The P.A.W.S ZX-Semi Automatic Carbine Series: The American Sterling

By Brian Zuzelo

During the 1980’s, production of semi automatic versions of popular sub-machineguns was at an all time high in US history. A number of designs, both based on military weapons as well as unique semi-autos, flooded the firearms market. The H&K 94, Auto Ordinance Thomson 1927 Series, IMI UZI, and MAC type weapons were among the most popular. There was also the appeal for these weapons before May 19, 1986, because of the interest in converting them into NFA weapons. One of the most prized semi-autos was the Sterling MK 6 Semi-Auto because of its faithful replication of one of the most popular post WWII SMGs produced. The semi-auto version of the Sterling L2A3, designated the name MK 6, was imported by Lanchester USA Inc in limited numbers. It’s sales of the weapon may have waned due to the fact that the MK6 was considered very expensive compared to the other weapons in it’s class at that time. The weapon was no longer imported after 1989 because of the restrictions placed on imported firearms of this type. However, the production of a semi automatic version of the Sterling L2A3 began domestically in 1986.

Class 2 manufacturer, Bob Imel, had a profound interest in the Sterling sub-machinegun (SMG) for a number of years, and in 1967 expressed interest to Sterling about importing the L2A3 to the United States. After several months of negotiations and paperwork with Sterling, Imel found himself facing the Gun Control Act of 1968, which restricted the importation of foreign manufactured machineguns into the US. Unfortunately, Imel was too late to bring these weapons into the country, so he negotiated with Sterling to produce a SMG using the Sterling tooling and parts. He waited patiently until the mid 1970’s for Sterling to forward the materials needed to produce the guns, but could wait no longer. He created the company Police Automatic Weapons Services (P.A.W.S) in the late 1970’s and began to produce his own parts and registered receivers in his small Oregon machine shop. The ZX-5 in 9mm and the ZX-7 in .45ACP were the result of his labors. These guns were only slightly different cosmetically than the Sterling L2A3 SMG, however Imel was able to simplify the Sterling’s trigger assembly from 36 working parts to only 3 working parts. There were a few hundred transferable SMG’s produced in both calibers, yet the gun enjoyed only limited sales. The death knell of the PAWS SMG came with the Machinegun Ban of 1986, which left Imel with a quantity of PAWS SMG parts and equipment to manufacture the firearms, but no public clientele.

An estimate of transferable PAWS ZX submachine guns that were produced prior to May 1986. There were 1200 semi and full autos that were assembled in his factory. (Imel). Imel was able to produce approximately 400 transferable machineguns, 500 semi autos and 300 machine guns produced for law enforcement and over sea sales.

In 1986 Imel decided to create a semi-automatic version of the PAWS SMG in both 9mm and .45acp with the parts left over from the machinegun production line. At that time the market for Semi-auto SMG clones was thriving and he hoped for healthy sales. He started with the ATF approved receiver that was similar to and built to the same standards of his SMG and used a closed bolt design. PAWS rifles were produced from American-made parts that were based on the Sterling design. The PAWS Carbines each came with a 16 1/2 inch barrel and redesigned barrel nut (similar to the UZI barrel nut) which required a barrel wrench that was needed for positive installation and removal. Rubber handgrips were used on the PAWS carbines instead of the hard plastic handgrips of the Sterling. This improved comfort and handling of the weapon. The blow back carbines weighed only 7.5 pounds unloaded, and came in a little under 35 inches long with the stock extended.

The earlier production guns came with a black wrinkle paint finish that looked very similar to the original Sterling finish. However, the use of the wrinkle paint was no longer economical for PAWS due to the fact that their production numbers were so low that the paint’s shelf life would expire before new guns could be made. Imel decided to use a baked on Molly Coat crackle finish on the gun, which gave it the beautiful wrinkle-like finish found on the Sterling but was less labor intensive than the process used by Sterling to produce their finish. Imel states that the advantage to finishing the guns in Molly Coat was that the customer could repair scratches by disassembling the weapon and re-baking it in the oven.

