I got interested in handguns relatively late in life. My interest was driven by a desire to be ready, willing and able to defend myself and my family, in case trouble comes. Now I am, by nature, an analytical person. I tend to study, gather information, read a lot, ask a lot of questions, and only then, when I feel like I’m at least a little knowledgeable, do I make a buying decision.
Well, that’s how I see myself doing it. The truth is, my decisions are often influenced by other factors, and then I draw my “logical” conclusions to justify an emotional decision I’ve made. I am not alone in this. If it weren’t for this kind of decision-making, I’d be out of a day job, because marketing and advertising wouldn’t work.
When I began thinking about what gun I wanted to buy, all sorts of new terms came into my decision-making process. Revolver. Pistol. Single action. Double action. Magazine capacity. External versus internal extractor. Caliber. Everyday carry.
As I began wading through volumes of information, reviews, opinions, and such. I got an earful of the seemingly timeless debate over the stopping power of the venerable .45 ACP cartridge, versus the 9mm Parabellum, the new(ish) .40 Smith & Wesson, the .380 ACP, et cetera. I also dove into the Ford vs. Chevy vs. RAM-style conflict between fans the more traditional guns with metal frames versus the polymer frame guns from manufacturers like GLOCK.
There are a lot of fanboyz out there in the firearms world and they are passionate about their handguns. Faced with this dizzying array of features, specifications and impassioned opinions on all sides of each issue, I fell back into a time-honored axiom: “If it was good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me.”
So I made my buying decision based on the sidearm he carried in WWII (a battle fought over 50 years ago). Yep. I chose the M1911-A1, a.k.a. “Colt 45” or “Colt government” semi-automatic pistol, originally designed by John Moses Browning. When the US Military standardized on it (in 1911) it was considered a cutting-edge marvel of modern engineering.
It felt good in my hand. It was solid. Traditional. A classic. It was also heavy as Hell. Carrying around a full-size, all-steel 1911 with a steel frame and a 5″ barrel was not for the faint-of-heart. It was also no small feat to carry it concealed at a time when Texas did not offer an option to open carry.
It didn’t take long, before I decided to replace that weapon with another, a Kimber 1911, “Commander” sized, with an aluminum frame, Crimson Trace laser grips, and a barrel an inch shorter than the full-size 1911. It was lighter. Ish.
If you’re not familiar, owning a 1911 (compared to other semi-auto weapon designs) is rather like having an elderly (yet still sharp as a tack), aunt live with you. They have special dietary needs, certain set-in-their-ways of doing things, and you have to jump through some otherwise-unnecessary hoops in order to keep them around.
Some need a special tool to field-strip it. I opted to make a “bull barrel” mod to mine, which allowed me to forgo the tool, and replace it with a paperclip.
Still, field stripping a 1911 is a fairly labor-intensive, time-consuming process, especially when compared to field stripping a polymer gun. (I defy any 1911 aficionado to field strip their weapon faster than even a novice can take down a GLOCK.) Still I soldiered on in the 1911 loyalist camp.
Now you need to understand, a 1911 can hold up to eight rounds in the magazine, with another in the pipe. Your average equivalent-sized polymer gun has a double-stack magazine that will hold somewhere between 15 and 20 rounds, depending on the caliber. Ah yes…the caliber.
I bought into the claim that the .45 ACP cartridge simply has more “stopping power” than the 9mm. It’s a physics thing. I didn’t understand, at least not all the particulars. But it sounded good and macho. The .45 ACP – a big, slow bullet – knocks down bad guys and they don’t get up. The 9mm Parabellum – a faster, smaller bullet – needed many holes in bad guys to stop them. Ugh.
Well, as it turns out, that’s not entirely true. First of all, if you put a carefully placed additional hole in a human body, it is guaranteed to give them pause, and done correctly, it is likely to set them well on their way to assuming room temperature for the foreseeable future.
A .22LR round (largely dismissed as a “plinker” gun for varmint shooting or target practice) will kill a man just as dead as a round from a large-caliber handgun, if the bullet goes through the heart or brain. It may take longer, but the dirt nap they’ll take is a certainty. The “stopping power” argument stems from the supposition that the larger the hole, the faster the bleeding, the more damage around the wound channel, and the sooner the bad guy will be joining the bleedin’ choir invisible. But past shot placement, we get into the physical characteristics of the munition.
There’s been a TON of research on this subject, much of it from ammo manufacturers and groups like the NRA. Here’s the TL/DR 50,000-foot view: everything is a trade-off. If you want 15-plus rounds in your gun without reloading and you have average-sized hands, then you’re gonna have to go with a 9mm or smaller round. If you can live with fewer rounds before a reload, the world is your oyster, as far a choice in caliber is concerned. And that’s the argument that got me to thinking about my choice in ‘dream guns.’
I joined a private security firm a few months ago, and stood for a Level III commission as a licensed, private security officer in the Great State of Texas. One of the guys in the group is a…how can I put this delicately…one of those GLOCK fanboyz, who insists that GLOCKs are the only logical choice, and all other pistols — especially a 1911 — are sadly and genetically inferior.
