The Toughest Handgun Ever Made

American John Moses Browning invented, what many consider, the toughest handgun ever made.

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Very few changes have been made from the original Model 1911. The most significant occurred in 1983, when Colt introduced a new series of all their models. The biggest change was a firing pin safety that would not permit the pistol to fire unless the trigger was pulled to the end of its travel. It was thought that this additional safety feature was necessary in order to reduce lawsuits in our litigious society, and obviously to appease many anti-gun advocates.

Colt made a few different versions of the 1911. These include the shorter, aluminum frame “Commander” and the steel frame “Combat Commander,” both with a 4.25-inch barrel and 8+1 ammo capacity. The Combat Commander weighs in at 27 ounces, while the Commander weighs 36 ounces. An “Officer’s” model has a 3.5-inch barrel with a 6+1 capacity and weighs in at 34 ounces.

Competition usually brings about a better product, but is that better product appropriate to satisfy all needs? Can one handgun do-it-all? The answer is obvious – NO!

Although designed for military use, the 1911 and its clones may also be of service to modern law enforcement. The adoption and use would primarily be for specialized units, such as SWAT teams and similar tactical units. The carry and use of the 1911 by uniformed officers is relatively rare, as the most popular .45 ACP carried by uniformed officers today is believed to be the Glock 21.

Renewed Appreciation and Advocacy
Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and a 30-plus year Wisconsin law enforcement veteran, states, “The model 1911 has survived with relatively modest changes to its design and is today enjoying a renewed popularity, particularly with law enforcement tactical teams. Like the AR-15/M4, it seems as though almost every gun manufacturer is making a 1911-type handgun, and many tactical teams are lobbying their agencies to adopt this weapon for their members.”

One of the primary factors favoring the 1911 for tactical applications is the .45 ACP cartridge. The mass and diameter of the round contribute greatly to its proven reputation as a fightstopper. The 1911-type pistol has a rugged design, since it was originally designed for the military. It provides the shooter with a low bore axis relative to the grip, aiding in recovery from recoil. It can be equipped with an excellent trigger for precision shooting with much less creep and overtravel than double-action semiautomatics. It is also capable of great accuracy and many models come with an optional rail for lighting devices.

Hedden adds, “The opportunity for a long-range pistol engagement is rare in law enforcement, and especially rare in tactical operations. It is also true that accuracy is a more important factor than caliber in the effectiveness of a handgun. Most duty handguns will shoot with decent accuracy for the shooter within 25 yards—that is, with proper training.”

If caliber is the prime concern, almost every manufacturer of a 9mm or .40 S&W handgun now offers a .45 ACP of similar design. The steel frame 1911 weighs almost a pound heavier than a .45 ACP Glock 21, which has a substantial ammunition capacity advantage over the 1911. With all the other gear a tactical team member is expected to carry, weight may be an important consideration. The single-action trigger and slide safety are very different than that of the typical duty pistol. If the 1911 is authorized, training will be less complicated if it is the only system that the officer uses, for both on-duty and off-duty carry. This single system is imperative in order to reduce confusion under stress, which can cost the lives of police officers.

Chief Jeff Chudwin, of the Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields, is a former prosecutor and president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association. Chief Chudwin states, “The 1911 is more complex than other systems in terms of upkeep and parts replacement. In the years I have used my 1911′s in duty use and competition, I have broken seven extractors. These are not simple drop in parts like a Glock extractor and must be fitted by a competent armorer/gunsmith. My pistols are modified by master gunsmith Ned Chrisitansen of Michi-guns, who insures the functionality and reliability by testing all parts and altering the frame size to fit my hand as I want it.”

Chief Chudwin offers, “Bottomline, the 1911 offers a platform that can be developed for any shooter’s hand size and is among the most reliable and accurate duty pistols when set up by a knowledgeable gunsmith. If you want inexpensive, look elsewhere. If you want the best, the 1911 will stand up to any test.”

Sergeant Brian Stover of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office states, “The term ‘toughest’ is hard to describe. When it comes to a long-lasting, excellent design that has withstood the test of time, Colt hit the mark (pun intended) with the 1911. I wonder if some of the more modern handgun designs will still be as highly sought 100 years from now. To truly last as long it has without a major redesign is a testament to the skill and foreknowledge that went into the original. An unmodified Model 1911 straight out of the box is a formidable weapon that will get the job done. Modifications and enhancements have only made a great gun a more efficient fighting tool.”

