The Uzi submachine gun, instantly recognizable by its boxy frame and long magazine, was an icon of 1980s action flicks. Frequently depicted as the weapon of gangs and drug lords, this compact submachine gun has been used in 200 movies and 30 wars all over the world from the Middle East to Europe and Africa.
Many would be surprised to know the Uzi is named after a man. Its designer, Colonel Uziel “Uzi” Gal, was a German-born Jew who had fled to Israel to escape Hitler and his Nazis. This brilliant mechanical engineer, who has honed his craft while in jail for illegal weapons possession, was tapped by the IDF to design a lightweight automatic weapon to replace the problematic Sten gun.
The British-designed Sten was prone to malfunctions as well as accidental discharges and was very likely to jam if more than 30 rounds were placed in its 32-round magazine. A few particularly cursed models would fire when dropped or shoot full auto if they were placed on semi-auto mode or vice versa. It was also 30 inches long, about the same length as a modern AR15.
Unlike its Sten predecessor, the Uzi could take 32 round magazines with no issue. Designers also made sure the submachine gun wouldn’t accidently discharge when dropped by adding a grip safety. Colonel Gal’s new design solved the size problem with a telescoping bolt. The same design concept used by the CZ Skorpion, the Uzi’s telescoping bolt allowed it to shave off a few inches to come out of the factory at 25 inches long with its wooden buttstock. Later versions with the folding stock would be even shorter, at just 18 inches. This small but powerful submachine gun allowed soldiers to shoot and maneuver comfortably in tight quarters, and since most of the IDF’s casualties from gunfights are killed when they peek over corners, the Uzi proved to be a lifesaver. It also helped that the 8-pound Uzi was very controllable on full auto thanks to the weapon’s weight. The Uzi submachine gun saw service mostly with rear echelon troops, vehicle crews, and the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s premiere counterterrorist force, thanks to its size and concealability.
However, most Americans don’t associate the Uzi submachine gun with the IDF. To them, the Uzi conjures images of 80’s action movies with synthetic bass and sound effects that made automatic fire sound like lasers.
The very first time the Uzi was seen on film was in the 1977 film “The Raid on Entebbe” starring Charles Bronson. Based on true events which happened just one year prior to its release, the film depicted the successful rescue of Israeli hostages from Uganda by the IDF’s Sayeret Matkal. Weapon designers for the film valued authenticity so much that they took American-made MAC-10s, frequently misidentified as Uzis due to their similar shape, and outfitted them with wooden buttstocks and other external furniture to make them resemble the Uzi submachine gun. This same trick was used in “Dogs of War” as well as “Stripes.”
The Uzi submachine gun truly came into the mainstream a decade later, when it was seen in 1986’s “The Delta Force.” Coincidentally, much like “Entebbe”, the film was based, albeit very loosely, on true events which happened a year earlier and likewise told the story of an elite team of operators rescuing hostages from terrorists. The difference, however, was that this time the good guys were Americans instead of Israelis. In “Delta Force,” the Uzi is seen in the hands of Chuck Norris, possibly the greatest action hero who ever lived.
Since action stars were the firearm influencers of their day in the 80s, the Uzi quickly became one of the most sought-after submachine guns in the American market, unfortunately ending up in the hands of criminal elements. In the years that followed, the Uzi on film became the weapon of choice for nameless bad guys in every film from “Robocop” to “Lethal Weapon.”
Civilians, however, are still able to get their hands on an Uzi pistol. The Uzi Pro is based on the Micro Uzi, which is only 11 inches long with its stock folded. This semi-automatic-only variant, unfortunately discontinued by its manufacturer, is still available for sale secondhand. Chambered in 9mm like the original, the Uzi Pro has several differences that make this post-WW2 submachine gun a modern weapon.
Unlike the original, the Uzi Pro has rails on the top of the receiver and below the barrel. This allows attachments like red dot sights, flashlights and lasers. The left-side charging handle, built as an accommodation for the Uzi Pro’s top rail, doesn’t take away from the weapon’s ergonomics.
Although the Uzi still features prominently in film and may be one of the few weapons even a person unfamiliar with firearms might recognize, the IDF phased it out in 2003 and replaced it with the Micro Tavor. The Uzi submachine gun, however, will live on in the minds of 80s action fans as long as nostalgia lasts.