The Thompson M1927A1 from Auto Ordnance

This is a big, heavy gun.

The Thompson 1927A1 is a big, heavy gun. And we’re giving it away.

Buy a Thompson GunsAmerica:

Read more at Auto-Ordnance:

Enter the contest:

Auto-Ordnance is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Thompson. As part of this celebration, A-O is making 1,500 matched pairs–a 1927A1 Thompson and an A-O 1911A1. They’ve sent us a pair to review and, when we wrap up this project, we’ll be giving the set away to one lucky winner. Be sure to enter.

Shooting Sublime

Is there a gun that’s more rewarding and easy to shoot than the Thompson? That isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m actually asking. I’ve shot several of these, and it just feels so damn good. Why? It is all about history. But the Thompson’s inherent accuracy and the low recoil don’t hurt. It is a really easy choice for me. This is, far and above, my favorite historical rifle.

The originals are prohibitively expensive. And unless it is already shagged out, shooting an original Thompson doesn’t do much for the relative value. I’ve had the good fortune to run more than 1,000 rounds through a full-auto. What they say about the handling is true. The short barreled Thompsons, especially those without the pistol grip forend, tend to walk up in full auto–but it is nothing like what you see in Hollywood. The cyclic rate, which is modest compared to more modern machine guns, gives the iconic typewriter bop-bop-bop.

There have been many variations on the Thompson over the years. This one is a 1927A1.

Specs on the 1927A1. Check out the wide variety of mags available.

Specs on the 1927A1. Check out the wide variety of mags available.

This Thompson is a semi-auto, and the barrel isn’t short. This is a big gun, and long–41 inches. Because the breech is so far forward on the receiver, the 16.5 inch barrel seems even longer than the barrels on most rifles. And with the addition of the vertical grip, the Thompson is easy to control.

This is from 50, standing.

This is from 50, standing.

This is from 25 yards, running the trigger fast.

This is from 25 yards, running the trigger fast. The gun is so easy to control.

Let’s start with the accuracy. The 16.5″ barrel spits out these 230 grain pills with stunning effect. At distances out to 50 yards, we got consistent one hole groups. Beyond that, the groups opened up a bit–but there are a lot of things affecting this that have little to do with the gun.

This is a gun meant for a creative use of iron sights. And the front blade, built to be durable in every conceivable situation, is not meant for surgical work. This compounds human error. The rear sight folds down to reveal a somewhat crude rear notch, for close work. If you are shooting longer distances, you can stand the sight up and use the peep sight.

Compensator. It compensates.

The Compensator. It compensates.

The rear sight can elevate for serious yardage.

The rear sight can elevate for serious yardage.

We shot standing at 100 yards with the irons. The results aren't MOA, but this is standing with a very heavy gun shouldered.

We shot standing at 100 yards with the irons. The results aren’t MOA, but this is standing with a very heavy gun shouldered.

On the first day we were working with the Thompson, I fired this group from the bench--aimed at the top hole, from 100 yards.

On the first day we were working with the Thompson, I fired this group from the bench at 100 yards.

When we benched the gun and shot steady, braced strings, we saw group sizes come back to the 2″ range at 100 yards. That’s nothing to sneeze at (especially when you consider that the bullets are almost half an inch wide). The group on the yellowish board above was aimed at a spot that’s not in frame. The first three shots were touching, and then the fourth drifted high. The fifth came back down. We had the Thompson braced in a Caldwell sled on a portable shooting bench.

My one complaint about the rear sight is that I end up with my face very close to the peep sight. At 6'4" I need another 3+ inches of stock.

My one complaint about the rear sight is that I end up with my face very close to the peep sight. At 6’4″ I need another 3+ inches of stock.

We did shoot standing at a steel plate at 200 yards. At this distance, the Thompson works more like an artillery piece than a rifle, and you walk it in. But it is possible. Practical? Not so much. But a lot of fun. You fire, and wait a second to see the visual impact, or hear the steel ring. We were shooting for distance under less than optimal conditions (wind and sporadic rain), but could hit a 10″ plate from 200 yards once or twice a magazine–with the rest coming amazingly close.

All of this is to say that the Thompson is an accurate gun. I think the reason I’m dwelling on this is because I don’t think about the Thompson as accurate. This is a gun meant to put lead down range–fast. And that doesn’t require surgical precision. This is the trench broom. And trenches never afforded long sight distances. They turned and forked frequently to prevent anyone from sweeping more than just a few feet at any one time.

