Uzi Insanity: Meet the Feared Israeli Submachine Gun
Whether it was clearing bunkers and trenches during the Six-Day War or protecting U.S. presidents from assassination attempts, the Uzi submachine gun has a well-earned and feared reputation. Since its introduction into the Israeli military in the 1950s, this submachine gun has gained fame on the battlefield and in popular culture.
This is a firearm that owns several unique traits. Obviously, it has a distinctive look, but it also has some very interesting things going on under the hood. Let’s take a look at what really sets this gun apart.
Specs & Function
Despite what you might be thinking, the Uzi was not initially developed to be a racehorse. Sure, at around 600 rounds per minute, it certainly had some speed. But the Scorpion, introduced in 1961, offered 850+ rounds per minute, and the PPSh-41 could spit lead at similar speeds in 1941. Instead, the Uzi offered a more controllable rate of fire similar to the PPS-43.
What really set the Uzi apart internally was its “telescoping” bolt, which wraps around the barrel and has an ejection port cut into the bolt itself. This moved the barrel further back into the firearm and allowed for a magazine that fit inside the pistol grip. The later Micro Uzi and Mini Uzi cut down the size even more and bumped up the rate of fire to 950+ rounds per minute.
Beyond that, the Uzi is like many other submachine guns made primarily out of stamped metal in the 20th century. It fired from an open bolt, was cheap and quick to manufacture, and offered only crude sights and controls. It often featured a unique folding metal stock, but wooden stocks were also common.
I’ve listed some of the other specs for the semi-auto civilian IMI Uzi below:
Length (Stock Extended): 31.5 inches
Length (Stock Folded): 24.25 inches
Barrel Length: 16 inches
Magazine Capacity: 25 and 32 rounds, standard
Weight: 8.2 pounds
Bolt Weight: 1.4 pounds
Sights: 100 and 200 meter peep sights, non-adjustable
Uzi submachine guns are hardly refined firearms, but they get the job done. The trigger pull is little more than mush that, to the best of my gauge, came in between 7 and 8 pounds. The real story of the trigger is less the trigger and more the firing mechanism for the semi-auto and full-auto variants.
For the full-auto Uzi, that heavy bolt is locked to the rear and sent flying forward to chamber and fire a round. Something similar is happening in the semi-auto variant, but instead of the entire bolt assembly moving, tripping the sear sends the firing pin and guide assembly forward. It is a physically and audibly clunky process. The end result is you still feel that forward motion much more than you would in a modern closed-bolt carbine.
Two of the most important characteristics of the Uzi – simple operation and easy mass production – make it somewhat surprising that the gun is held in such high-esteem as a fighting platform. In many ways, the gun is not only crude but ergonomically awkward to modern hands.
It lacks the finesse of guns like the H&K MP5. Instead, it boasts a clunky beavertail safety, stiff grip-mounted safety/selector switch, 90-degree grip angle, and basic sights. To put it frankly, the gun is built like a metal box, but it still routinely ranks at the top of the list for the most respected submachine guns of all time. That is a reputation it earned though use.
The emergence of the modern state of Israel after World War II was marked by a series of conflicts. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israeli forces were still relying heavily on a wide variety of imported – and often smuggled – firearms and munitions. It was a logistical and national security nightmare that Israel promptly set out to fix after the war.
Standardization and internal arms production became a primary focus for Israel in the 1950s. The list of homegrown Israeli firearms and even military vehicles grew exponentially, a trend that has carried forward into well-known modern guns like the Galil (1972) and the Tavor (2001).
Developed by Major Uziel "Uzi" Gal in the late 1940s, the Uzi offered an early Israeli-made solution for rapidly producing submachine guns to equip the young Israeli Defense Force. Production started in the 1950s, and Israel produced millions of the guns for the IDF and later for export to other nations.
Simplicity is a virtue when you need to equip a new and growing army. The Uzi offered that in spades, but it still reflected advancements in design since World War II – the telescoping bolt with a pistol grip magazine well standout. In combat, the compact Uzi proved devastating when clearing bunkers and trenches during the Six-Day War. It was more controllable and faster to reload than the AK-47. The gun excelled at close-quarters combat, and it was simple to use.
I personally found the overall system to very intuitive and easy to disassemble and maintain. The Uzi also had a reputation for being reliable, though it faced the same challenges all open-bolt firearms face in the desert. Sand and heat are the enemy of guns, and the Uzi’s open bolt could leave it prone to excessive grit inside the action.
Regardless, the Uzi provided Israeli soldiers with timely and effective firepower when they needed it most. It also captured international attention as it proved itself on the battlefield and beyond.
America’s Love for the Uzi
The Uzi came about at just the right time and place to grab plenty of media attention. Its use by Secret Service agents, specifically after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, grabbed America’s interest. But so did its extensive use in Israel’s battles with Arab states and anti-terrorism operations in the 1950s though the 1970s.
Ironically, even though President Reagan’s attacker used a .22 revolver – a cheapo Röhm RG-14 – it was guns like the Uzi that fell into the legislative sights. Signed with ink from the very same president’s pen, the last-minute addition of the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 ended the private ownership of newly manufactured, full-auto Uzi submachine guns in the U.S.
By that time, however, there was already a growing market for the cheaper semi-auto variants. Americans’ interest in the guns was well fed by high-profile events coupled with a slew of cameos in Hollywood glamour flicks such as the “Raid on Entebbe” (1977).
1980s action flick fans will of course also recall its appearances in “Scarface” (1983) and “The Terminator” (1984), and I personally remember playing with more than a few G.I. Joe action figures that wielded the iconic speed shooter. The Uzi spoke to a generation of American gun owners, many of whom turned to the semi-auto variants to experience the firearm firsthand.
Why Buy An Uzi?
Sadly, you’re going to have to jump through some hoops and spend serious cash if you want an original Uzi today. But the newer civilian semi-autos with the 16-inch barrels are still common and much more affordable. They’re also quite accurate despite the unique ergonomics. The longer barrel may help a bit in the accuracy department, but the sight radius is the same as the originals. Still, the real charm is just the gun itself.
I love a firearm with personality. If the guns in my safe walked into a bar, the Uzi would certainly be the one to leave with a phone number on a napkin. It’s just a unique piece of history and pop culture that easily catches your eye at the range. That makes it a worthy bucket list gun for sure.