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Is the 1911 Still Viable for Law Officers?

With some preparation and practice, the M1911 pistol can be your primary duty or backup firearm.

September 30, 2010  |  by Brian Ostro - Also by this author


The grip angle of the M1911 pistol takes advantage of the hand's natural geometry to promote accuracy, and makes the gun a pleasure to shoot.

John Browning's M1911 semi-automatic pistol may be the most popular handgun platform in history, but is it a viable primary duty or backup pistol for law enforcement professionals, tactical operators and lawfully permitted civilians?

The answer is a resounding yes. However, this affirmative is conditional and must be further explained in detail to provide the best resource tools to those interested in taking the M1911 to its full potential.

The main reason the M1911 is so successful is its grip angle. It's a natural pointer. The pistol takes advantage of the hand's natural geometry to promote accuracy, and the angle also makes the gun a pleasure to shoot. Having said that, certain steps must be taken to make the M1911 ready for carry.

The M1911 has multiple external tactile safety features. The first is an external frame with thumb safety. Generic GI-type M1911 basic platforms have thumb safety levers that are rough and sharp. This roughness can be an impediment in a holster environment or underneath clothing. It is important that an external thumb safety be well-rounded and low profile. This will minimize snagging in a potential quick draw situation.

When officers carry the pistol in a "cocked and locked" position, in which there is a round in the chamber, the hammer is back and the manual thumb safety in the "engaged" position.

In many respects, this makes officers who are used to a Glock or similar platform very nervous and apprehensive. In a quick draw scenario, officers must disengage the thumb safety while drawing the M1911. This takes constant practice and consistent application.

Another obstacle is the grip safety, which is located at the rear of the grip and must be fully depressed with applied pressure in order for the trigger to move rearward. Officers must practice this hundreds of times to consistently apply a good purchase in a tactical situation. 

It is also important to keep a good polish on the M1911's feed ramp — an incline attached to either the barrel or the frame. It's an area between the magazine follower and the chamber responsible for guiding the ammunition into the chamber. A feed ramp that isn't polished will encounter resistance with hollow-point ammunition and may result in feeding problems.

These challenges can be countered several ways. In the past, users had to take the M1911 to a competent gunsmith to overcome such obstacles. Gun makers such as Kimber, Springfield Armory and Para-Ordnance saw this as an opportunity and created "carry" guns that were available straight from the factory.

Many M1911s are available with the "custom" features mentioned, such as low-profile snag free safeties, high capacity double-stacked magazine options, high polished feed ramps, accessory rails and caliber options other than .45 ACP. Many M1911s are now also available in high capacity .40 S&W and 9mm.

Weight reduction for easier carrying has also been accomplished by replacing bulky steel frames with high-strength lighter aluminum ones, thus reducing weight considerably. Tritium night sights are also available.

Although the M1911 takedown assembly/disassembly process is a bit more time consuming than that of its Glock-like counterparts, it is well worth mastering. The law enforcement and civilian competition circuit is dominated by the M1911. A casual glance at any issue of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) journal clearly demonstrates that at least three quarters of the competitors still use a M1911 or a similar platform.

The reason is simple. It's still the most accurate pistol platform in history, and the future remains very bright. The additional work needed to get your M1911 ready for carry is worth it. For those who don't have the time for such an endeavor, a "custom" M1911 with all the bells and whistles can be had straight out of the box.

Tags: Springfield Armory, Kimber, 1911-Type Pistols, Equipment Maintenance, Firearms Training


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Det G @ 9/30/2010 4:31 PM

Has been and always will be! God Bless the 1911.

John L. Carp @ 9/30/2010 4:50 PM

Great story! And I agree, that the 1911 platform is very viable as a Law Enforcement duty and off duty weapon. In .45 ACP it offers great stopping power, provided shot placement is correct. A crisp repeatable trigger, great sight radius in 5" and 4" Bbl.'s And in a easy to control package. If one feels comfort in ammunition capacity, then the Para Ordnance is the ticket, with a grip frame only a few thousands of an inch larger then a standard 1911.

I own a Colt's XSE Stainless Government model, that is more accurate then I will ever be, is ergonomic in the extreme and feeds evey top shelf LE load, with 100% reliability, right out of the box.

Try one and you will also be hooked by the genius of John Moses Browning.

Most respectfully

John

U.S Dept. of Justice

LaVistaBill @ 9/30/2010 8:28 PM

I have used the 1911 in the military, in competition, and as an off-duty gun in law enforcement, but I do not believe it is an "every man" type of handgun. Agencies like the LAPD and FBI tend to agree and restrict 1911 use to specialized units that do a lot of training. The average officer today is just not dedicated enough to weapons training to be able to properly and safely use the 1911. Condition One carry scares lots of folks and if you are not willing to practice, it is an accident waiting to happen. The 1911 also likes lubrication, so it must be maintained and again, that takes a person who really cares about their weapon as more than just another heavy "tool" hanging on their belt. If your agency allows use of privately owned weapons and you can qualify and prove proficiency with a 1911, then go for it, but I think as a general issue gun, most LEO's are better off with a Glock, SIG, HK or something similar in a DAO configuration.

jaykirk @ 10/1/2010 1:33 AM

TO DET. G AND JOHN CARP, YOU ARE RIGHT ON. ESPECIALLY WHEN USED WITH HOLLOW POINTS AND CONSIDERING THE RETENTION. JUST TOO MANY SAFETYS TO BE TAKEN AWAY EASILY AND FIRED.

30+ DEP.

colonelbwalton @ 10/1/2010 6:32 AM

I have carried the M1911A1 as a Military Police officer for 27 years, as a police officer for 10 years and (now retired) I carry it as a registered armed security officer and security director of a private school. It is a very fine tool and especialy when teamed with a Blackhawk Sepa holster. If you want a quality 1911 at a good price take a look at the Taurus PT1911. I teamed mine up with Chip McCormick shooting star 8 round magazines. Vey reliable and accurate.

awmp @ 10/1/2010 8:03 AM

All good points and the 1911 does have its place but like mentioned in earlier posts, the 1911 takes more training and more care then most are willing to allocate. (allocations to include time, training, ammo and the budget to support all the above).

swordfish @ 3/26/2011 4:42 AM

I love the M1911 an awesome gun but I only have one issue with it, and that is its low ammo count, I mean most officers carry two extra magazines.

swordfish @ 3/26/2011 4:44 AM

only problem for duty carry for me would be the low ammo count, most officers only carry 2 extra mags. thats still not alot of bullers compared to what you would have with a double stack magazine.

JJ Golliday @ 8/11/2011 9:47 PM

I started m law enforcement career in 1980 with a Colt 1911. Over the years I have owned several 1911's. As I got older I became wary of my ability to get the safety off in time, so I went to a DAO Para Ordnance. It is awesome. Try one. After 30 yrs. on the job I still trust a 1911 pistol. I have a special duty rig with 2 double mag holders (4 8 rd. mags) plus 9 rds. in the gun. JJG

blackbeard @ 10/11/2013 9:42 PM

Shot my first 1911 when I was 17yrs old in the Navy. Loved it then;and 37 yrs later, I still do. To me, the 1911 is the perfect pistol. I carry 2 extra 8 rd mags loaded with 230 Ranger T's. So with 25 hollowpoints, I feel well protected.

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