ATI GSG-16 Review

ATI GSG-16 Review
Photo by Mike Anschuetz

The ATI GSG-16 can fulfill your MP5 fantasies with the enjoyment of low-cost .22 LR! The Bushnell TAC Optics Red Dot Lil P Prism sight (BT71XPS) is a fantastic optic to top off this great plinker.

The MP5 submachine gun took over where the UZI sub machinegun left off in the mid-1980s as the subgun of choice or desire. Back in 1981 or so, I got my first UZI carbine. It was state of the art back then and many of us remember the Secret Service Agent who pulled the UZI SMG from a briefcase to protect President Reagan after he had been shot by John Hinckley Jr. I remember seeing the HK94, a semi-auto, commercial version of the MP5, around 1983, in gun magazines and, being a fan of the Heckler & Koch HK93 and HK91 rifles, I was interested. The price for an HK94 A2 in 1984 was $650, $720 if you wanted the retractable stock. The only other places I saw photos of the MP5 prior to this were in books like Ian Hogg’s The Machine-Gun, some gun magazines, and a late 1960s original in J. Curtis Earl’s machine-gun catalog back in the late 1970s.

The early 1980s were the time of full-auto conversions, and these could be done legally at home by yourself, if you had the skills, as long as you possessed an approved ATF Form 1 from the BATF. Many Class 2 manufacturers like Fleming Firearms, S&H, and Hard Times Armory began offering transferable, converted to select-fire, HK94s. By 1985, the MP5, or converted HK94s, began showing up in movies, and one movie which first prominently featured the MP5 on its movie poster was the film Stick starring Burt Reynolds.

By the late 1980s, the MP5 shoved the UZI into second place as far as movie subguns were concerned (in a similar way that the UZI shoved the Thompson into second place years before). With the signature of “pro-gun” President Ronald Reagan (who later supported “assault weapons” bans) in 1986, the Hughes Amendment was signed into law attached to the Firearms Owners Protection Act, and that was the end of any newly produced machine-guns for civilian sales. The NRA vowed to reverse the law, and after 33 years, we are all still waiting. President George H.W. Bush banned all imported “assault weapons” in 1989 (after making the pledge of “No new gun laws!” in 1988) so that was the end of the HK line of firearms in their proper configurations. (Funny how Republicans manage to pass gun control while stating that they support the 2nd Amendment, isn’t it?)

ATI GSG-16
A catalog listing for the HK94 which appeared in the Guns & Ammo Annual in the late 1980s. The 1989 MSRP was $932 and $1,098 for the A3 model with retractable stock.

I shot my first MP5/select-fire converted HK94 in the late 1980s and even had one for sale at my gun store during that time — the price then was under $900. In the 1990s, while in between working in the gun industry, I provided firearms and special effects to the movie industry (ExoticArms.com), and MP5s acquired from Stembridge movie gun rentals were always a favorite. For the HBO World Première Movie Rogue Force (1997), starring Michael Rooker and Robert Patrick, I had six on set, and for one big shootout scene (filmed over a 10-hour period), I had more than 90 MP5 magazines loaded ready to go. We went through over 6,000 9mm blanks that day (Hey, young guys and newbies — I never used a magazine loader!).


ATI GSG-16
1997. Vincent DeNiro (center), holding an MP5 while working on the HBO World Premiere Movie Rogue Force starring Michael Rooker and Robert Patrick. DeNiro was the chief Weapons Armorer for the film and had six “MP5s” on set for five weeks — all were converted HK94s.

I would go on to feature the MP5 in movies, like Screen Gems Studios’ The Cutoff, The Prodigy, and others. In the late 1990s, I became president of one of the larger importers of NFA firearms in the United States, which was also was one of the largest authorized HK NFA dealers, and the company had dozens of Turkish-produced (under HK license) MKE MP5s out of bond, as well as dozens of HK MP5 variants. We even became a dealer for the Special Weapons line of semi-auto HK94 copies. I must have over 20,000 rounds fired through various MP5s under my belt, and that brings me to the American Tactical Inc.’s GSG-16.


