The Ancient FBI Machine Gun Course

The FBI has an interesting history with firearms. There is an old myth that states they couldn’t even carry a gun until 1934, when the Crime Bill passed. In reality, they had always carried guns but had to abide by state laws and even seek permits and licenses to do so. The FBI often attempted to match the power of the criminal they chased. Men like Dillinger, Machine Gun Floyd and Al Capone had arsenals of firearms. Bonnie and Clyde ripped off a National Guard Armory and had BARs. It wasn’t a great surprise when the FBI adopted the Thompson Submachine Gun and a Machine Gun Course with it.

In this era, the Thompson was a short, portable, fast-firing submachine gun that gave G-Men a leg up on the bad guys. Or at least evened the playing field. Like any police organization, they couldn’t just hand you a machine gun and say go to work. There was training and a qualification course these G-Men had to shoot. This became the FBI Machine Gun Course.

Inside the FBI Machine Gun Course

The FBI Machine Gun course is a very simple qualification. If I could get my hands on a real Thompson, I’d love to shoot it. Sadly, that is not going to happen. However, we can gaze at the FBI Machine Gun Course and enjoy its old-school simplicity and design. To be fair, it’s not the worst qualification I’ve ever seen out there, and it comes out of a time when Hoover was still in charge.

The course is made up of three different phases fired at three different ranges. Shooters will need 60 rounds of ammunition and two old-school Army E Targets. You’ll fire multiple rounds at a time, but for every two shots or every burst, you have to transition between targets.

Phase 1

The shooter will stand at the 15-yard line with a ready gun. The shooter will fire ten rounds in semi-auto from the hip level position in eight seconds. Why the hip level? Who knows. It was en vogue as the assault position for quite some time, but it was still an inefficient way to fire your weapon.

Phase 2

At the 25-yard line, we have two stages. First, you’ll load a ‘clip’ of 10 rounds into the gun. Ready it, and on the command to fire, the shooter will fire from the weak shoulder. The shooter has ten seconds to fire ten rounds from the weak shoulder.

The second stage requires the shooter to load one magazine of ten rounds and one of 25 rounds. Keep in mind the official FBI paperwork calls them clips. The shooter has a total of twenty-five seconds to fire both magazines. The first magazine of 10 rounds is fired in semi-auto. The second magazine of 25 rounds is fired in bursts.

Phase 3

The final phase of the Machine Gun Course is the 50-yard phase. Shooters will take ‘one’ clip of 10 rounds out to 50 yards. From here, they will assume a kneeling position and fire those ten rounds on target in 15 seconds.

Modern Thoughts

It’s interesting to see what’s a fairly dynamic for the time qualification. The gun uses multiple targets and multiple positions. Heck, it even encompasses some weak side shooting. Sure, it’s not super high-speed, but to me, it’s impressive for the era. I might give it a try with a PCC and see how restrictive those times are.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.