The charging knob is on top, and split so you can see through it. This split also functions as a fast sight for close work.

The charging knob is on top, and split so you can see through it. This split also functions as a fast sight for close work.

So what else makes this so enjoyable? The weight. This massive gun eats the recoil of the .45 ACP. Repeat shots are as easy as they are on a Ruger 10/22. Shoot from the hip, shoot from the shoulder, walk shots in, dump a mag… every shooting scenario runs with a fluidity that makes even the most experienced shooter grin.

And then there are smaller details, like the noise reduction. Some rifles are stupid loud, even with hearing protection. This long barrel, and the thickness of the steel mitigates noise levels. I often leave the range with a headache (even when wearing plugs and muffs), but not with the Thompson. This guns is a dream. There’s no punch from the recoil and no concussive punch from the report.

The shortcomings?

The weight I mentioned a moment ago can be difficult to manage at times. When shooting photos for this piece, I had Sam hold the rifle. He’d shoulder it, and I’d start messing with the camera, and after a minute or two, he’d need a break. This model comes in at 13 pounds, empty. That’s what makes it stable, but it can be fatiguing too.

And critics may point out that the design is noticeably dated. In a world of split second mag changes, fans of the Thompson will sheepishly look the other way. The mag catch has to be actuated to get the mag in and out. It helps, too, if the bolt is locked back when you insert a new mag.

Slide the rib up the channel.

Slide the rib up the channel.

Hit the mag release, even when inserting a mag. It makes things easier.

Hit the mag release, even when inserting a mag. It makes things easier.

You have to grab the charging nob and muscle it back to get the bolt to drop. All told, it requires practice. Not that this is an indictment of the design, or the build. It is what it is, and you accept it when working with a historical gun.

Both of these details–the weight and the mag issues–should be kept in perspective. If you are serious about buying a Thompson, it isn’t for its practical defensive potential. I know there are some guys out there who (for whatever reason) only own one gun. They’re drawn to the historical or cinematic nature of a gun, but the gun needs to do double duty as a defensive firearm, too. The A-O 1911A1 is the perfect example of a gun that can be both at the same time. While it isn’t as ergonomic as some tricked out 1911s, much less any of the polymer pistols, it has the appeal of history and defensive potential. But the Thompson seems like it is on a higher plane.

The mag is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. There are many capacities available.

The mag is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. There are many capacities available.

Thompson’s next 100 years

This is an anniversary, so let’s celebrate a bit. The Thompson is one of the most iconic guns of all time. If we were to build a short list–maybe 5 guns–that can be identified instantly, even by non-gun-nuts, the Thompson would be on that list.  The pre-war government overreach we refer to as Prohibition relied on the Thompson as its tool for heavy-handed law enforcement. Why? Because the Thompson was equally adored by the rum runners and gangsters who squared off with the feds and with each other.

Historical Hollywood, for the reasons mentioned above, still has an ongoing fascination with the piece. and it is even more common in video games (where first person shooters don’t have to load magazines or actually carry a 13 pound gun).

And now, at the centennial, the icon belongs to Auto-Ordnance. And it is exceptionally well executed. While it may not be a truck gun, and it certainly isn’t going into the nightstand, the Thompson will be a conversation starter. It is the type of legacy gun you break out of the safe, and carry with you to the range. You’ll run a couple of boxes through it and then carry it back home. My bet is that you’ll spend more time taking it apart, cleaning it, oiling it and babying it.

If you want a bit of shine on your Thompson, A-O has you covered.

If you want a bit of shine on your Thompson, A-O has you covered.

So what will the next century bring for the design? I don’t anticipate radical redesigns that attempt to prove the gun’s relevance. If you look at some of the M1 Carbines and M14s, companies are effectively updating the designs. But this is a classic. And A-O has some shocking finishes on the newest models, but they’re still Tommy Guns at heart.

The hand grip on the Thompson feels great, like the grip on a big revolver.

The hand grip on the Thompson feels great, like the grip on a big revolver.

While it isn't fragile, the milled section at the breach looks skeletal when the mag is out.

While it isn’t fragile, the milled section at the breach looks skeletal when the mag is out.

