Mobster Memories: Tales of the Tommy Gun, Colt 1911, & Other Mob Favorites

Show Notes

In this week’s No Lowballers podcast by GoWild presented by, we’re talking about guns that have connections … to the mob and organized crime. If you love the mobster scene and the classic mob movies, find out which of these guns you can take home to own yourself from! What are some of the best mob movies of all time? 

We kick things off talking about the Thompson Submachine Gun a.k.a. The Tommy Gun. Is the Tommy Gun the quintessential gangster gun?? Did you know the background of this story starts near Louisville? Kentucky certainly has several more ties to the mob era–find out what other connections those are! Host Logan from High Caliber History recounts the exciting story of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, an event that made the Tommy Gun famous. Also be sure to check out The Mob Museum in Las Vegas to learn more about this and other historic events that shaped American history. Why did the military have no interest in this firearm when they first considered it?

Next, we’re talking about some of the handguns that have been associated with mobsters but also have had their place in the military, like the Colt 1911. Logan mentions a recognizable name in the firearm industry who has a highly unusual, ultra-modified 1911. Allen talks about why mobsters were able to out-gun police and law enforcement. We also take a hands-on look at the Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38 Special, a revolver that eventually went on to become the Smith & Wesson Model 10. We also peeked at a Colt 1903 Hammerless .32ACP. These calibers seem small by our standards today, but in their prime they brought plenty of knockdown power. Brad makes a great point about why both mobsters and military soldiers enjoyed these pocket pistols. 

We also talked about the game-changing National Firearms Act of 1934 and how that shaped firearm purchases for the future. This is when the federal government started to place restrictions, and more came with the Gun Control Act of 1968 and then the Hughes Amendment in 1986.

If you like what you’re hearing, please leave us a rating and review!!

The No Lowballers podcast is a brand new joint venture between GoWild and to explore the history and heritage of firearms. We hope to expose you to the vintage guns of the golden age along with newer, modern guns, specialty items, and a few other odd balls along the way. Jump in and come along for the ride! 

The show launches every Thursday morning. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Show Transcript

[00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to the No Low Ballers Podcast brought to you by Go Wild in partnership with gun That is that okay. Is that's great. That's great. Alright. That's great. We should just keep this, we'll just keep the banter going. Shows that we have no idea what we're doing. How'd I do?

Who am I? How did I get here? How'd you like that intro? Put it in the comments down below. Yeah. If you liked it, give it a thumbs up. If you didn't, don't bother. Ring that bell. Yeah. No, seriously. Anyway. Welcome to, to the No Low Ballers Podcast. If you couldn't tell already, we are an incredibly serious, incredibly professional group of people.

We know exactly what we're talking about at all times. I think I'm in the wrong place. Me too. You fake it 'til you make it right? Okay. But so I've got the Go Wild Crew with me. We've got Alan from gum I'm Logan Mesh, high Caliber History, your host.[00:01:00] And on the No Low Ballers podcast, we're talking about all sorts of things.

Guns, some stuff weird, some stuff wacky, some stuff military. Stuff you may know about, stuff you may not know about, but at the end of the day, we hope you leave here having learned something. Having not lost any brain cells, and maybe you'll go pick something up on gum when you're done. I know I find myself looking on there a lot in between things.

I just hope to lose as little dignity as possible anytime I'm on a podcast. But don't you have to have dignity in order to lose there? That's true. Hadn't. Factored that I'm not good at math ah, yeah, I get it, man. I get it. Today we're talking about guns with mob connections, which is a really cool topic of things to talk about.

Who doesn't love a good mob movie? And, and me being from Detroit, the whole Jimmy Hoffa getting mixed up in things. And we never did find Jimmy, and I'm sure the mob got him somewhere, but we're gonna be, he's buried on a 50 [00:02:00] yard line somewhere. Tune in for our True Crime podcast.

Yeah, Jimmy Hoffler. But we're talking about all sorts of guns with mob connections, and of course that means, we gotta talk about. Tommy guns and we're gonna talk about mod 19 elevens and all sorts of stuff. And some of these things you can find on gun brokers, some of these things you can't.

So it means some of them you can add to your gearbox and go wild and some of them you can't. I got pumped when I saw this episode 'cause I love mobster movies. America, Scarface Road to Perdition I think is really relevant to the topic today. Absolutely. If you're a gun guy, public enemies.

