March 29, 2011 is upon us, the hundredth anniversary of the 1911 pistol’s adoption by the United States Government. OK, OK, I know I seem to be obsessing on it…but I’m a gun guy, dammit, and this is my single favorite gun that we’re talking about here…
My last blog entry mentioned the upcoming Centennial, and reader Iwoots commented, “Mas, do you still have &/or shoot that first 1911?” I realized to my horror that the answer was “Yes and no.” I still have it, but hadn’t shot it in years, and Iwoots’ comment prompted me to dig it out of mothballs and take it to the range. It fit my palm like that proverbial “handshake of an old friend”…and, even in the rain, it still put a magazine of seven 185 grain Remington .45 hollow points into the head of a silhouette target 25 yards away from the barricade I braced on.
My dad bought it for me for $37.50 from Stan Sprague’s gun shop in Hooksett, NH 50 years ago. He was unsure whether I’d be able to handle its allegedly ferocious recoil. Frankly, so was I. Stan took us out back behind the shop on Route 3, with a magazine of lead bullet reloads. I held it extended in one hand like I did my .22 pistol, braced myself, and squeezed off a shot. The .45 bucked gently in my hand. I remember saying, “I like it, Dad…”
It was a WWI vintage original 1911, produced by Colt in the year 1917. It had a gray patina on it and the right-side diamond-cut wood grip panel was worn almost completely smooth of checkering. In those days, “mil-surp” .45s were common as dirt, and we all modified them without realizing that by the year 2011, one in original condition would be worth thousands of dollars. The early gun had a small-tang grip safety and a spade-shaped hammer, the combination of which bit the web of the firing hand, so I had the gun shop across the street from Sprague’s, owned by master gunsmith Dick Riley (who would later become president of the NRA) install commercial Colt Government Model grip safety and hammer, and reblue the old beast while he was at it, and install a Series ’70 barrel too. One of Dick’s gunsmiths – Nolan Santy, who would later become a dear friend and mentor – beveled out the magazine well and roughened the frontstrap of the frame for a more solid hold. It became my service pistol for much of the eight years I later spent as a part time cop patrolling the same community where my dad had bought the gun for me.
I’ll be wearing a more modern 1911 .45 on the Centennial – time marches on, after all, if rather slowly in the world of the gun – but I won’t let go of that cherished Colt until one of my kids gets it when my will is read. Thanks, Iwoots, for bringing me back to my roots there.
Old guns that helped to shape us as shooters…many of you have stories like that to tell.
I invite you to share them here.
This Colt 1911 has been around for 94 years, and owned by the author for 50 of ‘em.
The gun doesn’t feel 94 years old, even if the owner does.
Top, original model of 1911, produced by Colt in 1917, a few parts upgrades since…below, Les Baer 1911 .45, produced in 2011. Not all THAT many changes in a hundred years…
On March 29, 1911, the United States Government adopted the Colt .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol as its standard issue military sidearm. The instrument has served with distinction ever since. Though replaced as general standard in the mid-1980s with the 9mm Beretta M9, the 1911 .45 has remained in service with military pistol teams across the services – and with the Army’s Delta Force and the Marine Expeditionary Unit/Special Operations Command (MEU-SOC) – for the duration.
The Utah legislature just approved the 1911 as the official “state pistol,” since it was conceived by a son of Utah. The great firearms genius John M. Browning lived in Ogden, where his home still stands, recently put up for sale as mentioned a few months ago in this blog.
I got my first 1911, a military surplus Colt, for Christmas at the age of 12. The year was 1960. That makes the pistol’s hundredth anniversary also my fiftieth with it. So, this week I set aside the puissant polymer pistols I’ve been carrying of late, and strapped on a 1911 .45.
I still love the feel of this gun. Before the term “ergonomics” was in common parlance, John Browning understood the concept. The reach of finger to trigger is easy and natural. The gun affords a controllable trigger pull for every shot. It’s remarkably slim for its power level: easy and comfortable to carry holstered inside the waistband for maximum discretion. The .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge has very controllable recoil due to its low pressure, but hits with legendary authority. JMB fitted it with a manual (thumb) safety and a grip safety, and the ones I carry today are also drop-safe, either via passive firing pin safeties or the combination of lightweight firing pin and heavy duty firing pin spring. The one I’m carrying today, an Ed Brown Signature Model, can put five shots out of five into about an inch at 25 yards with the ammunition it likes best.
It’s history. It’s Americana. It’s American ingenuity at its best, and it’s a timelessly functional tool.
On the 29th of this month, the official day of its Centennial, I can’t imagine myself wearing anything else on my hip.
The Ed Brown Signature Model .45 I’m carrying today, with five shots (3 in one hole) it printed from 25 yard bench rest using Remington Golden Saber 230 grain ammo. Yes, 1911 .45s can deliver accuracy.
And, if you know how to shoot them, .45 1911s are controllable, too. This SIG 1911 TacOps has put a triple tap of spent casings in the air with full power 230 grain “hardball, is still locked on the target at the base of the berm.
For 19 years, I served as chair of the Firearms Committee for ASLET, the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, and spent a few years on their Ethics Committee as well. ASLET’s motto was Qui Doscet, Disket (hope I spelled that right). From the Latin, it translates roughly to “Who teaches, learns.”