Bolt locked back.

Bolt locked back.

The slots are for a drum mag.

The slots are for a drum mag.



The mag release.

The mag release.

A 20 rounds stick mag.

A 20 round stick mag.

The flip side, with no witness holes.

The flip side, with no witness holes.

The round hole is catches the mag release.

The round hole catches the mag release.

Stamped steel.

Stamped steel.

The mag catch and the channel that guides a mag into place.

The mag catch and the channel that guides a mag into place.

If you miss, it won't stay put.

If you miss, it won’t stay put.

Where the sight folds down.

Where the sight folds down.

#7 out of 1,500.

#7 out of 1,500.

The trigger is solid, and breaks at 4 pounds.

The trigger is solid, and breaks at 4 pounds.

There's no recoil, so the steel pad doesn't hurt.

There’s no recoil, so the steel pad doesn’t hurt.

Charging knob up top.

Charging knob up top.

The bolt, and extractor.

The bolt, and extractor.

The rounds are visible when the mag is loaded.

The rounds are visible when the mag is loaded.

Ribbed for your pleasure.

Ribbed for your pleasure.



The stamped list of U.S. patents.

The stamped list of U.S. patents.

We're giving this set away, so enter now.

We’re giving this set away, so enter now.

Buy one on GunsAmerica:

Read more at Auto-Ordnance:

Enter the contest:


{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Thomas April 14, 2020, 8:44 pm

    What does KM at the start of the searl # mean ? What year was KM5820 made? Thank you so much Thomas.

  • Jeff May 18, 2019, 1:25 pm

    I purchased my M1927A1 at the McCord BX in 2016 ( No taxes, sale on long guns, and 15 percent off the top) got her cheaper then most, I have had a lot of fun firing this Rifle, have had some problems as well, purchased the AO 5ornd drum from Auto ord, got to say it sucks , jams every single time, also some are temperamental with ammo brand, I now need to fire Remington UCP 230 as other brands mis feeds and jams, noticed this problem after having to replace the bolt due to rounds jamming up causing the bolt face to deface, so like you say take her to the range once a quarter fire off few 100 rounds, clean her lube her store her. Those thinking on it , I love this rifle get compliments on her, others love to fire it, its heavy as indicated but like mentioned has near zero recoil, accurate, and just bitching to look at and hold

  • Glen February 1, 2017, 10:31 pm

    I struggle to disassemble mine for cleaning. I have to use a dentist’s pick to get the bolt in and out.
    Also, even with the “third hand”, it is hard for me to get the 50 round drum in, then get it just right and not slide all the way through.
    Not complaining, just noting my ineptness.

  • About1jab May 1, 2016, 4:04 pm

    Please enter me in this drawing.

  • Mark From Bristol April 26, 2016, 7:42 pm

    I do work in the Midwest and there’s a relatively small town where I’ve gotten to know the police chief, a real nice and friendly guy. That PD has a pair of them that they purchased back in the days of Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger. I had heard from a coworker that they have them so I asked the chief and he acknowledged that they do. I was doing some work and he walked into the room carrying them. Yep, they have a pair of them and they have huge drums, 100 round I think. He handed me one and they ARE very heavy. 13 pounds? Seems to me a whole lot more than 13 pounds of very heavy steel with wood grips, including a pistol grip. These .45 guys are capable of firing full auto and he says that they get an annual visit from the ATF to inspect that they are still in possession of them, that no one has stolen or sold them illegally. He told me that they do fire them periodically at a range and that he has fired them himself. He said that they’ve been offered in the tens of thousands EACH buy serious gun collectors. For some reason $30,000, maybe $40,000 EACH jumps out at me. Because they are capable of full auto, he mentioned that it takes a special permit to be able to own one, maybe he said Class IV? Anyway, the pair that they have are some serious firearms and serious quality firearms at that. A pair of firearms that are about 90 years old I figure. Very, very, very heavy and very intimidating. They are quite a pair that I’d love to own even one.

    There is a gun store near me that has two or three of the Thompson 1927 replica’s I figure, semi auto .45 that I’m thinking about it at about $1,500 each. Much more reasonable, but still just not anywhere near the same as the real deal on ANY day. Trust me on that one.

