No hearing protection? Bad Chris!
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No hearing protection? Bad Chris!

Gun people are some of the most generous hobbyists you’ll ever meet. They’ll put their favorite rifle or pistol in your hands, loaded with a magazine full of their own ammunition, step back and watch the lead fly. I make a point of returning the favor and paying it forward when I can. For my part I’ve introduced beginning shooters to the joys of the AK-74, the Mosin-Nagant, and whatever gun I happen to be testing for TTAG. Yesterday, thanks to this firearms fraternity, I shot my first machine pistol . . .

The 9mm Steyr TMP (Taktische Maschinenpistole) is a blowback-operated machine pistol with a locked breech and a rotating barrel. It is purely a machine pistol, with no provision for attaching a shoulder stock. The civilian-legal SPP version is expensive and was only imported in small numbers; those who know about it encountered the gun via the Counterstrike and/or Call Of Duty videogame franchises.

A fellow shooter unpacked his SPP at the shooting quarry this morning and gave Wayne and myself a few magazines of 9mm to play with. Wayne asked me to strike a pose with the empty Steyr, and being a natural ham for the camera I was happy to comply, unfortunately without either hearing protection or good trigger discipline. (I may not have been demonstrating quite perfect range practice, but the gun was empty and pointed downrange at some targets I was itching to destroy, with an excellent backstop behind them.)

Once I was done mugging for the camera I donned my ear protection, loaded myself a magazine, and mercilessly shredded an empty cooking-oil jug. Destroying targets with the civilian SPP variant of the 9mm Steyr TMP was like driving a 1969 Jaguar E-type and realizing that it really doesn’t handle well compared to a modern car.

The Steyr’s trigger pull was extremely long (perhaps 3/4 of an inch) and somewhere between 17 and 20 pounds in weight.  Each round fired was a test of will and strength between the trigger and the musculature of my finger, which I eventually won. The TMP’s sights are small, fixed and hard to use, although I did wring acceptable practical accuracy out of the gun with them.

Most surprising (and disappointing): the Steyr’s vigorous recoil. I’m not sure how a 42-ounce two-handed 9mm pistol produces vigorous recoil; it probably comes from the fact that the entire barrel recoils rearward about 4mm during the firing cycle before it rotates and unlocks the breech.

Whatever the reason, the SPP faintly bruised my left index finger where the front handguard’s safety tang kept slapping it. The full-auto TMP’s vertical foregrip would prevent this problem, but the civilian-legal SPP must avoid the vertical foregrip to avoid being classified as an ‘Any Other Weapon’ under the NFA.

The result is an unwieldy two-handed pistol with a big 30-round magazine and all the devastating penetration, range and stopping power of the 9mm Parabellum. The TMP shot much more comfortably when I fired it two-handed like any normal automatic pistol, instead of trying to go all Tier 1 with it pressed forward against its sling tension. With this technique, it shot as well as any pistol could shoot with a 17 to 20-pound trigger pull.

Twenty or 30 rounds downrange proved that there are plenty of good reasons why the Steyr TMP/SPP never really took off in the American market. I’m still extremely grateful to our new friend at the shooting quarry for letting me give this fascinating bit of firearms esoterica a whirl.

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  1. Statistically, I know the chances of my needing a gun for home defense are small yet I still own guns just to be safe. I’m wondering how wise and legally safe it is to let strangers try-out one’s own guns at a range or elsewhere. America is a very litigious country with some crazy laws and expectations especially when it comes to guns. What would happen if a stranger trying out your gun decides to intentionally or even just accidentally shoots hurts/kills others? What if the stranger commits suicide with your gun?

    • I don’t swap guns with just anybody: they have to demonstrate safe gun-handling and common sense first. The TMP’s owner was an exemplary range neighbor for at least 30 minutes (good muzzle and trigger discipline, good range communication, respecting the firing line and staying in our informal shooting lanes) before we borrowed each other’s guns.

      Is that an absolute guarantee of sanity or safety? Certainly not, but there is no such thing as absolute safety. I will not live my life in fear of strangers, especially those who are polite and friendly and demonstrate proper range safety.

    • What if they go really crazy with your weapon and decide to fire it at a Nuclear sub? You can never predict “what if…?” Decide on your own comfort level and go from there. If we all worried about “what if…? with everything we do on a daily basis, most people would never leave their homes.

