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August 22, 2022

MAC-10 Made the 80s Roar

By Kurt Allemeier

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The MAC-10 is not a hero gun.

Sure, it might, for a brief moment end up in the hero’s hand and serve as a deus ex machina, but it’s not the gun that offs the villain, nor saves the girl. On a rare occasion it’s wielded by a rogue cop, but mostly it’s the gun of a henchman, a thug, a terrorist. He who carries the MAC-10 is cannon fodder.

A boxy, mostly stamped metal .45 caliber submachine pistol that spits a lot of lead in a short amount of time, the MAC-10 went into production in 1970 by Military Armament Corporation with hopes of selling it for military use.

The MAC-10 was described by one law enforcement official as being "fit only for combat in a phone booth."

Unfortunately, the MAC-10 seemed to be the bridesmaid to the military, sexy and fun for a time, but not the one you take home to mom. The sturdy and durable MAC-10 lacks in accuracy what it offers in rate of fire, with an effective range of only about 50 yards while firing off more than 1,000 rounds/minute.

The MAC-10 in Service

The U.S. military considered replacing the M1911 with it before choosing the Beretta M-9. The United Kingdom’s Special Air Service Special Projects Team looked at the MAC-10 before choosing the Heckler & Koch MP5. The MP5 and the similarly tasked Uzi have about a 100-yard range, while getting off about 800 rounds/minute and 600 rounds/minute, respectively.

The police didn’t take the MAC-10 seriously either. One law enforcement official deemed it “fit only for combat in a phone booth.”

The MAC-10 is an iconic 80s gun.

A trio of MAC-10 machine pistols are available in Rock Island Auction Company’s Aug. 26-28 Premier Auction as are seven of their cousins, the sub-compact M11/Nine. The MAC-10 is chambered for .45 ACP, while the M11 uses 9mm ammunition.

The Duke and the MAC-10

There was no interest from the hoped-for big buyers, but like a lass from Kansas getting off the bus in Hollywood, movies beckoned.

The gun debuted on-screen with a movie legend who is more familiar with six shooters than open bolt submachine pistols. Yes, John Wayne. This wasn’t emptying six from the cylinder. In 1974’s “McQ,” Wayne, using a MAC-10 chambered in 9 mm, unloaded a clip into a water-filled garbage can during a demonstration.

“How about that?” asked the gun salesman. “Those 32 slugs came out in a second and a half.”

Better known for wielding wheelguns, western film legend John Wayne tangled with bad guys using a MAC-10 in 1974's "McQ."

Cocaine Cowboys and the Silver Screen

By 1976, Military Armament Corporation was out of business. And speaking of bad business, we have to touch on the fact that in reality, the MAC-10 was a gun of the drug war and extremism. It was used in a hit on a drug kingpin in Miami in 1979, and the assassination of a Denver radio talk show host by a neo-Nazi in 1984. As the 70s ended, South Florida cops came to call the MAC-10 the “Miami chopper.”

As the 80s began, the MAC-10’s movie career was about to bust out. The gun was used in 15 films in the 70s, but more than twice that in the 80s. The MAC-10’s compactness was easy to frame and photogenic as its holder threw lead in all directions, making it the “gun that made the 80s roar.”

It also offered a bit of reality for a time. The MAC-10 was used in 1983’s “Scarface” and frequently on television’s “Miami Vice,” as a nod to the cocaine cowboys of south Florida. SWD, the maker of the MAC-10 in the 80s, also made the Street Sweeper, a revolving drum shotgun, that made its way into 80s action films.

The MAC-10 is "the gun that made the 80s roar."

The MAC-10: a True 80s Gun

Sure it was used by Columbian drug lords, but the MAC-10 was on the trigger finger of people on every side of the law, from Chinese hitmen to the A-Team, from anti-hero Snake Plissken, to vigilantes like Chuck Norris’s J.J. McQuade and Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey. Even cops, spies, and soldiers.

When a movie called for a big shooting set piece, the MAC-10 was there. It was never a weapon of subtlety, mostly used to spray a room, like in “Scarface,” “Death Wish 4,” and “Raw Deal.”

The MAC-10 even found its way into comedy. Bill Murray and crew used it to bust out their fellow GIs in Yugoslavia — “It’s like going to Wisconsin…” — in “Stripes,” while the least-menacing movie couple of Dan Aykroyd and Donna Douglas let loose with the lead in “Spies like Us.”

