Addressing The Return Of The Roller Locked Firearm
Call It A Comeback: Roller Locked Firearms Are Back In A Big Way
Though you don't normally think of firearm design as being subject to trends and fads, it's an idea that gains greater weight when you look at the rapid rise and fall and recent resurgence in the popularity of roller locked guns. The design became nearly obsolete by the end of the 1990s, but today roller locked firearms are making a big comeback and earning the admiration of a new generation of shooters. How did roller locked weapons earn a second look, and where might they be headed in the future.
A good place to start is by getting a firm handle on the difference between roller locked firearms and ordinary direct blowback guns. The latter design setup sees the bolt pushed backward by the pressure of expanding gases at the same time as the bullet moves down the barrel. This blowback action is delayed in a roller locked design. The critical roller locking mechanism acts to keep the bolt closed for a few vital milliseconds after firing. This reduces the pressure in the chamber before the bolt opens and the gun comes out of battery. The advantage? A roller locked gun can have a lighter bolt group assembly and operate more smoothly.
This analogy should make the difference in the two systems clear. Imagine what it would feel like to strap into the passenger seat of an offroader competing in a grueling Baja race. That's direct blowback. In contrast, operating a roller locked gun is like piloting a German sedan down the Autobahn at 160 mph.
The distinction is especially appreciated by novice shooters. Hand a newbie an MPX and an MP5 and I think it's entirely reasonable to expect them to declare the MP5 a more accurate shooter thanks to its smooth operation. (It's no accident that there's always an MP5 for sale at a premium price despite the gun's increasing age.)
Roller-locked firearms were first popularized by former Mauser engineers who left Germany in the aftermath of WWII. Heckler & Koch's MP5 became the poster child for roller locked design. The MP5 received a healthy dose of media attention thanks to the gun's distinctive look. Appreciation of the gun was also ratcheted up thanks to a "forbidden fruit" angle spurred by a ban on importing the weapon for civilian owners.
There are more than a few adult gun owners today who remember watching John McClane storm through Nakatomi Plaza with an MP5 in Die Hard. Once they grew up and discovered that the guns couldn't be imported to the US anymore, they started lusting after the MP5 all the more. Demand climbed ever higher while the domestic supply remained unchanged.
The darkest hour of the roller locked system came in the 1990s. To capitalize on the burgeoning demand for MP5-type weapons, domestic US manufacturers started introducing their own roller locked firearms. This experience proved that German precision isn't just a myth. American versions of the roller lock system were overpriced, unreliable, and prone to jamming. While custom builders with a sharper eye for quality control soon solved the precision problems, they did nothing about the high cost of the guns.
After a shaky start, the story of US-made roller locked weapons firmed up into a respectable tale. Better reliability increased the demand for these guns and brought up no shortage of eager buyers. The prices did not come down, though. $3,000 looked to be the absolute minimum cover charge at the roller locked club.
With custom-built guns selling around $3,000 and German conversions retailing for $4,000 to $5,000, buying and shooting a roller locked gun was still very much a rich man's hobby. The entire market went through an upheaval when Zenith arrived on the scene with affordably-priced mil-spec roller locked guns.
Suddenly MP5s are available to everyone who wants them, and the prices don't look like a down payment on a house anymore.
With 30 years of turbulent history behind them, roller locked guns are poised to make a major comeback. Industry insiders and retailers have reported a consistent uptick in sales of roller locked guns in recent years.
Demand for roller locked firearms is currently at an all-time high. A significant surge in consumer interest tied to the recent election, but this interest has not abated in the aftermath of the election. TPM is hard at work converting pre-ban HK 94s, SP89s, and newer models like the HK SP5K. They are also building three times as many MP5SD suppressors as they were a year ago. Demand for suppressors is undoubtedly rising because of the surge in entry-level MP5s now being sold.
The SP5K roller locked pistol was introduced by HK last year and sales have been brisk ever since.
Taking design cues from the extremely popular HK SP89 sold throughout the 80s and 90s, the SP5K is a significant update of the weapon that the manufacturer calls a "second iteration." HK considers the roller locked design to be an integral and iconic part of their company history, and they're committed to producing more premium quality firearms employing the same design.
Beyond making the guns more affordable and more widely available, there's also a new design feature building up demand: the pistol brace. The last five years have brought reliable mil-spec rolling lock firearms within reach for virtually every buyer, and now a roller locked pistol can be braced so that it handles more like a carbine.
Both manufacturers and enthusiasts will admit that the complex nature of the roller locking system can sometimes be finicky. Falling prices, expanding options, and the iconic history of the action have all combined to elevate the roller lock firearm back into the same preeminent spotlight it occupied 30 years ago.
Make no mistake: This is the Second Coming of the roller locked guns. They've never been more accessible, and today you have a nearly endless range of options and price points to consider when you want to join the roller locked party.
If you're ready to explore the roller locked platform for yourself, there's never been a better time to buy in.