It’s ironic, in the non-Alanis-Morrissette sense, if you think about it: The Glock 17 pistol and its successors have been tirelessly vilified, demonized and even libeled by the firearms-hating American media since before it found a single owner on this continent. Yet the fantastic polymer dishwasher-safe double-stacker is the best possible example of firearm-as-tool. Consider the following scenario: You have been informed that you are 100% certain to be in a gunfight tomorrow and that you can only take one pistol and one backup magazine with you. You don’t know what the weather will be, what the number of opponents will be, what the lighting conditions will be. Nothing is certain but the this: you’re going to have to fire your weapon in anger. How many of us would take anything but a Glock? . . .
In a world where nobody had any personal attachment whatsoever to a firearm — a world where we chose a pistol the same way we’d choose a dishwasher or a furnace filter — the Glock would account for ninety-nine percent of sales. No other pistol is as durable, as reliable, as fault-tolerant. Chuck Taylor famously put a hundred thousand rounds through his and reported just one stoppage. Face it. If you really thought you’d need a gun tomorrow, and you had free choice, you’d be a fool to choose anything but a Glock.
Well, as the saying goes, I was that fool. Fifteen years ago, when I had a job where carrying a firearm seemed like a reasonable proposition, I alternated between the gun that I knew I should be carrying — a Glock 21 with which I was a successful pin-and-plate shooter — and the gun I wanted to carry — a brand-new Heckler & Koch USP .40 with manual safety and that oh-so-sexy “hk” logo on the slide. Yes, that’s right; every other week I put a pistol that had proven to be utterly flawless in both public tests and over ten thousand rounds of my own experience back into the safe and carried something that was so new on the market that I didn’t know anybody else who had one.
But wait, I will demonstrate that my stupidity didn’t stop there. Every once in a while, I’d toss them both back into the safe and carry my stainless-steel Colt Gold Cup, complete with tuned trigger. This was a gun that was so finicky that sometimes it would choke on Winchester white box ball ammo — and I not only took it with me to work, I had to take it out once when somebody in my place of business commenced to beating another customer. It was highly effective as a deterrent, being very shiny and gun-looking, but had I been forced to use it I wouldn’t have wanted to bet money, let alone my life, on it flawlessly feeding all eight of the Federal Hydra-Shoks loaded in the magazine.
Which brings me to the Bren Ten; indeed, to the 10mm cartridge itself. The two products were a fantastic creation, in the traditional sense of the word. They were the fantasy, the brainchildren if you will, of Jeff Cooper, a man who never “saw the elephant” of which he wrote so eloquently and who, according to a mutual friend, was a much better writer than he ever was a shooter. Cooper’s well-documented fondness for the CZ-75 pistol was the farce that launched ten thousand Tanfoglio sales (including, ahem, one to this author) and if there was never any genuine reason to prefer the Czecho crunchenticker over more readily-available products, that didn’t stop him from beating the drum until somebody agreed to build one in the United States.
But it wasn’t enough to just have a new gun. A new cartridge was also required. Thus we got the 10mm, a set of specifications created hastily enough that some early loads would flash-combust from the sheer surface area of the powder spread along the bottom of the long case. The 10mm didn’t do anything better than existing pistol calibers, but it was different, and that was nice. At some point, somebody said something about punching through body armor and car engine blocks, but surely nobody ever actually bought a 10mm hoping to stop a car.
Needless to say, the combination of “new gun” and “new cartridge” and “shady business people” was a disastrous failure. The Bren Ten itself became a collectors item worth only slightly less than a magazine for a Bren Ten. The 10mm cartridge was finessed into the “10mm Lite” and from there into the repugnantly lukewarm .40 S&W, churlishly yclept “.40 Auto” on the side of Glocks. The full-power 10mm also found a home in a Glock, after a few side trips to the finicky Colt Delta Elite and crass-but-magnificent Star Megastar. Thirty years after Sonny Crockett carried a Bren Ten on a television series, the gun is a memory and the cartridge is an afterthought.
And yet there remains interest in a Bren Ten, to the point that a company tried doing a reissue a few years ago. Though said reissue failed for reasons having nothing to do with the gun itself, firearms message boards continue to hum about the Dornaus & Dixon pistol. Anybody who could manage to build Bren Tens tomorrow could probably name their price and that price would certainly be a multiple of what a Glock 20 costs, and the only problem they would have would be fulfilling dealer orders in timely fashion.
Why? Joseph Campbell, the writer and critic whose work underpins works as diverse as Iron John and Star Wars, writes about “the Sword Of Legend” which appears in various forms throughout the history of human storytelling. The traditional example is King Arthur’s Excalibur, but it’s far from the only one. As long as people have told stories, they have told stories about magical tools, special weapons, items which are not only helpful to the hero of that story, but required in order for him to succeed.
If pistols were simply tools for survival, we’d all carry Glocks. But they aren’t. They are emotionally and spiritually important, which is why some people choose to carry something besides a Glock. They may have any number of putative reasons for doing so, from trigger pull to grip size, but if you could hypnotize them and find out the actual truth of the matter, you’d find that they have chosen their Officer’s ACP or Kahr K9 or TZ-75 Factory Comp .41 Action Express (yo!) because that firearm fits into their personal narrative. It appeals to them. It’s part of their story in a way that a Glock couldn’t be.
The anti-gun media, were they to become particularly sensitive to this, would no doubt characterize it in demeaning pseudo-sexual terms or make references to Walter Mitty. They’d be wrong in doing so. The relationship between men (or women) and their chosen weapon predates Sigmund Freud or Hollywood. It’s a belief that each of us has the capability to bond with a particular object and that the sum of us plus that object is greater than the individual parts. It’s why we smile when we see Sonny Crockett with the Bren Ten or Harry Callahan with the long-barreled Model 29. Hero and heroic object. When Sonny Crockett switched to a garden-variety Smith autopistol, the series tanked. Coincidence? Who knows. The desire for Excalibur is as old as humanity itself, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But with all that said, if you really think you’ll need a gun tomorrow, take the advice of another legendary figure — Tommy Lee Jones’ marshal from The Fugitive — and get yourself a Glock, okay?