DOES THE TOMMY GUN STILL HOLD UP TO MODERN DAY SHOOTING STANDARDS?
THOMPSON’S TRENCH BROOM
Almost to the next bunker, running in the open, low on ammo for this 1911, tracers snapping by my head. Holy crap, no way, is that a Thompson sub-gun laying on the ground? As I snatch it up, I tac reload as my online mates cheer. Approaching the bunker, my enemies are coming into view as I strafe the trench right to left with my trench sweeper. They never had a chance.
I drop down into the trench headed for the bunker, push the drum release simultaneously flipping out the old drum and inserting a new one in its place like the smooth operator I am. Once I break that threshold I’ll simply strafe my sights across the room at chest height and anyone inside will be cut in half.
“Gabe … Gabe … Snap out of it! You know that Tommy can’t do any of that right?”
Gabe: “It’s just a game dad, I know (not really believing my own words).”
Me: “I just want you to know there is a major difference between what your gaming guns do and what real guns do; the difference between how they operate in the game versus real life.”
Gabe: “I know, I know.”
The Tommy Gun is a unicorn of online gaming. It’s a force multiplier with sick rates of fire and amazing ammo capacity. It’s deadly accurate in full auto, even at intermediate ranges. The virtual ergonomics and manual of arms are wonderful, right?
About a week after the aforementioned conversation with my son, I was holding a brand new Auto-Ordnance reproduction WWII-era rifle. Once I got over my boyhood romance and nostalgia, I realized I had no expectations, no frame of reference at all since I’d never shot one. The model I held was the Thompson M-1 military model (TM-1) semi-automatic.
The TM-1 comes with one 30-round stick magazine and a manual. At a sturdy
11.5 pounds with a 16-inch barrel and overall length of 38 inches I was surprised at the overall bulk of the weapon, leading me to wonder how many Nazis got their head bashed in by one. As I shouldered it and charged the bolt to snap in, I reminded myself about when and why this gun was relevant. Its bulk and heft are reminiscent of industrial-age American steel craftsmanship, with a seemingly indestructible milled receiver. The raw walnut is a nice touch as the end user can customize its color before adding necessary wood preservative. The non-adjustable fixed sites were no problem when the name of the game was volume of fire, and this gun certainly was designed to be fired from the hip. There is also a rear sight notch above the rear ghost ring for longer ranges.
The Auto-Ordnance masterpiece, although an iconic 20th century firearm, is quite primitive in comparison to today’s military small arms. Like I said, keep it in context. This reproduction is for the aficionado, the person who appreciates the Thompson’s impact on battlefields, Prohibition-era Chicago, and even the streets of Ireland. Ironically, the Thompson’s widespread domestic use would eventually contribute to the rise of the National Firearms Act of 1934, thereby setting off the ever contentious and still relevant gun control debate.
The history of why and how General John T. Thompson invented the Tommy Gun is as interesting as it is important to the history of our country and of modern western civilization as a whole. In its time, it was a wonder to behold. The old long guns of WWI, used by maneuvering troops under large volleys of fire, wouldn’t stand a chance in the close-quarters combat of trench warfare. Unfortunately for both Thompson and the American troops, the Great War would be over before he could get his design into the hands of the Allied forces. Thompson died in 1940, having never seen his guns reach the battlefield, but that would change a year later when the attack on Pearl Harbor kicked us headlong into WWII,
this time with the famed Tommy Gun in the hands of our troops.
For my live-fire test I headed out to some open country near the U.S./Mexico border.
Loaded up and ready to go, I put the TM-1 through a number of drills including three-round closing drills, position transitions, and box drills. In total, I shot around 400 rounds of Winchester white box 230 grain, which seemed to be the chow of choice for the Tommy. The bolt itself is hefty and the recoil spring on the brand-new Auto-Ordnance is not particularly easy to overcome. This gun definitely needs some breaking-in time, especially if you’re trying to be the smooth operator you pretend to be in video games.
The trigger, at first, seemed stiff with too much creep, but it was designed that way so remember its original intent. I found the trigger worked very well for squeezing off rapid strings of shots, and I had no trouble keeping the sights on the target. Overall I had a positive experience and walked away a little more American for having shot one. So, for the gamer, how does the Tommy compare in real life? Let me first remind you that this TM-1, and all other Tommys offered by Auto-Ordnance, are semi-automatic, so I can’t
speak on its full-auto shooting capability. But I can speak to the unrealistic smooth mag changes, the lack of malfunctions and failures to feed, extract, or fire you’ll experience with any gun in real life.
For all you first-person shooter fans, here are some notes I took away: the Thompson takes training, like any gun. Building muscle memory with its manual of arms, including snapping in on its awkward slippery stock. There’s also the manipulating of the stubby and noticeably stiff charging handle, which, by the way, is inconveniently placed on the right side.
A friend and former fellow instructor at the US Army’s Weapons Intelligence Team Course, Scott Montgomery, explained his feelings for the classic over a beer.
“Any red-blooded American feels the need to hold a Tommy gun in their hands, and taking one home is the next step. For me, owning the Thompson brought a sense of pride and was a great conversation piece. However, the Auto-Ordnance M-1 is not what you might expect. It returns you to a time when steel ruled and the Thompson has plenty of it. It’s so solid that it detracts from the joy of shooting it.”
“Wanting to show it off I shot it in the Sierra Vista Battle Rifle match, a small gentlemen’s match where old men with an appreciation for the rare and cool shoot for bragging rights and to show respect for the soldiers of the past. The Thompson performed well at 100-meter targets and was on par with the M1s, 1903s, and FALs. When those ranges extended out to 250 meters, the Thompson was nowhere near being able to compete. The front sight needed to be held about 2 feet above the target and all my competitors enjoyed watching the slow-moving
.45 rounds lobbing into the target. The Thompson is a great example of design and craftsmanship, but design and craftsmanship from 100 years ago. It’s not what anyone would want to use to defend their family or their home but a gun to be admired for what it is, a major piece of American history. It pays homage to the young soldiers that carried it and used it to support their brothers at their side.”
Anyone who enjoys first person shooter games should seek out the Tommy gun for full, IRL immersion. Next time you’re running and gunning just remember the experience of online play is strictly entertainment, and a ton of history and sacrifice have gone into the gamers guns of past and future.