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The Duty 1911 Pistol Today

Why is a 100-plus-year-old 1911-pistol design eating into the polymer, striker-fired market? Why is an all-metal, hammer-fired platform supplanting “Tactical Tupperware” in duty holsters? For the sake of the argument, we're going to lump the double-stack 2011 platform in with its older 1911 brother, and dive into why these guns are seeing wider adoption among armed professionals.

The Duty 1911 Pistol Today

(Photo by Muzzle Flash Media)

In 2009 I was part of the team on my department that began looking at the 1911 as a duty weapon for our officers. We knew that it would be an uphill struggle, so we needed an angle to allow us a foot in the door. That angle was provided by a LT that will go un-named. His idea was simple, why not design the program as a phased pathway? We had several entities in our department, including SWAT and a detective entity that could carry a 1911 as part of their job duties, but if they left the unit, they could no longer carry it. The first phase of the program was set up to “re-certify” these users to carry the 1911 on duty again, even if they were no longer in the specialized units. In order to teach this recertification, we would have to stand up a cadre of instructors and design an instructor module in conjunction with the user module. The LT postulated that from there it would just be a matter of time until the program began to expand, as officers and command staff were exposed to the pistol. He was correct, and now the department has a robust population of dedicated 1911 shooters.

Duty 1911 02
(Photo by Muzzle Flash Media)

When a department the size of mine adopts something like a new pistol platform, the surrounding departments take notice. When entire regions start to adopt something, the rest of the country pays attention. The LE 1911 movement has grown exponentially in the United States, and leading that charge is an unlikely hero, the Staccato 2011 series. I say unlikely because traditionally, competition has bled into duty. In this case, duty use influenced what had been a competition gun. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this 111-year-old design is resurgent. 

The biggest concern that many people have regarding the 1911 for duty use is the historic, sometimes deserved, reputation for poor reliability. The truth of the matter in this regard is nuanced. Properly built 1911 pistols are just as reliable as striker guns under all but the harshest and most austere environments. I’m sure we can make up some highly unlikely scenarios where a atmospheric factor could affect a properly built 1911, but those imaginary circumstances would just as likely affect any striker or double-action gun as well. The real problem is that properly built guns are going to cost the shooter north of $1,500, and that’s just to get in the door. A true hard-use 1911 built by a gunsmith that knows what they’re doing, or supplied by a company that knows what it takes, is probably going to run closer to $2,500. Springfield Armory, a manufacturer who’s 1911 pistols I have carried on duty, sells their “Professional,” a pistol spec’d by the FBI for $3,500.00. Hard-use 1911s are not an inexpensive proposition.

Duty 1911 03
(Photo by Muzzle Flash Media)

When I review pistols for Guns & Ammo, I have a very finite amount of time and ammo to invest in the gun. Most guns I review can survive a 1,000-round test with flying colors. After 1,000 rounds however, it’s common for many pistols to start to see some reliability issues, especially budget 1911 pistols. For most shooters this doesn’t rear its head until several years after the gun is purchased – anecdotally, most carry and duty guns are lucky to see 200-300 rounds per year. A duty 1911 needs to go well over that, and usually in a very compressed period. In my department’s 1911 school for instance, the pistols are subjected to 900-1100 rounds over three days. If there’s a problem with a gun, it will usually show up by day three. There is no such thing as a cheap, duty-ready 1911. For most shooters, a $600 Smith & Wesson M&P that runs with boring reliability is a much smarter play than a $1,000 1911 that will struggle to make it through a case of ammo without a feedway stoppage. I know that there are reliable out-of-the-box 1911s that exist, I’ve shot them. However, the reality is that many 1911s at that price point simply do not have the reliability necessary in a duty pistol.

There is a reason that to this day, every gun that gets reviewed is compared to a 1911 and that reason is primarily the trigger. The trigger of a 1911 is unlike any other common pistol in that it moves directly to the rear. There is no pivoting or hinging, the force of the shooters finger is distributed evenly to the rear by the trigger shoe rather than the common trigger bar. This mechanism gives the 1911 an advantage over every other trigger in that the shooter is less likely to move the rest of their hand while pressing the trigger. Add to that the fact that the 1911 trigger generally travels a shorter distance than its competitors and you have a trigger that is far more forgiving than even a lighter striker-fired trigger. I will take a 5-pound 1911 trigger over a 3.5-pound striker trigger every time.

Duty 1911 04
(Photo by Muzzle Flash Media)

Finally, let’s look at the 800-pound gorilla in the room. For many years I carried an 8-shot 4506 on duty, so I certainly don’t feel under-armed with a 10-shot single-stack 9mm 1911 on my hip. However, I have never been in a firefight where I thought “Gee, I wish I had less bullets.” FBI statistics let us know that generally, 10 rounds in the gun are plenty. On duty, however, I prefer more. The Staccato solves this problem with double-stack magazines offering from 16 to 26 rounds, depending on user preference. The 17-rounder is virtually flush-fit, and modern Staccato magazines display none of the reliability issues and general finicky-ness that older 2011 magazines displayed.

With the capacity and reliability of a modern service pistol and the trigger of the legendary 1911, it’s no wonder that the 2011 is finding its way into duty holsters all over the world. From military duty to competition and back to duty again, the 1911 has taken a long winding road back to professional prominence.

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