All right. Yeah, that's fantastic. Go. Absolutely. And oh my gosh, what? Nevermind who was there and now it's gone. Alright. It'll be in the show notes. Yeah. It'll be a blank line. Look for the blank line in the show notes. Yeah. But we, like I said, we can't talk about mob stuff without talking about Tommy guns and let's talk a little bit about the Thompson Submachine gun.

We're here at the Go Wild Headquarters in Louisville, and so of course there is a Kentucky connection with the Thompson [00:03:00] submachine guy. I didn't know this. Until you just said it. This is pretty cool. We're like literally 80 miles away from the start of this story. And the reason I know that is because I can't remember if there's like a sign or a billboard ish in front of a building in Covington or Newport or if it's actually painted on the side of the building.

But it's like the home of the Tommy town, I think when you go to Chicago it says Chicago typewriter and it says Blame Kentucky. John, so John Toliver Thompson. Is the namesake and the inventor. And as we alluded, born in Newport, Kentucky, and his house is still there and it's actually a music venue.

And or at least it was as of a couple years ago. And the backdrop behind the stage is really cool. It was crossed Tommy guns up on the wall and stuff. That may be what I've seen that could be, yeah. But that's his house. Which I think is really cool, but it's not the Southgate house, is it?

I don't remember that name. I don't know. We'll figure it out. Show notes. Show notes. Show notes. Yeah. Show notes. Road trip. Yeah. The next episode. Let's live these cameras. Newport. Get the GoPros. That's right. Yeah. It's, it's interesting too. There's some other mob ties in [00:04:00] Louisville.

In particular because down at the Seal Box Hotel, there was like escape patches for Capone. I think we would have meetings there and there's like secret doorways and stairwells. Chris was a bellhop there. He could tell us many stories. Makes sense. Kentucky, most of those are not fit for podcast, Kentucky's proximity to, the big cities of the era like Cincinnati and Chicago, and of course y'all have a little bit of history with distilling and moonshine here yeah, that's right.

It makes sense. Absolutely. Yeah. So the Tommy Gun's got, it's got a neat history that spans obviously well beyond the gangsters and it goes into, world War II and things like that. But the Irish problems. The Irish problems, yep. We'll, new episode. Yep. Yeah. With talking about the mob, it doesn't get any more.

Quintessential mob gun than the Tommy gun. And it doesn't get any more quintessential mob than the St. Valentine's Day massacre. And of course there were two Tommy Guns used in the St. Valentine's Day massacre. And there's a really interesting story. I. About those guns. They actually still exist.

[00:05:00] And they are in the Berrien County, Michigan Sheriff's Office in the evidence locker. They are still there. Because in interestingly enough, even though it's been almost a hundred years, it happened February 14th, 1929. No one was ever actually tried or convicted for that crime. They're, they pretty much know who did it.

They, when they showed up to all the carnage there, there was one guy who was still left alive. He'd been riddled with bullets, I think like 12 shots or something. And they asked him, they said who shot you? Who did this? And he said, nobody shot me. I'm like, dude's got 11, 11 or 12 bullet holes in him.

Nobody shot me. And they like lined them up, right? Yeah. They line them against the wall execution style. Yep. They showed 'em police uniforms and the idea was they were basically pretending to, to do a bus, they lined him open the wall like you would, assume the position for Frisking and Walter backs returned to him.

Yep. Open fire. Yep. The mop museum in Las Vegas has the actual wall on display. Yes, they do. The bullet hole's still intact. Yep. Yep. Yeah. 'cause when the building came down, it was in a garage and when the [00:06:00] garage came down, the guy that owned it was trying to sell off the bricks, to make some money off the building.

The wall was actually assembled in a nightclub in the men's room, so you could, go take a piss standing at the wall where all the guys were shot. Somehow that didn't pan out. It didn't take off. Standing, facing that wall with my back to everybody. Yeah. It's not something I wanna not a good plan.

It didn't end well the last time someone tried that. Exactly. So yeah. So now it's on display in the Mob museum in Vegas. But the guns, because it. No one was ever tried for the crime. And even though everyone is long dead and gone, it is still technically an open case on the books. And so those guns are still being held in evidence in the sheriff's department in western Michigan.

