Previous Post
Next Post

By Luis Valdes

Yup, you heard right. As a child of the 1980s I grew up in the age of the Wonder Nine. Beretta, GLOCK, SIG SAUER, HK, Ruger, FN, Smith & Wesson, and even Colt either had Wonder Nines on the drawing board or were actively selling them. Every law enforcement agency was dropping the wheel gun and adopting 9x19mm in some way, shape or form.

Hell, even Uncle Sam saw the writing on the wall and ditched their aging 1911 for the Beretta. Films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, RoboCop, The Rookie, Commando, Terminator, etc….all of them had a ton of Wonder Nine action. They fueled the fire in sales along with every article in every gun rag about the latest agency that had adopted a 9mm. The LAPD, NYPD, FBI, etc….police sales drive a significant portion of the civilian pistol market.

What was happening to the 1911 at the time? Well, it was still being made by Colt and a couple of other companies. But there was a small problem. The majority of them sucked.

Standard procedure back then was you bought a 1911 and then sent it off to your gunsmith to make it work right. They were rattletraps that didn’t feed anything but ball ammo…and that’s if you’re lucky. They were low capacity, large, heavy and virtual money pits. Everyone wanted to shoot the Speer Lawman 200gr JHP, otherwise known as the “Flying Ashtray” and of course the 1911s of the period couldn’t feed ’em unless they were heavily worked on.

Why spend your hard earned money on an outdated piece of pig iron when you could buy a new hi-tech GLOCK or an Italian Stallion Beretta 92? Or maybe the ultra well crafted Swiss SIG P226?

The 1911 was starting to fade away and the Wonder Nines were taking over. Then President William Jefferson Clinton came into the picture and his Assault Weapon Ban into law (and mobilized his opposition). It was a hideous piece of legislation that banned magazines over 10 rounds. Gasp! That should reduce crime! Well, it didn’t, but we all knew that. But we’re not discussing the AWB itself, but its effect on the popularity of the 1911.

In that post AWB world, you could still buy a GLOCK or a Beretta, but why would you? Unless you had a source of pre-ban magazines you felt screwed and cheated. Why carry a full size pistol that could hold 15 to 17 rounds of 9x19mm when by law you were limited to 10 rounds max?

All of a sudden the 1911 became popular again. It was a full size pistol tha all of a sudden was “slim” and carried a cartridge with more “knock down” power. Eight rounds of .45 didn’t look bad compared to 10 rounds of 9×19. In that post-1994 market, everyone and their brother began cranking out 1911s.

Companies across the board updated the design and actually incorporated what used to be considered custom manufacturing processes into production guns. They made them work better, feed better, feel better. The 1911s of today are one hundred times better than most of those produced in the 1980s.

I have a 2011 production Colt XSE Combat Commander and a 1987 production Colt Series 80. The Series 80 still can’t feed JHP even after sending it off to a great gunsmith in the South Florida area. But the Commander feeds everything and anything right out of the box. No tweaking needing.

So how did Bill Clinton and his AWB help fuel the 1911 market? Folks thought, “If I can’t carry or own a full size 9mm pistol with proper magazines, I might as well own something that’s more powerful and the capacity is close.”

Gun magazines pushed 1911’s and the .45 ACP for the simple reason that the AWB gutted the Wonder Nine market. What sold the Wonder Nines was capacity. Restrict that and the market for them dropped out like a rock.

The .40 S&W also gained market share thanks to the Assault weapon ban. Pre-AWB Beretta 92FS, SIG SAUER P226, and Smith & Wesson 5906 guns all held 15 rounds of ammo. Their .40 caliber cousins held 11rds. Buyers wouldn’t feel as cheated by the loss of one round as by with the loss of five.

Post AWB, companies like GLOCK came out with subcompacts like the G26 and G27, guns designed around the magazine capacity limit. Beretta, Smith & Wesson and a few others also introduced compact conceal carry guns. Actually, the conceal carry movement caught on at least in part because of the AWB. States across the country passed pro gun legislation because gun owners were tired of having their rights stripped away and that emboldened the industry to make more CCW capable guns.

