Question of the Day: Is the 1911 A Suitable Self-Defense Gun?

Gun scribe Charlie Cutshaw sure seems to think so. Over at gun PR paradise, Cutshaw’s penned a piece called 1911 Pistol Refuses To Die. Cutshaw reckons John Browning’s meisterstuck is still suitable for police work. Indeed, preferable. Who am I to argue? But hey, someone’s got to do it . . .

To take advantage of the 1911′s speed into action, simple but discrete actions must be learned. As the pistol is drawn and brought up into firing position, the safety is swept off and the finger placed alongside the trigger guard unless it is necessary to open fire immediately.

There’s a problem right there. How can a gun that requires “simple but discreet” actions offer superior “speed into action”? With a Glock or other combat gun, you draw and shoot. Done. This lets the shooter concentrate on other important matters, such as the person or persons trying to kill them.

Asking the police or your average CCW holder to learn to engage, disengage and check the engagement of a thumb safety is . . . dangerous. It’s one more thing that can go wrong during an adrenal dump. By the same token, a gun without a safety switch also requires less careful preparation. Is my 1911 cocked AND locked? Better make sure.

Sure, the cops should be able to master a 1911. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A gun that’s safer for most people is safer than one that isn’t.

Lest we forget, cops carry off-duty handguns. Two similar weapons systems with different operational controls? Not smart. If you wanted to eliminate the risk of an officer forgetting to switch off a 1911 safety, you’d have to make sure that their off-duty gun was also a 1911. You’ll find that plan at ain’tgonnahappen.com.

If the need is to immediately begin shooting, the trigger can be pressed as soon as the pistol comes on target and the trigger’s “feel” is the same every time it is pulled, unlike DA/SA pistols that have a long heavy pull for the first shot and a short pull for the second, requiring a slight change in grip which in a gunfight could be hazardous to one’s health and continued well-being.

I’m no fan of the Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) trigger system. But then, when the aforementioned adrenal dump occurs, a harder trigger pull is hardly an issue. And the lawyers are right; DA does add an extra level of safety for cops lacking trigger control. (True story.)

I’ve not seen any studies suggesting that police using DA/SA miss more with the first DA shot than the second SA blast. Or that they’re better shots with SA-only rather than DA/SA. And even if they are, why not a consistent trigger like a Smith, Glock or Springfield? Same pull every time.

While we’re at it, where did Mr. Cutshaw get the idea you have to adjust your grip for the two types of trigger pull?

The 1911’s trigger also enhances accuracy, which lessens the chance of missing or possibly hitting an innocent bystander while increasing the probability of ending the threat. Then for cops, there is the issue of officer safety. There are documented instances of bad guys getting an officer’s 1911 and not being able to figure out how to switch off the safety, giving the officer time to go for his BUG. (Backup Gun.) Nobody ever accused these morons of having an IQ above room temperature!

Let’s set aside the issue of the dangers of underestimating your enemy. And I’ll spot Mr. Cutshaw the assertion that 1911s are more accurate than most other combat guns. But there’s no getting around the fact that the 1911’s trigger is relatively light with minimal take up. In a combat scenario, if your finger goes on a 1911 trigger, that gun’s going to go off. There is no margin of error. No second chance.

As the rabbi puts it, “1911s are the easiest guns in the world to shoot someone with and the hardest guns in the world NOT to shoot someone with.”

As for perps stealing guns from cops, yes, well, there is that. But you have to balance the danger of a bad guy taking an officer’s gun (after he or she’s removed it from a security holster) vs. the possibility that the cop will forget to switch off the safety and thwart him or herself.

Finally, there is lethality.As my friend and colleague Colonel (Ret) Marty Fackler, MD once told me, “You need to make lots of big holes so lots of air gets in and lots of blood gets out.” No military or law enforcement cartridge has terminal ballistics to equal those of the .45 ACP, especially when the rounds are loaded with modern jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullets like 230 grain Winchester Ranger SXT, Black Hills Gold Dot, Hornady TAP or Remington Golden Saber.

