Made In Australia: The Owen Submachine Gun

    A vacation to Australia is something I would highly recommend; The people are nice, the beaches are beautiful, and fun seems to just ooze from the cracks between the sidewalks. Amidst all the glamor and excitement one may feel by hitting the bars and the white sandy shores that the country has to offer however is one of the mot spectacular War Memorials I have ever had the chance to visit. My Grandpa served in the Pacific during World War II, and whenever I visit a country that was involved in the conflict I try and learn as much as possible from the perspective of that country. Located in Canberra, the Australian capital city, my curiosity was not only satisfied, but I had the chance to learn about a gun I have always been fascinated with. That gun is none other than the famous Owen submachine gun.


    The Owen Gun was designed and produced wholly in Australia. Designed by Evelyn Owen, the gun was initially rejected in favor of the British Sten (as the bureaucrats were reluctant to believe that a private invention could be superior to a design favored by the Empire). Fate however intervened, as Owen’s neighbor was good friends with the Director-General of Munitions and presented him with Owen’s new design. Testing of the Owen occurred alongside the iconic Thompson and Sten SMGs. After harsh trials in multiple environments, the Owen was the only one still chugging along. The functionality of the Owen allowed it to serve the Australian Army until the 1960s when it was replaced by the Sterling inspired F1.


    At a glance the Owen looks extremely unconventional. Few guns have been designed to feed from the top, as it would seem to impede the sight plane. However the Owen solves this predicament by offsetting the sights a bit to the right of the magazine. The 9mm submachine gun is fed by a 28 round magazine and weighs in at 9 pounds 2 ounces. The gun was produced by Lysaght’s of Port Kembla and went on to serve in the jungle environments of the Pacific during World War II, on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s, and saw limited use in Vietnam. All in all, about 50,000 of the guns were produced and the unit cost was kept low by the use of stamped components and affordable materials. This cutaway should provide an insight into the workings of the Owen:

    owen cutaway

    Unfortunately the curators of the Museum were not letting the public play with the Owens that day or take them out to the local range (I noticed a pistol club just a few klicks from the Museum by the way), but a few of them have in fact made it into the hands of the public. In the Australian Island State of Tasmania it was perfectly legal to own and use submachine guns like the Owen until gun laws were tightened in 1996 due to the Port Arthur Massacre. As for availability in the United States, I had to do some research.


    My local NFA dealer Nick Tilotta, proprietor of The Western Firearms Company who has been in the business of buying and selling machine guns, suppressors, and whatever else your heart desires in the way of ordnance for 25 years said that in his tenure as an NFA enthusiast and dealer, he has seen only ONE transferable Owen Gun, which can be seen on his webpage as a sold item under Selective Fire Weapons. The gun was registered during the ’68 amnesty. I asked what he thought of the Owen as far as ergonomics and handling, and his response was that he simply never fired it (I assume due to the gun’s rarity and value). Nick sold his Owen back in 2005 for over $20,000 which is incredible, as that is even more than an MP5 will cost a buyer today! So take comfort in the fact that there is at least one person in the States who plays with a legal Owen gun every now and then. I for one am jealous, and pray that I run into that guy at the range.

    Alex C.

    Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.