So in the end, the 1911 market is what it is today because of Bill Clinton and the Assault Weapon Ban. The AR-15 has also been a beneficiary due to the “If I can’t have it, I want it” mindset that resulted. But the 1911 was saved from the retirement home because of the limit on magazine capacity. It has regained popularity like never before to the point that even companies like Smith & Wesson and Ruger are now making them in addition to their designs. So thanks, Bill, for ensuring that an American classic remains alive and well today.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Hmmm.
    Interesting conceptually.
    Not sure I buy in 100%.
    Good read though.
    Oh, BTW, eff the Clintons.

    • I’ve always thought that being in a state with a standard-capacity mag ban strengthens the argument for revolves and higher caliber autos. I mean, I was a kid when that was in effect, but that’s my two bits looking at it from today.

    • I was unfortunately coming of age in the Clinton era.. and yes had my heart set on a Beretta 92FS, a la Die Hard… Along came the AWB, and I chose the Beretta 96FS in 40SW. I felt at the time if I could only have 10 they would be 10 big rounds…

      Still wish I had never parted with that gun, S/S Chromium-M replate and all..

    • No, this article is 100% correct. Grew up in California and it’s the same thing there were the magazine limits have never been removed.

      • And this has what to do with guns and gun control? Just like Obama drove some of the highest gun selling years in the USA, Clinton’s mindless laws had a part in driving what people purchased. And BTW, all the Clintons are worms.

    • Article seems 100% correct based on my experience, turned 21 in the early 90s. You could walk into a half dozen gun shops around central Texas and in total see 2 or 3 1911s and a couple AR-15s. The 1911s were more likely to be Springfield Armory guns with the blocky front grip. Almost everyone I knew who bought a 1911 had it as a historical curiosity.

      Article writer does fail to mention that immediately prior to the ban, people had a lot of doubts whether 9mm was as effective as the .45. And then the mag ban made the caliber comparison really turn against the 9mm by limiting the number of rounds available.

  2. There were no reliable pocket .380s or 9mms. I predicted this outcome in 1993… Kel-Tec and the rest produced tiny, concealable pocket guns– so the thug’s guns don’t malfunction like they used to.

  3. ‘Unless you had a source of pre-ban ma gazines…’

    As I recall in the 6 months between the law being passed and it taking effect, the maga zine manufacturers were free to crank out as many ‘high capacity’ magazi nes as they wished. Which they did. By the gazillions. I had a Mini-14 at the time and there was never a problem finding new 20 rou nd mag azines, and I doubt there was ever any real trouble finding 15 rounders for the wonder 9s either.

    • i do not remember having any difficulty finding hi cap mags for anything.

      attributing any type of pistol popularity to bill seems silly.

      the scary rifles i concede- but i still found 30rd mags.

      • Really? Ruger 10/22 Butler Creek mags– $100+. Glock 19 mags, $75. H&K P7M13 mags, $300.

        You’re right in that there was no problem _finding_ the mags– but affording them was something else entirely.

        I made a killing on 10/22 and Glock 19 mags… 500% profit in 6 months. YMMV.

        • thanks for agreeing.
          30rd ak mags were 3 for 15 and hi power mags didn’t go up.
          obviously i wouldn’t have been buying from you.

          drive thru.

    • That was only good for then current production guns. Come out with something new, and you’re sol. And eventually the pre-ban mags would dry up, so that “ban” is still a ban.

      • True, but there was a simple solution to that, just make sure your new gu n used the old magaz ines. Anyway, with a 10 year sunset I think they managed to pre-produce a 10 year supply. As I recall. But then I don’t think I was looking for mags in the later years.

      • “eventually the pre-ban mags would dry up, so that “ban” is still a ban.”

        Right, and “if you ban them in the future, the number of these high-capacity ma gazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available,” – U.S. Rep Diana DeGette. F’ing moron!

        (I know this isn’t related to your comments, that just reminded me of this clueless bitch.)

  4. I inherited a Colt 1991 A1 45a.c.p. it came to me with 1 colt and 1 millett magazine. I think that my uncle bought the pistol around 92, or 93. It feeds every round that I’ve ever tried to run, HST , gold dot, golden saber, critical defense white box whatever hollow points. I didn’t know it was supposed to be a jamb O matic till recently, it’s my first 1911 variant.