The relative “stopping power” of various rounds is a source of endless debate. If terminal ballistics was the overriding concern, a .357 revolver would be a better carry piece than a 1911. Suffice it to say, Colonel (Ret) Marty Fackler MD recommends making LOTS of holes. Your average 1911 is distinctly lacking in the quantity of holes department. It’s a challenge that hasn’t evaded Mr. Cutshaw’s attention.

Another issue that is sometimes raised is magazine capacity. One can make the argument for pistols with larger magazine capacity, but my response is that I now carry four Cobra Mags of eight rounds capacity each on my duty belt, giving me four rounds more than the three 12 round magazines I carried with my higher capacity pistol with virtually no increase in weight. The mags weigh next to nothing – it is the ammo load that matters. Of course, I have to change magazines more frequently during qualifications, but that is no big deal. I usually do a tactical reload between stages anyhow. For off duty or civilian concealed carry, it’s wise to keep a spare magazine handy. My belt slide holster that I use off-duty accommodates a spare magazine and the chances of my getting in a gunfight so intense that I need more than 16 rounds is slim to none. So magazine capacity really isn’t an issue for me, although for those who desire it, high capacity 1911s like Para Ord’s P14 up the ammo capacity considerably — from eight to 14 rounds of .45 ACP!

Four mags? Let’s do the math. Four eight-round mags equals 32 .45 ACP rounds, plus eight in the gun. That’s 40 rounds all-in. A Springfield XD-45 or a .45-caliber Glock 21 or Glock 30 carries 13 rounds. Two mag changes later, you’ve blown through 39 rounds.

No small point that. Changing mags in the middle of a gunfight is a motor skill prone to delay and operator error. The less you have to do it, the better. Remember: Mr. Cutshaw doesn’t carry four mags off-duty. Just the one. While 16 bullets might be enough capacity (benefit of the doubt time again), what if it isn’t? What then?

The Para Ordnance in question does indeed offer 14 rounds. But weight! The Glock 21 weighs 26.3 ounces unloaded. The Para Ordnance S14•45 Limited weighs 40 ounces without bullets. I rest my case. ‘Cause it’s so damn heavy.

Alternatively, 9mm. Lots of bullets, fewer mag changes. Less [theoretical] stopping power vs more chances to stop and less reloads. As Bo Peep says in Toy Story, I’ve found my moving buddy.

Next up: reliability:

But there are other reasons for the 1911’s’ unprecedented longevity. One reason is reliability. Given that it has been properly maintained, any well-made 1911 type pistol can be counted upon to go “bang” when the trigger is pulled. The operative word here is “maintained.” No handgun can be expected to function if it isn’t cared for, but the 1911 is more forgiving in this respect than most.

Hold on there. If you meticulously maintain any weapon that isn’t built from rubbish parts, it should be reliable. But I reckon (and I’m not alone in this) that a firearm’s reliability needs to be as independent of maintenance as possible. Or, if you prefer, the gun requiring the least maintenance wins.

Using that criteria, the 1911 loses. To every mainstream combat-style gun made. Especially a Glock. Any Glock. All Glocks.

Now you could argue that a meticulously crafted $2500 Wilson Combat 1911 will be more reliable than a crap semi, and I wouldn’t object. But generally speaking, no, the 1911 isn’t the reliability king. Not by a long chalk.

In the final analysis, if one is willing to learn how to proficiently use a 1911 type pistol, there is nothing really any better for self defense use.

That, sir, is debatable. While there may be nothing better for you, the 1911 is not the best self-defense weapon for the majority of gun owners, private or professional. In the final analysis, that’s the reason most people don’t carry a 1911.

comments

  1. avatar KW5150 says:

    "While there may be nothing better for you, the 1911 is not the best self-defense weapon for the majority of gun owners, private or professional. In the final analysis, that’s the reason most people don’t carry a 1911."

