The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

The Trailer Trash Uzi

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 31

Photos by Dave Merrill and Mike Pappas

There’s nothing else in the world as satisfying as the staccato of a well-running machine gun. It may be old hat to the men and women in militaries the world over, but for most American citizens it remains a relatively rare sensation outside of movies and television. One can debate the practicality of automatic weapons outside of a support-by-fire or suppressive fire role, but honestly they can be loads of fun and that’s absolutely reason enough. If you want to spend the time and money you can probably own one yourself. And if you’re in that market or considering it, this piece is for you.

We’ll say up front this is not a cheap venture — it’s the second most expensive hobby you can have with firearms, without even accounting for ammunition expenditure (for those curious, the most expensive involves Safari guns). With that said, there are more expensive hobbies out there such as auto racing, watch or car collecting, and anything involving manned flying machines. Today we’ll talk about your entry-level options for subguns and automatic rifles if you want to get into this game.

More than 40 states allow for private ownership of machine guns, though local restrictions apply, with some more bizarre than others. Connecticut, for example, doesn’t allow for selective fire — only safe and automatic. Because that makes sense.

There are only an estimated 175,000 to 225,000 transferable machine guns on the National Firearms Act (NFA) registry. Though this may seem like a considerable amount at first glance, it pales in comparison to the sheer number of firearms in circulation in the United States. Even among federally restricted items, they remain relatively uncommon; the American Suppressor Association tells us that in 2016,  nearly 250,000 applications for legal can transfers were submitted. Yes, more silencers sold in a single year than there are machine guns on the registry.

This is because of the so-called Hughes Amendment.

The Hughes Amendment was passed as part of 1986’s Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA). Overall the goal of FOPA was to reduce restrictions on firearms; it legalized ammunition shipments through postal mail, reopened interstate sales of long arms, and offered federal protection for transportation of firearms though restricted states (the efficacy of that last point has come into question in recent years).

New Jersey Senator William Hughes proposed a modification to FOPA that wouldn’t allow new manufacture of machine guns by private individuals, nor would it allow private individuals to legally own or transfer machine guns manufactured and registered by anyone after May 19, 1986. It passed in highly dubious circumstances.


While Class III manufacturers can and do produce new machine guns, their legal ownership is limited to government entities and other Special Occupational Taxpayers (SOT). When you hear “transferable” in regards to machine guns, it means that it was manufactured prior to that fateful May day back in 1986. It also means it may be older than you. Most importantly in this context, it means that you can legally own it.

As many have found out from purchasing suppressors, the NFA paperwork process itself isn’t terribly difficult aside from the long wait. Fingerprint cards and passport photos aren’t exactly fun, but it’s far from the mountain of paperwork imagined by the uninitiated.

Due to the finite numbers, a gun that would cost no more than a bag of beans and a dirty handshake in sub-Saharan Africa is worth more than a decent used car in the United States. Like Pontiacs and prostitutes, some cost more than others.


Seeing as how everything featured here is considered entry-level, there are some considerable downsides that one has to contend with. If you’re looking for near perfect, pinch your pennies until you have at least $20K to burn for a transferable M16 receiver so you can play Barbie all day long without too much worry.

In recent years the pistol-caliber carbine (PCC) made a huge comeback, and their fully automatic brethren were made in large quantities in the early ’80s, which brings us to our first option.


All of the awful and cheesy ’80s action movies seem to have a MAC somewhere in them. If there’s a MAC on the poster, odds are more than even you’ll be enjoying the same quality level as a direct-to-DVD Billy Baldwin or Steven Seagal release.

First developed back in the mid ’60s by Gordon Ingram, the MAC was designed with the military in mind. A military that didn’t particularly care for it we may add, in this nation at least. Ingram teamed up with Mitchell Werbell III, the founder of SIONICS and manufacturer of silencers, to put forth a complete suppressed weapon system.


The Military Armament Corporation (MAC) only sold commercially available subguns for about half a decade before shuttering their doors. Production rights shifted to RPB Industries, and other manufacturers began building their own versions.

Originally chambered in .45 ACP with a heavy sheetmetal receiver, lighter-weight models in other calibers were produced to include 9mm and the diminutive .380. Typically the rates of fire (ROF) are higher with these smaller caliber models, though the original Military Armament Corp .45 ACP isn’t exactly a sloth.

Though MACs have always been thought of as cheap, prices in the early ’80s peaked at around $800 (adjusted for inflation, about $1,800), which is more than one might think. A lot of them were produced prior to the enactment of FOPA, especially in 9mm, many of dubious quality. If it weren’t for the Hughes Amendment, the MAC likely would have been solely relegated to bad action movies and a curiosity on World.Guns.Ru.