  5. I would like to know what made 1911’s in the 1970 and 1980 era jam so much I’ve owned four 1911’s a rock island gi a auto ordnance gi a Springfield armory gi and now I own a colt 1991 a1 none have jammed on me I even shot steel case out of the rock island and all rattled when you shook them

    • A myriad of design “flaws”, though that’s too strong a word. It was designed to feed military ball ammo, and companies through the mid 90’s mostly went with the original design. Look at a 1980’s barrel and you’ll see how little of a feed ramp it contains, relying on a series of parts underneath the feed ramp to assist in guiding the next cartridge into the chamber. Many designs today incorporate polished and chamfered feed ramps that engage the next round as soon as the slide starts stripping it from the magazine. Kimber and Wilson feed ramps were the two earliest examples of this design (someone correct that if my memory is wrong) and live on today as unofficial standards for feeding all manner of hollow point bullets.

    • I am certainly no expert on pre-Clinton 1911s, but the reality of loose production tolerances is that sometimes you’ll get a machine that actually fits and functions correctly, purely as a matter of happenstance.

      Could be you just got lucky.

  6. Let’s not be hasty, I don’t think we need to go feeling gratitude and crap. The 90’s was a good decade for getting stuff milled out of hard alloys in the US, there was WWII gen talent, CNC humming along, legacy stuff trickling down.

      • lol – it’s really not that bad. Fit and finish isn’t too bad for the specimen I have. Was really cheap too! Excellent value.

  7. The Clinton AWB was directly responsible for the birth of the micro Glocks.

    So intent was the Left on limiting magazine capacity that they inadvertently created a market for highly concealable semi-autos…

    • Exactly. First time I ever concealed a Kel-Tec PF9 I thought to myself “Oh, the lefties should be going after THIS, not “assault weapons.”

  8. About the only thing I feel grateful to Willy Jeff for is finally leaving office…as far as him saving the 1911, let’s just say I’m not convinced…but I would still trade the 1911 for no AWB, even though it later sun-set.

  9. Bought my first 2 handguns during the awb.
    1 was a walther p99. The other was a colt series 80 1911.
    The walther was a pos that i soon got rid of. The colt was stolen out of my car after a bad accident on my way home from the range. Still miss her.
    I bought the walther cause i was kind of talked into it at the gun shop. I was new to guns and i took their advice.
    The 1911 was purchased after shooting a colt gold cup and i have been in love with 1911s ever since. I have 2 now.
    The only time i will ever thank Bill Clinton for anything is when he books the entire family on a malaysian airlines flight in a 777.

  10. Very interesting subject to debate. I truly love when politicians meddle with something so popular and the final product is the exact opposite of their intent.

    Smilin Bill thought the AWB would dry up the market for semi auto rifles and normal capacity mags and no one would mind if the ban was extended after 10 years. In the end he created a market boom that wasn’t unprecedented in American history. HAHAHA!!!! I love this country!

    • Bill is much, much smarter than you give him credit for. He passed the AWB because it gave him power and pull, and power leads to money. The family is worth $200 some million, and none of them have ever held a job.

      Bill told Hiliary to ignore the “data” and campaign in Wisconsin. Had Hiliary’s camp understood what Bill knows instinctively, we’d be in deep do-do today.

      • He is still a sexual predator, regardless of how ‘smart’ he is. You can’t shine sh*t….

    • Thank you for introducing me to the term ‘normal capacity’ mags sir! A mandatoraly regulated magazine that is less than its full capacity potential should then naturally be called a ‘low’ capacity mag or better yet a boot heel to a free society’s neck. High cap is just another Left buzz term like Assault, gun violence etc. Got it! Makes perfect sense. I learned something today

  11. Bill Clinton is almost a reason to hate the 1911.

    He’s responsible for linking the past POS (D) presididn’t all the way back thru Jimmy “400+ days in the desert ain’t bad” Carter, to satan.

    F em all, and their POS voters.

  12. Practice used to be buy a Colt 1911 and send it to the smith to have the ejection port lowered to avoid dented cases, throated to feed hollow points and to have the magazine well beveled (They came squared) to make mags easier to insert. (Ported, throated and beveled.)

