The Enigmatic ASP

posted on December 29, 2010
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Having touched on the murky origins of the Detonics MK VII, I can't resist the opportunity to discuss another equally interesting, mysterious and truly unique pistol—The ASP.

Prior to the commercial availability of such pistols, gunsmiths were filling custom orders by chopping and channeling—cutting inches from slides and frames in an effort transform big pistols into little ones. While details pertaining to the origins and development of the ASP are enigmatic and still debated to this day, a holster maker named Paris Theodore was credited with its creation in the mid '60s. Through his company, Seventrees Limited, Theodore designed holsters for government and law enforcement agencies. Word of his quality products quickly spread, and eventually Severtrees was awarded several contracts. By day he made holsters, but at night Theodore produced other products through a sister company—Armament Systems Procedures (ASP) Corporation, where he designed and manufactured highly concealable weapons for Uncle Sam.

One particular contract called upon ASP to design and produce a handgun for the use of covert operatives word-wide. Other gunsmiths failed, but Theodore met his client's criteria, which included such things as concealability, an eight-round capacity, the ability to function with all known brands and bullet types in a given caliber and instant-target acquisition.

Lastly, despite being in a major caliber, the pistol had to possess the reduced felt recoil of a .22-caliber round. Theodore chose the Smith & Wesson Model 39 and 39-2 as a platform for the pistol that would eventually carry the company name. More than 25 percent of the gun was discarded throughout the conversion process: 0.75 inch was taken from the slide, and 0.6 inch was removed from the frame. Sections of the slide were milled both front and rear in an effort to reduce the felt recoil of the 9 mm bringing it closer to that of a .22 LR, while improving the overall balance of the pistol.

Designed for deep concealment, the ASP was a truly compact and edge-free pistol. All sharp corners were beveled during the chop and channel process. What's more, since the Smith & Wesson Model 39 was double action, the pistol's hammer spur was removed.

Produced in either right- or left-handed models per customer request, thetrigger guard was extended and reshaped with a hooked face for the for the index finger of the shooter's non-firing hand (the ASP was one of the earliest known examples of such a custom feature). In addition, the trigger guard is relieved, not only widening it, but the resulting ledge provides a ledge for the shooter's finger when not on the trigger.

Yet, two of the most radical features found on the ASP concerned the pistol's clear lexan grip panels, which enabled shooters to confirm capacity without removing the magazine. The other innovative feature was the ASP's Guttersnipe sight—that's right, a single sight that required no front sight blade. The rear sight sported an open top, through which the pistol was aimed. While the system didn't work well for precision shooting at distance, the Guttersnipe system was intended for fast, close-in use.

By the grace of the firearm procurement Goddess (and Doug Wicklund of NRA's National Firearms Museum), I was lucky enough to purchase one of these rare handguns; and although it's seen better days with more than its share of holster wear and missing Teflon-S coating, it's one of the few semi-autos that will indiscriminately digest any ammunition I load in it, regardless of manufacturer, bullet type or weight.


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