The GSG-16 is manufactured by German Sport Guns of Germany (which is also known as a major airsoft-gun manufacturer) and American Tactical, Inc. (ATI) is the exclusive importer for the United States. Many of the gun’s new and unique features, I will be reviewing, were developed with the assistance from ATI.


The GSG-16 was preceded by the GSG-5 line of .22 LR MP5-type rifles, and this line was modeled after the standard MP5 A2, MP5 A3, and MP5 SD. I bought a couple of these for my boys many years ago, and I have to admit to sneaking them out, when my boys weren’t looking, on to my property and blasting away. They are extremely reliable and fun to shoot.

ATI GSG-16
The GSG-16 shown on top, along with the GSG-5 (middle) and GSG-5 SD (bottom). All are extremely reliable, accurate, and fun to shoot. Best of all, they can be purchased for under $400 each.

When you pick up a GSG-16, the first thing you notice is that it is a lot lighter than an MP5 or HK94 if you ever held one of those. At a little over four pounds and 13 ounces, it’s about a pound lighter than an HK94 (or the GSG-5). This, of course, is due to the extensive use of polymers throughout the gun instead of the use of steel stampings, like the original MP5. Its 22-round curved magazine is about the same size as the 30-round MP-5 magazines, so that helps with the original SMG look. The next thing you notice is that it is definitely an updated, .22 LR version of an MP5.

ATI GSG-16
The ambidextrous safety and paddle magazine release on the GSG-16 are upgrades which came much later on versions of the MP5. The finger grooved grip is a comfortable improvement over the original and Navy grips, in DeNiro’s opinion.

The rifle features an ambidextrous safety, as well as a paddle magazine release, in addition to its button magazine release. The paddle magazine release was a sought-after upgrade for owners of HK94s and converted full-auto HK94s in the 1980s and 1990s, so this is really a nice touch. The grip has finger grooves and it fits my large hands well. Actually, I like this grip better than the original MP5/HK94 grip and better than the grip on the Navy grip assemblies — it’s quite comfortable for me.


ATI GSG-16
A P-rail extends across the top of the receiver and continues over the forend and a nice-looking fake suppressor covers up the thin .22 LR barrel.

An extra-long P-rail extends along the entire top of the receiver and continues over the handguard area, which also has additional P-rails at the 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock positions. These additional rails are often upgrades at an extra cost. A fake suppressor tube covers the 16-inch barrel, so that you don’t have that ugly “wand” hanging out in the wind, and it looks good.

ATI GSG-16
Additional P-rails at the 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock positions ensure plenty of location options for lights, grips, lasers, etc.

A rear-peep sight, adjustable for windage only, is in place of the MP5-type adjustable aperture rear drum sight. I don’t care for the GSG-16 rear sight, as it is just sticking up waiting to get broken and without even any protective wings. However, another rear sight, with longer distance aperture, is provided. At least the front sight has protective wings, but again, these wings are plastic and part of the gun which would be described as the cocking tube on an MP5 or HK94. The front sight has a labor-intensive way of adjusting for elevation by changing out five front-sight posts of different heights, or another five front sight posts of different heights with a bead-like top if you like those better. This was most likely done to keep costs down and reminds me of airsoft guns, which is GSG’s other business. If you put an optic on the GSG-16, there’s not much need to worry about a plastic sight issue, but I like having the “iron” sight option, so ordering a pile of these plastic sights for spares can’t cost much at all.

ATI GSG-16
The plastic rear sight is adjustable for windage only and GSG provides an extra rear sight with smaller aperture for distance shooting.
ATI GSG-16
The plastic front sight is protected by wings and there are 10 sights included with the GSG-16, two types, and at five different heights, as elevation is adjusted by replacing the sight with the one that works at the distance you are shooting.

