Perhaps the most polarized debate among 1911 aficionados is whether the integral Picatinny rail is welcome on John Browning’s classic design.
Purists believe rails defeat the authentic appearance, while others argue they’re the gateway for 1911s into the realm of modern firearms.
Those who oppose the presence of rails on Old Slabsides make their case on the grounds of added weight, bulky shape and lack of compatibility with traditional 1911 holsters. Among those in opposition are often the true 1911 connoisseurs who prefer the heritage of a no-frills G.I. model over modern designs with fancy features.
On the other side are those who attach accessories for a more tactical setup. Rail-mounted lights and lasers have become a force multiplier for many operators—especially in military, law enforcement and home-defense applications. Another common segment of the pro-rail crowd are folks who claim they’d rather have rails and not need them than need rails and not have them.
The significance of rails on a 1911 begs the question; If you could only have one 1911, would it have rails or not?
According to 1911 expert Dick Metcalf, “That’s like asking Phil Mickelson what club he prefers. It depends on the shot he needs to make.” Metcalf went on to say, “If I could only have one 1911, it’d have a rail because of the enhanced versatility. But the Classic 1911 still feels and balances better in my hand.”
Thus, the presence of a rail really comes down to the intended application for each individual 1911 operator—whether it be for duty, everyday carry, personal defense or part of a collection.
Those on both sides of the argument often speculate whether John Browning would have included rails on his original design, had the light and laser technology of today been available in the early 20th century. If he could have fastened a tactical candle to the 1911 with the 500-lumen power of a Surefire X300 Ultra, John Browning would have done it.
Based on the sophistication of Browning’s firearms, I strongly believe he would have included rails on his original design—especially had he known their benefit to the modern American soldier. As the Picatinny-railed Colt M45A1 CQBP joins the U.S. Marine Corps on the 21st century battlefield, it appears 1911 rail guns have one-up on the original design.