Category Archives: Quest for the Holy Handgun

Quest for the Holy Handgun: M1911

To start out my fact finding firearm mission, I wanted to start with the pistol that is most attractive to me initially:

The M1911.  This particular one is a Smith & Wesson.

Before going into pros/cons, let’s learn a little about the history of the gun, shall we?
Back at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was using a revolver in .38 Long Colt.  During the Phillipine-American war, we were going up against some pretty badass Filipino guerillas who used drugs to dull the sensation of pain.  Our .38 revolvers were having a hard time taking them down.  There was a lack of “knockdown power”.  The bullets would wound but weren’t taking our adversaries out of the fight fast enough.
This prompted the US to commission a series of trials for a new service pistol that fired a bullet preferably .45 inches in diameter, preferably with a semi-automatic action. (Semi-autos to this point hadn’t really caught on with the exception of a couple models)  Colt submitted a pistol/round combination designed by John Moses Browning, which fired 6,000 rounds over two days of testing with no malfunctions. (The other design up for consideration had 37.)  When the pistol got too hot, they just dunked it in water and kept going.
The pistol was adopted in 1911 (strange coincidence with the name and all right?) and has served the US military in every major conflict since.  It was replaced by the Beretta M9 in the 1980’s as the standard service pistol but is being used by various special forces groups in the Middle East today.
(History lesson paraphrased from Wikipedia.  Be careful reading it though, it’s easy to get sucked into hours-long stumbling through related gun wiki entries.)
So let’s take a look at the criteria I had laid out in my previous post:
  • Reliability:  The 1911 is a 100 year old design.  While current gunmakers have found ways to bring the 1911 up to speed in most aspects, there is still a slight stigma of finickyness.  Take a look around some of the popular gun forums to see this stigma blown way out of proportion.  It seems fanboys of any other platform make a HUGE deal about the 1911 being fragile and very complicated to strip down.  I left a comment as such over at Huey’s Gunsight, to which Huey made a post just to take my ass to school and show that there aren’t THAT many more parts than a Glock when broken down.  (BTW, check out Huey’s site, it’s alot of quality gun content without alot of the political BS that you see on some sites.)  Even if 1911 isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, there are accounts of many lower cost 1911’s not being compatible with hollow-point ammunition, which is what I’d look to shoot for self-defense.  Couple that with it not being able to match the legendary reliability of a Glock or Sig and you have to count Reliability as a: CON
  • Price: It’s not uncommon to peruse a gun magazine or online article and see $2000+ custom 1911 pistols.  Mid-range pistols run from $700-$1200.  There are some no-frills pistols available for roughly $400 that are very functional but have been known to have some issues with hollowpoint (hereafter referred to as HP) ammunition as I pointed out earlier.  After spending ALOT of time researching the best values in 1911s, it seems the Taurus pt1911 stands out.  For $500-$600, you get a pistol that already has alot of the aftermarket upgrades that people usually spend their money on such as a polished feed ramp (allows the pistol to reliably feed HP ammo), a beavertail safety (helps keep the hammer and slide from “biting” your hand like you’ve seen on CSI a million times), skeletonized hammer/trigger, and quite a few others.  Still, that’s a pretty good chunk of change.  And we’re talking just the pistol and 2 magazines.  With my roughly $600 (imaginary right now) budget, that leaves little to no money for ammo to practice with. Since it’s right at my limit for a pretty basic gun, I have to say price is another CON.
The Taurus pt1911.  From what I’ve seen, the best value in the 1911 market.
  • Capacity: Alot of pistols nowadays ship with magazines that hold 13 (for the large .45ACP) to 17 (for the more compact 9mm) rounds.  Most 1911s ship with 7 or 8 round magazines in 45ACP.  The 1911 platform uses a different kind of magazine (called a single-stack) that makes the pistol slimmer and easier for smaller hands to grip but severely limits capacity.  You can get high capacity mags but they stick out of the bottom of the pistol and usually only increase your round count to 10.  I’m sure proponents of the .45ACP round would argue that 7 is all you need but in a pure contest of capacity, the 1911 fails.  CON
  • Caliber: Not as important in my opinion as capacity but still a deciding factor.  The .45ACP cartridge was designed by John Browning to go hand in hand with the 1911.  With current defensive ammo, anything above a 9mm will generally penetrate the recommended 12″ necessary to stop the fight with a good hit.  However, if two bullets will both penetrate about the same, wouldn’t you want the bigger, heavier, wider bullet?  This kind of goes hand in hand with capacity, which is why I don’t put much weight in caliber.  If you give up some stopping power by going with a 9mm, you get a few more shots in your magazine to make a fight-ending shot.  Still, capacity being equal, the .45ACP comes out on top in my opinion. PRO 
Comparison of some handgun cartridges.  Ignore the .50AE and 22lr unless you’re expecting to gunfight  a rhino or a squirrel, respectively.
Penetration comparison of several popular self-defense handgun cartridges.  See how everything goes past the FBI-recommended 12″? 
  • Carryability: As stated before, the 1911 is a very slim handgun.  If I were to carry (which once again assumes IL pulls it’s head out of it’s ass and legalizes CCW, AND that my employer allows CCW to make daily carry a possibility), I don’t see that I’d have any problems concealing a full size 1911.  I’ve read many reports of guys 6’1″, 6’2″, etc, having no issue with it.  With my 6’5″ Unhealthy Outdoorsman frame, I shouldn’t have an issue.  Shouldn’t have any big impact on my decision (especially till we have CCW) but it counts as a PRO 
  • Misc: There are a bunch of little things that probably shouldn’t have a major effect on which pistol I end up with.  However, when you put them all together, they can really turn the tide one way or another.  I’ll break them down a little:
    • Looks: Dammit, that pistol is sexy looking.  In my mind, when I think of a pistol, I think of the 1911.  I’ve seen it in every video game/tv show/movie depicting any conflict the United States has had in the past 100 years.  I also like the look of a hammer on a gun, something missing from alot of modern pistols, as it’s been replaced by a hammerless striker-fired design.
    • History/Track Record: I’ve already mentioned how many conflicts this handgun has been a part of.  It has eliminated countless Nazis/Vietcong/Terrorists/Criminals from the face of the earth and continues to do so.  There’s something cool about having basically the same pistol my great-grandfather used in WWII.  Just because a world army used a pistol is no specific reason to buy one for protection (Nambu anyone?) but such a long track record definitely lends a positive recommendation. 
    • Customizability: There is a HUGE market for custom parts for 1911 pistols.  Want new fancy sights you can see in the dark?  Here you go.  How about some “sweet” Punisher grips? Got 3 pages of them.  (In fact, grab a sweet compensator to go along with those sweet grips, you can pretend you’re Thomas Jane at the range.)  You can get just about every part in a 1911 to make it shoot/look better.  It’s nice to know you can take a gun and really make it one of a kind.  
As you can see, there are a few Miscellaneous factors that weigh in to the decision process as well for me. With what I’ve come up with, it all works out to a big PRO

