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Tactical 1911s Handguns

Are 1911 Rail Guns Better than the Original?

by Dusty Gibson   |  July 23rd, 2013 11

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.

  • Ammo-up

    If you like the traditional 1911 but see the advantage of a laser sight, the solution is simple, although not inexpensive–laser grips! Best of both worlds.

  • DHurdle

    Why don’t the manufacturers simply drill & tap the slide so that a (included with the gun) short rail can be installed if desired ? I don’t understand why we need ANOTHER debate amongst gun owners.

  • John C Sell Jr

    It is funny, many of the guns I’ve had didn’t have rails. When rails came out, I had to have a new pistol with a rail. I know have several and I carry a gun with a rail. However, I have yet to put anything on any of the rails. Every time I think about it, decided I’m going to do it, and even try it out, I decided not to. I’m not saying the rails are bad, I’m just not sure they are the make or break issue for me when choosing a new gun.

  • MacIndy

    I’m not a big fan of lasers but I do like the light advantage. I own 2 1911’s (A Colt and Kimber CDP) without the rails but I do want one with a rail. My home defense Glock for nighttime is the G22 with the light attached. Easy to use although i trained with external light. The Marine Colt is my dream. :0)

  • SLS Member

    I still hold a light in one hand and the gun in the other. I like being able to point the light without necessarily pointing a gun at the same place.

  • 6591

    I added a rail from Brownells to my favorite gun, a 40 oz Springfield Stainless 1911A1 (1995) to mount a light/laser combo for home defense. I no longer use it for concealed carry as I have other handguns that are smaller, lighter and easier to carry in 9MM, 40S&W and 45ACP.

    However, with the addition of the rail, XS Big Dot night sights, MX6 light/laser combo, Hogue tacky rubber finger groove grips, a large polished mag well, McCormick 10 rd Power Mags and good personal defense ammo I now have a superb, safe, accurate, versatile and bullet proof weapon for home defense and almost anything else. It’s large, heavy and imposing to look at and hold, but feels good and points well. And of course I can use a variety of loads from mild report, low flash and recoil to some ferocious ones over 600 lb ft.

    I do have an old blued Colt Delta Elite still original in 10MM that I am making over into a more aesthetic carry piece, a dress piece if you will. When finished it will be charcoaled blued frame and slide with deep blue high polish solid short trigger, hammer, safety, slide lock, grip safety, barrel bushing and recoil spring plunger. The new barrel will be stainless with a jeweled hood. A beveled mag well and as yet unchosen sights will round it out. Oh, yes, it will have 7 rd blued mags and ride in a nice belt, holster and mag pouch plus custom wood grips with gold and enamel inlays of the Marine EGA on one side and Master Sergeant chevrons on the other. That will be both an open and concealed carry piece for special occasions.

  • gmarr

    Like all things new and improved that comes out, is it an actual improvement or just something cosmetic? A full length guide rod improves reliability, ambidextrous safety facilitates use with both hands, beaver tail safety with memory hump also facitilates use. Can you argue these should have been on the ‘original’ design? Do you like them? Do you have them? Do they make for a ‘better’ gun?
    I like the 1911, my Springfield is ‘customized’ to my taste and is designed for me. Use determines what accessories are offered. The original design 1911 is a good handgun with a hundred years of history. You like it, buy it. You want an improved handgun that better fits your mission statement get one with the accessories you need.

  • bangbangbang

    I can’t believe people like rails so much on the 1911. Why not just got a modern firearm if you want modern features? 1911s are outdated as a reliable field pistol anyway, they should stay classic like car designs. Have you seen modern day mustangs or chargers? what a sick joke on the classic year models. Would you put LED headlights and air conditioning in your Ford model T? No. because that would be making a piece of history into a modernized abomination.

  • Duker

    I own a Kimber Gold Combat with a rail,and love it. It’s the only 1911 I own and I got it for 2 reasons- (1) at the time of purchase it was the only Kimber with a rail(I think it was)and (2) it’s a Kimber. I really wanted the Eclipse (it’s beautiful) but when I went for the purchase- there it was – the Gold Combat. It was love at first sight. This is a gun that never gets any press (for what reason is beyond me) but this gun is all you could ask for! I did a lot of shopping around before buying, and this was my final choice. Looked at the Wilson, couldn’t quite afford the Knighthawk, but I couldn’t be happier with my choice. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about!?!!

  • Thelonious Mahler Crate

    What a non-issue… If you don’t like them with rails, don’t own one. If you do, get one. Why do people care about this? Slow day at the office, eh Mr. Gibson? Article deadline sneak up on ya?

  • Ed Ward

    I think the option should exists for those that need tactical enhancements (SWAT etc.)…Me, no way as I am more than happy using a flashlight separately if the need arises. Ugly as all get-out to me as well…

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