Saturday, January 13, 2007

the bad, the good, and the pretty?

I like the 1911, I really do. It fits the hand well, it has a lot of history, and it throws a heavy bullet of ample diameter. The 1911 is very easy to carry for a gun of its size, and it's pretty much the small block Chevy of the gun world as far as customization and parts availability goes. Every gunsmith in this country knows how to work on a 1911, every gun store has leather and spare bits in stock, and every gun skul teacher worth his khaki 5.11 pants carries one (in a leather IWB rig, of course.)

My affinity for the platform has not, however, risen to Kool-Aid levels, which is why I have an issue with Michael Tan's latest writeup of the Ed Brown "Special Forces" 1911, to be found in February's S.W.A.T. magazine. He gives a thorough account of his experience with his new toy, and proceeds to laud it as an "excellent weapon" despite experiencing a failure rate of one in fifty rounds. He then lists the strong points of the gun, which are a.) a nice trigger, b.) great fit and finish, and c.) the snag-free sights.


A well-fitted gun is a nice thing to look upon. A nice trigger is good to have, and snag-free sights are great on a carry gun. However...

I don't care if a gun was manufactured to subatomic tolerances by naked German virgins and quenched in a dragon's blood, with a trigger that operates on thought alone, and with fiberoptic nuclear night sights that are smooth as soap and never need recharging--if the damn thing cannot run through a case of ammo without a failure (much less a box), then it's utterly unsuitable as a defensive weapon. That kind of gun, pretty as it may be, would be a safe queen or a gunsmithing project, but I'd never tote it out on the street with any degree of confidence.

Reliability is the number one requirement for a carry gun. Capacity, sights, fit, finish, trigger...all of those are important in various degrees of importance, with all of them ideally contributing to something that totals up to more than the sum of its parts, but reliability is the factor that trumps them all when it comes to a self-defense piece. The gun has to go bang without fail when the trigger is pulled--everything else is gravy.

Now, I'm not saying that the 1911 in general is an unreliable platform. I've owned plenty of them, and some were stone-axe reliable. A basic, un-messed-with 1911 fed with ball ammo from seven-round magazines is an exceedingly reliable gun. Many custom 1911s are equally reliable, and even some of the much-maligned "chop jobs" (sub-Commander length 1911s) run like tops. My old Colt Defender ate anything you cared to stuff into it without fail.

What I am saying is that unreliable 1911s are more common than the Kool-Aid drinkers want to admit, and some of them carry $1,500+ price tags. If you have what is supposed to be a fighting pistol that doesn't run through a box of ball ammo without choking, you don't wax on about its prettiness and its super trigger. You either hand it to your gunsmith to fix, or you get rid of the damn thing and buy one that runs right. Of course, there's always the magazine blame game if you want a psychological mechanism to facilitate denial ("oh, this gun really runs like a top with Wilson 47Ds with polished mag tubes and springs that are less than six months old"), but at some point, you gotta drop the Kool-Aid pitcher and admit to yourself that you just dropped two grand on a pistol that's only good for showing off at the range.

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