The retractable stock has four positions, including fully open and fully retracted. Something may look strange to you about the stock. The paddle-like stock release lever is on top instead of on the bottom, like on the earlier GSG-5 models and the MP5 and HK94 series. Actually, I think this location works well.


ATI GSG-16
The GSG-16 with stock retracted, only 28-1/2 inches.
ATI GSG-16
The stock-release lever, as shown here on the GSG-5, is in the bottom position, just like on the MP5 and HK94.
ATI GSG-16
GSG-16 stock-release lever is located on top and actually works well in this position.

The butt-plate area has a cavity that holds a spare magazine. When I first saw this, I thought it was innovative but also a bit gimmicky. The spare magazine locks in with an audible “click” and is pressure released, meaning that you just pull it out — no buttons to push. After using it, with spare magazine inserted, I really like it. There is also a short, two-inch P-rail on top of the butt-plate assembly for God knows what someone would want to mount there. (I suppose one could mount a GoPro on it if it was off to one side.) I placed a P-rail cover on it so that I didn’t have to feel the rails while shooting.

ATI GSG-16
Thinking “out of the box,” German Sport Guns has made a place for an extra magazine.

The charging handle is true to the original design and features the type of slot which the handle can be locked into in order to hold the bolt open. You also have the option of moving the charging handle to the right side of the gun. Very smart and another nice improvement to the original design.

ATI GSG-16
The charging handle rides in a similar type of slot as the original, which allows the bolt to be positively locked open. Another good improvement: the ability to move the charging handle to the right side if the user desires.

Time to do some informal plinking! I just got in some Winchester Wildcat 40-grain copper-plated Dynapoint .22 LR ammunition. Winchester states that Dynapoint offers an improved “controlled expansion” over standard hollow points — something which is important when hunting small game, which is larger than squirrel, such as rabbits. The plastic sights worked well and even with my fifty-two-year-old eyes, I had no issues hitting small targets out past 35 yards. I like that the GSG-16’s bolt will lock back after the magazine is empty, but be sure to use high-velocity ammo otherwise this may not occur. After loading another 22-round magazine, I then rapid fired on steel at 50 yards, hitting the 12-inch steel target every time. Lots of fun!

ATI GSG-16
DeNiro getting ready to drop the bolt while checking out the lime-green colored dot in the Trijicon MRO optic. The front grip, which has finger grooves, is from Mission First Tactical and is a nice compliment to the finger-grooved rear grip on the GSG-16.

Now it was time to mount an optic, so I chose a Trijicon MRO (Trijicon.com). The model I have has the co-witness levered quick-release mount. Even though this is a high mount meant for AR-15-type rifles, it is comfortable to use with the GSG-16. I just love the lime-green colored dot in this optic — I would have never chosen this color, but I like it now that I have tried it. This is a great optic if you are looking for a dot optic, and it’s small enough to mount at a 45-degree angle to compliment any scope. Now it was time to give the line of steel targets from ShootSteel.com a workout. Targets were placed at 20 yards, 30 yards, 35 yards, 40 yards, and 50 yards, and all sizes from 5" to full-size torso targets. The drill was to hit targets every second (or less) at varying distances. The GSG-16 ate up and spit out all of the .22s fired (with the exception of some “dead rounds”), and the MRO made this task of hitting the targets, with few misses, possible.

ATI GSG-16
Magazines used for this article were 22-round and a 110-round drum. A short 10-round magazine is available, as well as a full-size curved magazine, which holds 10 rounds for that “normal” look in ban states.

