Obituary: Chip McCormick, Legendary Gunsmith and Innovator

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posted on June 7, 2021
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A true industry legend, Michael “Chip” McCormick, has passed away.

I can think of no other man who has changed the industry in more ways than McCormick. Most people know him for his industry-leading 1911 magazines, but few are aware McCormick was responsible for many other innovations that transformed the gun world. An intensely private man, he quietly invented many things we take for granted today. He took the drive that pushed him to two World Speed Championships and focused it on inventing and manufacturing.

Before CMC (Chip McCormick Custom), there was no such thing as the now ubiquitous drop-in AR-15 trigger. Gunsmiths would put together a trigger with parts, often from a kit. McCormick created a single-unit trigger that installs in minutes; literally a "drop in." Of course easy installation was not good enough for McCormick, he made it crisp, clean, with no creep....Match grade. Now dozens of imitators crowd the market, the market created by Chip McCormick.

Before Kimber, the 1911 had to be fitted from oversize parts. If you saw one in the gun store, it was usually a basic government model that the owner would have to customize. McCormick conceived of the "spec" 1911 with all parts being within specific tolerances so the gun could be assembled, instead of fitted. McCormick approached several companies, but they turned him away. Kimber's Leslie Edelman saw the potential and quickly struck a deal for Chip to create a production gun. Unlike anything else on the market, it was fully accessorized with beavertail grip safety, extended slide release and ambidextrous thumb safeties. Not only was the Kimber handgun line born, but so was a new way of building the 1911. Now the production 1911 is the industry standard, as are fully accessorized guns.

When we think of the 2011, the first company that comes to mind is STI, which has since become Staccato. Few know the true origins of the company. It was Chip McCormick who conceived of the modular gun based on the 1911. Even with his vast experience, he lacked sufficient knowledge in plastic molding. McCormick had several other companies, so he also lacked the bandwidth to take on such a project. A team was assembled, including Sandy Strayer and Virgil Tripp. McCormick invested money and made agreements to buy parts to help fund the fledgling company. Strayer and Tripp took McCormick’s concept, developed and patented it, creating what we know as the 2011.

While he never said it, I believe the innovation that McCormick was most proud of was his RPM magazine. McCormick's mind was always going and he often didn't sleep. On one particular sleepless night he put his mind to thinking about the problem that vexed him and all 1911 enthusiasts. Of course, that of which I speak is out-of-spec feed lips. John Browning just didn’t leave enough room. Though McCormick didn’t get any sleep that night, he did get inspiration. Staring at his ceiling he figured out how to turn them back on themselves, making smooth, amazingly strong lips. That was revolutionary enough for most...but McCormick wanted to create something truly different. The RPM follower is unique as it is a two axis leaf spring, pushing up and sideways. This innovation is important because when the magazine is emptied, the follower sticks out of the top of the magazine tube and twists counter clockwise.  The results are that the slide always locks back when empty. I can still remember the satisfied smile when he explained how it worked. It was a simple, elegant solution and that was McCormick's way. 

While it is inarguable that McCormick left an indelible mark on the world of guns, let us also remember the manner in which he conducted himself. When he was rolling out the RPM magazine at SHOT Show, I worked in his booth and had the opportunity to observe him. Whether it was an industry titan, a fan of his products, or a competitor from his shooting days, they were all greeted like royalty. His warmth and welcoming nature was beautiful to watch.

The legacy that Chip McCormick leaves behind is truly enormous. It is hard to imagine anyone who has accomplished as much as he did. All of this done with honor, honesty and class.

Chip, you will never be forgotten.

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