    • The gun range is a bonding area. Some of the most far right(with the exception of Alt-right) will pass a firearm to a 21 yr old black kid. I know because I was that kid. They respect the fact that I’m breaking the stereotypes of young black men with guns maybe and I’ve actually come to learn safety and how to shoot properly and gain experience. It’s where I’ve met some of my best white friends who knew I was green when I shot that .44 magnum for the first time, or that Saiga 12, or the Sig P320. I bought a H&K USP compact 9mm and treated it with respect. I’ve dealt with so much racism at shooting ranges, yet it’s the guy shooting beside me that makes me feel like all gun owners and activists aren’t racist. When I took my gun to a gun show, a white man offered me $100 for a $1,000 gun like I stole it. Very insulting. Although I went through the proper security protocols, the guard asked me if it was really my gun walking out, I didn’t see him asking anyone else. What they never know is I was inspired by that guy at the range who let me shoot his guns, to graduate college, go to the Army, Make selection to be an operator and an officer. A long stretch, but it’s that kindness that shows both sides, all young black males don’t acquire guns illegally and all white males aren’t racist who like to shoot and collect guns. I’m 32 and Now when I see my friend at the range, he’s proud of his friend who speaks 4 additional languages and can give tips on CQB for home defense. Those old white racist men who never served can talk about it all day, but I’ve seen battle abroad and in my home. When you’re young and of color and you can educate the old white man on tips to survive a home invasion from experience… let’s just say some faces turn extremely red, but who wants to be the guy who talks bad about the vet who made it to SF. Eventually the range showed their true colors when one of my soldiers who was named Ramadan was denied the right to shoot based on his religion. A 18Bravo weapons specialist was denied the right to use the range on the count of his religion, which was a vital asset to survival down range, but unpopular in a small range outside of Burlington, NC. Now I use the Public Range provided by the state, but will always appreciate my friend who gladly allowed me to shoot his guns and ammo. I pray we’ll eventually find common ground with the racist community and sometimes I feel it’s merely peer pressure amongst white men. So the guy who isn’t afraid of standing out I truly respect. In conclusion, that hospitality goes a long way and it should be reprocicated every chance allowed to the next first timer.

  2. Chris, thanks for the article; once again it seems like the fantasy image of a particular device runs into the cold reality of the real world. Makes me remember back when I was a teenager and a buddy had a High Standard Model 10 bullpup shotgun with the rotatable butt plate. I had seen a picture in an old gun mag of some macho looking dude holding it in his right hand with the butt plate turned parallel to the ground and braced against his upper arm while holding the gun at waist level. Sometimes things that look like great ideas aren’t, which I found out after touching off the first round. Kinda’ the flip side is when my old agency decided to pick a single duty weapon for the department and wound up with Glock 21s. A truly utilitarian looking weapon as everybody who first saw them back in their early days said; sometimes the adjectives used weren’t as bland as ‘utilitarian’, but the more we shot the guns the better looking they became. At least for us, they never seem to jam, appeared to be imprevious to limp-wristing, and even with the bulky grip all our officers would consistently qualify, even two female officers with dainty hands. We all fantasized what it would be like to have a Playmate as a girlfriend but, sometimes, the better choice turns out to be the plainer but better over the long run, proverbial “girl next door”.

  3. Chris, did you try shooting the maschinenpistole from a moving car? I’m told that’s what it was made for.

  4. I started a thread on the High Road about “gun sharing” and the responses were all over the place. Some were indifferent, some were really enthused about letting other folks try their stuff, others didn’t like the idea one bit of someone they didn’t know extremely well try their weapon. I suppose if it were a huge problem we’d be hearing about it far more often. Most of the suicides that take place with “borrowed” firearms seem to actually be committed with “rental” guns. I’ve tried a lot of people’s firearms at a few ranges, including the duty weapons of some police officers. When someone tries out my rifles, I make sure that they have also brought their own stuff, and I do watch them carefully and give them handling guidance if they need it. But so far, no problemo.

    • I’ve also “traded guns” with other enthusiasts as well as simply letting someone else fire one of my guns. Like has been mentioned already, it’s usually someone I’ve already observed firing (safely). I have a number of “neat” guns – especially my FNH guns (FS2000, SCAR-16S, Five-seveN, FNP-45T)… that get some attention at the range. I like to be a “good ambassador” for the hobby and often invite admirers to try them out. I like the camaraderie it precipitates. A “pay it forward” type thing.

  5. If it’s a locked breech, it’s not a blowback. It’s a short recoil mechanism, specifically a rotating barrel short recoil mechanism, as opposed to a Browning tilting barrel short recoil mechanism, or Beretta falling lug short recoil mechanism.

