The Uzi gun is an icon of American firearms culture. Compact, relatively powerful with a distinctive look – it’s a legendary piece synonymous with gangsters and mafia culture. Let’s explore the history and capabilities of the Uzi that built the pistol into what it is today.

Father of the Uzi

Uziel Gal was born in Weimar, Germany in 1923. Ten years later his Jewish parents perceived a somewhat urgent need to relocate to England, and ultimately settled in Palestine (then a British mandate) in 1936. It’s not hard to figure out why a 20 year old Gal thought it prudent to carry a pistol, but carrying landed him in hot water.

In 1943 the government sentenced him to six years in prison for unauthorized possession of a firearm. While he served only half of that sentence, he made those three years in lockup productive by studying mechanical engineering.

Gal’s Out, Guns Out

Uzi with 9mm magazine on table

Being in lock-up didn’t dampen Gal’s enthusiasm for firearms. A man who could make guns was in high demand in the newly founded State of Israel. So, Gal finished his prototype of a new weapon in 1950. He called it the “Uzi,” which was also Gal’s nickname.

The submachine was one of the first firearms to feature a telescoping bolt. Such a bolt permits the design of a shorter weapon. It also means the magazine can fit inside its pistol grip. (John Browning actually invented the telescoping bolt, and the device saw one of its very first implementations in his famous M1911 pistols.)

A Compact, Light Tool

The Uzi’s relative compactness would do much to contribute to its eventual popularity. In comparison to the submachine guns of the Second World War, the Uzi is far lighter and more compact; The original full-sized Uzi weighed about three quarters as much as a Thompson submachine gun.

The Uzi is a blow-back operated weapon. This means it takes advantage of the rearward motion of a spent casing in order to load a new cartridge. The great advantage of this design is that the breech is exposed. That facilitates cooling of the firearm when you fire it rapidly; The main drawback is that the receiver is more susceptible to infiltration of contaminants, such as sand, which Israel suffers from no deficit of.

An Uzi benefits from its stamped metal construction by being more economical to manufacture and more resilient to contortion. Though, we should point out it lacks a milled metal weapon’s greater durability. Uzis aren’t the first weapon you’d want to use as a bludgeon once you ran out of ammo. An Uzi’s magazine juts out of its pistol grip, making it easier to swap out on the fly at the expense of being more difficult to fire prone. As with any firearm, an Uzi’s design grants it both blessings and curses.

Uzi Rockets to Fame

Shooting an Uzi at the range

The Uzi’s shortcomings didn’t do very much to stunt its popularity. The submachine gun chambered for 9mm Luger (and eventually other calibers) would go on to become one of the few weapons that even the least initiated in firearms could identify by name. The weapon’s rise to prominence began in its country of origin. Troop there used it as a self-defense weapon initially. A compact weapon that could empty its 25 round magazine in under three seconds proved invaluable during the Six-Day War, where Israeli troops had to clear out the tight quarters of Syrian bunkers. The Uzi would never find its place on the front line, however. Its effective range in automatic fire is only about 50 yards, pathetic compared to a combat rifle.

While other manufacturers have produced the Uzi, IMI Systems has benefitted the most from Gal’s clever invention. More than 90 countries including the United States and, ironically, Germany have purchased Uzi submachine guns for their law enforcement and their armed forces. In all the, it’s amounted to over $2 billion USD in sales for IMI by the end of the millennium. From the 60s through the 80s, no other submachine gun sold in greater numbers than the Uzi.

Can Civilians Own an Uzi?

Firing an uzi at the range

Several civilian variants of the Uzi have been manufactured. They include the Uzi carbine with its 16” barrel, the Mini Uzi carbine with its 19.8” barrel, and Uzi pistol with a 4.5” barrel.

Naturally, any Uzi that is capable of automatic fire is going to raise an ATF agent’s eyebrows in entirely the wrong fashion. But if you don’t mind making due with one trigger pull per shot, the little Israeli firecracker could very much become yours. (Of course, you also can’t live in California or Massachusetts.)

Use one to reenact your favorite scene from The Matrix (if your back can still handle doing cartwheels.) Shoot targets along with your arsenal of other semi-automatic pistols, and be sure to clear out any bunkers that may have popped up around your property while you weren’t paying attention.

The Uzi may not be as technologically advanced as the more modern MP5, but for its time it was absolutely cutting edge. Try out an automatic model at your range if they have one for rent. You’ll see even a semi-automatic Uzi is still great fun to shoot!