SEPTEMBER 22, 2015

Editor's Notebook: Yes, the 1911 -- Again

Silliness abounds on the World Wide Web. Everyone has an opinion. You can tell the oft-times goofiest if it starts out, "I've been shooting all my life." Akin to "once upon a time" as a beginning to a story of questionable veracity, it's second only to "my daddy taught me how to shoot," "I learned it all in the Army," and "Here, hold my beer and watch this!" For example, derp about the 1911 pattern pistols is still common. Here's the deal: it's been extant for over 104 years. We should all know everything there is to know. But the 1873 Model P – the previous service handgun of the U.S. Army -- was designed to be carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. How many of the Gun Culture 1.0 folks, let alone Gun Culture 2.0 types, really know that? You say that people finally understand the 1911 from the time Jeff Cooper began to popularize the design?
"Oh my! The hammer on your pistol is cocked . . . " -- Just like the hammer on the 870, the AR-15, etc. Spare us the "it looks dangerous routine. This photo is of a Texas peace officer at a SWAT conference.
Sure they do. This is a comment on a recent internet post with a photo of a 1911-pattern pistol – "We had 1911 safety problems as I saw as an Army MP... (unnamed law enforcement agency) banned after a SWAT guy shot another. How much training and shooting guns at the range is enough? You cannot de-cock (sic) with one hand. It takes two hands and being very careful. That's why you see no single action auto pistols in any of the world's armies. The Walther P-38 solved many safety issues and started the ball rolling. Stress makes people forget safety...combat is different than collecting and shooting pistols at the range. S/A pistols scare me and I am an armorer and an instructor for many years." Yeah, okay. Chuck Taylor referred to users as described in this missive as "non-dedicated personnel." There are other names, but we need no more derisive speech. As to stress making people "forget safety," brother, you know it. In an agency issuing pistols with the P-38-esque decocker safety we saw failures to decock before holstering routinely – on the range, on bright sun-shiney days, with no pressure, no stress. We were working beside another, larger agency with the same system. They had the same experience. I guess the term would be GHWHUA – gun handling while head up . . . well, not paying attention. His first problem is "decocking" the 1911. If you want the hammer down, unload it. First, the magazine comes out and is stowed. Then we lock the slide open. Check the chamber by looking and by feeling. We do that because the eye "sees" what it "expects" to see. Then lower the hammer gently or – if you have a safe direction – get a good dry practice repetition in. Don't just jab it out there and clutch at the trigger.
Part of the appeal is the terrific marksmanship potential of the design. Capable of the finest service-pistol trigger of any design, the 1911-type pistol is ergonomic and easy to control.
I saw the internet discussion right after a cable channel marathon of the Jesse Stone made-for-TV movies, in which Tom Selleck demonstrated a knowledge of the combat pistol (and shotgun, in one episode) a depth of which is rarely seen from Hollyweird. It shows that it can be done right and that we can change people's minds with the truth – it just takes time and effort. If that old pistol bothers you that much, your road is clear: don't carry it. We'll make it easier: you needn't burden the rest of us with how bad it is. I imagine we know the short-comings of that particular system. Would I issue 1911-type pistols today? No. For an issue sidearm, I'd have to look at holster, magazines and mag pouches, parts and, as important, having people who were well schooled in keeping the old cannon running. Why do that when you can get an 8-hour armorer course for the later designs – designs for which handling, maintenance and repair are so simple? Add to that cost per unit factors and a newer design would get the nod. The 1911 style pistol is still quite popular and why not? It's easy to shoot well and the ergonomics are superb. -- Rich Grassi