    Very true words. All the same, when it comes to handguns, I feel most confident with my .45 1911s. Confidence and familiarity is a big part of the equation when the adrenaline hits the fan. The proper type and amount of training and maintenance are activities that "most people" would rather not indulge in. Alas, time and technology march on. Bob Munden's first choice in a defensive sidearm probably would not be the same as yours or mine 😉 Then again, he probably wouldn't make the argument that it should be.

  2. avatar KW5150 says:

    For myself, having my "gun already in" my "hands, ready" to shoot when I "know trouble is about", would almost never apply. The only exception might be in the middle of the night in my home. It does not matter if I am open carrying or I have a CCW permit. There is an action known as brandishing that will get my privileges revoked in a hurry. For me, avoidance of trouble and evasive action are usually better alternatives to drawing a loaded firearm. Drawing in response to a deadly threat could hardly be deemed anything other than defense. Drawing in advance of a threat could easily be characterized as offensive action.

    As far as speed is concerned there are too many phrases backing it up to have a favorite. "speed kills" comes to mind, along with the "two types of people in a gunfight: the quick and the dead". My main point was meant to be that PROFICIENCY with my chosen weapon is more important than the TYPE of weapon I choose. Achieving a balance between speed and accuracy is part of that proficiency.

  3. avatar ihatetrees says:

    I agree that the 1911 is not for everyone. However, the thumb safety just isn't a big deal for me (if you're used to it). Having grown up shooting rifles and shotguns (all of which had manual safeties), I'm conditioned to expect a safety with all firearms. Maybe it's the depleted uranium from Gulf War 1, but I like the familiarity of a manual safety.

    And (again) back to rifles and shotgun brainwashing. I'm conditioned to consistent, good trigger pulls. More good-feeling from my subconscious for the 1911trigger and against other's.

    Don't get me wrong – Glocks are fine animals. And there's nothing wrong with DAO pistols for many. Heck, the vast majority of self defense CCW needs could be met with compact 38 cal revolvers.

    And regarding Glocks, cops and safety. The Glock was the 1st semi-auto for many departments – the transition sidearm from revolvers. And while the data is probably buried deeper than Hoffa's body thanks to police union rules and secrecy, unintended discharges with new Glocks were a notable problem.

  4. avatar 67dodgeman says:

    KW – I was mostly referring to Robert. But I do agree, being proficient with your chosen weapon is the most important part of the equation. Drawing in advance of trouble while in a crowd may not be the smoothest move, but I don't anticipate any wild west quick draw type gunfights. I think that's what Robert seems to envision here. And that's what I'm saying mostly ain't so.

  5. avatar Patrick Carrube says:

    I’ve made my opinions of the 1911 as a carry gun before. They’re fantastic and are the weapon of choice for elite groups (FBI, SWAT teams, Marine Hostage Rescue, etc) around the world for a reason. I often carry DA/SA guns, .357 J-frames, etc but I love my 1911’s the most. The issue I had is with RF’s article was that he says Glock’s are hands-down more reliable than a 1911. Well, assuming we are talking about modern 1911’s (Wilson, Springfield, Para, Kimber, etc), and we’re not talking about burying your CCW piece in a box of sand – 1911’s and Glock’s/XDs are equal in terms of reliability. As a matter of fact, when you take durability into account, Glock’s aren’t as “bullet proof” as their legend suggests. All guns experience problems and I bet if someone would offer the money for a true “durability/reliability test”, I bet 1911’s will fair extremely well.

  6. avatar Patrick Carrube says:

    *fare (it’s late!)

  7. avatar Patrick Carrube says:

    Also… “Asking the police or your average CCW holder to learn to engage, disengage and check the engagement of a thumb safety is . . . dangerous”. Huh? How difficult is it to actually use a safety? Seriously I still can’t believe this was mentioned. I would say that if someone can’t handle putting a safety on before holstering, then they probably can’t load cartridges into a magazine, or load a magazine into the pistol for that matter, and they should probably stay away for firearms all together. Engaging a safety is easy – push up. Verify the safety is on – OK. Did it click? Yes – good. Is it seated all the way up into the notch of the slide? Yes – great, put the piece in your holster (you do use a holster right?). We aren’t splitting neutrons here, just putting a safety on and off. I find it odd that no one brings up the “safety issue” when it refers to rifles, shotguns, or tactical carbines. Everyone seems to use them just fine, day in and day out, on our soil and abroad. No one to my knowledge is trying to “glock” the M4.

