American Survival Guide - - GEAR GUIDE -

Thanks to movies and TV shows, it seemed ev­ery gang­ster dur­ing the era of Pro­hi­bi­tion and the Great De­pres­sion wielded a “tommy gun.” The in­ven­tion of John Tali­a­ferro Thomp­son, the gun that bears his name could ar­guably be con­sid­ered the grand­fa­ther of to­day’s “black guns.”

It was light, at least by the stan­dards of the day, por­ta­ble and deadly—which is fit­ting, in that the orig­i­nal de­sign called for the gun to be dubbed the “An­ni­hi­la­tor.” It was de­signed to pro­vide mo­bil­ity to sol­diers fight­ing in the trenches dur­ing World War I.

The weapon only en­tered pro­duc­tion af­ter the war ended, so its maker, Auto-ord­nance, ac­tu­ally mar­keted it to the civil­ian mar­ket, even though its price tag of $200 was a lot of money at the time. One now-fa­mous ad (on the right side of this page) from the time showed a rancher fend­ing off rustlers with a Thomp­son. The tag line was,

“The Most Ef­fec­tive Por­ta­ble Fire Arm In Ex­is­tence.” The ad fur­ther sug­gested it was an “ideal weapon for the pro­tec­tion of large es­tates, ranches, plan­ta­tions, etc.”

The Thomp­son was not a hit with civil­ians. The cost was sim­ply too high; and, for most peo­ple, there was no need for an au­to­matic weapon. How­ever, the M1921 was sold to the United States Postal In­spec­tion Ser­vice and was car­ried by agents to pro­tect mail on trains and in trucks. It was prob­a­bly too ex­pen­sive for most gang­sters, too, but it was used by some of the era’s more-no­to­ri­ous bank rob­bers, such as John Dillinger, for in­stance.

How­ever, the Thomp­son was used in the high-pro­file St. Valen­tine’s

Day Mas­sacre, and that was enough to at­tract the at­ten­tion of law­mak­ers, who took no­tice of its po­ten­tial to out­gun law en­force­ment.

That led to the Na­tional

Firearms Act of 1934, which has limited the avail­abil­ity of au­to­matic weapons in civil­ian hands ever since.

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