Since ATI sent me the 110-round drum, there was no way I was going to let it sit in the box, so I loaded it up with more Winchester Wildcat. It has been many decades since I loaded Calico 100-round, helical-feed, .22 LR drums and the Lewis machinegun-type American 180 177-round .22 LR drums, so I was long overdue for a .22 LR drum of this size. The drum appears to be of very good quality. The trick is to rotate a series of what I would call “steps” on the back of the magazine, in a clockwise direction, as you load each round. You need to rotate just enough so that the round can slip in, because if you rotate it too much, this will cause the drum to stop rotating and can jam it up. After about 20 rounds, I got the hang of it. Once loaded, it was time to hit the steel again. I did encounter a handful of jams due to failure to feed, but what I realized was that this drum needs to be broken in. After the third load or so, it seemed to be getting past the breaking-in stage. I like this option, and who wouldn’t like 110 rounds of .22 LR ready to shoot? A few rounds did not go “bang,” but this was due to the ammo, as the firing pin strikes were positive. It was now time to see how tight this rifle can shoot.

ATI GSG-16
Spittin’ bullets and brass! Shooting multiple steel targets while rapid firing with a 110-round drum magazine is what DeNiro calls a great day.

If you have read my reviews in the past, you know that when I test accuracy I like to use the biggest scopes I have in order to shoot the tightest groups possible, and I use big scopes which have no business being mounted on the smaller guns I test. This test is no different, so I mounted a $2,500 ATACR 4x-16x 42mm, monster-sized scope, from Nightforce Optics (NightForceOptics.com/atacr/4-16x42-f1). I only had medium-height rings, so the scope was actually hitting the rear sight, preventing it from being mounted. After removing a small “c” clip attached to the rear-sight screw, and then unscrewing the sight screw, the rear sight was removed (same process when swapping out rear sights). As I’ve said in the past, regarding plastic AR-15 upper receivers (and Kel-Tec Sub-2000 and SU-16 series, etc.), I don’t really like torquing down optic mounts on plastic P-rails, but it had to be done to an extent.

ATI GSG-16
Ready to do some accuracy testing at 25 yards. Ammo selected was: Federal’s Field & Range (36-grain copper-plated hollow point), Winchester Wildcat (40-grain, copper-plated Dynapoint), Remington Thunderbolt (40-grain lead nose), and ELEY High Velocity (38-grain hollow point).

I started out my accuracy testing at 25 yards. Getting into a comfortable shooting position was a bit difficult for few reasons. First, I only had the 22-round magazine and 110-round drum magazine, so setting up on the sandbag wasn’t that easy because the 22-rd magazine was too long, and because of this, accuracy would be affected to an extent. I thought of just loading each round, one at a time without the magazine, but since the GSG-16 has a magazine disconnect (my second issue), which prevents the gun from firing without a magazine, it wasn’t an option. However, this can be easily rectified by purchasing a short 10-round magazine, and one retailer that sells it is GunMagWarehouse.com (SKU: GERMGS G510PK). Those are available for $23.95 each. (This company also offers full-length 10-round magazines, for those of you behind enemy lines in ban states, who also want a regular magazine look.) Regarding the magazine disconnect, it’s not a feature I would need for myself, however, I like that it is available on the GSG-16 for the reason that it is an extra safety for new shooters. Inexperienced shooters tend to point guns which malfunction in unsafe directions. Since .22 LR ammunition tends to have a lot higher misfire rate than centerfire ammunition, the probability of an accidental discharge can be higher as well. It’s nice to know that if a new shooter remembers to remove the magazine after a misfire, the gun’s trigger will disengage even if they didn’t remember to flip the safety on. So, I think that this was a good idea, even though it didn’t help me with my bench shooting problem of not having a short magazine on hand. I found a way around this by allowing the 22-round magazine to drop into a hole in my shooting bench (which is the carry handle), so things worked out for the most part. Third, the safety does not protrude out like on a standard MP5 (original or Navy-style) or HK94, so even with large hands, I had to cant my hand a bit to take the gun’s safety off. The shooting bench position changed my shooting hand just enough to make a difference from when I was in the standing position. Not a deal breaker by any means, but just wanted to mention it.

