The 1980s were a wonderful time for guns. Something was different back then. It was an odd time when we were transitioning from WW2 designs to the modern guns we see now. I wanted to gather some of my favorite guns of the 1980s. I looked at both pop culture and actual use by police and military forces and gathered my Top 5!
Beretta 92 Series
There are several models of the Beretta 92 and I’m including the entire series. From the 92S to 92F and 92FS and so on and so forth. The life of this series started in 1975 and continues to this day with the Beretta M9A3. The Beretta has a very distinct appearance and the design helped usher in the age of the wonder 9.
In the United States, the gun was extremely popular, especially with police and military forces. The Beretta 92 was adopted by the LAPD, INS, the Border Patrol, and most famously the United States Armed forces as the M9.
In fiction, the gun was everywhere. My earliest memory of it was the film Kuffs, where the main character requests, “a really big gun that holds a lot of bullets.” That little movie is nothing compared to its appearances in massive blockbusters like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. These films made the gun a legend.
The Colt Python was created all the way back in 1955 and it remained a staple of Colt’s revolvers for decades. The guns now fetch a premium due to the fact Colt hasn’t produced them in forever. The gun has always been popular and in the 1980s it was THE revolver. The Florida Highway Patrol, the Colorado State Patrol, and Georgia State Patrol all notably issued the gun throughout the 1980s.
The Colt Python was also notably a status symbol in the LAPD before being replaced by our already listed Beretta 92. The Python is an aggressive looking revolver with a big ribbed barrel. It was and still is a finely crafted precision gun.
The Colt Python was and is a cultural icon too. Back in the day, it was immensely popular in films likely due to its aggressive looks and how distinct it was. We saw John Candy carry one, as well as Burt Reynolds, Judge Reinhold, Don Johnson, and even Roddy Piper rocked one in They Live. As far as guns of the 1980s go I couldn’t leave a revolver off the list.
The Uzi is another series of weapons that come in a variety of sizes and configurations. This covers all of them because in the 80s they were everywhere. The Uzi is a 9mm submachine gun developed domestically for Israeli defense forces. However, the SMG was widely exported in the 1980s and adopted around the world. The Uzi was originally adopted in 1950, but it made the 80s roar. IMI, who owns the Uzi, has made over 2 billion from its exports.
One of the most famous photos out there is a Secret Service Agent covering Press Secretary James Brady, after an attempted assassination, with an Uzi. The Uzi has been produced in full size, compact, and micro variants. There are also semi-auto carbines and pistols out for the civilian market.
In films and media, the Uzi has been everywhere. The Uzi was wielded by Arnold as a robotic killing machine, as well as Chuck Norris in Delta Force and dual-wielded Uzi pistols in Invasion USA. It made appearances in Lethal Weapon, RoboCop, Miami Vice, Magnum, P.I., and dozens of other tv shows and movies of the 1980s. This makes the Uzi one of the premier guns of the decade.
The Mini 14 is a totally 80s rifle. It was created in 1973 and saw its heyday in the 1980s. As a semi-auto 223 caliber rifle, the Mini 14 featured a wooden stock traditional rifle design. In function, it was similar to the AR15 rifle, but the wood stocks made its appearance far more conventional. The Mini 14 is interesting because it found itself on both sides of the law often in the 1980s.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department adopted the Mini-14 after a shoot-out that claimed a Deputy’s life. In France, the Mini 14 has been adopted by federal police forces and still serve to this day. The Mini 14 was later adopted by forces in Brazil, Haiti, and Bermuda. The Mini 14 was also used in the deadly 1986 Miami Shootout with the FBI.
In film and television, the Mini 14 was famously wielded by the A-Team, to effectively miss everything they shot at ever. The gun was also seen in Death Wish, Commando, and Mad Max 3. The Mini-14 survives today for those who want a wood stocked AR alternative.
THE choice for Gun of the 80s is the MP5. To me, the Cold War was defined by two weapons, the AKM and the MP5. The MP5 was produced at just the right time. We saw a rise in terrorism and therefore a commensurate rise in counter-terror teams. These teams needed a lightweight, low recoiling, easy to handle submachine gun.
At that time the selection of SMGs consisted mostly of bulky, heavy, and open bolt. Open bolt guns have compromised reliability due to the design and conventional wisdom says open bolts don’t breach doors. The MP5 comes along with its closed bolt design, lightweight, and plenty handy. Who can forget the photos of the SAS lads breaching the Iranian Embassy armed with MP5s.
In the 1980s the MP5 took root everywhere. Almost every Federal Police service issued the gun, as well as hundreds, possibly thousands, of SWAT teams around the country. Additionally, the MP5 is in use by over a dozen different countries. The gun was everywhere, and of course made it to Hollywood.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, Now I have a Machine Gun,” an immortal phrase from an immortal movie that starred both the Beretta 92 and the MP5. It was a little flick called Die Hard. The gun also found itself in Lethal Weapon 2, Tango and Cash, and dozens of other films in a number of different configurations. The MP5 by HK earned its place as one of my favorites and a true gun of the 1980s.
If this was an article based solely on pop culture use two guns would reign supreme, the MAC series and the TEC 9. Both were heavily used in movies and TV shows of the time, often the choice for the bad guy and their henchman.
These guns ruled the airwaves and gave Diane Feinstein nightmares. However, the extent that was used for crime is difficult to actually know. The MAC was used in a few high profile crimes, as was the TEC 9 and its derivatives. According to the NY Times, the vast majority of weapons seized during the Cocaine wars were MAC style guns, however no information on exact numbers in provided.
These sub guns absolutely dominated TV shows and movies, and to an extent, this has shaped their perception in both popular media and the gun world. As far as guns of the 1980s go it loses out only because of its rare use in real life.
Guns of the 1980s
The 1980s were an fascinating time in both guns being issued and how guns were being portrayed in the media. The result in part was a constantly changing firearms law landscape. They were the cutting edge and now a nostalgic reminiscence.
So which was your favorite of the era?