Editor’s note: See also Dave Spaulding’s review of the Ruger SR-1911, in this month’s Firearms column.
In the past 100 years, technology has transformed the way people live. New and different raw materials, machining techniques and designs have evolved to produce the best iterations of many things used daily in life. These technological advances impact the lives of everyone—including police officers.
Can you imagine “working a beat” in 1911? No police car, radio, body armor, computer… Why is it then that many officers elect to carry a handgun designed in the early 1900s, a pistol designated the Model 1911? After all, we wouldn’t think of driving a patrol car manufactured in that era.
There are many answers to the above question. Without getting into the whole .45 vs. 9mm vs. .40 cal. debate, the .45ACP projectile is a century-old proven performer. That said, there are a variety of platforms which propel the .45 out of the gun barrel that are substantially more modern than the 1911.
Why do many law enforcement and civilians prefer a 1911 over a double-action/single-action or DAO (double-action only) design? To a large extent, favoring a particular gun design is similar to favoring a certain vehicle type. Some like large trucks, and some like sleek sports cars. Even within that analogy, some prefer Chevys over Fords, and some prefer Corvettes over Porsches.
Not everyone is enamored with the 1911. In fact, there are many more agencies that don’t allow their officers to carry a 1911 design than those who do. Many administrators fear the public’s perception of a “cocked and locked” handgun. Those who don’t understand the redundant safeties in modern 1911 designs (firing pin plunger or Schrader-style internal safeties, along with the original grip and thumb safeties) also fear the potential of an unintended discharge should the gun fall and hit a hard surface.
My own agency encountered these challenges a few years ago when our range staff proposed allowing officers to carry 1911s. I can tell you that educating the decision-makers—presenting a written proposal for their review and a trip to the range to provide a hands-on demonstration and question-and-answer session—paid off. We were ultimately successful in adopting the 1911 as an authorized platform.
I can also tell you that in the four years or so we have authorized the 1911, we haven’t experienced any unintended discharges nor has anyone who carries the 1911 failed to qualify with it.
A few of the often-cited reasons for not authorizing the 1911 platform—aside from the concerns regarding safety and appearance of a cocked gun—include the generally lower magazine capacity and required weapon-specific training.
As for the magazine capacity argument, I have two thoughts. When I first began my law enforcement career we carried a six-shot .357 Magnum revolver with two additional speed-loaders, for a total of 18 rounds. Using the lowest capacity (seven-round magazines), an officer carrying two spare magazines with a fully loaded magazine in the gun and one round in the chamber carries 21 rounds. The reality: Most officers carry eight-round magazines, and though extended, ten-round magazines are available from several reputable manufacturers. Additionally, many who carry a 1911 in a uniform capacity elect to wear a magazine pouch that allows a total of four, eight-round magazines, which, combined with a fully loaded 1911, means the officer actually has well over 40 rounds of .45 ACP!
My other thought is that Para-Ordnance manufactures several double-stack magazine 1911s that allow as many as 14 rounds per magazine—essentially the same as most .40s and even 9mms.
The additional training required is a valid concern. The 1911 is unlike any other design, and it requires more practice to become and remain proficient in its use. But I think this can be a positive: More practice should equate to greater confidence and competence, provided the training is meaningful.
Benefits of Use
The actual benefits of the 1911 design, aside from the outstanding .45 ACP cartridge itself, include its ergonomic design and reduced trigger finger movement to fire the weapon. The slender frame allowed by the single-stack magazine provides an outstanding master grip on the weapon. The single-action mechanism prevents the need for a transition from a long and heavier trigger pull to a short and easier trigger pull. It’s the consistency of a lighter and shorter trigger pull that many find allows them to hit their target with greater accuracy and consistency. Combine the greater consistent accuracy with the reliability compared to other weapons, and you have a viable carry option in the 1911.
Several modern enhancements to this time-proven platform have occurred, but only in relatively recent years. Most significantly, internal safety mechanisms (Series-80 firing-pin plungers and Schrader-style internal safeties) make the 1911 safe to carry with a fully-loaded magazine—round in the chamber, hammer cocked and thumb safety on (commonly referred to as “Condition One”). Another, more recent, refinement is the frame design with a rail, which allows a light to be mounted in front of the trigger guard. Finally, every major law enforcement holster manufacturer makes a variety of holsters to accommodate 1911s with or without weapon-mounted lights.
Absent a nation-wide survey, it’s difficult to determine the number of agencies that authorize their officers to carry 1911s. Anecdotally, however, it appears that more agencies are moving in this direction.
The largest agency I’m aware of to adopt the 1911 platform is the Tacoma (Wash.) PD. This decision was made after an exhaustive test involving 37 different handguns. One of the greatest reasons for adopting the 1911 was the ability of officers with small, medium and large hands to grip and shoot the gun more easily than other platforms. I also have it on good authority that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is considering allowing all personnel to carry 1911s. (Currently, only those assigned to Metropolitan Division and Special Investigation Section are allowed to carry 1911s.)
For officers choosing to carry the 1911, my advice is to obtain quality magazines. These seem to be Achilles’ heel of some 1911s. Also, engage in a significant amount of ongoing practice. Agencies should have a 1911 transition course that emphasizes weapon manipulation drills to the 1911.
Lastly, as a firearms instructor I feel compelled to reiterate that there’s no “one gun” for everyone. A policy that allows officers to choose from a variety of weapons, including the 1911, is one that is reasonable and defensible. The key component to a successful program is to ensure proper ongoing training and to encourage officers to practice on a regular basis.
No matter the reasons, after 100 years, it’s obvious that John Moses Browning’s Model 1911 design will continue to be relevant long into the future. As a testament to its renewed popularity, there are no less than a dozen major manufacturers (not including at least another dozen “custom-house” and lesser-known manufacturers). Following is a partial list of current manufacturers of 1911 pistols.
• Les Baer
• Olympic Arms
• SIG Sauer
• Smith & Wesson
• Springfield Armory
• Wilson Combat
As you would expect, we have a ton of 1911 coverage on LawOfficer.com. From Abner Miranda’s take on “Old Slab Sides” to Jeff Chudwin’s take on the platform to several reviews of 1911 models, check it out. Keyword search: 1911.