The 1911 Pistol: 100-Plus Years of Dependable Service

posted on September 12, 2017

Pressed into service for World War I, the 1911 pistol was an immediate success, prized for its accuracy and ease of reloading.

Although it has been with us for more than a century, the 1911 pistol is still going strong as one of America’s premier fighting pistols. It has served us through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and countless other military engagements, both large and small. And, even though it was phased out of regular military service after Grenada, it is still used by special units to this day.

On the homefront, the 1911 became the favorite of some lawmen from its very inception. Quite a number of early peace officers saw the value of the big semi-auto, especially in the face of Prohibition and the violence brought on by the Great Depression. In the late ’60s and ’70s it began to make serious inroads into uniform police work due to the teachings of Col. Jeff Cooper of Gunsite Academy fame and others.

Arming U.S. GIs in the Pacific campaign, the 1911 saw action alongside iconic arms like the Thompson submachine gun and the Stuart tank.

And, all the while, the 1911 pistol continually gained in popularity among armed citizens. Although I don’t know of any records that are being kept, I would guess more armed citizens own 1911s today than any other defensive pistol. And there are some very good reasons for this continued popularity.

One of these reasons is that the 1911 is an easy pistol to learn to shoot. It is easy to learn to shoot safely and it is an easy gun to learn to shoot well. Thanks to John Browning’s innovative design, most shooters find the controls easy to understand and easy to manipulate. In addition, the pistol’s single-action trigger is easy to manage and fosters accurate shooting.

There are those who would have us believe the 1911 is an expert’s pistol, not fit for the average shooter. Nothing could be further from the truth. With proper training, just about anyone can learn to handle this pistol safely and effectively. And everyone should get proper training, regardless of the type of pistol that they choose to carry and shoot.

Another concern that is often heard is that the 1911 pistol is too heavy for daily defensive carry. However, we find that many of the compact guns only weigh just a bit over 20 ounces, while compact and lightened versions of the 1911 are available under 30 ounces, significantly closing this gap. Many of us carry gear (phones, lights, etc.) that weighs a good deal more than that.

In use even today, the 1911 is the choice of select U.S. forces that have many handgun options, yet stick with John Moses Browning’s famous design.

That is one of the beauties of the 1911 design; there are numerous sizes to fit a particular shooter’s needs. One has the choice of the Government model, the Combat Commander, the Lightweight Commander, the long-slide pistol, and various models of compact and sub-compact pistol, all in the 1911 format. In addition, the 1911 design can be found in .45 ACP, 9 mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, 10 mm, .357 SIG and probably some others that I have overlooked. Considering the various 1911s being offered today, there is a size and chambering to suit virtually everyone.

This big auto can also be fairly easily modified to fit shooter’s hands, regardless of how large or small they might be. Persons with small hands will find that the gun fits them well when fitted with thin stocks and a short trigger. Brownells also offers a replacement thumb safety with a low-mounted thumb piece to accommodate small hands. Shooters with large hands will generally find that they need thicker stocks in order to fill their hand and allow them to position their trigger finger properly. In their case, a long trigger may also be an aide to proper fit.

Shooting-supply companies offer a wide variety of accessories for the 1911 pistol. All manner of mainspring housings, stocks of various materials, and sights of all kinds, are just some of the accessories that allow the shooter to personalize his or her pistol. As with any handgun, especially one used for personal defense, it is a good idea to have some of these add-on parts fitted by a gunsmith.

Just a quick scan of the various gun companies shows that something like 30 of them currently offer some form of 1911. And the prices vary quite a bit. For the consumer this means that there is a 1911 variant available to fit just about any budget.

Some may be put off by the fact that this particular handgun has been around so long. Surely, the more modern guns must be better. However, one might want to consider the fact that, since the gun has been around quite a while, manufacturers and gunsmiths know just about everything there is to know about how to make the gun run and how to keep it running. In addition, qualified defensive trainers know how to teach the 1911 to make it most effective in a life-or-death situation. Tradition truly gives one the edge when they are armed with this particular handgun.

Participants in the 2016 National Police Shooting Championships in Albuquerque, NM, used 1911-style pistols for numerous matches.

I won’t pretend to tell you that the 1911 is the only handgun that should be considered for personal defense. There are lots of good choices. However, I would suggest to you that the 1911 is still around because it has proven its merits as a fighting pistol. It is as old as Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico and Frank Hamer’s ambush of Bonnie & Clyde. But it is also as current as the latest defensive encounter by an armed citizen, which was probably yesterday.

Yes, the 1911 pistol is shrouded in tradition and a rich history of military and self-defensive pistolcraft. But, if that was all that it was about, it would have died off many years ago. The 1911 pistol is still around and still being used because it is an excellent choice as a fighting handgun. And, it will probably continue to save lives long after many of us have gone on to our eternal reward. It is truly a premier fighting handgun.


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