand sales by introducing a semi-automatic pistol version of the MAC-10 to US civilian sales. Later, after MAC went bankrupt, a successor company SWD doing business as Cobray took a later MAC variant, the M11/9 to much greater success and prominence as a semi-automatic pistol.

The TEC-9


During the same period, George Kellgren at Interdynamic AB designed an equivalent, although very different submachine gun, the MP9, to pursue the same niches as the MAC. The MP9 was meant as a cheaper, lighter, replacement for the Carl Gustavs M45 submachine gun: the Swedish K. The MP9 was even less successful than the MAC, with only one rumored government contract, with Rhodesia, which ceased to exist before the contract could be executed. Interdynamic also turned to the US civilian market to recoup investment, redesigning the MP9 as a semi-automatic pistol, designated KG-9. After a few redesigns and a corporate buyout, the KG-9 became the TEC-9.

Parallel Developments

During the same period when MAC was converting the M10 to semi-auto, and Interdynamic looking for buyers for the MP9, civil unrest and revolution were rocking sub-Saharan Africa. The nation of Rhodesia would soon collapse and become Zimbabwe, but before that the minority White population was attracting international condemnation even as they sought to protect themselves and their businesses from the revolutionaries. Towards that end, Rhodesian manufacturing firms turned themselves toward producing “civilian” weapons for sale to White farmers and their trusted farmhands; weapons capable of allowing one or a few men to defend themselves and their property from much larger groups of marauders. Retroactively, these weapons became known as Land Defense Pistols, from the most famous example, the Kommando LDP (actually meaning LaCoste DuPleiss). The Kommando LDP is a semi-auto carbine very similar to the Czech SA26 Submachine Gun. After the fall of Rhodesia and the rise of Zimbabwe, production of the Kommando LDP continued in South Africa, although the weapon (in full-auto form) also remained in use in Zimbabwe with security forces.

There were a number of other designs of these “Land Defense Pistols”, although the only other particularly notable model is the Phoenix BXP, which is essentially a South African MAC clone. These designs, though, are strong evidence that there was a need that these types of civilian subguns filled. In areas where automatic weapons are completely forbidden from civilian ownership, but civil unrest or high crime create an undue risk that otherwise law-abiding civilians will find themselves in combat situations, markets have been repeatedly found for these semi-auto submachine guns.

In some countries, even the police are forbidden from automatic weapons. For that reason, the British produced the Sterling Mk6 for law enforcement issue, and HK produced the MP5SFA3 semi-auto variant of the MP5.

Common Features

What is distinct about this class of weapons, variously referred to as Assault Pistols, Pistol Caliber Carbines (when they have stocks), or SubGuns?

As Pistols, they are large, heavy and awkward pistols, generally with provision to mount a sling (instead of carrying in a holster or concealed), and they have threaded or lugged barrels for easily mounting and switching barrel attachments like suppressors, barrel extensions, and muzzle breaks.

As carbines, such as the Uzi or Sterling, they have extended barrels (16 inch) in the US.


Regardless, they feed from large box magazines (30 round is standard), and have only rudimentary sights, an attribute of their submachine gun heritage. Combined with their large, heavy bolts and unlocked blowback action, obtaining accuracy with these types of weapons is challenging (although not impossible; lasers and optics can improve accuracy significantly); bullets tend to hit in a cone, creating a beaten zone. Although often derided as spray-and-pray, this isn't actually a deficiency with these weapons when used appropriately, as we shall see.

Role and Usage

In 2018 I went on my honeymoon in Paris. This was not so long after the Bataclan nightclub shooting and subsequent terror attacks, so France was still on high alert. They called it Operation Sentinelle, and everywhere we went where there were people, there were heavily armed military and police patrols.

I paid close attention to the weapons the soldiers and police officers were carrying, relishing my chance to see up close FAMAS rifles, and other (to me) exotic European weaponry. I couldn't help but noticing, though, that Parisian police were patrolling in three man groups, and one in each such group was armed with a Beretta M12 submachine gun.


The way the police were armed begins to illustrate just how weapons like these Assault Pistols should be used. These are not individual weapons, but should be used in conjunction with conventional handguns, deployed in small groups. The beaten zone created by firing short bursts of fast semi-auto fire provides fire support for the other team members, using conventional handguns. This way, the Tec-9, MAC, or Uzi carbine can be used to suppress attackers, while the other members of your team maneuver, engaging and eliminating the threat.

These are light support weapons, and can work well for that purpose when true automatic weapons are not available.


The submachine gun heritage in assault pistols and carbines carries through, even into the semi-auto civilian versions. In fact, the few niches where the Tec-9 or the MAC perform the best are those of squad support or point defense. As such, this class of weapons should be thought of as still submachine guns, even if they lack full auto capability, and with the rhythm of the bolt, due to the blow-back operation, something approximating burst fire can still be accomplished.

But what should these weapons actually be used for? About the only legitimate role I can see for these, apart from curiosity or range toy, is with private security in cities and states where true full auto is illegal. A civilian bodyguard detail for a VIP in such a jurisdiction may benefit from arming one of the detail with a MAC or equivalent, to provide much heavier support in the event of ambush or kidnapping attempt. Obviously, this kind of capability would be useful for those involved in less-than-legal activities. In my view, if a “law abiding civilian” who finds himself needing the capabilities of this class of weapon on a regular basis, either civilization has fallen, or he needs to re-evaluate his life choices, as he is not in fact a “law abiding civilian”.

On a somewhat Ironic note; 40 some years after the MP-9 failed to find government buyers, resulting in Interdynamic creating the KG-9, and ultimately the TEC-9, before going bankrupt, the Beretta PMX (an obvious design descendant) is seeing adoption by police and special forces across Europe.


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