And I was fortunate enough to go check them out a few years ago. So I got to actually have some hands-on time with those Tommy guns and one of them. It's really neat because the finish is totally. Destroyed on one of the guns and it's because the serial numbers had been removed. And Dr.

Goddard, who was the pioneer of ballistic [00:07:00] forensics at the time, Was developing a way with acids to raise the serial numbers back up out of the metal. And so it destroyed the finish, but sure enough, that worked. If you hold it in the right light, you can see the markings on the gun and so that you know it, it actually worked.

And that's, where we get the. Beginnings of forensic ballistics, or ballistic forensics. Which is pretty cool stuff. And I just think it's so wild that those guns are still technically evidence in an almost 100 year old crime. Is there an expiration on that or is it forever? I don't know.

That's a good question. I really don't know how that works. I think if it's not at a hundred years, when is it? Yeah. Yeah. Or, or if it's not, when everyone's literally dead and gone. Yeah. Like I, because the, they've been, they've all been dead and gone. Yeah. Long ago, but I have heard of some cases in jurisdictions where the local regs say that any gun, once it's done in evidence gets destroyed.

And it's possible you've got a sheriff that doesn't want these guns to go into the shredder. That, we're destroying a piece of history it may never be a closed case. Yeah. Maybe. Interesting. Very interesting. [00:08:00] But, so there's also lots of handguns that come in with mob ties and of course even though we tend to associate it with the military the M 1911 is actually a very popular choice particularly with one guy by the name of John Dillinger.

And he's got a really cool, totally moed 1911 that is full auto only with a Tommy gun pistol grip in the front and ex chambered in 38. Super. It is ridiculous. Obviously that is not what this is and it has not quite a cuts, but some sort of a compensator on his wallet. It does have some kind of a compensator.

Yeah. Really unusual design that was custom made for him by a gunsmith, I think in Texas is where the gunsmith was based for him. Again, the guys are looking for things that are easy to conceal in their pockets now, that 1911, not. The easiest of things to conceal. Compared to a revolver, which is a little wider at the time.

The thing [00:09:00] with the mob era. In the twenties the gangsters typically could outgun most departments. Absolutely. Between the use of the Thompson submachine gun, the seven or eight round 1911 versus a six round revolver the whippet guns being cut down B. My personal object, holy grail of desire that I want they really forced department staff to up their armories and compete on the same ballistic level as the gangsters.

Absolutely. Yeah. And you talk about being outgunned, so this is a Smith and Wesson. Military and police not to be confused with their new m P line. That's the semi-auto. But this goes on to become the Smith and Wess of Model 10. They still make this gun. This particular gun is actually interesting 'cause engraved on the side plate of it is a guy's name and he was actually a police officer in the Philadelphia Police Department, and he was issued this gun in 1924.

Wow. So you know, you've got guys with full Auto Thompsons and Mod 19 elevens, and you've got the police running around with a six shot 38 special revolver. I. And keep in mind [00:10:00] in the era right before this, if you had a 32 pocket hammerless or even a three 80, you were considered pretty well healed.

Where, you know now, 45 a c p is becoming the table stakes of the game. So just from a what's considered ballistically viable is an entirely different world, just 20 years later. Yep. Absolutely. And you mentioned 32 Auto, and that's what we've got here. This is a Smith and Wesson sorry, I'm looking at the revolver.

This is a col model. 1903 pocket Hammerless. Which is a misnomer 'cause it does have a hammer. It's an internal hammer. So you don't see it here. And this, this is a sleek little gun, a little streamlined design. It's. Perfect to fit down into your pocket. The 1903, which is what this is chambered in 32.

And the 1908 is chambered in three 80. And those are guns that, like you said, we look at 'em today and you're like, I wouldn't dare carry a 32 and it get you killed in the streets, right? Yeah. Three 80. You're like, you have a death wish. But at the time, that was, that, that was not uncommon.

I. Pretty boy Floyd had a, had one of these pocket Hammerless pistols, and, and these guys are robbing [00:11:00] banks and all sorts of stuff. And it's, they get the job done even though it's not what we, we would think of today as them being terribly under gunned with something like that.