  • Jessie Martin April 26, 2016, 5:46 pm

    enter me in the drawing. I have always wanted one of these. Thanks

  • Noel P. April 26, 2016, 9:22 am

    Please enter me in the contest as I can not get it to work on the net.

  • Mick April 26, 2016, 9:09 am

    Would love to add this to my 20th Century arms collection !

  • apmauk April 25, 2016, 11:30 pm

    Please enter me in this contest for this giveaway.
    This ((Thompson 1927A1) was like the firearm that I used in the US Navy as a repel border team member on my ship in 1969- 1972/ USS Orion AS18

  • Conner T. Parish April 25, 2016, 8:36 pm

    Please enter me in the contest. Thanks.

  • Karl Kostman April 25, 2016, 8:01 pm

    I have only fired full auto Thompsons in my life and when a person really sits down to look at the gun after stripping it you do get a real appreciation of what went into building the originals the machining of the metal is beautiful and you can tell that each gun had a lot of hand labor into making them run reliably as they did. You can also tell the COST that went into each gun, the bluing on the originals is darned near equal to many fully custom gun shops products today, impressive to say the least!
    THIS was the gun to end all wars were the words of the gun inventor! In the real world it only real attention it garnered was from the famous gangsters of the period, end result was MANY innocent people were killed by the BAD guys doing very BAD things, and one of their weapons of choice was the Thompson Sub Machine gun! The inventor of the gun was SO upset with what he invented and how it was being used that he committed Suicide being unable to see his dreams turning into such ugliness! There is NO doubt that virtually all of us could recognize a Thompson blindfolded if we could just touch it, and everybody else would at least know that this is the gun the gangsters used to kill people, needless to say there is as much or more history in this gun (be it good or bad) as any other firearm ever built, they are an incredible example of America!
    The first time I shot one it was well used, I was impressed how the stock could be so easily installed and removed, the weight was the other thing that caught me a little off guard, GOOD GRIEF this gun was heavy. I fired two 50 round drums through the gun that morning and it functioned very well and was reasonably controllable! I own a few class III weapons and I like to shoot what I have. Would I ever really want to own a Thompson? NO I would not, but the gun and its time is something that can never be denied, in its time it was the BADDEST most lethal hand carried firearm in the world! I do give the gun it due!!!

  • jim garneau April 25, 2016, 3:02 pm

    I have a 1928 Thompson. One of the Utica light 40’s made in 1942. Have not fired it in many years but it has been fun. My MlAl is what gets the usage. Would love to be a part of this draw but up in Canada we do have a few resrictions Perhaps I will get to Grainville this summer if Tracey is still holding his shows. We were his first international guests

  • cobraman April 25, 2016, 1:10 pm

    It’s not a “rifle”. It fires pistol ammo.

    • Duane Bessette April 25, 2016, 3:18 pm

      The BATFE classifies firearms by barrel length not by ammo type. It is a rifle.

    • Duane Bessette April 25, 2016, 4:13 pm

      According to the BATFE it is a rifle because of it’s barrel and overall length. Caliber has nothing to do with it.

  • George R. Chance April 25, 2016, 1:01 pm

    The article by Dave Higginbotham on the Thompson M1927A1 was on an interesting subject, but was so poorly written and constructed that I was distracted from the content. Mr. Higginbotham made grammatical errors, glaring gaffs of syntax and downright poor English use. May I suggest that the editor of the Web page check future submissions of Mr. Higginbotham prior to publishing. To hold out this kind of content as journalism, speaks poorly of “GunsAmerica’s” credibility. Spare us, please!

    • Noel P. April 26, 2016, 9:08 am

      Well aren’t you picky ! It was written as if it were a conversational piece not as a term paper. Stick to your English lessons and leave the guns to the shooters.

  • Havanajim April 25, 2016, 12:49 pm

    Excellent review – and fantastic pictures, by the way. Thompsons are my personal favorites, both for nostalgia and for how effective they actually are. I use one regularly as my ‘carbine’ for Steel Challenge. After a bit of time with one, you get used to the weight issue and start appreciating the fact that there’s no recoil. Like the article states, I’ve found them to be very accurate. I will say that they are not for everyone, but for those who spend the time with them, you are rewarded with the sheer pleasure of a superb firearm.

  • Noel P. April 25, 2016, 11:46 am

    Evidently Norm Fishler never used the awkward 1900’s technology Tompson in combat and is a range monkey.

