Gun Review: Calico Light Weapon Systems Liberty I (M-900)

Guns are sexy. For one thing, there’s nothing more phallic than a gun. Except for the obvious. That said, the human penis tends to lack the perfect symmetry of a gun. And any man who can maintain the hardness of a gun barrel for more than four hours should seek immediate assistance from a physician. Still, guys, it’s OK to fancy guns. Indulging the love that dare not speak its name doesn’t men you have a repressed desire to listen to Broadway show tunes. And feeling a constant urge to fire a gun? Normal! A gun held and shot with Zen-like focus transforms even the worst nebbish into a Sean Connery clone. Yes, but, a lot of that cool comes from the gun itself. There are drop-dead sexy guns and there are guns that could make a train take a dirt road. The Calico Liberty I falls into the latter camp (so to speak). In fact, the Liberty I is so ugly I fully expected bemused onlookers to turn to stone. Like Medusa’s admirers, not Peter North. Sorry. Where was I?

Right. The Calico. You know that old expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Classic misdirection. Sure, beauty is subjective. But there’s a overwhelming consensus as to what constitutes beauty. Show a picture of Marissa Miller to a gathering of Intuit eskimos and they’ll all give Santa Cruz’s finest export the [gloved] thumbs up.

By the same token, beautiful/sexy guns all have a cohesive design. Every part looks like it belongs exactly where it is. Every element adds to the overall aesthetic. How did Michangelo create his David? He bought a block of stone and removed the parts that weren’t David. Like that. Whether it’s a perfectly realized custom AR-15 or a bone stock Smith & Wesson 686, a gun that looks right, looks right.

For an aesthetic point-of-view, the Calico Liberty I is five kinds of wrong. A 50-bullet helical magazine sits on top of the gun, dominating the design, looking for all the world like the ass end of a Corgi toy fuel tanker. The hardware attached to the mag connecting it to the gun is as busy as an anthill: ribs, handles, sights, clips. screws, markings, etc.

The Liberty’s magazine snicks into its mount with perfect precision, but the attendant visual clutter and clip design makes the process as intuitive as Windows ’95. It doesn’t get any better beneath the bullet behemoth. The perforated metal slide for the stock is the nastiest piece of material I’ve ever seen on a $900 gun. Aside the Liberty I’s molded grip. No wait, the butt-stock.

Whether you zoom out to try to find coherence (who knew there were that many shades of black plastic?) or zoom in (the undersized bolt hold open lever is as nasty as you wanna be), there’s nothing about the Liberty I that makes you believe that it wasn’t designed by Rube Goldberg. When the American Firearms School’s peanut gallery saw the weapon they gave me the same look husbands give their wives when asked their opinion of a particularly hideous dress. ‘Nuff said?

Of course not. ‘Cause form follows function—at least to the extent that our T&E (test and evaluation) Liberty I was a fully-functional carbine capable of firing 50—count ’em 50–nine millimeter bullets downrange without a single reload. Maybe it’s like the plain O.K. dumpy girl in the front of math class who turns out to be a tiger in bed.

To paraphrase 10cc, load up, load up, load up, with Czech-made bullets!

The money shot is at the top of this review. Which quickly added $20 to The Truth About Guns’ editorial budget. Yes, there is that. Back in the early-eighties, when both the DeLorean DMC-12 and the Calico were designed, 9mm bullets didn’t cost a lot. Now, they do. While lazy survivalists may like the Liberty I’s “load once, fire 50 times” combination of convenience and lethality, the Calico makes you choose between a short visit to the range, or an expensive one.

[You can also buy a cheaper Calico M-100 that eats dozens of .22s at a single sitting. Extrapolating downwards, that gun would have all the kick of a gnat trying to kick-start a 50’s motorcycle. On the other hand, if you thought there was nothing uglier than the M-900 . . .]