Having been involved in adult education for pretty much my whole career, I can say that truer words were never spoken.
I was reminded of that after returning from a 17-day tour in the Southwest, with a couple of days spent teaching in a lecture environment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the rest at hands-on Massad Ayoob Group classes in Sierra Vista, Arizona, pausing only to fly east to testify at an officer-involved shooting trial. The brilliant Marty Hayes covered for me at class while I was away at court, for which I will be eternally grateful.
There were lessons of the importance of using the right equipment. One shooter in the first-level MAG-40 class came to grief with constant gun malfunctions, until we determined that he had been shooting reloaded ammo he bought at a gun show. I had to explain to him that gun show reloads are to ammunition what crack whores are to women. Lesson learned for him; lesson reaffirmed for me and the rest of the MAG teaching staff.
One shooter in the second-level MAG-80 class was shooting an expensive Wilson Combat .45 caliber semiautomatic. It worked flawlessly for him with the factory hardball ammo he’d brought for the class. At qualification on the last day, however, he switched to Federal Gold Match mid-range semi-wadcutter ammunition. This is deliciously accurate stuff, and because it’s a soft load, he thought its mild recoil would be an advantage in the double-speed qual.
And it would have been…except that this ammo is loaded so light, it won’t run a standard 1911 style pistol like the Wilson that’s set up from the factory with a recoil spring designed for full power ammunition. Without going down to a 14-or-so-pound recoil spring, it just isn’t powerful enough to reliably cycle the gun. He still managed to qualify despite all the jams he had to clear with the unforgiving clock running, but he lost his chance to be top shot in class. Lesson learned for him, and reaffirmed for the rest of us.
Learning is a lifelong process, and “the gun” is sufficiently complicated a topic to constitute a “life study.” I’ve always learned more from mistakes than from the rare perfect performance…how about you?
We’ve been waiting for some time for the long-promised response by President Obama to the mass shooting atrocity in Tucson. A few days ago I was in the Tucson airport waiting to board a flight that would take me to an officer-involved shooting trial on the east coast, when I read in the local paper that the shoe had finally dropped. See it here: http://azstarnet.com/article_011e7118-8951-5206-a878-39bfbc9dc89d.html
Huh. Curious that he would do it in the form of a written, nationally distributed op-ed piece instead of a speech.
NRA does not seem enthusiastic about what was presented by the White House as an even-handed look at a complex issue. (That will by my understatement of the month.) Certainly, his comments that people like psycho killer Jared Lee Laughner need to be identified in hopes of keeping them from arming themselves, will win agreement from many. President Obama was clearly as concerned with placating those of us on this side of the issue as with throwing a bone to his Brady Bunch Base.
When I was a little kid, it never occurred to my classmates and I that some crazed adult might burst into the elementary school and attempt to murder us. Back in that day, the people likely to do that were institutionalized in the state asylum for the insane.
My friend and student Tony Rodriguez, a street cop and SRO (School Resource Officer, a law enforcement assignment that has sadly become necessary today), offers us the sobering reflection that follows. Thanks, Tony!
I hope this e-mail finds you blessed and safe.
I am sending this e-mail to all my brothers and sisters in public safety, education and ministry because I think this is relevant to all three areas.
I wanted to share a quick story with you about a conversation I had a few days ago with an 8 year old. Sadly, it showed me how times have changed and how our present day violence has impacted the lives of even our youngest children for the worse.
On Thursday I was asked to help at our after school program because several of the normal staff came down sick. These kids range in age from 6-10 years old. They are used to seeing me in an “officer” role (in uniform) all the time since I stop in and see them at least once a week.
This time, it was my day off and I came in regular dress. Immediately, this little girl says “Hey! Where is all your cop stuff!” At first I thought she was trying to be funny/cute as kids are at that age. I told her that, even I get a day off and wanted to come in just to spend it with them for fun! (Even though you guys know I carry enough stuff to give a metal detector a stroke!…wasn’t going to tell them that)
That’s when she took the conversation in a direction that I wasn’t expecting:
She proceeded to ask me how I was going to protect them (the entire group) if someone came in and was a “bad person” I told her that I didn’t think she had to worry about it and that if something came up the adults would handle it.
In the best sarcastic tone I’ve ever heard out of a kid she said: “How can you handle it! You don’t have your police gun or even your handcuffs!”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked her why she was so worried about it…she simply said “people shoot kids all the time now!”
That started an entire conversation in the group of kids about their fears of violence.
After talking about it for 10-15 minutes with them, I was shocked at how well (unfortunately) they understood the concept of school and societal violence as a whole at that age.
These issues were NEVER a consideration when I was growing up, yet today, this is THEIR REALITY and they are keenly aware of it.
This entire experience made me reflect on just how much our society has changed, even in the last 10 years. I was talking with the 5th grade teacher I work with during my D.A.R.E. sessions and she reminded me of a simple fact that I think we often forget. We have been at war continuously for the past decade defending ourselves and fighting for our Nation’s survival. War and conflict is all these children have known.
I’ve said all that to simple say:
Take care of the babies! They shouldn’t have to live in this kind of world. Whatever profession you are in, fight to make it better for them. I believe that one of the best ways to bless our world other than straight out evangelism is to love our children more than we love even ourselves. That should be one of our primary witness tools to others.
That is all for now.
Keep your faith strong and your mind focused
Blessings to all,