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Reviews : Arsenal

Springfield Armory's Mil-Spec 1911

This no-nonsense 1911 is pure G.I.—and a proven fighting pistol.

December 01, 2003  |  by Roy Huntington


Simple is usually best. From uniforms to guns, it's usually the side with the simplest stuff that wins the fight. While we've covered $2,000 1911s before, sometimes you simply don't need-or want-that degree of sophistication. There are reasons the revolver makers still sell thousands of fixed-sight .38 Special revolvers. It's because they work, and in many (most?) cases, they're all somebody needs. The same is true for a basic duty (or off-duty) pistol.

While it's nice to drive a Mercedes if you can afford it, you probably wouldn't use one as a patrol car (unless the sign on the side reads "Polizei"). In the same vein, is there really a need for a $2,000 pistol in your duty holster? Probably not, unless you have a high level of interest or are simply an aficionado of fine handguns who also happens to wear a badge. To enjoy the simple pleasures of owning the "best" of something is a concept that I won't debate. I suffer from the affliction myself.

However, I confess, whenever I handle a basic 1911 pistol, either an original commercial Colt from 1918 or a more modern gun, I'm quickly reminded of just why this elegantly simple gun has been the darling of so many millions of fighting men over the decades.

The quiet authority of two pounds of steel in your hand is simply something not easily ignored. The clack-clack of that slide, the "chunky" feeling of that big .45 round chambering, and then the quiet "snick" of the safety going on means you're now ready. Designer John Browning spoke a language you understand, and he did it in 1911. It's astounding that Browning's gun still works today, still evokes those same feelings, and still performs in the 21st Century.

No Antique

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, You can't be seriously advocating that cops consider a century-old design for a duty gun? You bet I am.

And I'm not alone. There is a minor groundswell building in American policing, with more and more agencies adopting single-action 1911s for duty use. Interestingly, the archly conservative San Diego Police Department (my alma mater) has, under the leadership of a new chief, made inroads toward the adoption of the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP (in addition to the existing nines), and is seriously considering allowing the 1911 for uniformed duty carry.

I used to think that Hell would surely freeze over before the San Diego PD allowed 1911s-but it might. After all, if an agency allows Glocks with a five-pound trigger (essentially a cocked revolver in your holster), why would it hesitate with a design that has both a grip safety and an external manual safety?

As long as the decision to move toward a 1911 design is based upon a complete package consisting of transition training, the realities of ballistics (the .45 ACP isn't really appreciably better than either a .40 or a high-performance nine), an understanding that higher levels of recoil may hinder effective handling by some officers, and the need for specific holster designs-then all will go well. The ability to hit quickly, reliably, and effectively with the single-action 1911 is legendary, but it doesn't happen magically. It takes hard work, training, and good equipment.

Lifetime Gun

The Springfield Arms Mil-Spec 1911 is good equipment. This is an all-steel pistol and feels like it. With the proliferation of plastic, titanium, and aluminum, we've gotten spoiled and found ourselves not having to hitch up our duty belt as often. But for sheer durability and function, steel is a good thing. That's probably why they build aircraft carriers and battleships out of it. Just pick it up and you know this gun will last a lifetime (or two or three).

A quick overview of the 1911's design is in order. A classic "single-action" auto, the design originated from the fertile mind of John M. Browning. If you've ever heard of the Browning .30- and .50- caliber machine guns, you'll know who we're talking about. Browning was the world's greatest gun designer, and his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), Winchester Model 1886 45-70, Winchester 1892, Browning Auto 5 shotgun, and others, are some of the best firearms ever made. Don't believe me? Consider this: When the army went to war in Iraq last year, M2 Browning .50s  played an important role. Browning's good ideas live long lives, and the 1911 is one of them.

Springfield Arms' Mil-Spec 1911 is based on a slightly revised version of the original 1911. In 1926, Colt made some design changes to meet the needs of the military. The hammer spur was shortened slightly, and the grip safety tang lengthened to minimize hammer "bite." The trigger was shortened to decrease reach, the mainspring housing was rounded slightly to force the muzzle up a bit when the gun was gripped, and the sights were updated with a bolder, easier to see design. This is the model the Springfield emulates, and emulates well.

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