    1. avatar Tim says:

      “I find it odd that no one brings up the “safety issue” when it refers to rifles, shotguns, or tactical carbines.”
      Patrick, that’s most likely because most people aren’t thinking of having to draw and shoot one of those weapons at a second’s notice (except in the military). I understand the argument that SAO slows a draw and shoot situation down, so that’s why I went looking for articles and comments. I’ve been considering a small 1911 for carry in wilderness / desolate areas, and I’m thinking I’ll most likely have 1 extra second to flip a safety. I have other full size handguns, but they’re big and heavy.

  8. avatar LC Judas says:

    Patrick,

    I do understand your argument. As far as the Glock vs. 1911 argument goes though, I’ve got to say you’ve got a simpler system with the Glock/DAO Pistol system. The safety is something that takes training to develop the additional reflex. Back when I carried my Series70 it took a lot of draw/disengage safety/on target/fire drills to feel comfortable with it in the belt. Any time I got on target and hit a stiff safety locked trigger I was quite literally dead. Disconcerting to say the least. Safeties scare me, flat out.

    Weight, cycling, and YouTube videos aside, the 1911 has a more dated design. The original carry method was meant to be hammer down on an empty chamber and used as a secondary weapon. Not optimized for primary concealed carry. That is fact. The size of the original weapon is just inconvenient.

    It depends on your training and experience. Simple as that. It’s the preference of the shooter. The Glock and its ilk more easily fits a wider variety. I think it wins overall but I only carry and use Glock and 1911. So I can use both but prefer Glock by choice.

  9. avatar Merovingi says:

    Patrick wrote,
    “I find it odd that no one brings up the “safety issue” when it refers to rifles, shotguns, or tactical carbines. Everyone seems to use them just fine, day in and day out, on our soil and abroad. No one to my knowledge is trying to “glock” the M4. ”

    That’s because pistols have holsters to shield the trigger and protect against accidental discharges. Long guns and carbines need that safety so the firearm doesn’t discharge while moving around when slung, climbing over a fences, posing for a photo with the dog, etc.

  10. avatar Larry says:

    I can carry daily whatever I want however, I favor the 1911 its handling and fast shooting action make it ideal for about any type of handgun needs. My carry 1911 is the Auto-Ordnance .45acp 5″ model I enjoy the level of self confidence I have when its on my belt or bedside in my matress holster.

  11. avatar Old Dog says:

    As someone who used a 1911 in combat and competition, I always ask those who talk about forgetting to take a 1911 off safe, to find some documented cases where forgetting to swipe off the manual safety caused the death of anyone. Mas Ayoob tried and only found one documented case but found a lot of cases where a safety saved lives when guns were taken from the LEO or civilian.

    A shooter learns to draw his gun, present it, aim it, rack the slide, disassemble it, clear a jam, grip it properly, etc. and yet we seem to draw the line at swiping off a manual safety, something easier to learn than some other things we learn when we learn to use a gun. If I hear one more Glock user tell me how much they love their trigger reset which they learned to use well, but swiping off a manual safety is a fine motor skill that will fail them in a fight, I get confused as to what is a fine motor skill or not. 🙂

    I would not recommend a 1911 to an inexperience shooter or someone not willing to practice with it until all of its features become automatic to him/her. I also do not recommend snub nose revolvers because they require more training and practice than most new shooters are willing to do. A 1911 is no worse or better than the person who uses it. A gun that is simple to use is just that, simplified for those who need or want simplicity. It is not better for those who can master something else that provides a greater measure of safety and a better trigger.

  12. avatar Mikel says:

    “That’s because pistols have holsters to shield the trigger and protect against accidental discharges.”