    Springfield Armory started to make a name for itself with 1911s (they had a name with Garands and the M1A) because the Springfield ’90s Edition came ported, throated and beveled for less money that a Colt 1911 prior to the smith.

    I think I paid $400 for a Springfield ’90s Edition in 1990. It had a soft extractor that I replaced with a Wilson Combat extractor and it hasn’t hiccuped since then regardless of the load or bullet profile.

  13. Where’s Dyspeptic? He’d corroborate or debunk this with a mix of technical and historical tidbits.

  14. I remember the ban years. It was not good to the 9mm.

    If you were limited to 10 rounds, they’d better be 10 big rounds. Without the AWB, .40 would never have come about, and certainly the 1911 wouldn’t have maintained its popularity, against the flood of 15-19 round Wondernines.

    • I have a ban-era Ruger P95, and with the factory 10 rounders it is the WORST gun ever. A massive, unbalanced, unwieldy brick.

      Put pre-ban 15 rounders (or MecGar flush fit 17 rounders) in it, and suddenly it’s an alright gun and a nice budget alternative to a GLOCK.

      The single stack Ruger P90 and P97 in .45 ACP were definitely the best in the lineup during the AWB. A close second would be the P91 and P94, which went down from 11 to 10 rounds. Not too shabby.

      Weirdly enough, Ruger never went back to making 11 round .40 Auto mags after the AWB sunset. Darn shame.

      • Heh-heh… I gotta chuckle every time I see that term, “.40 Auto.” Ol’ Bill just couldn’t bring himself to use that hated competitor’s name, could he? LOL

  15. How much of the 1911’s popularity was because of the “tactical” myth with LAPD SWAT, Marine Recon, MARSOC, FBI HRT, Rangers, etc using 1911s in the 90’s until they ran out of armorers to keep them running. For example, Recon had 1911s maintained in Quantico by armorers who had pre-Beretta experience on 1911s; when there were not enough armorers, MARSOC purchased new Colt M45s. The M45 still needed sufficient experienced armorers so they special purchased GLOCKS.
    Armorers retired, special types stopped using 1911s, cool factor went away and now 1911s are not too popular again even in restricted states like California

  16. Only HP I ever ran through my 1911 was 230 Hydrashock.

    I carried a stock series 80 with no bells and whistles. Never had a jam.

    The problems ajamctually came from too close tolerances in fitting slides, barrels, and bushings. Designing guns with a little slack seems to make them function better.

    I had a Gold Cup which was more accurate than I was. it wouldn’t feed any hollow points.

    I think the polymer with inserts results in less friction and stiction and results in better reliability.

    Oh …. and to hell with the clintons.

  17. And this is where the Glock 30, M&P45, and P227 come onto the scene, except that right now you can only get regular Glock 30SFs in Commiefornia, and none of the others, or the Glock 30S (but you could buy a Glock 36 and make 30S yourself). There is also the S&W 327 if you need a home defense handgun in an unfree state.

  18. Perhaps the fact that the AWB expired the year before I became of legal age to buy a handgun is the reason 1911’s don’t appeal to me.

    The first pistol I ever actually bought was a Star BM holding 8+1 of 9mm made, I believe in 1976. All steel, certainly not a “Wonder Nine” (always wondered where that term came from). It’s heavier than most full sized modern pistols but it’s a great little mini 1911, a real workhorse. It’s finicky about JHP and really only digests Golden Saber without problems. Second a 941 Jericho “Baby Eagle” in .40 that holds 12+1.

    Come to think of it, when I bought the IWI pistol I don’t think I was even aware that the mag ban in the AWB covered pistols. Either way, after upgrading from nine to 13 rounds I’ve never really seen the point in a low capacity full sized pistol.

    As the article suggests, perhaps that’s because I was never really affected by the AWB…. interesting to ponder.

  19. Nice try at rewriting 1911 history Luis. Interesting read despite the fact it’s complete bull$#it, but an interesting and entertaining work of fiction.

  20. Worked gun shows during the Clinton era. We sold WW white box 223 and 9mm by the ton. There was a magazine only dealer at every one of those shows. He never ran out of hi cap mags (?) I have more interest now in 1911’s than I did back then. Glocks were the hot ticket back then. I finally got rid of all my 10rnd Glock mags about a year ago. One thing I agree with the author about, 1911’s are much more reliable out of the box now than they were then.