First up was Federal’s Field & Range .22 LR, which sports a copper-plated hollow point at 36 grains. I used this as my bench “warm-up” ammo and set the ATACR scope at 16 power. Bench shooting allowed me to get a better feel for the trigger. The trigger has about a five-and-a-half-pound pull. As for feel, the trigger pull has about 50% take up and then 50% is a smooth push before the break. Reset occurs after approximately 75% of the trigger is returned fully forward. It’s not bad and didn’t take very long to get used to. Federal’s Field & Range is a plinking grade and it shot as expected. The best five-shot group was .95 of an inch and the largest opened up to 1.17 inches. Not bad for ammo I bought on sale at Dunham’s Sports for only $19.95 for 525 rounds.

ATI GSG-16
Winchester’s new Wildcat 40-grain copper-plated Dynapoint performed well at .53 of an inch at 25 yards for its best group.

Next up was Winchester’s new Wildcat 40-grain copper-plated Dynapoint. This ammo groups very well, with its best group at .53 of an inch, but I had a few “dead rounds” which did fire after a second loading.

Third in line was another shooting grade/economy .22 LR load, with Remington’s famous Thunderbolt line. This is a standard 40-grain lead round nose. This ammo always impresses me, and this time was no different, as although the largest group was at one inch, the best group was .59 of an inch — darn good for a mass produced round. It also fired without a hitch.

ATI GSG-16
ELEY’s 38-grain high-velocity hollow point shot the best at 25 yards, with a .37-inch group, so DeNiro took it out to 50 yards with the GSG-16. The result was a group slightly under an inch, and another group without the flier measured in at 3/4 of an inch.

I saved the most expensive for last — ELEY Olympic-grade ammunition (ELEYAmmunition.com) with its high-velocity 38-grain hollow point. I’ve been shooting ELEY for about 30 years, and it is my preferred ammunition for squirrel handgun hunting. This stuff is accurate! The first group I fired was only .37 inch! I wanted to take the best ammo further out, so I did just that. I set up a Caldwell Orange Peel target (CaldwellShooting.com), which is one of my favorites, at 50 yards. My best group was just under an inch and the best group without the flier measured at 3/4 of an inch. In the accuracy chart, I included measurements without the fliers to compensate for the unorthodox shooting position due to the long magazine. Anyway, this is definitely an accurate gun for plinking or small-game hunting, and that brings us to one more optic and one more topic. Hunting.

ATI GSG-16

I later attached a Weaver 2.5x-7x scope, with see-through Weaver rings, to configure the gun for hunting. I did a little plinking with this scope and really enjoyed it. I grew up with 3x-9x scopes so this one is a bit scaled down from those and perfect for this rifle. The GSG-16 would be a great gun to take squirrel hunting or rabbit hunting. And, if you’re ever attacked by a horde of rabid squirrels, just pop in the 110-round drum and let loose!  

ATI GSG-16
The GSG-16 topped off with a Weaver 2.5x-7x scope and see-through Weaver rings makes a great (and fun) small-game gun.

As far as functioning, the GSG-16 fired everything without a hitch, while using the 22-round magazine, with the exception of some rounds from Winchester and Federal which did not go off due to primer-ignition issues. The GSG-16’s firing pin hit the primer more than hard enough, so this was definitely an ammo problem.

Now that the gun is a bit dirty, I looked into disassembly. Disassembly is similar to an MP5, except for a couple of steps and due to the fact that you will need a thin flat-head screwdriver and a 3mm Allen wrench. There are two bolts, which are held in place by screws, in the same spot where the MP5 would have takedown pins. Instead of pushing them out, like on an MP5, these are held in by a screw which retains the pin. Removing the pin at the rear allows the stock to be removed, and removing the other in the front of the trigger guard (near to the magazine well), removes the grip assembly.

ATI GSG-16
The GSG-16 ready to clean. Disassembly is straightforward and simple.

