The 1911 is an iconic, effective and time-tested pistol, but is it a good choice for beginners? Or is the 1911 a weapon better left to professionals?
There’s an old wives’ tale going around. It falls under the illusory truth effect, which is the tendency to believe false information as fact after repeated exposure. This phenomenon was first identified in a 1977 study at Villanova and Temple universities. Later, in 2015, researchers discovered that familiarity could overpower rationality. As our modern-day media has proven, this essentially means if you hear something that’s not factual long enough, you’ll ultimately begin to believe the falsehood.
The myth in question is that the 1911 is a professional’s handgun and unsuited for beginners.
I’ve no idea where this notion originated, but I’ve heard who I thought were smart people repeat it. Possibly, it has something to do with the fact a lot of gun professionals carry 1911s. I’m talking about legendary gunners like Jeff Cooper, Bill Wilson and Ken Hackathorn. No doubt these gentlemen have the requisite skill to run any pistol they like, so maybe their association with the 1911 has something to do with the perpetuation of this fiction.
Some of the reasons for this claim are that the 1911 is too heavy for everyday carry; it has a manual thumb safety that’s too complicated for average shooters to learn; it has a grip safety that must be deactivated before the handgun will fire; affordable versions of the 1911 are unreliable and their parts break; and finally, the single-action trigger is too light or “touchy” for all but an expert.
Given that, for 75 years, young American GIs seemed to manage and effectively use 1911s to win wars and save lives, this “professional” association is hogwash. Since apparently this blatant fact isn’t enough to settle the debate, let’s look at these reasons individually.
A full-size 1911 weighs about 35 ounces. Fully loaded, it’ll tip the scales at around 2½ pounds. A fully loaded Glock 21 in .45 Auto is only 1/10th a pound lighter. But if you look at what might be the best 1911 for concealed carry—the alloy-framed commander-sized pistol—it weighs about the same as the smaller Glock 30. Yeah, I know: The Glocks hold more ammo, but we’re talking about weight, not capacity. If you can carry a Glock 30 comfortably, then you can carry an alloy-framed 1911 just as happily.
Some experts claim that the manual thumb safety on the 1911 complicates its use to the point that average humans cannot figure it out. This is ridiculous; even the dumbest humans can flip switches, otherwise they’d live their lives in the dark. Deactivating the thumb safety as the handgun is being rotated from the holster to the target is so simple, well, a caveman could do it.
Additionally—and this might be the most important aspect of the manual safety—its proper management is one of the best ways to prevent shooting yourself in the ass cheek or leg. Regarding self-inflected gunshot wounds, most occur while holstering with a finger on the trigger. With an activated thumb safety, a finger on the trigger when holstering won’t result in loud noise and a pain in the backside.
Additionally, 1911s have a grip safety that must be fully depressed before the handgun will fire. This feature was included to prevent the handgun from firing without being securely held. It’s true that some shooters have trouble fully depressing the grip safety, but there are grip safeties with extensions that make this easier.
Also, switching from an arched to a flat mainspring housing can help. But what’s often overlooked is that the grip safety helps you learn to grip the handgun correctly by not allowing it to fire unless the correct grip is obtained.
An Inexpensive 1911?
It’s true that, since Colts’ patent on the 1911 expired, 1911s have been built by countless manufacturers and garage gun plumbers who have no idea how to make a 1911 work. This has resulted in a market flooded with crappy 1911s that won’t work out of the box, and if they do, they’re prone to breakage.
Mostly, with a 1911, you get what you pay for, but there are exceptions. I’ve recently been working with a Turkish-built 1911 that’s imported into the United States by SDS Imports. They retail for as little as $400, and I’d rate them as good or better than the current pistols being manufactured by Colt costing twice the amount. Buyer beware: Lemons are out there; do your research.
One of the things that makes the 1911 such a great competition or match gun is its single-action trigger. It moves straight back and, when tuned properly, it only takes about 3 to 4 pounds of pressure to release the sear. Of all the aspects of shooting a handgun, pulling the trigger correctly is the hardest to learn.
It’s even harder to learn when the trigger is hard to pull and has an excessively long and/or inconsistent travel. A trigger on a 1911 might be the easiest trigger to learn to pull. Could it be too easy to pull for the beginner? Not if they exercise Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
Maybe the notion that the 1911 is the professional’s pistol isn’t deceitful. After all, many experts and professionals choose it. Regardless, what’s blatantly false is that the 1911 isn’t for beginners. If your firearms instructor tells you as much, find another one. He’s seriously underestimating your ability, and possibly posturing to show his superiority by insinuating you gotta be good to shoot the gun I use.
Still though, for whatever reason, the 1911 might not be the gun for you. It might not fit your hand, might not have a high enough capacity…or maybe you just don’t like the damn thing. That’s fine and all those reasons are valid, but the notion that the 1911 isn’t for beginners is, well, wrong.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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