  21. Ha! I remember a young, dashing (yet very naive) Doc Samson becoming cynical and jaded as he learned that modern liberalism was not what he had been taught in college! A big part of that process was learning about firearms and how much the Left wanted to “control” our freedoms through infinite regulation. On the advice of a firearms instructor (who could have passed for a G. Gordon Liddy twin), I bought a Beretta 92FS and two 15 round mags. Still have them today! That big 92 is accurate as hell and the fave of my oldest daughter! So, yeah, I’ll give senile ol’ Willy a little credit…

  22. Yeah, not buying into the causation. You can thank foreign manufacturing for the resurgence in the 1911. It was cheap competition that saved the 1911 from being overpriced money pits for exactly the same reason their are cheap AR alternatives available. Nowhere in that is there a reason to thank Clinton.

  23. Giving a Demon-crat credibility for improving the .45 is a stretch! that’s like saying the true purpose of the Demon-cratic party Gun control is to surreptitiously arm all American’s against the coming Immigrant war! Maybe that’s what the last shuck and Jive President was doing as he tightened the rules, he just wanted us too buy guns! he actually improved gun sales because he wanted us to be safe??!
    9mm was chosen because NATO wanted Ammo standardization and a very powerful senator was getting a Beretta factory in his state! big bad he men in the military wanted women too shoot a hand gun and supposedly the .45 was too big, cumbersome, and heavy with a harsh recoil. my guess is a fully loaded 92F is pretty close too matching the weight of a .45 and all the rest except recoil.

  24. I think the resurgence of the 1911 started with the release in the late 80’s or early 90’s of the Para Ordinance double stack 1911 frame. It allowed something like 13 rounds of .45 ACP. The other factor was the rise in popularity of USPSA competition.

    USPSA rules do not allow loading 9×19 to major power factor. .38 Super (9×21?) could be loaded that hot. Combined with the Para frame, you now had a competition race gun that could hold close to 20 rounds of major power ammo. This proved very popular with competitors, and now many 1911 makers offer a double stack option, commonly called a 2011.

    At the same time the single stack 1911 was resurging in popularity. 1994 saw the advent of the First Annual Single Stack Classic, This event required the use of Limited class single stack 1911’s. I was there as a newly minted “D” class shooter. All the USPSA luminaries were there including Rob Leatham and Jerry and Kay Miculek. (I actually beat Kay on one stage. She must have had a malfunction. ) This was when Rob Leatham teamed up with Springfield Armory and went exclusively single stack.

    All of this took place before the AWB. I thank Bill Clinton for nothing.

  25. An interesting perspective and great reminder of how the industry shifts. Trends come and go and those in the trend defend it to a T even if they don’t know why.

  26. There’s a lot more that could be written on this topic that would get to the heart of the matter. Long story short: Colt’s quality fell off by the mid/late 70’s. Their tooling was worn, they hadn’t invested in new machines or tooling, and the 1911’s they were producing just were not “all that” in quality or finish. The Series 80 pistols had mushy triggers. The new stainless pistols had galling problems at the get-go.

    By the time the strike hit Colt in the mid-80’s, Colt had sacrificed their name as a top-quality handgun maker. The union strike basically broke Colt, and after that, they concentrated on fleecing the taxpayer on the M-16 contract.

    I wish people could get to handle a civilian market Colt 1911 from before WWII. Then you could see what sort of quality they used to produce, and how reliable the original design is.

    By the 1990’s the 1911 competition was starting to define the 1911, and they had a few teething pains, but the top-tier 1911 makers started making quality guns and here we are.

    As for why some 1911’s won’t feed: #1 issue I check is the magazines. I become frustrated with gun owners who will spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on a pistol, and then buy the cheapest crap magazines they can find. The first thing I always check on every semi-auto with a detachable magazine that is brought to me with a feeding problem is the magazine(s), regardless of whether it is a rifle or a pistol. It seems that at least once a year, I’ll run into someone at our local range who is having feeding problems with their 1911, and I’ll loan them one of my magazines and poof! Lookatthat! Their feeding problems disappear!

