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Tippmann Armory Gatling Gun

Many Companies Make 9mm Guns. Tippmann Armory Says “Hold My Beer.” Check out their 9mm Gatling Gun

American ingenuity knows no bounds. In 1861, during the Civil War and against a backdrop of muskets and the odd breech-loader or repeating rifle, physician and serial inventor Richard Gatling developed a multi-barrel, rapid-fire, gravity-fed weapon. The Gatling gun spewed rounds downrange via a cluster of barrels that were loaded from a hopper or magazine and fired in sequence as they rotated around a central shaft, actuated by an operator working a hand crank. While not a true machine gun, it was the closest anyone had come to date — and anyone on the wrong side of the Gatling gun would probably beg to differ.

As the story goes, while living in Indianapolis, Indiana, Gatling was horrified by the losses and suffering of troops during the Civil War. He sought to create a weapon that he figured could reduce the manpower required to prosecute warfare and thus reduce the lives lost, enabling “one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred” due to its rate of fire — the original force multiplier.

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Born in North Carolina in 1818, Gatling had a passion for inventing. In his early 20s, he designed a screw propeller for steamboats, and later invented a rice-sowing machine and a wheat drill to make planting wheat easier. Throughout his lifetime, Gatling collected over 50 patents for his inventions. His last, just a year before his death at the age of 84, was for a steam plow.

Ironically, Gatling’s work on farming machinery inspired his design for the now-illustrious Gatling gun. He envisioned ammunition being repeatedly fed into a gun like seeds into a machine. No other firearms of the time were capable of such rapid, continuous fire. The manual crank operation and rotating set of barrels allowed an operator to achieve rapid fire with the relatively primitive ammunition of the day, while the multiple barrels also mitigated overheating.

Early iterations of the Gatling gun were fielded only in limited numbers during the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1866 that the United States placed an order for 100 guns, which was followed by more orders and acclaim from countries across Europe and the rest of the world. The Gatling gun saw action across the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. With the advent of recoil- and gas-operated designs such as the Maxim, the Gatling gun was eclipsed, with the U.S. military officially retiring them in 1911. The rotating multi-barrel concept lives on, though, in modern weapons like the 7.62 M134 minigun, 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon, and fearsome 30mm GAU-8 Avenger. Brrrrrt!

Gatling Gun Redux
Fast-forward to the mid-1980s, when Dennis Tippmann Sr. was building and selling miniature rimfire machine guns, replicas of guns like the M2 and 1919. These were painstakingly crafted, half-scale doppelgangers of the real thing. He had also made half-scale, museum-quality replicas of Gatling guns, chambered in 38 caliber, building around 30 of them in 1980 and 1981. His firearms manufacturing pursuits came to an abrupt halt in 1986, when the Firearm Owners Protection Act shut the door on machine guns.

Like Richard Gatling, Denny Sr. is also a prolific inventor. He pivoted to the paintball market, building Tippmann Arms into a successful, well-known manufacturer of paintball markers and equipment. He eventually sold the company to a private equity firm in 2004. While the Tippmann family has other business operations, such as manufacturing presses and sewing machines, Denny Sr. returned to his love of building guns in 2014 with a selection of rolling block rifles, the only ones made in America today.

About a month before SHOT Show 2019, Denny Sr. came into the office and told his team, “Guys, we’re building a Gatling gun. For SHOT Show.” This sent his engineers into a frenzy, frantically building the prototype that they flew to Las Vegas the day before the show opened and which won our Best of the Basement award for SHOT Show 2019 (see RECOIL Issue 42). The little 9mm that fed from Glock magazines created a stir at the show, prompting Tippmann to proceed with productizing the gun. Just eight months later, they began shipping production units. As of press time, they’ve manufactured over 300 of them.

Most closely reflecting the 1874 iteration of Gatling’s iconic design, Tippmann Armory scaled down the gun for the 9mm cartridge. Denny Sr. drew out the initial design by hand; its dimensions are approximately quarter-scale.


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The little Tippmann has eight 10-inch barrels arranged in a circle in a cylindrical receiver housing. When you turn the hand crank, gears rotate the barrel assembly inside the receiver. Each barrel has its own bolt and firing pin, with each performing subsequent steps in the operating cycle as it rotates. This is why Gatling’s multi-barrel rotary design can achieve such high rates of fire — each barrel in the cluster goes through the operating cycle in parallel, whereas a traditional firearm goes through its complete cycle in sequence, one after another. Cam followers on each of the bolt assemblies slide through a slanted groove as the whole thing rotates, moving each bolt forward and back throughout the entire rotation.

Let’s follow one of the eight barrels as it rotates through a complete cycle. A sawtooth-shaped ring strips rounds from the magazine, secured upside down at the 10 o’clock position, dropping them into a pocket in front of the bolt as it passes by the magazine. Tippmann’s proud of their sawtooth design, as it was quite a challenge to figure out how to reliably and elegantly feed the gun from today’s standard spring-loaded magazines.

As the barrel rotates closer to the 4 o’clock position, the floating firing pin is held back by a secondary cam, building spring tension as the bolt continues to move forward and pushes the live round ever closer to the chamber. At the 4 o’clock position, the round is fully chambered in the barrel and the bolt butts up against a steel support block that’s tied into the frame to absorb the energy of detonation. At that point, the firing pin is released, springing forward to strike the primer and sending the bullet downrange.

As the barrel rotates back around and clears the support block, the cam pulls the bolt backward, extracting the spent brass and eventually dropping it down a chute at the 7 o’clock position. And the same steps are happening in each of the other seven barrels, all at the same time, as they rotate through their cycles. Lather, rinse, crank, repeat. It’s an ingeniously clever system.

If you need to unload the weapon, there could be as many as four live rounds loaded in it. Simply turning the crank in reverse will spit out the live rounds. Enabling the mechanism to cleanly function in both directions was another key engineering challenge that Tippmann had to overcome.

The barrels are 4140 steel, with six lands and six flats, while the receiver housing and lid are 6061 aluminum and the outside frame is 1018 steel. The bolts and sawtooth ring are made of case-hardened steel, and cams and handles are nickel-plated steel. The turret base is cast aluminum, and the brass-colored parts are indeed made of 360 brass. The metal parts are all CNC-machined, mostly from raw bar stock. The vacuum-formed polypropylene chute is the only plastic component. The carriage is actually made of wood and painted black … by local Amish craftsmen. Seriously. Trust us, everything about this little rotary cannon is awesome.

For the rest of this article, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 49


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