But again, if youre cops are just dealing with wheel guns, it's totally different ballgame. Yeah. You're talking a hundred years ago, and then I was reading, I found the show interesting. So it brushed up a little bit on, on some of the things you were gonna talk about as the expert.

And it's interesting to me the same things that made this, these guns appealing for military use. Or why the mobsters love them, close combat, lightweight mass production, so they're easy to find and replace parts. Like all of that made it really ideal for organized crime. Absolutely. It's why a lot of this took off and why the, the Tommy gun, became what it was.

And I, I think it maybe a couple others here on the list that we were gonna talk about. But the fact that you could, Do close quarter combat. Which is what a lot of the, the mob shootings would've been, absolutely. And it's probably a little bit of a twist way to look at it, but originally when the military was approached on the Thompson submachine gun, they had no interest in it.

It was a very heavy gun relatively complex to manufacturer, [00:12:00] and it was a pistol caliber. So they, not really appealing, but seeing how effective it was in close quarters, how effective it was in mobile combat. The military changed their mind and that's why we saw the. The Tommy Gun Fine Service in World War ii.

Absolutely. Yeah. And and police departments eventually adopted, the Tommy Gun and there were departments that, just within the last 30 and 40 years, finally surplused the last of their Thompson Submachine guns, which is. Wild to think that, there were departments in the eighties that still had Tommy guns in the armories.

Yep. Somewhere there was an armor still maintaining a Thompson. Yeah. What what like politically happened to, obviously I know there's been a multitude of laws to try to combat civilians or. Mobsters having this stuff, not that they follow the laws at what time period do you see that those guns start to become less accessible to the public?

Logan. Like when did it, and I know it's not like one thing that happened, but like at what period did it start to become less accessible to the public? Because originally, When the Tommy gun came out, I'm pretty sure like average civilian could buy one, right? Absolutely. Yeah. So walk to a [00:13:00] hardware store and pick 'em off the shelf.

Exactly. So what's the story there? Like at what point did the probably, I'm sure this had police advocating for it, of Hey, we're getting mowed down by these things. We gotta try to limit the reach. I. When does that start to happen? 1934. 1934. The National Firearms Act of 1934 comes in and it regulates short barrelled rifles, short barrelled, shotguns, suppressors, and machine guns.

Originally was also supposed to regulate handguns. But that was struck down by the courts. Yep. Yeah. So it, as, as restrictive as the N F A is today, can you imagine. Couldn't own any of the three guns, that we just showed here on the podcast without having to go through the restrictive N F A processes.

And yes, it's cumbersome and it's inefficient and un-American. But it's interesting to look at how that process started. Today the N F A tax for the majority of things is $200. And that's been unchanged since the law passed in 34. And so we look at it today and you're like, 200 bucks.

Yeah, okay. I'd rather spend that on ammo. For most people, 200 bucks isn't. [00:14:00] As big of an inconvenience as it could be. But when you figure in 1934, when the Tommy gun itself was about $200, you're putting a 100% tax on that gun. And so it was a lot more prohibitive in the past.

And thank God the government hasn't been smart enough to, make that $200, keep up with inflation, but yeah, so to, to answer your question, a really roundabout long way, it was 1934 is when the stuff starts to be regulated. And of course, at that point in time, all of the criminals said, oh man, no, everything we've got's illegal, we're gonna turn it in.

And, we haven't had a problem with any N FFA items or no. Or crime at all. See. Now Logan's a historian so he can't like, go out down the rabbit hole like I can as the non historian. So I can point out that, the bill passed in 1934, were. Prohibition ended well before that, and all the mobile crime and the gangster era ended before that.

So th that era gets blamed a lot for the introduction of the N F A, but, So [00:15:00] some of us question the timing. We'll just put it that way. Yeah, exactly. But that's, so that's where you start to get our first restrictions on things. And then of course, that's even more expanded upon with the Gun Control Act in 1968.

And then beyond that with the Hughes Amendment in 1986 affecting modern machine guns and things of that like that. Yeah, there's been a lot of laws that have changed. Like what what was the movie? Was it the Highwaymen. Oh yeah. The the Frank Hamer story. Yeah. With Costner and Woody Harrelson.

