I’m holding in my hand a pistol so hotly anticipated that not one but two video spoofs regarding its release are currently circulating on the Internet. What’s so special about it? Well, it’s a striker-fired, polymer-frame, single-stack 9 mm. OK, none of that actually makes it special. What does is the name on the slide—Glock.
That name carries so much significance now, Gaston Glock’s latest offering can arrive late to the party and still likely be the life of it.
How Glock Changed The Game
To understand the power of the Austrian company’s semi-automatics (most of which, unlike the G43, are now built in Smyrna, GA), understand that when it started some 30-odd years ago, “polymer-frame” and “striker-fired” were terms virtually unheard of in the U.S. consumer and law enforcement markets. That Glock changed everything is beyond question. With some notable exceptions, the carry gun market has largely been reduced to two main categories of pistols: 1911-based and polymer-frame, striker-fired.
So how did Glock get to this point? An easy way to comprehend the company’s fortune is to look at another icon who was coming to prominence at about the same time the Glock started gaining attention in the U.S.
Michael Jordan had arrived in the NBA and very quickly riveted the nation. It seemed everyone loved him, with one exception: longtime basketball aficionados. Actually, they loved him, too, but not without some resentment. Why? Well, let’s say you truly loved basketball and had for a long time. You watched every game you could, pored over stats and studied coaching theories and game strategies. You could (and would) expound on the pick-and-roll at the drop of a hat. Your friends knew of and respected your mastery of all things hoops-related. Then along came this Jordan guy and here was the problem: Someone who had literally never seen a basketball game before could watch the Bulls and after 10 minutes conclude “That number 23 is better than all the others.” His greatness was such that he obviated your expertise.
Much the same happened with self-styled pistoleros when the Glock arrived. Back then buying a carry gun meant you not only had to know the various models and calibers to choose from, you had to know which ones required a trigger job or barrel throating or a full reliability package. Or you might need to have the magazine disconnect removed, or the spur hammer replaced with a rowel hammer, and maybe you had to have the whole thing dehorned. Handgun aficionados took secret delight in the esoteric complexity of selecting a handgun. It meant newbies had to come to them and seek their wisdom. Then that damn Austrian pistol showed up. With just a few hours of research (even in those pre-Internet days), someone who’d never fired a handgun before could conclude that the Glock G17 was better (or at least as good as) any fighting pistol in the world—and they’d have been right. Reliability, chambering, firepower, accuracy, ease of use and maintenance, weight, durability, price—the Glock was competitive in every category and superior in most. Sure, it had that long, mushy trigger pull and indistinct break, but only if you were used to 1911s. If you were new to guns, the Glock pull is what a trigger was supposed to feel like, as far as you knew.
Gun aficionados howled, of course, and offered vague and dismissive critiques of the Glock, critiques usually devoid of substance. I recall one writer decried the Glock as an “appliance.” What does that even mean?
That Glock has overcome such resistance is obvious. Now you see the outline of the G19 in circle-slash “no gun” signs; it’s become the default handgun in the American imagination. Instructors at prestigious shooting schools where high-end 1911s were de rigeur now more often have Glocks (or similar) on their hips.
Serious Pocket Pistols
So what does this have to do with the new G43? I’m getting to that. There has always been a divide between serious defensive chamberings and the chamberings available in true pocket semi-automatics. Nine millimeter, .40 S&W and .45 ACP were regarded as “real” combat chamberings, but in the not-too-distant past, pistols sturdy enough to handle them were too large or heavy (or both) to be routinely carried in the pocket of lightweight trousers. Lesser semi-auto chamberings, like the .22 LR, .22 Mag., .25 ACP and .32 ACP, could be carried in wonderfully small, flat pistols, but they were really little more than talismans that their owners could kid themselves with. The .380 ACP was the gray area between the divide. Sure, there were lightweight, small-frame revolvers that could fire .38 Spl. (and now .357 Mag. and .327 Fed. Mag.), but the cylinder made for a tell-tale bulge in a pants pocket, firepower was limited and for most people they lacked “shootability,” a problem only exacerbated by the magnum chamberings.
The striker-fired, polymer-frame semi-auto pioneered by Glock meant that it was possible to build a relatively lightweight, reliable pistol in a true fighting caliber that fit in a pocket. The potential value of this market niche was so obvious that everyone rushed a product into it—except Glock. Kahr, Kel-Tec, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Kimber, etc. all have fairly small, single-stack 9 mms on the market already.
So, why all the anticipation for the G43? Well, the FBI’s recent validation of the efficacy of premium 9 mm ammunition certainly amplified consumers’ calls for 9 mm carry pistols in general. However, I think much goes back to the whole Jordan analogy. Buying a Glock is a “no-brainer” for a lot of the gun-buying public. Not everyone who buys a gun is a gun enthusiast. A great deal of them are just people wanting reliable personal protection, period. What they don’t want is buyer’s remorse. They figure, correctly, that the Glock name on the slide eliminates the bulk of the guesswork. The gun is going to be light, comfortable, durable and—most of all—reliable. It’ll operate like their other Glock(s). There may be nothing revolutionary about it at this point, but there are no bad surprises, either.
Does that mean the G43 (or any Glock) will automatically be the best in its respective category? No, but it assures it will be very good and function as it is supposed to.
G43 versus G42 versus G26
At a press event weeks before the G43 launch, I was able to shoot the new pistol next to both the G42 and G26. The G43 is very similar in size to the G42, but just slightly larger. In actual shooting, the G43 is snappier. The 9 mm simply has more juice than the .380 ACP and you feel it when you touch off a round. That is not to say the 9 mm is punishing, but when fired side-by-side the difference is very noticeable.
