Handgun thickness is dictated by magazine dimensions, which vary based on capacity, construction and feed geometry.
Travel with me back to the turn of the Millennium, when the big worry on internet firearm forums was what was going to happen when all the lights went out at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999.
As we all know, Y2K was a great big wet firecracker, at least for those of us who weren’t older programmers brought out of retirement to make bank patching legacy code, just in case.
One thing that lingered from those days on the gunternet, though, was a fascination for an ideal CCW pistol that was almost, but not quite, met by the then-current models on the market: the perfect mid-size single-stack.
On the GlockTalk forum, hardly a week went by without someone wishing Glock would take its G19 and make it skinnier, and therefore more comfortable to carry (especially inside the waistband) and less likely to print through cover garments.
The paradigms of 9 mm single-stack concealability at the time were the P239 from SIG Sauer, the 3913 from Smith & Wesson and (for the very well-heeled) the P7M8 from Germany’s Heckler & Koch.
Due to their metal-frame construction, which required separately attached grip panels, these were true single-stacks, with magazines featuring one round exactly atop the one below it, limiting capacity to eight rounds of 9 mm, typically, without the use of extensions. The only way to get more was to go longer in the grip frame, such as with a Government/Commander-length 1911-pattern, which could hold 10 rounds of 9 mm in the same space as eight hefty .45 ACP cartridges.
And, it’s funny we bring up .45 ACP here, which was enjoying something of a renais-sance in capacity-limited firearms of the so-called AWB era, because the folks at GlockTalk who were hoping for a single-stack G19 got a teaser of the future in that millennium year of 2000 when Glock released a slimline version of the existing .45 ACP Glock G30.
Dubbed the G36, the new pistol retained 60 percent of the magazine capacity of the wide-body Glock G30 by using a magazine that wasn’t truly a single-stack design, but instead featured a slightly staggered column of ammunition. Can we call it a stack-and-a-half, maybe?
The new pistol evidenced some teething problems out of the gate and end users were comparing notes on magazines and followers on the forum, but things smoothed out and the unspoken assumption that the appearance of a slim G30 variant meant that a skinnier G19 must be following close behind.
The Glock fans would have to wait, though. In 2012 Smith & Wesson released the M&P Shield line, which employed a staggered magazine with a sheet-metal body to cram seven rounds of 9 mm ammunition into a truly subcompact pistol and still have a flush-fitting magazine. With a barrel only a hair longer than 3 inches and a two-finger grip unless an extended eight-round magazine was used, the Shield was an entirely different class of pistol from the hypothetical “single-stack G19,” but Glock couldn’t let the salvo from Springfield, MA, go unanswered.
The return volley from Austria (by way of Smyrna, GA) was the G43, a tiny 9 mm pistol that was to the chubby Glock G26 what the earlier G36 was to the G30. It featured a barrel just a shade more than 3.4 inches long, just like the G26, and retained 60 percent of its 10-round magazine by going from a double-stack to a staggered “stack-and-a-half.”
Released in 2015, the G43 went on to sell like gangbusters. The tiny 9s from Glock and Smith & Wesson were the must-have pistols of the middle of the last decade and pretty much every other manufacturer has since launched an entry into the red-hot pocket-9 market.
It was SIG Sauer that upped the ante, though, with its P365. Roughly the same size as the existing pocket competitors from Glock and Smith, the P365 had a patented magazine design that shoehorned 10 rounds into a flush-fitting magazine. While still narrower than a true double-stack, it was wider than the competition’s offerings and used a novel shape to the upper part of the magazine body to ease the transition of the rounds from “nearly side by side” to the central feed point. (That was the patented part.)
Finally, in response, the long-suffering fans at GlockTalk got their prayers answered, nearly 20 years later: Glock took its G43 and lengthened the grip to allow a 10-round staggered magazine, and called the model the G43X. While they were at it, they made a version with a lengthened slide, too, stretching the barrel out to the same 4 inches as the Glock G19.
The resulting pistol, the G48, is the “single-stack G19” for which fans have clamored for so long.
The thing is, nowadays these pistols all have injection-molded frames and are no longer constrained by a combination of frame thickness and attached grip panels to use skinny, true single-stack magazines.
SIG Sauer answered the G48 with the P365XL, which featured a barrel stretched to 3.7 inches and a grip lengthened to accommodate 12-round mags, and Springfield Armory fielded the Hellcat Pro, with a similarly 3.7-inch barrel and a whopping 15 rounds in the mag-azine. Not to be outdone, Glock G48 shooters have been turning to 15-round aftermarket magazines from Shield Arms.
In this era of slim polymer “single-stacks” that hold the same number of rounds as the original Glock G19, is the true eight- to 10-round single-stack magazine going to become the province of 1911 shooters and fans of 1990s retro nostalgia like your humble scribe? (I do love a 3919.)
Only time will tell.