Why the Model 1911 still belongs in police work

When a fellow officer sees a proven, competent officer packing a cocked and locked .45 Model 1911, they know they’re dealing with a warrior who strives for the best performance in all things

No one can question the dominance of Glock pistols in the duty holsters of American police officers. In part because of its great performance record, Glock’s market share is greater than all other brands combined. 

But among “gun guys,” the 1911-pattern auto remains the unquestioned king of fighting pistols. 

The only other small arm with such an incredible military service record is the M2 .50 caliber machine gun. It should surprise no one that both were designed by the arms genius John Moses Browning. 

A Rich History
The United States Marine Corps claims some of their current 1911 pistols are built on World War II-vintage frames which have logged 500,000 cumulative rounds of service. Though the Beretta M9 system started replacing the 1911 around 1990, military special operators never abandoned the 1911 pistol. 

The Marine Corps recently inked a contract with Colt for a pistol called the M45A1, which is merely the standard 1911 with an integral accessory rail. 

More than 100 years after its initial adoption, an updated 1911 pistol remains in U.S. military service. 

Some trainers claim no 1911 can match the reliability of a striker-fired polymer pistol. One trainer offers his class for free if you use a 1911 which logs no malfunctions, and claims he’s never paid on the bet. 

At Colt Gold Cup I had once logged more than 1,000 rounds of cast-bullet reloads in a single day, in the hands of three different shooters, without cleaning and without a single malfunction. The pistol’s insides and muzzle were caked with black soot and bullet lube, except for the bright line where the bullets kept shoving their way up the feed ramp into the chamber. 

Unfortunately, the reason for so many rounds through my pistol that day was because I loaned it to officers who had experienced failures in their sub-standard 1911 pistols.

A Rare Warrior
A properly built and tuned 1911 pistol can approach the utmost in both reliability and accuracy, but few individual pistols will reach or maintain peak performance indefinitely. The early 20th century technology of the 1911 design requires a degree of hand fitting that is eliminated in more modern pistols, like the Glock. 

I’ve owned 1911-pattern pistols chambered for the .22 Long Rifle, 9mm Luger, .38 Super and .45 ACP. I currently have a Colt Delta 10mm in the hands of the man I consider the premiere custom builder — Richard Heinie — and I hope we both live long enough to see my ultimate 1911 hunting pistol finished. 

My arsenal has included both five-inch steel frame guns as well as my personal favorite, the 4.25-inch Commander-length version with a lightweight aluminum frame. The Lightweight Commander matches the size and weight of any polymer-frame .45 pistol and the eight rounds in its slim, single-stack magazine fits my hand. I can fire the full-size Glock .45 and 10mm pistols well enough, but my hand must shift around the side to reach the trigger.

If you’re allowed to carry a 1911 — either in uniform or plainclothes — it can be the ultimate fighting pistol. To use the 1911 to maximum effectiveness, you must be willing to make a sizeable investment in both cash and training time. The cash will be needed to buy a quality pistol or accessorize and tune a bare-bones model. 

More cash will be required to buy enough ammunition to master the “cocked and locked” single-action carry mode. Ideally, you should plan on at least a full week of transition training and 1,000 rounds of ammunition to program the appropriate level of muscle memory. Few agencies will give you that much ammo or training time — unless you’re part of a SWAT team — so that generally means doing it on your time and your dime.

One factor in carrying a 1911 pistol is beyond quantification, but a major reason why some of us still invest the time and money: pride. When a fellow officer sees a proven, competent officer packing a cocked and locked .45 Model 1911, they know they’re dealing with a warrior who strives for the best performance in all things. 

There is nothing quite like the feel of a solid 1911 in your hand — a value which can’t be defined in mere dollars and cents.

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn

  1. Tags
  2. Officer Safety
  3. Model 1911

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