The ZX-6 was designed to accept unmodified STEN magazines but does not accept Sterling Magazines; however, the L2A3 accepts both STEN and Sterling magazines. The ZX-8 uses modified M-3 Grease Gun magazines. Imel decided against using the original Sterling magazine, which is perhaps one of the best SMG magazines available, because of cost and availability reasons. The the ZX-6 magazine housing design is very close to the Sterlings and will except surplus STEN SMG mags which are inexpensive and plentiful. PAWS created the ZX-6A1 Carbine which accepted a modified UZI magazine. PAWS used surplus 25 round IMI UZI magazines and created a semi- circular cut near the top of the magazine to allow the magazine catch to engage with the magazine. This technique was also utilized when modifying M-3 magazines for the ZX-8. The advantage to the ZX-6’s magazine is that both the ZX-6 as well as the UZI could use it. The magazine also reduced the overall profile of the gun and created a more compact package, as the single stacked STEN magazine was longer than the double stacked UZI magazine. According to Imel, there were less than 40 ZX-6A1 carbines made because of the cost of the UZI magazine ($4 for a STEN magazine versus $25 for the UZI magazine).

Test firing the ZX6-A1 weapon, I found it to be exceptionally accurate at 50 yards. Using 115 grain 9mm ball ammo, I was able to hold 2-3 inch groups without a problem. The manufacturer states that muzzle velocity of 125 grain 9mm rounds are approximately 1280 fps and 950 fps with 230 grain .45 rounds. The gun does handle certain types of hollow point ammo, but military ball ammo is recommended by PAWS for the best reliability. The rear blade sight is adjustable where the front post sight is not. Target acquisition is smooth due to the handling characteristics of the weapon. The weapon’s recoil is slightly more than the UZI carbine but is still very light, even in a rapid-fire mode. One change in the design, which may be considered a draw back, is the manner in which the folding stock locks in the extended position. The end cap on the PAWS receiver has one spring-loaded bearing which engages with a slot in the folding stock. The Sterling has two of these bearings in the end cap, which provides a positive lock-up on both the left and right interior parts of the stock. There is a little wobble in the PAWS stock; however I noticed it less and less as I became more familiar with firing the weapon.

Today, with the exception of a few models, pistol caliber carbine production is fairly low. I assumed since this weapon had pre-ban features, that the guns were no longer in production. When I asked Bob Imel about “the carbine they used to make” he replied “Use to? We still make them!” Imel informed me that he has a number of pre-ban carbines available and will be working on a post ban version once the current stock is sold. He is currently negotiating with a distributor and hopes to have them back on the market soon. He stated that he had developed one prototype of the PAWS chambered in .40 S&W and considered producing the gun in .30 caliber carbine (which would utilize a M-1 magazine) however it was never pursued due to the increase in price of .30 caliber ammo. A .357 Magnum version was also planning to be produced; however Imel cringed at the thought of making a magazine for this caliber and decided against it. He also has a new scope mount available for the weapon to accommodate an aim point or laser type scope. Imel has also manufactured pre-ban pistol versions of his PAWS carbines and is considering putting them on the market. P.A.W.S is a very small company comprised of a handful of employees; however their weapons are of a very high quality in form, fit and function. Above all, PAWS is committed to an exceptionally high level of customer service. At one point my PAWS ZX6-A1 had trouble with its safety selector. Within 10 days of shipping the rifle back to PAWS, I had my rifle shipped back to me without charge and a letter apologizing for the inconvenience. Imel stands by his product and will repair any defect.

The PAWS ZX-series of weapons never really enjoyed overwhelming sales due to the limitations of the small company (lack of advertising and a series of unfortunate events with distribution). However, these weapons will live up to the expectations of the avid shooter and collector who appreciate the ergonomics and aesthetics of the Sterling L2A3.

8175 River Rd. N.E
Salem, Oregon 97303
Phone (503) 393-0838

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N6 (March 2001)
and was posted online on August 8, 2014


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