  6. Letting other enthusiasts check out your stuff is an important part of the fellowship of guns. The only time I won’t hand my gun over is when I only have one with me.

    Last year, a guy at the Barnstable range heard my cannon blasting and wandered over, so I let him shoot my 91/30. He popped off a few rounds, went to his car and came back with some toys. He let me shoot his SMLE and a K98k. Then he uncased a full-auto AK and let me drain a thirty round mag. Full auto guns are real scarce in MA, so it was a treat for me to be able to shoot one in my home state. I usually have to enlist to shoot a machine gun, or at least visit Las Vegas.

    Gun people are different that way. I don’t know a “car guy” who would let a stranger take his Lotus for a spin. I don’t know a “ladies man” who would let a stranger take his woman for a spin. But a “gun guy” will let a stranger shoot his gun.

    • At the Gun Blogger Rendezvous in Reno, a bunch of us basically laid guns on tables and we freely circulated shooting everyone’s stuff (I donated ammo, since I’d heard about too many issues at NY Airports with checking firearms). The Texan who brought full-auto Uzis was great – he let everyone fire it, but stayed near his table, lest his gear grow legs and walk away…

  7. I think the Styer TMP is a perfect example of a gun that does not make a functional transition from its full-auto sibling to the neutered semi-auto version. The lack of the vertical foregrip on the semi version is regretable, and the heavy trigger probably matters less on the full auto version.

  8. ” those who know about it encountered the gun via the Counterstrike and/or Call Of Duty videogame franchises”
    Or, 007: The World is Not Enough(N64) for the Nintendo fans.

  9. I concur with the comment, “Gun people are some of the most generous hobbyists you’ll ever meet.”. I recently took my 14 year old son, his friend and his friend’s dad to my gun club to shoot my AR, since my son’s friend had never shot a rifle. One of the members had a guest with him and they were shooting the member’s M-1 carbine, Luger, WW II Ithaca .45 and an MP-40 semi-auto reproduction. Before I could ask him if the boys could look at his guns, he offered to let them shoot them. He even gave them 10 rounds each to shoot in each gun except the .45. He had shot all his .45 ammo before we got there. For two boys who are Xbox360 “Call of Duty”, etc. enthusiasts, he really made their day.

    Fortunately, there were no gun borrowing, suicidal, psycho-killers on the range that day.

  10. What if the stranger commits suicide with your gun?
    That did happen to me. That was the last time I went shooting with somebody I didn’t know.

  11. i don’t have any guns(although i’d love one) but i think its great everyone helping eachother out and sharing your stuff i wouldn’t worry about suicidals unless your sharing it for long term.

  12. I own a Steyr SPP, have owned it for the better part of 15 years, and I cannot believe your comments about this outstanding firearm!*

    * Disclaimer: That’s a completely fabricated, BS statement. Actually, you echoed every sentiment I’ve ever had about this gun. I had to have one when I saw it on the cover of a gun rag in the late nineties… it became a mission. When I finally had my hands on it, I couldn’t wait to take it to the range, where I discovered…

    … exactly what you did. This thing sucks, frankly. It’s not good at anything. The trigger is horrendous. It’s the only gun I own that literally hurts my trigger finger to shoot. It’s exhausting, in fact. Every part of my body which touches it, gets bruised up. The ergos are horrendous. The sights are borderline useless. The recoil is surprisingly sharp for a 9mm peashooter (like you, I wondered how that was possible; my little Kahr MK-9 is 1/10th its dimensions and very tame.)

    I just can’t figure out what this thing is supposed to be good for. It’s way too big to conceal, obviously; the additional size doesn’t negate any recoil or improve the ballistic performance of the 9mm; it doesn’t offer any good mounting locations for accessories; the trigger pull puts a huge dent in its accuracy potential; about the only thing going for it is the high-cap mags (which I happened to get included with mine.)

    I took mine shooting twice. It’s been sitting in a box, unfired, ever since. I keep meaning to sell it, and as a collector’s item it has some appeal, but in terms of being a functional firearm, it definitely sucks out loud.

  13. ” those who know about it encountered the gun via the Counterstrike and/or Call Of Duty videogame franchises”
    “Or, 007: The World is Not Enough(N64) for the Nintendo fans.”

    I had actually heard of this weapon from “Full Metal Panic!”.

  14. Came across this thread – and wondered how people feel about the B&T TP9? It seems to be popular and the parts are interchangeable with the SPP. Perhaps nostalgia isn’t as strong as having the “latest” even if trigger pull is the same

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