Why The 1911 Pistol Has Stayed Relevant…Or Something Like That
One of the great curiosities when it comes to handguns is why the 1911 platform of pistols has stayed relevant, or at least stayed popular enough to remain in production this line. Let’s face it; the Government frame is terribly out of date.
It isn’t hard to carry with a single-action pistol, but it’s the case that a double-action or striker mechanism is more advantageous, at least on paper. 1911 pistols also aren’t the easiest to carry, since they’re hefty even for their size. They also don’t hold many bullets, which makes them seem stupid alongside something like a Glock 19 which is actually smaller than a Commander frame and csarries 15+1.
Then there’s the expense. They aren’t cheap. The best of the entry level models go for a lot more than some of the better tactical tupperware. How has this gun held on?
Let’s Face It – Nostalgia Is A Big Selling Point For 1911 Pistols
One of the things people talk about when it comes to the 1911 pistol is the “two world wars!” thing. It was the duty handgun of the armed forces for a very long time, after all. The M1911, as it was initially designated, was formally adopted in 1910, given a refresher in 1927 and redubbed the M1911-A1 and served until it was retired as the primary sidearm of the US armed forces in 1986, displaced by the Beretta M9.
A whole lot of people served during that time, and a lot of them got to fire and carry the M1911 or M1911-A1. An awful lot of civilians bought them too, for use in target shooting, personal defense or as a sidearm in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer.
Since it is a uniquely American design – created by John M. Browning, who was a genius when it comes to guns – that makes the 1911 pistol a piece of American culture, for good or ill. Just like the Winchester lever action or Colt Single Action Army, it’s a piece of Americana.
Granted, it has evolved past being mere nostalgia but you can’t deny that’s a part of its ongoing appeal. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all!
1911 Concealed Carry Is Actually Very Viable…To A Point
Another reason why the 1911 has stayed popular is that it’s actually a very viable carry gun, whether as a packing gun for the out of doors or as a concealed carry .45 or whichever caliber you choose.
Wait, what? A Government frame? Which is almost 9 inches long and weighs three pounds? It’s almost the size and weight of a Colt Dragoon and those contemptible things are supposed to be carried on a saddle.
Except…that it actually works pretty well, all things considered. Yes, you’ll need a good gun belt, but it actually brings a lot to the table if you can handle the weight.
It’s easier for conventional concealed carry, because the slide is actually pretty slim; it’s about 0.9 inches for most models. Models with a non-ambidextrous safety are typically 1.2 inches wide at the grips, which are the widest point. For a full-size gun, irrespective of carrying capacity, that’s pretty svelte.
Granted, the 8.5 inches of overall length don’t do the gun any favors, but that’s the Government frame. You can drop down to a Commander frame lose ¾” to one inch in barrel length and everything else stays the same. Or, if you’re okay with losing a round of capacity, an Officer frame.
That means you can tuck a big gun away relatively easily. As we all know, there’s usually a tradeoff between shootability and size; bigger guns are easier to shoot than smaller ones. Here’s a big gun that’s easier to conceal than other big guns.
The grip angle fits the hand very comfortably, and the relatively low bore axis makes the gun a natural pointer. When you hold one, you’ll notice just how well it fits the hand. When you shoot it, you’ll notice recoil if shooting .45…but you’ll also notice how it really isn’t that bad. Part of it is the fit (a good fit in the hand reduces recoil because the energy transfers properly) and part of it is the metal frame.
And don’t sweat capacity. A reality of concealed carry for the civilian is that you just aren’t going to get into an extended firefight with a handgun. A cop absolutely is liable to; the civilian carrier just isn’t going to. Then again, even if you do, 1911 magazines are easier to carry, so you can pack one or two spares with more ease than a fat double-stack of 9mm rounds.
And they sell 9mm 1911 pistols, so you aren’t sentenced to a lifetime of .45 ACP.
Single Action Isn’t That Hard To Learn
People whinge about the manual safety, but the truth is that single-action operation is not hard to learn. Yes, you need to train to get the skill down but it’s hardly difficult nor does it take years to get the requisite skill down.
Wiggle your thumb a bit. That’s it. Incorporate deactivating the safety into your draw stroke and you got it. It’s just not that difficult. Make a habit of it and it becomes second nature.
A single action auto is not hard to learn; all you need do is deactive the safety or cock the pistol and you’re good to go. A single action revolver, however, is a whole other story though there is a learnable technique (you use two hands; the support hand cocks the hammer during recoil) to that as well.
Various people who are a heck of a lot more knowledgeable than the guy writing this or the people reading this have tested the delay on deactivating a safety and found negligible differences.
Look, if it’s good enough for Jeff Cooper (he who wrote the 4 laws of gun safety and came up with the Modern Technique) then it’s probably going to be good enough for you.
The 1911 Platform Has Evolved FAR Beyond The GI Spec Gun
Another selling point is the diversity of the 1911 pistol platform. The original gun was pretty bare-bones. Fixed iron sights, wood grips, grip safety and thumb safety. Insert magazine, charge pistol, point at bad guy and press the trigger – not a complicated system at all.
Since then, the platform has evolved to cater to nearly any need imaginable. A gun, after all, is a tool, and the years have allowed the 1911 a kind of modularity (at least in a broader sense) unlike any other pistol design. There is a variant for almost anyone.
Want a smaller frame? Commander and Officer frames abound. Don’t like .45 ACP? Plenty in 9mm out there. There are also a good number offered in .40 S&W. Want to get into the obscure handgun calibers? Say hello to .38 Super, 9×23 Winchester, .45 Super and .460 Rowland. There are even small-scale models in .380 Auto.
Want maximum power? Then step right up to the 10mm. It has more punch than .357 Magnum and you can carry more than six. Get a longslide model in 10mm and start handgun hunting.
Want features? Oh, gosh…are there features to be had. Want a rail to be tacitcool? Plenty of railed 1911 pistols out there. Want better sights? The industry of target sights exists because of 1911 pistols. Lasers? Can be had on the grips or mounted on a rail.
Aftermarket support is ridiculous. If you can’t find a factory gun you like, you can customize one until you do. There is also a 1911 to fit almost any price point. Want champagne on a Budweiser budget? There are import guns with all the bells and whistles that can be had for very reasonable amounts. There are GI spec import guns for much less. Then you have mid-shelf 1911 pistols and all the way up to custom guns that cost thousands.
So you have a gun that’s an old design, and is a bit dated…but has a whole lot to offer. That’s some feat for a 100 year old design.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.