In its standard OEM configuration, the MAC series is about as classy as a mustard-stained wife beater or a plastic Santa on a dried-up summer lawn. Though to the untrained eye it’s aesthetically similar to the Uzi, the highest-quality MAC is probably on par with the worst examples of that Israeli subgun.

Original models are heavy, clumsy, formed from beggarly materials, and sport an inelegant open-bolt blowback operation. In theory there is a semi-automatic mode, but we’ve personally never seen it in practice — you don’t buy one because you want to take single shots. It also remains the most readily available automatic weapon legal for individual ownership, so we can look beyond all of the warts.

If you looked up “bullet hose” in the dictionary, there’s probably a picture of a MAC under the first paragraph. The non-adjustable sights directly welded to the sheetmetal receiver serve little more than as a mere reminder that guns are supposed to have them. The wire collapsing stock makes for a compact package, at least until it wears out and unlocks while you’re shooting it.

With no good place to put your support hand while shooting, the creators decided that a nylon strap hanging from the muzzle was as good a thing to grab as any other. This can make life exciting. Many MACs shipped with a goofy barrel extension that appears to have been made by a middle school shop student. The best purpose of this item is to keep a new shooter’s support hand further away from the blasty end.

The SIONICS two-stage silencers and clones thereof are crude and loud by today’s standards. Shoe eyelets were used in the fat first stage of the suppressor to act as a heat sink/expansion chamber and a series of spacers and consumable wipes in the second, though some exist with primitive baffle stacks. The manual advises to change out the wipes every 500 rounds, but a more realistic number is 100 to 150.


There’s an anecdote that used to be told about Werbell selling the MAC/SIONICS package. The story goes that he was in a hotel room attempting to make a sale with a group of buyers. To demonstrate how effective the silencer was, he ordered room service. When the delivery guy knocked on the door, Werbell proceeded to dump an entire magazine from the MAC into a pillow. The guy making the delivery never heard a thing and Werbell made a huge sale.

Well dear readers, though it may be a fun tale to tell, either that delivery guy was more deaf than Helen Keller, or the entire thing was just made up. Even with modern silencers, open-bolt automatic weapons in general and MACs in particular, aren’t movie quiet. The absolute best part of having one of those old two-stage silencers on a MAC is that it gives you a better place to put your hand than the provided canvas strap.

We’ve heard it said that a MAC is very inaccurate, and when fired in one long stream of lead that’s indeed the case. However, you’ll find that controlled bursts will allow for more satisfactory hits.


Due to their relative accessibility, the MAC does enjoy a fairly robust aftermarket. Though many of the products resemble the firearm equivalent of a BudK catalog, some quality can be found in the mix if you sort through enough. Lage Mfg in particular has made a number of upper receivers, stocks, and caliber conversions that are significant upgrades both in rates of fire and ergonomics. Conversion of milsurp mags was a decent option when they were plentiful, but now there are various options for new production

If you want to keep it ’80s awesome but with some more modern touches, you can do that too. Gemtech produces a silencer called the Viper that shares the same look as the old SIONICS but with fully modern internals and a positive locking system. Barrels with less coarse and more precise threading can also be purchased, with some of them sporting two different thread pitches to accommodate both modern and old-school suppressors.

Though transferable prices will always vary a bit, you can get your toes wet for about $5K, making it the most affordable entry option, and original spare parts can be found in abundance.

Caliber: .380, 9mm, .45 ACP
Weight: 6.25 pounds (MAC-10), 3.5 pounds (MAC-11)
Rate of Fire: 1,000-1,400 rpm
Std Mag Capacity: 30 rounds
Price: $5,000-$8,500


When we bump it up to rifle calibers the cost goes up considerably. One of the better options for the budget-minded is the FN FNC. The precursor to the FNC was the FN CAL, a failed commercial venture by FN that basically added up to a 5.56 FAL. Produced in the late 1970s, the FNC had a handful of flaws that weren’t completely sorted out for several years. In 1986, Sweden adopted a variant they named the AK5, which is still in circulation today. In 1989 the FNC replaced the now well-aged FN FALs as Belgium’s main issue service rifle.

There’s no denying that the rustic steel metal and welded construction of the FNC can inspire some Mad Max-like fantasies. The 1970s was a time where it seems every rifle produced mixed industrial production and science fiction books together, and the FNC is no exception.

The FNC features a long-stroke gas piston operation reminiscent of the Kalashnikov, but without as much vodka poured into it. Like many rifles of the era, it has a charging handle on the right side of the receiver. The inner workings of the rifle are protected from environmental fouling with a spring-loaded cover. The receiver is in two pieces held together by two pins in a fashion that you’re no doubt intimately familiar with.