That kind of attitude royally pissesd me off. However, in our training class, he made a logical point. To wit: If you’re in a shootout with one or more perps (and keep in mind, most gun battles last less than one minute) you can assume they have a modern weapon with 15 or more rounds before needing to reload. With a 1911, you have eight, possibly eight plus one. Who do you think has the advantage in that contest?
Wow. Looking at it that way, I had to admit, he had a valid point. This was hammered home when we did our shooting test as part of our qualifications. The test involved shooting five rounds, then another five, then another five. The polymer gun guys could do that one without a reload. Me and my trusty 1911? Not so much.
Then there’s the law of marketing inertia. The 9mm cartridge is the NATO standard, used by troops across the globe. It’s also used by a huge number of police departments across the country. The .45 lost out because their size limits the number of rounds you can stuff into a magazine.
The .40 S&W cartridge looked like a “best of both worlds” choice, until the ammo manufacturers turned their attention to improving the characteristics of the 9mm round. And improve it they did. The tech on the 9mm cartridge has gotten so sophisticated that it meets or exceeds all the other standard handgun rounds in performance. So there’s that.
So I decided I needed a duty weapon with a larger capacity than eight rounds. (I know, I could buy extended magazines, but that’s against regulations for the obvious reason that you don’t want a magazine sticking out another six inches from your side.) Now my wife owns a Springfield XD-M, a very nice little handgun. Hers has a short grip/magazine, with an (optional) larger-capacity magazine that adds an inch or so additional grip to the pistol.
I took both the XD-M and my trusty 1911 to the range, to stage my very own “shoot off.” I rented the range’s GLOCK 17, Gen5, just so I could make it a fair test. Full disclosure: I’ve never liked GLOCKs. Didn’t like the angle of the grip, and the whole Cult of GLOCK thing was a real turn-off. I figured a rental gun would be dirty, not sighted-in properly, and generally not in pristine shape…an ideal candidate for me to eliminate it from contention.
At the range, I discovered something surprising. Shooting the XD-M with the short magazine made it harder to control. Much harder. By going from the short to the long mag, I was able to cut my grouping size by about 30%. Impressive.
Then I shot the rental GLOCK. It was…a revelation. My groupings were half the size of the best I could shoot with the XD-M. Twice as tight. And they blew my accuracy with the 1911 out of the water. It was as if I couldn’t miss with the GLOCK.
Okay. Sold. So I ordered a G17, figuring I’d keep my 1911 as my bedroom gun. In accordance with my “it’s not cheating if it means you survive” philosophy, I ordered the MOS version, and promptly equipped it with a Trijicon SRO, Trijicon tall iron night sights (for co-witnessing) and a Streamlight TLR-H1 weapon light that turns a darkened room into a daylight shooting situation. (Bonus: the weight of the light helps control muzzle flip.)
Yesterday I sold my 1911 “dream gun” to a friend. Why? As one wag put it, “The great thing about Kimbers is that you can sell them and buy two GLOCKs for what you sold the Kimber.” That’s true. 1911s are expensive whips, no doubt. And GLOCKs are big winner from an economics perspective. The average GLOCK is well under half what you’d expect to pay for a quality 1911.
Then there’s the whole “I can standardize on one caliber of handgun ammo” thing. Yeah, I know. There’s two sides to that proposition, too. But with range ammo going for almost $60/box in these troubled times, standardizing on one caliber that’s hard to find is better than two that are equally hard to come by.
To be fair, the GLOCK 17, fully tricked-out with a red dot sight (it’s almost like cheating!) and a weapon light is no svelte EDC. Not in the least. It’s a serious commitment, AND a free weight program in and of itself. But the lovely thing about selling the 1911 is that I now have the loot to go buy a smaller GLOCK (I’m looking at the 43x) and I’ll have money left over.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the feel of a 1911 in my hand, and I think it is a wonderful firearm. Based on my goals (self-defense, protecting my family/property) it’s just not as good a choice as a polymer pistol. GLOCK fanboyz may be annoying, but I simply can’t argue with the kind of accuracy and ease of use I get with that G17.
So I’ve moved on to the wonderful world of polymer handguns. I just hope that the 1911 versus GLOCK thing won’t turn out to be similar to the left versus right political thing. I don’t want to be thought of as an “apostate” by the 1911 crowd. And I don’t know how well it’s going to go down if the two sides start calling each other “Nazis” and “Satans,” like they do in political discussions. Especially since both the 1911 guys and the GLOCK guys will be well-armed.
As of now, I view the 1911 with a sense of nostalgia. I’m sure that someday, if I have the money for a ‘fun gun,’ I’ll consider buying another one. But given the self-defense goals I have in mind a double-stack polymer pistol chambered in 9mm Parabellum looks to be the way to go. As much as I hate to admit it, if I can shoot better with a GLOCK, then a GLOCK is what I need.
Your results may vary. Void where inhibited.