One big difference between the GSG-16 and the MP5 and HK94 is the presence of a “stop block” which helps retain the bolt. When reassembling, be sure that you reinstall the grip assembly and bolt first before installing this block, because if you install the bolt and then attach the stop block, you will not be able to install the grip assembly.

ATI GSG-16
One big difference between the GSG-16 and the MP5 and HK94 is the presence of a stop block (shown here with Allen wrench inserted in its retaining bolt), which helps retain the bolt.

Once the bolt is removed, be careful not to shake the upper receiver, as there is a little spring that will come out. It is the spring for the bolt catch lever, and it is in a narrow cavity which the bolt catch attaches to one side. It’s only retained by a little pressure when the bolt is out, so be aware of this.

ATI GSG-16
If you look closely, you can see a small spring, which is in the vertical position, behind the horizontal cavity in the bolt. This spring is used to push the bolt catch lever. The bolt helps hold it in place, so when the bolt is removed, be careful not to move the gun around too much, or this spring can pop out of place and get lost.

As a former deputy sheriff, I strongly recommend the GSG-5 or GSG-16 to police who use MP5s (or HK94-type carbines) on duty, because these guns allow them to practice, on their own time, with inexpensive ammunition, and with a gun which is ergonomically almost identical to the MP5 they would use on duty. Not all police departments allow their officers to check out NFA weapons any time they wish. Some do, some don’t. Practice is so important and something police agencies don’t offer enough of. Twenty dollars buys 500 rounds of .22 LR, these days, that’s more than most police (other than SWAT) would get to practice with annually. This gun is not restricted in most states and is inexpensive. MP5-equipped police departments should also consider buying GSG-16s for training purposes, as police department budgets always get cut and training is usually the first to take the hit. I know, been there.

ATI GSG-16
The GSG-16 comes with an extra rear sight, 10 front sights, a wire cleaning brush, Allen wrench, chamber flag, dummy round, GSG decal, and manual.

If you happen to be licensed as an NFA/Title II dealer, manufacturer, or importer, you may be able to pick up a dealer sample Pakistani POF MP5 or Turkish MKE MP5 for anywhere between $800 – $1,200 (I bought a POF MP5 when I was an NFA importer for $500 back in 2003), but if you are not an FFL, your only option for full auto is a transferable. A transferable MP5/converted HK94 will set you back anywhere between $35,000 – $45,000 (yes, that much). If you have that much cash burning a hole in your pocket, contact Frank Goepfert at Midwest Tactical, as he always has some in stock (ATFMachinegun.com). An original, used, semi-auto HK94 starts at about $3,500. A few companies, like Zenith (ZenithFirearms.com), offer quality copies of semi-auto MP5-type variants in 9mm, and these will set you back about two grand, give or take a couple hundred dollars, depending on the specific model. For under four hundred dollars, the GSG-16 is a no brainer, especially when .22 LR ammo is selling for under 20 dollars for 500 rounds. Buy one! And even if you never had a craving for an MP5, buy one anyway, just for the fun of it! 

ATI GSG-16
Nightforce Optics ATACR 4x-16x 42mm scope set to 16x for all shots.

GERMAN SPORT GUNS GSG-16 SPECIFICATIONS

Caliber: .22LR (high-velocity ammunition, 1,260 fps+ is recommended)
Overall Length: 34-1/4" (stock fully extended) 28-1/2" (stock fully collapsed)
Barrel (6 grooves): 16-1/4"
Weight (unloaded): 4 lbs., 13 ounces
Trigger Weight: 5.5 lbs.
Magazine Capacity: 10, 22, 110-round drum (one 10- or 22-round magazine incl.)
Other Features:
  • Ambidextrous Charging Handle
  • Collapsible Stock with extra magazine storage compartment
  • Quick Acquisition Front & Rear Sight
  • Faux Suppressor
  • Picatinny Rails on MLOK handguard
  • Polymer Receiver
Price (MSRP): $399.95 (much less at some retailers)
Contact: American Tactical Inc., AmericanTactical.us 

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