I know the scene we talk about. Yeah. Yeah. Where they go into a hardware store, he is I need two col monitors. I need 750 rounds of this, and I need four Tommy guns and everything. The guy's just in a hardware store and they're just pulling it all down, that's how it was.

Yeah. You and me and anybody could just go into the hardware store and buy it. All, it was a wonderful time to be an American. So what fascinates me about this era especially is this is where we, people have been, cutting down shotguns forever. We know that. But some of the gun modifications that really kicked in here that you didn't see before, the whippet gun, as I've already mentioned, just absolutely fascinates me.

Cold monitor [00:16:00] or a browning, b a r. You chop down the buttstock, you chop down the barrel, you make it something, you can whip it out when you need to. It's quick like a little whippet dog. But it's still 30 a full auto 30 T six. You've already talked about Dillinger's 38 Super Full Auto.

But the gangster era really brought the concept of performance modifications into firearms a lot further along than had been. Yep, absolutely. And while we're talking about all the mob guns and stuff, Can you tell us, Alan, in the past week, has there been anything that ties into that, that people have won on Gun broker?

Absolutely. We see a lot of these vintage firearms on gun broker a lot. Thompsons are certainly, there's a fair number on there. But knowing we're gonna talk about this topic today, I was, I. Astounded. I looked at the I kinda get a list of some of the top sellers every day.

And this very morning a World War II era, Savage manufactured 1928, A one sold completely vintage, full auto for, and it could've been yours if you'd have just outbid them. You'd only had to bid $39,000 to outbid 'em. Oh man. If I wasn't traveling yesterday and I'd been, there were no low ballers for am There were [00:17:00] no low ballers.

That's right. They knew what they had. That's right. Premier Mere 38, 9 99. And. Probably 99 cents. You too could have owned a Right. Your own Savage full auto plus your $200 tax stamp to the government. That's right. Yeah. Yeah. Anything else related to that? Any other we do see obviously, the 1911 is ubiquitous, so looking at the data for that, we can find ranges from a few hundred to.

Six figures. But one thing that really stands out to me on our topic today is the ones you see really drawing in the premium certainly are the ones of the right vintage in the right era, but the 38 Super guns. Yeah. Anything in that kind of standard format in 38 Super always draws a premium is in the day, in its day 38 Super was the new hotness.

We were starting to see the first generation of kind of bulletproof vests and body armor and 38 super punch right through it. So it was the first of the, the armor piercing bullets in the handgun and it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nowadays we think of 38 super and it's a gamer round.

It's, you wanna shoot a light recoiling shot that's gonna still make power factor. So if you're an open division shooter, you love your [00:18:00] 38 super. So just seeing how that's gone from. The pinnacle of ballistic performance to, gaming is comical, but that's where the premium really draws in.

And we see 38 super 19 elevens, starting in the six, $7,000 range and just going up from there based on condition. You just said something that made me think of a show you and I did on our old show Gearbox talk. Logan and I did a show, shot show, 1921 I think. 'cause Yes, that was the year 2, 20 21 was the year that there was no shot show.

So Logan and I sit down, it's let's get weird. Let's talk about what was popular a hundred years ago. What would people have been? I don't know why we picked a hundred years. We just did. That seemed like a nice round number. 97 would been really weird. We could count to it. Yeah. 97 wouldn't have sounded as good.

That's right. But the it reminded me, something he said reminded me of something you said back then of talking about all the body armor that was rolling out at that time, and I'm connecting the dots here. Of thinking of the reason being, I bet a lot of these machine guns that were like the, was it driven by the need by military police or was it, entrepreneurs seeing them?

Like, where did that start? I, if you recall, I, if I [00:19:00] had to hazard a guess and I'm trying to remember, trying to pull off the top of my head. I think it's more driven law enforcement and entrepreneurs and stuff like that as opposed to the military. Yeah. 'cause at that time point, At that time period, we've just come out of World War I, body armor is absolutely not standardized at that point.

It's a weird mixture of just bolted together metal plates and and odd fabrics. It is nowhere near what we get, even five to 10 years later. So I think it's definitely not military driven. It's definitely more civilian marketing. In that respect and that interwar period between, 'cause everything we thought we knew about warfare got thrown out the window in World War I.