Hong Kong Calls

The gun was already a Hollywood icon before it found its way into the movies of Hong Kong moviemaker John Woo and into the hands of Chow Yun-Fat, the epitome of action movie cool. When Chow wasn’t firing dual Beretta 92Fs, he was mag dumping lead into bad guys in “A Better Tomorrow 2.”

A true 80s gun, the MAC-10 found fame in movies and television, hip hop and video games.

Back in Hollywood, perhaps the MAC-10 had jumped the shark. By the end of the 1980s, the gun was only part of the supporting cast. Sure, the gun occasionally got called upon for heroics with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies” and Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley in “Beverly Hills Cop III,” but in the 1990s it found itself relegated to bit parts, used by thugs, gang members, and mobsters. More recently, in AMC's “The Walking Dead”, the MAC-10 makes an appearance in the hands of the nefarious Negan.

Hip Hop Swagger

As a new century dawned and the sun was setting on the MAC-10 as a movie gun, its purpose changed. It started showing up in new places — hip hop and video games — and in new ways. The MAC-10 became a protector and avenger.

Rappers like Nas, Prodigy, and Trippie Redd put the MAC-10 in their flows about “thoughts of an assassin” and “dumping my gun.” Dedrick D’Mon Rolison is best known as Mack 10 and has sold nearly 11 million records between his solo work and work with super group Westside Connection.

The M11/Nine is a sub-compact version of MAC-10 that fires 9mm ammunition.

Grand Theft Auto and Beyond

Be it Xbox or PlayStation, the MAC-10 has commanded video games since the turn of the century. The gun has appeared in as many games as it did on film in the 70s and 80s, in titles like “Counter-Strike,” “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” “Far Cry 2,” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.”

The MAC-10, a classic pair of guns from the Tomb Raider series.

Video games brought the MAC-10 full circle. In films and on television it was put in the hands of those whose life had no meaning to the viewer, an extra, a guest star, or someone down the list of credits. In video games it is no longer the gun of a henchman.

The MAC-10 was once described as a weapon "fit only for combat in a phone booth."

In video games, the protagonist can be hero or anti-hero, like Lara Croft, Tommy Vercetti, or Solid Snake. Good or bad, ultimately the gamer is staked to protect themselves, making, for a time, the MAC-10 a star.

The MAC-10 and its smaller cousin, the M11/Nine harken back to the south Florida drug wars and the rollicking action movies of the 80s.

A descendant of Ingram's M10, the M11/9 is made with a slightly longer receiver than the M11 to accommodate a caliber upgrade from 380 ACP to 9mm Parabellum and allow for a longer range of bolt travel to dampen felt recoil.

The Street Sweeper: Another 80s Gun of Infamy

Another iconic 80s gun from the mind of Mitchell WerBell, the Street Sweeper found its way to the U.S. market through some fairly sketchy people involved in espionage, drug dealing, and tax evasion.

Street Sweeper shotgun for sale! This Street Sweeper is an example of the late production guns using the Cobray design. The 18" barrel is fitted with a perforated heat shield and has a Polymer receiver.

In the United States the Street Sweeper shotgun was produced by Cobray and marketed from 1989 to 1994 with slogans like, "It's a Jungle Out There! There Is A Disease And We've Got The Cure." And "Make your streets safe and clean with the help of 'The Street Sweeper'!"

A period advertisement promoting the Street Sweeper shotgun.

The ATF declared the Striker and Street Sweeper shotgun “destructive devices” in 1994 due to a lack of “sporting purpose.” Despite its inelegant design and questionable purpose, the Street Sweeper is a gun that brings equal parts of a mercenary past, the drug war of the 80s, an air of illegality, and danger that a collector can appreciate.

What do you get when you take the frame of a factory original RPB open bolt semi-automatic pistol, upgraded it to fully automatic, and fit it out with a Lage receiver? The RPB Industries/Port Arms M10 submachine gun.


Internet Movie Firearms Database

MAC 10: The Gun Made Famous by Hip Hop (But Was a Failure), By Peter Suciu

The MAC-10 Was an Over-Hyped Hunk of Junk, by Darien Cavanaugh

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