You may notice that there was a hiccup or two in the “let’s go ahead and chuck a bunch of lead downrange” department. This reluctance may be down to the fact that we didn’t wind the magazine’s tension spring enough. Which is definitely down to the fact that if you over-wind the helical device, you have to dissemble it CAREFULLY to avoid losing, or being struck by, flying internal parts. Calico recommends breaking in the rifle with Winchester White Box ammo, after which any brand’s bullets should perform without a hitch.

Aside from the fact that the Liberty bent a few bullets, there’s uh, plenty to bitch about.

The Liberty I’s front and rear mag-mounted sight combo doesn’t work; the rear sight’s too close to your eyes, and the front sight’s too far away from the rear (a seven inch gap). Truth be told, old bespectacled men can’t see the rear sight at all. You  have to use the front sight to hit the target in the appropriate place. It’s entirely doable, but not particularly pleasant.

Some cavil that the sight is inherently inaccurate, what with it mounted on a detachable magazine and all. Neither Wayne nor any of our guest shooters had any problem hitting the same spot on the target a LOT of times. A little tweak to the front sight, and the Liberty I was as accurate as any 9mm weapon—up to about 100 to 150 yards. After that, not so much. As you’d expect.

Calico offers clips to mount a scope to the gun, over the magazine. While it would certainly be a welcome aid in the hitting shit department, any such set-up would elevate the Liberty I to heights of goofiness that even Walt Disney couldn’t imagine. Calico is about to start selling their weapons with a picatinny rail system to enable sights, lights and other toys, but OMG.

Calico should put some money into the Liberty’s trigger pull; it’s dia-friggin’-bolical, The long, heavy and spongey movement is more like an on-off switch than a go-pedal. Normally, Wayne can squeeze off rounds in the blink of an eye. Not this time. The Liberty I’s leaden trigger pull makes rapid-fire impossible, which is kinda the whole point of the thing. No doubt this is a result of the Liberty I’s secret identity as a full auto—a set up which has found some favor with law enforcement in the Netherlands and France.

Looks, ergonomics, materials quality, price—the Calico Liberty I doesn’t have it all. It’s a shame. I like the people at Calico. Their dedication to producing an all-American-made product is admirable. The man in charge is open, honest and funny. But the Liberty I is an old-fashioned design with plenty of modern competition. These days, buyers with a grand-in-the-hand in search of something new can choose from a wide variety of “bull-pup” guns, including the wild-ass FN P90.

It is, perhaps, that gun that best exemplifies what Calico needs to be: innovative AND ergonomically flawless. Calico has the drive, talent and creativity to create something that looks, feels and shoots like nothing else on Earth. In a good way. May I suggest a clean sheet of paper? We hear rumors the Calico is developing more traditional firearms—with a twist. Sounds like a plan. Returning to the sexual metaphor, you don’t have to be gorgeous to know how to perform in bed. But there is something to be said for not having to work so hard.

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 50 round or 100 round Helical Feed
Action: blowback-CETME type
Muzzle Velocity: 1400 fps (16″ BARREL)
Weight: Empty – 3.7lbs, Loaded w/50rd mag – 5.5 lbs, Loaded w/100rd mag – 7.2 lbs.
Length: Stock folded – 28 ½” Stock extended/full stock – 34 ½”
Barrel:16″ heat treated Chrome Moly
Rifling: 6 lands and groves, 1 twist in 14″ < Receiver:Prime-cast A-356 aluminum, T-6 temper
Furniture: glass-filled polymer, impact res.
Sights: fixed notch rear, adjustable post front (windage & elevation)
Safety: rotating sear block
Effective Range [claimed] up to 300 yards

(Out of five stars)


Not even anti-style style.

Ergonomics (carry) *

A rifle, obviously, so the sling’s the thing. You CAN carry it one-handed, but the sharp edge of the plastic stock cuts into your forearm.

Ergonomics (firing) *

No recoil to speak off. The less said about the trigger pull, the better.

Reliability * *

400 rounds. Never fired 50 bullets without a hitch. Could be us vs. that cartridge spring.

Customize This

Nope. A picatinny rail version is on its way.


Tempus fugit. Calico needs to perform some major plastic surgery or, better yet, move on.

Check out Calico’s website here.