John T. Thompson created the submachine gun that bore his name but was distressed when the “impressive little killing machine” he intended for war became the deadly weapon of choice for Prohibition-era gangsters.
The Tommy gun, as it was nicknamed, was hand-held, “roughly the size of a new baby,” and could fire 800 bullets per minute. Such a gun would have been a devastating weapon in the trenches of World War I, a potential “ ‘trench broom.’ A gun to sweep away the enemy.” Instead, it was loved by the likes of Machine-gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson, and their reign of gang violence was glorified in the movies of the 1930s; to some, they were heroes fighting against bankers blamed for the Great Depression. Blumenthal’s fascinating biography of the weapon is most dramatic in its chapters on the famous gangsters, as might be expected. It’s also a fair-minded analysis of what the Second Amendment intended and what society might do to curb criminal gun violence while respecting the rights of individuals to keep guns. Lively prose, well-selected photographs, and thorough source notes round out this fine work.
A gripping look at guns, gangsters, and finding the “right balance between individual freedom and community safety.” (Nonfiction. 12-18)