Yep. So that whole middle ground is, the military really has no idea what they're doing at that point. They're reinventing themselves. So any developments in that area almost had to have come from the civilian market. Yeah. The body armor too, is not at all what we think of today. No. It's, it, people walking around with, it looks like metal buckets cut out with eye holes almost, if I can remember what you. I remember looking up some of the things that Logan was talking about. And it looked like something out of a cartoon, it was [00:20:00] literally life jackets where they'd cut out the buoyant foam and replace it with steel plates. Yeah. That was the early take on it.

Yeah, exactly. And you got guys, now you see YouTube videos, guys doing it for shock value of putting on their own bulletproof vest and shooting at it, but but that's how they were actually don't try that at home. No. Yeah. Please do not try that at home. But that's how guys were actually testing that stuff back in the day.

But so and the, so again, the police had to up, up basically up their ballistic game with it. So that's why you see things that some of the traditional hunting stuff that they ended up using, again, they kinda had to go for what they had their hands on. So that's why you see, some of the calibers used that you would not even wrap your head around for law enforcement.

The 3 51 Winchester. And the auto loading Remington now is at the 74. The 7,400 there. I got so many numbers floating in my head. Yeah. But regardless that they're like, we shoot 'em, the body armor defeats our rounds, so what do we have that's gonna shoot through his body armor and his body armor if they line up.

Yeah. I think the most interesting thing I've learned in the four and a half episodes that we've recorded now is that I think you, you may have said this earlier I always thought [00:21:00] that the research went through the military. And then it got dumbed down to civilian version, maybe a police version in between there.

And that's just, you go to shot show, you see all these guys using this crazy stuff and you're like, oh, one day we'll probably have a consumer version of that. And I'm learning through just, literally the last a hundred years of history that we've talked about on, on a couple different shows of how much more cyclical it is.

And by, it's more like a flywheel, if I will. Yes. It's things at any point might come in through consumer, police or military and they end up making their way through all of it. No matter which entry point it is. I've heard you say multiple times now of the. You know this device came in through civilian use and the military didn't want it until they saw oh, actually this is pretty effective.

This is really popular. This is really easy to use. This is really available. Yep. I think it's played into quite a bit of it and. It's just totally flipped my perspective on the demand and where it comes from. A lot of it's just not what I thought. It's really interesting without getting too far off topic, a little bit of it's the fact that we just don't really have government armories per se anymore.

The original Springfield Armory was a [00:22:00] government facility. And that's where the research, and we still have Aberdeen proven grounds and whatnot, but that's more of a test bed for. The consumer, the manufacturing market, to come in and offer things up. So yeah, the Armory closed in 1968, so it's been almost 60 years that we have not had that government led innovation and research and development.

It's, they've had to rely on the private sector to. To develop the stuff and that's why you get things like we've talked about in our previous episode, with the M 17 and the spear and things of that nature. They're going to civilian manufacturers to come up with the designs for the new military weaponry, which ticks me off.

'cause I want my tax dollars to go to weapons development. I'll happily pay for that. Exactly. They're spending it somewhere 'cause I've seen the budget and it's sizable, so Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. If you guys are interested in picking up any of the guns that we've talked about here on the show, whether it's a, a turn of the century police revolver, or you're looking for a really sleek pocket pistol, or the [00:23:00] tried and true 1911, or even if you're looking for a full auto Tommy gun.

You can find all of the above on gum And you can absolutely log the time that you've listened to this podcast into your profile on the Go Wild Platform. Yeah, go to Post, you hit log time, and then you scroll down. Hit Outdoor Podcast. You're gonna see this show. You can pick which episode you listen to.

You can tag all of us here. Just all of them. You've watched them all. Of course. Yeah, of course. That was a given. We're on episode four here. You've clearly heard now four total episodes. So you know, but you can log that and you can unlock rewards, some of which are gonna be gun brokerage stuff.

So the real quick question I have, since we have Brad here, do we get to log our time for recording the podcast? Yeah. Okay. I do it all the time. Oh. Yeah. Oh man. Yeah. I do it all the time. Even better. Yeah. Cool. Thanks everyone for tuning into this episode of the No Low Ballers podcast. I hope you guys learned something today inspired you to maybe go out and learn something more and Google some stuff and then, log some time and go wild.

Spend some money on a gum broker and we will see you right [00:24:00] here on the next episode of the No Low Ballers podcast.