    And I’ve never heard of a 1911(or any other external safetied sidearm) going off because the trigger got caught on a jacket cinch string, holster strap, etc(provided the safety was properly engaged).

    I am one of those guys whose life was saved by a 1911’s external safety back in the mid80s as an Army MP answering a domestic with another unit. As we were apprehending a wife beater, the battered wife suddenly grabbed my buddies sidearm, stepped back and started feverishly squeezing the trigger. Both saw bars that night. And we felt touched by higher powers.

    That said, I tend to think of the 1911 as more of a Combat/LE weapon than for CC. I now have a Para 14/45 for competition/shtf and a Taurus PT145 for CC. Both have external safeties for the above reasons. It really doesn’t take alot of training to fan that safety down and up every time it leaves/enters the holster. I practice my draw everytime I pull it from the holster to put in the safe and draw it out in the morning. Like most training, repetition is key.

    Note on the choice of weapons, the PT145 and Para share the 14 round mags. EDC is the PT145 with 10+1 and 10rnd spare. But for long distance travel, I run 10+1 with two 14s in a shoulder rig. Better access in the confined space of a vehicle.

    Interesting comparison though. My daughter likes the Glocks(what she shot at the Police Academy) even though dad’s not a fan, lol.

  13. avatar Blackbeard605 says:

    I’m old school, and a set on tried and true solutions to problems. With that said, I am,have been, and will always be a faithful 1911 fan. It was the first pistol/handgun I shot. That was 40 yrs ago; when I went in the Navy. There have been improvements and better types of firearms and ammo since then, but my trusted in doing what I know it will do pistol will always be a 1911.

  14. avatar Brandon says:

    J.M.B. (John Moses Browning, for you green horns) got it right. As stated earlier, if operating a safety is too problematic for you, you have apsolutely no business being around firearms! Besides the better trigger, and sights in a lot of cases most 1911’s are heavier than your poly pistols, and handle recoil better. Giving you the opportunity to shoot a hotter,heavier (potentially more deadly) round. My edc guns are a M & P 9mm. (17rounds) 4.25 in. Barrel and a colt combat commander (8 rounds ) 4.25 in barrel and the recoil feels similar to me. I’d personally rather hit a threat with 2 or 3 230 gr. Jacket hollow point rounds than 2 or 3 124 gr. Jacketed hollow point rounds. .45 acp is a great defensive round and the 1911 is a great platform from which to deliver it. If the 1911 wasn’t a stellar design it wouldn’t still be wildly popular and mostly unchanged after over 100 years!!! Remember your 5 P’s tho, that’s what’s most important… Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

  15. avatar Tim says:

    As ihatetrees said, “Heck, the vast majority of self defense CCW needs could be met with compact 38 cal revolvers. I like autos, but ain’t that the truth!? No FTF, FTE, safeties, nuttin’ honey. Draw, pull, bang. DA/SA (reg hammer) revolvers also offer, draw, cock, pull, bang accurately. The absolute worst thing that can happen in an altercation is to pull a gun, pull the trigger, and it goes click.

    Barrel length, accuracy, capacity issues: For traveling personal defense (not at home), you really can’t be shooting people 20 yards away; they typically have to be very close for the law to agree that they were presenting a mortal threat to you. Like within 10′. So I begin to wonder about how accurate it even has to be.

    Personally, my experience has only been with DA/SA revolvers and autos (other than range and hunting SAO fun). DA/SA seems to offer the best of both worlds. Nevertheless, I want a 1911! They’re just cool. 🙂

  16. avatar Tim says:

    Looking at a small 1911. I like the look of some of the 2 tone models. Here’s a functional/aesthetic question: What do y’all think about stainless finishes, which may be more visible to potential adversaries vs. powder coated / flat coatings? For example if you are trying to hide from an adversary in low light. When hunting, if I’m carrying a glossy blued rifle, I often hold it low below the brushline so reflections are less likely to alert animals. Coated, I don’t have to worry about it as much.

    So what out in handguns for defense…any opinions?

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email