The 11.4mm autoloading, single-action handgun design is more than 102 years old. Originally conceived by John Moses Browning in 1905 and refined in 1911, it has been enlisted, commissioned and sworn in as an institution.
Designed during the time when obsolescence was unknown, the original design is enjoying a renewed interest by law enforcement officers. What explains this renewed interest?
The new .45s are thinner, heavier, safer and last as long as their "contemporaries." They also fire a cartridge introduced to usurp the lesser .38 Long Colt. No one has ever called the energy transfer of the .45 "marginal." Test after test, the .45 delivers superior performance.
Although the current polymer duty firearms are functional, ergonomic and consistent in manufacture, they do not solicit pride in ownership like the .45. Officers select features of firearms based on function. Rarely do they select patterned grips or duotone finishes because it looks cool.
The single-action .45 has been called both the M1911 and Government Model since introduction. Although the design has been updated, an original looks and feels essentially the same as current introductions on the market. Most of the parts are interchangeable. What differentiates the new .45s are new materials, better sights and detail improvements like checkering.
Thin is in
The .45 conceals better than most other duty belt guns. Aligned with the hip, the flat slide and sides fit against the body better than any revolver and most polymer pistols. Flat, single-stack magazines can be carried in the pocket.
On some polymer guns, the slide is fairly thin but the grip is much thicker than a .45. For this reason, deeper concealment using an IWB (inside the waistband) holster is impractical. Not only is this an advantage to officers carrying a .45 IWB, it also makes a difference when employing shoulder holsters and middle-of-back rigs. Some holster makers even market IWB pouches for the single stack magazines.
Because the Government Model's grip is thinner, it also fits more shooters. The basic grip is composed of the grip frame, and simple slabs of wood or other durable material. They can be purchased thinner or thicker, finger grooved or relieved for thumb placement. The Crimson Trace Lasergrips add gecko quality to the handling and a laser sight to speed target acquisition.
Companies like Hogue and Eagle Grips have milled custom scales for the .45 from exotic materials. These grips not only alter the personality of the tool, shooters can modify the performance to their needs.
When the army adopted the M-9 for personal defense, they inherited the double-stack dilemma. It did not accommodate smaller hands. It is much easier to purchase aftermarket grips to make a thin grip thicker than the other way around.
But, heavy is still fashionable
The other trend in molded receivers is creating lightweight, high-capacity firearms. The M1911 style of handgun was originally crafted in steel. Even the lightweight full-size models rarely weigh less than 28 ounces. Law enforcement officers purchasing lightweight handguns are correct in assuming that lugging a heavy one around all day creates fatigue. Therefore, they conclude that lighter is better.
Competitive handgunners generally use heavy handguns. Custom gunsmiths build "race guns" with a little more heft to dampen recoil and add to controllability. Careful examination of these guns will reveal that gunsmiths attempt to place additional weight toward the muzzle, improving handling. This has influenced the law enforcement industry. Most improvements on the M1911 design include a full-length guide rod. This is standard on the Taurus PT 1911, and the coveted Kimber Custom TLE II, adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team and other elite units.
Improvements in metallurgy have changed the nature of the choices in frame selection. Alloy frames are designed for a life span in the neighborhood of 20,000 duty rounds. When deciding between alloy and forged, consider the primary assignment of the officer. For civilian assignments like detectives and street crime units, use alloy. For uniform duty, use steel.
Law enforcement should stick to full-sized grips, even with a shorter slide, unless it's going to be a non-conventional carry. The officer-sized grips tend to leave the little finger hanging. The web of the hand steers the gun while the little finger controls the recoil.
The .45 is safer
The modern .45 has three safeties: grip, thumb and firing pin. The trigger cannot be depressed unless the grip safety is squeezed. The hammer cannot fall unless the thumb safety is pushed down in the "fire" position. The thumb safety also locks the slide in battery. On most .45s, the firing pin cannot contact the primer unless the trigger is all the way to the rear, which actuates a plunger. This safety combination is perfect for high stress, gross motor skill combat.
The thumb safety locks the slide, hammer and sear, preventing the hammer from falling. Because the slide is locked when the thumb safety is activated (up), the officer can reholster with confidence. The gun will not fire unless all three safety events coincide.
In 1983, Colt added a feature to its Government Model line that prevented the firing pin from moving forward unless the trigger was pulled. When considering a law enforcement .45, dismiss any firearm that does not have this feature. Many manufacturers have recognized the liability of inertial firing and use a firing pin block.
Agencies should require additional training for officers who carry .45s. Officers need to train the motor skill of sweeping the safety before firing. The .45's safety should be on until the moment an officer fires. Having a manual safety engaged is additional protection from tragic circumstances. The general rule: Eyes on target — safety off; Check for additional targets — safety on.
Officers should select a gun whose safety has a positive click, one that takes a deliberate action to disengage and instinctively engage it. When shopping, stick to low profile safety styles. Major manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Springfield have done the homework for you. Law enforcement firearms have low-profile, positive click safeties.
The .45 cartridge was designed for maximum effectiveness of the sidearm. The original military specifications called for a cartridge that fired a 230-grain .45-caliber bullet 800 feet per second (fps).
This standard doesn't approach current law enforcement cartridges. For example, Hornady's 230-grain +P TAP-FPD has a muzzle velocity of 950 fps and muzzle energy of 461 foot-pounds. When fired into ballistic gelatin, they create huge cavities and long trenches.
The .45 has earned its place in history and respect in the police armory. It is an outstanding choice for the officer seeking a versatile and reliable tool.