There can be no denying that the most popular semi-automatic pistol of all time is John Moses Browning’s venerable Model 1911. The Model 1911 served the U.S. Army for almost a century; its popularity with civilian shooters knows few bounds, and it dominates the action pistol shooting sports.
Oddly enough, however, the 1911 never gained much of a following among American law enforcement agencies. The reasons for this can be summed up in two words: tradition and litigation.
From the middle of the 19th century to the waning years of the 20th century, the double-action revolver was the preferred sidearm of American law enforcement. It was rugged, accurate, easy to use, very safe, and reliable. As late as the early 1980s, anyone suggesting that the semi-auto pistol would replace the revolver on the hips of American cops would have been the object of scorn.
Today, many agencies still don’t like the 1911. Fans of the weapon will tell you that’s a shame. There is little argument that the new breed of semi-auto pistols includes excellent service handguns. Yet, very few of them provide the ergonomics and feel of the 1911, which is why many tactical police units equip their members with 1911s. If given the choice, many street cops would opt for a 1911 pistol, but few agencies allow such a choice.
The Canadian gunmaker Para-Ordnance is one of the premier manufacturers of 1911 pistols, and it pioneered the high-capacity 1911. Para pistols are used by a number of tactical units and, where allowed, street officers. To address the primary concern about 1911-type pistols, Para developed the Light Double Action (LDA) trigger system. Recently, Para introduced its Tac-Five LDA chambered in 9mm and designed to appeal to SWAT officers.
The Tac-Five is a full-sized pistol that features the rounded off frame tang and bobbed grip safety of the company’s compact, concealed carry models. However, it has a competition-style magazine well funnel.
When I first saw this gun at the SHOT Show in February, it piqued my interest. So I talked to a Para rep about the reason for its unusual design.
He explained that the rounded off grip tang and attenuated grip safety on the Tac-Five LDA were intended to lessen the chances of the pistol hanging up on a tactical officer’s gear, especially in confined spaces or when struggling with a suspect. In fact, the whole pistol has been dehorned and there are no sharp edges, not even on the sights.
Some readers might ask why the Tac-Five is chambered for the 9mm cartridge; after all, isn’t the .40 S&W the darling of American law enforcement today? It should be remembered that the 9mm, when loaded with JHP bullets at +P and +P+ velocities, can provide on-target performance equal to that of larger caliber handgun cartridges. Apparently the teams who requested this pistol use the 9mm because they feel the lower levels of recoil allow them to shoot faster and more accurately. And as an aside, they can get a few more rounds in the magazine. It never hurts to have “too much” ammo.
Light Double Action
In addition to its high capacity and competition shooting design, the Tac-Five LDA offers shooters the ergonomics of the 1911 and the safety of a double-action-only pistol. Here’s how the LDA trigger mechanism works.
An LDA looks like any other 1911 pistol, but closer observation will reveal a revolver-like trigger. As the shooter racks the slide to chamber the first round, the slide moves to the rear and rotates the hammer and a cam, which compresses the mainspring by pushing downward on the hammer strut. When the slide returns forward, the hammer follows it until twin locking hooks on the hammer engage the sear, stopping the hammer’s forward movement short of touching the firing pin. The hammer is held in this position until the trigger is pulled through a full stroke, cocking the hammer and moving the sear out of its engaged position to allow the hammer to fall.
When released, the trigger is pushed forward by a trigger return spring. At the same time, the interior (top) end of the trigger moves rearward, moving a drawbar rearward. As the drawbar moves rearward, it is released from underneath the firing pin safety plunger lever, and is then pushed upward by a unit called the platform and platform spring. At this point, the drawbar reconnects with the hammer and is aligned in position and can recontact and release the sear the next time the trigger is pulled.
When the LDA’s trigger is pulled, it pivots to the rear, pulling the drawbar forward and cocking the hammer. Near the end of the trigger’s travel, a flange at the rear of the drawbar disengages the internal firing pin safety plunger. The drawbar then contacts the rearward projection of the sear, causing it to disengage from the sear notch, allowing the hammer to fall, driving the firing pin forward, and igniting the cartridge in the chamber.
The LDA’s long trigger stroke is very light and at the end is a single action-type let off with almost no noticeable transition. This is the result of the hammer and cam working separately until they are aligned prior to the release of the sear. What is unique about the LDA is that the hammer is not under tension from the mainspring until it is cocked and can pick up the cam. Since the LDA does not use trigger pressure to compress the mainspring, the resulting trigger stroke is light and extremely smooth.
Testing the Tac-Five
High capacity is what the Para Tac-Five LDA is all about. The Tac-Five I tested for Police was a very handsome piece. The high cap frame provides a secure, hand-filling purchase, while its 1911-style ergonomics make for a well-balanced and naturally pointing pistol.
It also has some really nice features for a combat pistol. There are deep, sharp grasping grooves on the front and rear of the slide to permit easy retraction even with sweaty hands or when wearing gloves. The extended thumb safety is fast to find and smooth in operation, and the magazines fell free and smooth when the release was pressed, whether they were loaded or empty, and whether the slide was forward or locked back.
Another great feature on the Tac-Five is the Novak Extreme Duty rear sight. It provides a fast, sharp sight picture and is adjustable for elevation so the pistol can be zeroed in with different loads. Mention must also be made of the magazine well funnel. Competition shooters have long known this accessory makes magazine changes faster and fumble free, especially under pressure. Why they are not more common on police pistols is beyond my understanding.
The Tac-Five features the Para Power Extractor (PXT), consisting of a massive claw, which is under constant spring pressure, and provides 50 percent more contact with the cartridge rim than standard 1911 extractors. That means that the Tac-Five and other Para pistols with the PXT offer improved, controlled feeding of cartridges from the magazine and positive extraction and ejection of spent cases.
SOP called for me to run the Tac-Five through the inevitable accuracy testing. Using a selection of premium, high-performance 9mm ammunition, I fired a number of five-shot groups from a rest at 50 feet. The results are detailed in the chart on this page.
Here are some subjective impressions from my trigger time with the Tac-Five. Thanks to the trigger’s light, crisp let off, the Tac-Five proved to be a very accurate pistol. The best group that I fired was one inch, using Winchester Ranger Law Enforcement ammunition. Chronographing the ammunition showed that the Para’s five-inch barrel allowed the 9mm cartridges to reach their full ballistic potential.
To judge the Para’s offhand capabilities, I ran the Tac-Five through a series of drills on a pair of D-1 targets at distances ranging from three to 15 yards. It quickly became apparent that the LDA trigger system is as conducive to accuracy as a single-action trigger. In fact, when running speed drills on steel targets, I was not aware of the length of the trigger stroke or the distance to reset. And despite the attenuated grip safety and tang, recoil control was excellent, permitting accurate follow-up shots to be performed quickly. And thanks to the wide-mouthed mag well funnel, reloading was effortless.
Are there any down sides to the Tac-Five? Considering its intended purpose as a tactical handgun, I believe that a Picatinny rail for mounting lights or laser sights would be a big plus. Aside from that, I think Para has produced a very practical, specialist firearm for American police officers.
Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to Police.