    We used to mount our sling swivels on the left side of of our MIA’s and treat it like a mortar, “over, short and on target”. There is not a better close quarters management tool built to date. As the Scots say “let them enjoy their frickashr but give a man his Haggis” !

    • Duane Bessette April 25, 2016, 4:27 pm

      Did you actually read the article? The author clearly states that this is not a practical choice as a self defense weapon. Clearly there are better examples available to range ninjas for that purpose.

      • Noel P. April 26, 2016, 9:17 am

        Duane, yes I read the article and the author has a right to his opinion. I used one on active duty and we were not defending our homes. Combat is not home defense. It would with its weight and the destructive power be a poor home defense weapon but so would any SMG. Once with Larry Dring while posting at Benning’s School for Boys we outshot the AR15/M16 crowd on the 300 yards and under pop up course. With any weapon its all how familiar you are and how you handle it.

  • JoeBlack April 25, 2016, 11:09 am

    I bought mine when the cost of the WWll era Thompson’s were the same as the transfer tax. Pre70s Fl gunshows had a lot of guns and few buyers.The best tommyguns fire from the open bolt.

    • Miles Huggins April 25, 2016, 6:36 pm

      I agree but its still a sweet gun

  • Jordan April 25, 2016, 10:50 am

    Thanks for this super thorough review. Seems like a great looking gun from that video.

  • Norm Fishler April 25, 2016, 10:20 am

    Heavy, awkward to the point of being clumsy, poor ergonomics, overly complex and expen$ive as hell. What’s there not to like? Early 1900’s technology at its finest. I’ll pass, but have a *B*L*A*S*T*!*.

  • AD Roberts April 25, 2016, 10:04 am

    Went to Guns of America site, trying to sign up to win a Thompson sub. Could not find the sign up site. Is it a trick or just for computer literate guys.

  • Captain Bob April 25, 2016, 9:48 am

    Does anyone know of a magazine loader tool for the Thompson mags? That rib on the back keeps any that I have from working. SOMEONE must make one… But I can;t find it.

  • Michael R. Smith April 25, 2016, 9:46 am

    Please enter me in the Thompson Drawing. Can a person buy a 100 round drum for the Thompson? If so what is the cost?

    • William Phillips April 27, 2016, 1:44 pm

      Michael you can purchase the 100 rd drum directly from Thompson. It’s about $4-500. I can’t remember the exact price but that range covers it.

  • Ray Becker April 25, 2016, 9:25 am

    Had One,Got Sick And Had To Sell,What Fun To Shoot with 100rd Drum,Also Had A 45 Spitfire,Full Auto,For 40 Years With ATF Stamp,1000’s Of Rounds Through Her Everyone Loved To Shoot,Great Guns Ray

  • Karl Jacobsen April 25, 2016, 8:21 am

    They’re awesome guns to shoot and I think this article nails it to a tee. The low recoil, the fun but not practical use, the excellent quality. The recoil springs are very hard to compress but there is a non-factory kit that puts in lighter springs.

  • Randy Briles April 25, 2016, 8:13 am

    Please enter me in Thompson contest. Tks

  • KENNY mILLS April 25, 2016, 7:21 am

    The one thing I didn’t like about the
    1927 A-1 was the charging knob. It was hard to charge and it would tear up the flesh on the side of your hand. I think I know why the gangsters wore gloves in the movies.

  • Jay April 25, 2016, 7:00 am

    These are indeed a nostalgic piece. We need to remember that is was the iconic “Tommy gun” ushered in by Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, that the first federal firearms control act was enacted by President Roosevelt! We still have it today because little by little we are becoming a less free nation one step at a time! When obama came on the scene we were at number 8 in the world on individual freedoms, today we are at 23rd! We must stop the madness!

  • eric holder April 25, 2016, 6:50 am


  • Chief April 25, 2016, 6:23 am


  • Eric April 25, 2016, 6:14 am

    Did you do anything to the trigger? Mine breaks at like 12# or more, it is a very heavy trigger. I love shooting this thing though, most fun gun I own.

  • Harold T> Coss April 25, 2016, 2:58 am

    Only $ 889 plus taxes and handling. I can order it here at my gun shop and get the required FFL. What a great Xmas present in Az. It is legal to own and shoot

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