Two different models of the FNC can be found. The more common is the paratrooper model that has a shorter barrel and folding stock. While military issued models of the paratrooper variant have barrels of just over 14 inches, the 16-inch-barreled version is what you’re most likely to come across. FNCs with fixed stocks, like the one featured in the article, are a bit harder to find and have a barrel 3 inches longer.


Both three- and four-position select-fire models can be found on the U.S. market. The four-position settings are safe, semi, burst, and automatic. If you have hands on the smaller side, taking the FNC off the “safe” position can be a little cumbersome.

The FNC will eat from normal AR magazines all day — awesome because we can only imagine how much proprietary magazines would cost at this point. A two-position gas regulator sits at the bridge between the barrel and the receiver, and it’s very easy to manipulate even with gloves on. In order to fire rifle grenades, the gas system is completely shut off when the grenade sight is raised for maximum launch velocity of the explosive payload. Raising the grenade sight is also a good way to confuse those unfamiliar with the FNC.

Internally the lower appears very similar to the FN SCAR — you can definitely see the genetic lineage here, though no parts interchange.


Only a small number of FNCs were imported into the United States in the 1980s. Some reports estimate as few as 6,000 ever officially hit American shores. Others contend that there are more registered sears than rifles in circulation. Despite this small number, the FNC remains one of the most affordable automatic rifles today, with costs nearly half that of a transferable M16.

The reason for this is likely two fold: There are virtually unlimited accessories and replacement parts for the M16/M4 readily available, and the longevity of the platform itself. Even a spare original buttstock for an FNC can cost a couple hundred dollars, and finding small parts can be extremely difficult.

The FNC isn’t the only centerfire rifle available at this price point, bringing us to our next subject.

Caliber: 5.56mm
Weight: 8.5 pounds (Rifle), 8 pounds (Paratrooper)
Rate of Fire: 650-800 rpm
Std Mag Capacity: 30 rounds
Price: $12,000-$15,000

ArmaLite AR-18

Designed by Eugene Stoner, Arthur Miller, and George Sullivan at ArmaLite, the AR-18 is the other, other white meat. While it does bear some resemblance to the rifle we all know and love, the AR-15, there are some large differences — mainly due to patent laws. At the time the AR-18 was designed, Colt owned the production rifles to the AR/M16 so ArmaLite had to make a 5.56mm rifle that didn’t infringe on previous work.


The semi-automatic version of the AR-18 is the AR-180, which saw some limited commercial sales. Through production licensing the AR-18/180 was also manufactured in Japan and the United Kingdom for a relatively short period of time. The AR-18 was never a mass-issued service rifle for any major nation, but did become the de-facto symbol of the IRA in Northern Ireland. They even made a song about it.

The ArmaLite AR-18 shares some similarities with the FN FNC such as the right side charging handle that two-piece stamped sheet steel receiver for a bit of post-apocalypse feel. The short-stroke piston operating mechanism of the AR-18 was so successful that we continuously see clones and variations of it today in rifles such as the SIG SAUER MCX and the much-maligned Bushmaster ACR. Unusual for rifles produced at the time, the AR-18 also features an ambidextrous selector lever.

Magazines for the AR-18 are proprietary affairs, though conversion of your standard AR-15 magazine is uncomplicated; plus, if you mess one up, a replacement is only a couple bucks away. Unlike various other rifles produced at the time, while the AR-18 has a folding stock it isn’t skeletonized and is fairly comfortable to use.


In the early 2000s, the AR-180B was introduced that shared more parts commonality with the AR-15. However, since these were produced long, long after 1986 there aren’t any full autos available. Though, there’s at least one aftermarket receiver for the AR-180, we’re told that it would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to adapt one of these modern lower receivers to the AR-18.

The AR-18 suffers from some of the same aftermarket issues of the FN FNC, but since some parts can be salvaged from the semi-auto AR-180 the future perhaps isn’t so grim.


ArmaLite AR-18
Caliber: 5.56mm
Weight: 6.75 pounds
Rate of Fire: 750-950 rpm
Std Mag Capacity: 20, 30, 40 rounds
Price: $13,500-$16,000

Certainly this list is incomplete — if a registered full-auto is all you desire, a number of historic oddballs are available at different price points. Many have contended that pricing would level out at some point, but with the finite number, that isn’t likely in the near future. The individual financial value of machine guns are somewhat similar to the American stock market; while they may vary greatly during times of volatility (such as right before legislation passes), the overall trajectory is still up in the long term.

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