So with it all laid out, we have 3 PROs and 3 CONs.  It’s actually not as close as it seems, as reliability, price and capacity are all much more important to me than how a pistol looks and whether or not I can make my pistol like the ones that The Comedian from Watchmen uses.  
Then again…
Do you agree/disagree?  Are my pros your cons?  Am I talking out my ass in your humble opinion?  Feel free to let me know.
Coming soon in QHH: Glock 17, Sig SP2022, and one of the Ruger pistols (probably the SR9).  I wonder how they’ll break down.  Let me know if you have any other suggestions under the $600 rough price limit.  I was honestly thinking the 1911 was going to fare a little better than it did but when I really break it down to what’s honestly important to me, it kinda comes out in a negative light huh?  I guess we’ll have to see how the others play out.
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Quest for the Holy Handgun

Sunday, my post on buying your first gun got picked up by fishnewsdaily.com (see the badge on the right) and I got a mini-boost in visitors and a few new comments. 

One such comment came from Mark who laid out a few of his favorite handguns and arguments for each.  I hadn’t discussed handguns in my post, mostly because I haven’t bought one.  I don’t feel comfortable putting my advice out there for something I haven’t experienced yet.

However, I am planning on making my next firearm purchase a handgun.  I laid out a couple of the guns I was looking at and I think it might help my decision making process to do a series of posts detailing each option and weighing the pros and cons.  I’m thinking it may help me narrow down my choices a little more than just reading countless reviews and forum posts.

The point of this post is to lay down some criteria.  The categories in which the guns will be judged and why said categories are important to me.  Here they are in current order of importance:

  1. Reliability:  The number one reason I’d buy a handgun is for defense.  A pistol that doesn’t go BANG and shoot lead when you pull the trigger is useless.  Period.
  2. Price:  Major factor.  I just can’t afford a $1000 pistol.  Just doesn’t happen when you’re saving for a downpayment on a house and working on commission.  I’ll set a rough $600 limit but that’s honestly too high as well without a few months of saving.  If only I could convice my wife I should open a credit card for guns……
  3. Capacity: It would suck to get into a gunfight with a couple of crackheads and run out of rounds.  I also would like to try out some shooting sports like USPSA and it seems like the more rounds you can carry in a magazine, the better. 
  4. Misc: Things that probably shouldn’t matter but will probably have a say in the decision.  How the gun looks, the history of the gun or design, it’s use by law enforcement and/or military, how easy it is to customize the gun and make it my own, etc.

Then there are a couple things that people factor in very much that probably won’t make a huge difference to me:

  1. Carryability:  We can’t carry in IL so this is currently a nonissue.  Even when things turn around here and we can carry, I don’t don’t think it’ll be a big issue.  At 6’5″ and 464lbs, I’m sure I can figure something out.  (Honestly this is something I’ve thought about and if I got a CCW license I’d probably carry in a shoulder holster since I sit on my ass in a call center all day. That’s assuming my employer would even let me carry at work.  I have totally received death threats over someone’s cable going out by the way.)
  2. Caliber:  Anything over 9mm will do it seems.  From everything I read, all handgun calibers suck compared to rifle/shotgun rounds for self-defense.  Once you get to a 9mm and above, it seems as though everything can get the job done.  If I were smart I’d limit myself to a 9mm to start since ammo is roughly 40% less expensive than bigger calibers. As discussed in my last gun post, cheap ammo = more practice = better marksmanship.  Noone ever claimed I was smart though.
  3. New vs. Used:  Honestly, I’d probably prefer used because of the cost factor.  If a pistol meets the reliability requirement, it shouldn’t matter if it is used as long as it wasn’t abused.

So there you have it, I’ll be putting some popular firearms under the microscope over the next few months to see if I can narrow things down a bit.  Should be fun as my interests for different models kind of ebb and flow as I read different things about them or check one out at the local Gander Mountain.  Maybe this will eliminate those temporary longings and plant the seed for a more concrete decision.

So here’s where I need your input.  What guns should I look at?  What was your first handgun (or what would it be if you were to get one?)