“The 1911 is formidable in both appearance and function,” states Deputy Chief Ray Cordell of the Barrington, IL Police Department. Chief Cordell adds, “The fact that the 1911 has lasted through the decades is a testament to its durability and performance. Its use requires the most dangerous weapon an officer has, his brain. To carry a ‘cocked and locked’ 1911, you must have your head screwed on straight and be dedicated to practice, practice, and more practice.”

Even though the 1911 is not widely carried for law enforcement duties, it still has some very loyal fans. Chief Bill Harvey of the Ephrata, PA Police Department states, “I was issued a 1911 in 1977 when I was in the US Army Military Police Corp. I carried one ever since for off-duty and personal defense. I also carried my 1911 style Kimber while on-duty and off-duty at a prior police department. It has been a handgun love affair ever since.”


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  • Loren McCoy

    The 1911 is THE quintessential combat handgun. The 45 ACP cartridge is proven; and it has been a proven cartridge ever since the time of crappy ammo, such as back during WWI. Now that ammo is of incredible quality, the 45 ACP still stands out. Really, only the 10mm is better; and it is offered in the 1911 configuration. Glocks are great as are Sigs, but to shoot a custom 1911 from the likes of Garthwaite or Les Baer or Ed Brown or Nighthawk is handgun nirvana.

  • Richard

    I have worked two firarms ranges where rental handguns would be shot ever day of week dirty clean untill fail work for what ever reason. Beside glock most 1911 handguns held up that abuse better than any other handgun gun out there. It surpise how dirty oily you can shoot 1911 hangun still keep work for when other gun give up ghost. May not be perfect handgun for some but for other like me closest to perfect that handgun has been for over hunder years.

  • Brent

    1911 all the way. Used my wilson tactical elite to take out deer at 30 yards. I used to own glock but found the trigger pull to give me difficulty and the gun itself to be not nearly as accurate.

  • General Jim M

    That’s like saying an M-16 is the toughest combat rifle.Torture test a Glock 21 with a 1911,let us know the results.One disadvantage of the 45acp is it’swide bullets and slow velocity versus body armor.The 9mm can fire Belgian VBR ap rounds.In war penetration is a plus.My favorite combat pistol cartridge would be the 9×25 dillon,as loaded by Doubletap Ammunition,with 95gr fmj @about 2,000fps.I’d like to see Remington’s accelerator design in pistol cartridges.Use the M885 projectile in a strengthed 45acp case,with the drop away plastic sleeve.So get to the 1911 vs Glock,i bet on the Glock,it’s not as PRETTY,but in war,what is?

  • Mr. Blue

    If I have to drop a bad guy quickly, I’ll take the .45acp over the 9mm each and every time.

  • John

    The 1911 has proven itself in WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam.

  • Sotiris

    As a corporal (Res.) in mechanized infantry (Hellenic Army) in Cyprus, the 1911 is still in use today and standard-issue for the infantry men. Reliable and easy-handled, is still popular. Contrary to wide belief, its a good weapon for new recruits for introducing them in combat pistol markmanship. Newest design in use (Glocks and Sig models) are more suitable for experienced men.

  • Kent Bailey

    1911s are indeed tough. Valid arguments can also be made for CZ75s and Springfield XDMS. However compare torture test results with Glocks and the Glocks win every time. I engaged in law enforcement work for 14 years on a reserve basis and saw torture tests with my own eyes. I was not originally a Glock fan, but seeing is believing. I now own 5 Glocks.

  • heel kickin dan stan sweet

    Wrong, 1911s cant even compare to the almighty glock, on the positive side, i guess you could throw a 1911 at em, if ya hit em in the head ya might knock em out. Anyhow the millitary ditched the shitty 1911 and shitty 45 suk i mean acp and took the beretta 9mn, so get over it, they realized the 45 sucked balls and couldnt penetrate, and the 1911 was junk, berettas aint good as glocks, but better than the garbage they had. Peace out, and rock out wit ya glock out.