The real comparison has to be made to the G26, the so-called “Baby Glock” in 9 mm. For years it’s been the Glock consumer’s only option for a subcompact, deep-cover 9 mm. The problem is, despite being a generally excellent pistol, its utility for deep cover was limited by its girth and weight.
Though the G26 (and similarly sized .40 S&W G27) shot almost unbelievably well, the pistol was too thick and too heavy for pocket carry in anything short of heavy denim worn by sizable individuals. For office wear in cotton chinos or dress slacks, it was out of the question.
The G43, like the G42, finally offers a realistic option of a Glock for pocket carry—sort of. It exists right at the limit for pocket carry in lightweight slacks. If someone takes a close look, it’s quite apparent that there is something in your pocket, though with a well-designed pocket holster it is unclear exactly what it is. It could be a cell phone, a wallet or a paperback book (sort of an analog Kindle printed on bound sheets of paper, for you Millenials).
Of course, the flatness is actually a mixed blessing. It’s more discreet, but means less firepower. Also, despite what you may hear or assume, it means less grip comfort. A flat grip may fit more hands and give you a better sense of physical authority over the gun, but a wider grip fills the hand better. We’ve had double-column pistols for quite awhile now and, also, most shooters now shoot two-handed, so there’s been sort of a paradigm shift as to what feels “right” to handgunners.
In actual shooting, the G26 is more controllable and comfortable to shoot than the G43. That broad backstrap does a far better job of distributing the recoil impulse across a broader area of the shooting hand, diminishing felt recoil. There is also more mass for the energy of the fired round to overcome, so the G26 kicks less. That’s physics. The shooter also has more of his or her hands around the gun and more leverage thanks to the larger grip frame, so control is better with the older gun. The G43’s advantage over the G26 isn’t in head-to-head shooting; it’s in the fact that it can always be with you when you need it—and that’s huge.
The “Always” Gun
A lot of people who carry serious fighting guns stopped carrying reloads when Glocks and other such pistols came on the scene. The reasons were twofold: The double-column magazines were capacious enough that many felt they didn’t need to carry a loaded gun and a reload. Secondly, the big magazines were considered too big and bulky to carry as spares.
For many, the advent of super-compact pistols in .380 ACP have made the “New York reload” the preferred backup plan. Instead of trying to reload the primary gun, a second gun is quickly drawn, a pistol that in some cases is itself flatter and lighter than a double-stack magazine. I’ve long been among that crowd. I carry my big primary handgun on my hip when I can wear a cover garment, and a small, lightweight .380 in my pocket as backup. When I have to remove the big gun, the .380 remains with me and becomes my primary defensive tool.
The G43 offers the possibility of replacing both pistols. It is small and flat enough to carry in a pants pocket, yet has the horsepower of the 9 mm cartridge. Its limited capacity would, of course, have to be offset with a spare (but flat) magazine. Or, you could still add a larger belt gun and keep the G43 in place as one very serious piece of backup ordnance.
Of course, there are many who’ll buy the G43 and never place it in a pocket. They belt carry and just prefer the pistol’s smaller grip circumference. Or, they may need the greater discretion offered by having a narrower gun on their hip. Also, many women who belt carry find larger/wider grips problematic as the curve of the hip beneath the barrel leverages the grip painfully into the ribcage. A narrower grip can only help that situation.
The G43 fit a remarkably broad cross-section of hands. Glock wisely eschewed finger grooves on this pistol, just as it did with the G42. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to bring myself to call a Glock pretty, but the G43 has an appealingly clean look with smooth, graceful lines and controls that are minimalist, yet adequately sized for easy manipulation. All female testers were all able to rack the slide, something that is not always the case with small 9 mm semi-automatics.
Several people testing the G43 remarked that the trigger pull seemed considerably heavier than on previous Glocks (and heavier than advertised) and, on our sample, it was. That’s as much observation as complaint, though. The trigger seemed to me more distinct than that of other Glock pistols. There was take-up, then sudden and distinct resistance, then (dare I say it) a pretty darn crisp break. It was easy to quickly draw the G43, level it and manipulate the trigger for solid, telling hits during drills at 5, 7 and 10 yards. The flush-fitting, six-round magazine conceals easier in a pocket, but doesn’t provide the comfort and control of the spare magazine with a finger rest for the pinkie. The latter, too, holds only six rounds.
That has been a point of contention with some consumers, but it is right “in the ballpark” for such guns. Besides, with one in the chamber, that’s still two more rounds than offered by the majority of small-frame revolvers, the category of guns most threatened by the single-stack 9 mm semi-autos.
Just What You’d Expect
There are smaller, lighter guns already in this market segment, but the G43 is about a multiplicity of qualities. It is just small enough for pocket carry, yet still nicely sized for a belt holster. Moreover, it manages to fit a majority of shooters’ hands, to balance well and shoot controllably. And it is almost stultifyingly reliable.
I could go on cataloging its virtues, but what’s the point? Chances are, they had you at “Glock.”
Manufacturer: Glock; (770) 432-1202
Action-type: Recoil-operated, semi-automatic
Caliber: 9 mm
Capacity: 6+1 rounds
Frame Material: Polymer
Slide Length: 6.06 inches
Grips: Integral polymer
Barrel length: 3.39 inches
Rifling: Hexagonal; 1:9.84-inch RH twist
Sights: Drift-adjustable white-outline rear; white dot front post
Trigger Pull Weight: 9 pounds, 2 ounces
Length: 6.26 inches
Width: 1.02 inches
Height: 4.25 inches
Weight: 17.95 ounces
Accessories: two six-round magazines (one with finger extension), manual, hard case, lock
Velocity measured in fps at the muzzle for 10 consecutive shots with an Oehler Model 36 chronograph. Temperature: 61 degrees Fahrenheit. Accuracy measured in inches for five consecutive, five-shot groups from a sandbag rest at 15 yards.