    Do they want to buy the sorts of magazines I’m running? Noooooo. That “costs too much.” So it must be the pistol’s fault.

    • Hate to burst your bubble, but my $18 blued Kimber 8 round magazines run great in my Colt stainless series 80 1911. I refuse to pay $35+ for a 1911 magazine, because they (wait for it) COST TOO MUCH.

      • Kimber mags are pretty good; no spot welds, slick followers, and strong springs. The best, and the only mags I’ve ever found to run reliably in some cheaper platforms, are Wilson combat. Chip McCormick are about on par with Kimber.

        Avoid Triple-K like the plague. I got a 3-pack of them as a gift a while back, and every one of them split open during recoil. The baseplate released from the magazine body, shooting out the spring and remaining rounds into the dirt. Family members that received that same gift 3-pack have had the same experience. We chucked most of them, though one unused mag occasionally finds its way into a range bag. Years later now and we’re still occasionally getting a moment of hilarity when someone loads one up, gets 3-4rds into it, and the mag dumps its innards on the ground.

      • I have no issue with what you’re running. And BTW, you’re paying in the ballpark what I’m paying for magazines. I buy McCormick’s 8-round stainless mags on sale for about $19 to $20 each.

        I don’t get to see the magazines of pistols that are working like a sewing machine. I get to see only the magazines of pistols with problems. And many times, the owner bought his magazines used, at some gun show, or out of someone’s collection of crap that they were selling off in a box. They look like they were scavenged off a beach on Iwo Jima, or they were used as improvised screwdrivers. The blueing is mostly gone, sometimes they’ve got a nice coat of rust forming on the inside.

        When I say these people won’t spend enough money on a magazine, I mean that they’re proud that they spent less than $5 on a magazine – sometimes prouder yet that they got a handful of magazines for $10. I don’t mean that they’re refusing to spend $35 to $50 per magazine.

    • I don’t closely follow things 1911, so I risk looking ignorant or just flat out wrong in saying this, but I hear many high-end manufacturers supply cheapass crap magazines with their guns. If so they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

  27. I think there’s likely a lot of truth to this.

    Forbid 15 round 9mms and say you can only do ten rounds…and of course people will say “make ’em bigger.”

    Another thing that happened was the increasing prevalence of concealed carry. It made small guns more desirable than previously, which also hurt many of the wonder nines. The Beretta 92 especially took a hit from that, though other models were more concealable than their mere dimensions imply, e.g., Browning Hi Power. (It helps if you have a skinny muzzle with fewer sharp corners on it, something which doesn’t help Glock (and they did round off their baby Glocks).)

  28. Will the wonder 9’s and plastic weapons be around 106 years after their introduction? 1911’s have no equal, in a round about way they are descendant from anther masterpiece the 1873 peacemaker. Not direct evolution but it wasn’t until 1911 that the peacemaker’s, reliability, ergonomics, power, availability, American ingenuity and manufacturing prowess replaced the peacemaker. I’ve owned more than thirty 1911’s over the years currently I have eight, all .45’s. Only one did I ever have problems with a 3 inch micro with an aluminum frame. Over the same time period I’ve owned just a handful of plastic guns I owned just two of them now.
    I’ve put between 70 – 80,000 rounds down range in 1911’s with zero significant problems. Any problems with a 1911 usually are simple maintenance related, magazines being number one, worn out recoil springs, extractors very rarely slide stop, main spring, sear. Probably the biggest and easiest issue to fix is lack of oil.
    I’ve never felt under gunned carrying 3 pounds of iron on my hip loaded with 9 rounds of 230 grain hydro-shok. Goblins of the world be forewarned!

    • Will the wonder 9’s and plastic weapons be around 106 years after their introduction?

      Some of the wonder nines will be. I think striker fired polymers are still evolving; we don’t have the “classic design” of that category yet.

      Of course, your question is premised on the assumption that today’s 1911s are anything like the original, and in many cases, they really aren’t. I’ll leave it to Dyspeptic Gunsmith to clarify/correct that statement.

      If it’s truly your intent to consider close varieties to be equivalent to a 106 year old original for purposes of longevity, then I suspect Glocks might still be around. They might be Gen 23 by then, but still around.

Comments are closed.