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Threaded Barrels: Pluses and Minuses

Do you carry a pistol with a threaded barrel?

Threaded Barrels: Pluses and Minuses

Ballistic Advantage introduced threaded barrels for Glock pistols in various PVD color coatings or a black QPQ finish. Fluting and lightening cuts are optional. MSRP $215

Have you noticed how nearly every handgun manufacturer is offering models with extended, threaded barrels? Aftermarket barrel manufacturers are doing the same. Ballistic Advantage is the latest to announce that it is offering 1/2x28 threaded match-grade barrels. Though it indicates barrels for other pistol manufacturers are being developed, the 2023 launch focuses on supporting popular Glock models. Depending on surface texture and finish — Black QPQ, Gold and Iridescent PVD — prices for these aftermarket barrels range from $155 to $215 (ballisticadvantage.com).

I was a kid of the 1980s. Almost no pistol meant for carry could be had with a threaded barrel, and the only extended threaded barrels heard of seemed to be meant for the tiny Beretta and Walther pistols allegedly carried by spies and mafia hitmen. Guns & Ammo Editor Eric Poole asked if I thought the people buying threaded-barrel pistols today were actually attaching suppressors to them, and it got me thinking. The primary reason for threaded-barrel demand might surprise you because it doesn’t have much to do with suppressor use.

Yes, sound suppressors, or “silencers,” are more popular now than ever. In large part, it’s companies like Silencer Central (silencercentral.com) helping people like you and me navigate the onerous, unconstitutional process to obtain them. Certainly, some of the pistols equipped with threaded barrels are being used by people who already own or intend to buy suppressors. There’s no doubt that there has been at least one guy who’s screwed on a can to an appendix-­carry gat and shoved it down the front of his pants to prove to the world that he could, but few threaded-barrel handguns are being carried that way. Suppressors are more often attached to these barrels at the range. When the fun is over, it’s unscrewed and put it away. Suppressors are a part-­time proposition.

Some pistols with extended threaded barrels are being bought simply because they look cool. Most will never have a suppressor or muzzlebrake attached. I spent a few days at Gunsite shooting the Stoeger STR-­9S Combat ($629, stoegerindustries.com), which has an extended threaded barrel. The main selling point of the STR-­9 is its affordability, but I just don’t see shooters eyeing the budget-­priced STR-9 as a pistol that will be used with a suppressor; they typically cost more than the gun. The STR-9 Combat, however, with its high sights, oversized magazine well and extended threaded barrel, looks sexy just as it is.

I think the explosion in popularity of extended, threaded barrels is tied to the popularity of carry guns equipped with red-dot sights. If you don’t see the connection, allow me to explain with a little bit of history for context.

I first fired a pistol equipped with a red dot sometime in the early 1990s. I remember when national-­ and world-­champion IPSC shooter Jerry Barnhart showed up to a local match in ’95, or so, with the prototype of what would become the Bushnell (later EOTech) Holosight atop his Open Class race gun. It, like every other optic at that time, was attached to a base that was mounted to the pistol’s frame. Nobody made red dots small and tough enough to mount to a pistol’s slide, but time changed our attitudes and technology improved.

Introduced in 2009, the Trijicon RMR wasn’t the first micro red-dot sight, but it was ostensibly built tough enough for duty use, and small enough to mount on the slide of a handgun. It’s still popular for carry.

The unofficial term for a carry gun with a slide-­mounted red dot — usually with a light mounted to the frame rail — is a “Roland Special.” Gunsandammo.com was the first to describe the history of this pistol concept in March 2016. The name comes from the protagonist of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series character “Roland Deschain” in “The Gunslinger.” Considered the first Roland Special was a Glock built by a SFOD-­D “Delta Force” operator. He milled the slide to accept a Trijicon RMR, installed suppressor-height sights, threaded barrel and attached a SureFire light to the rail. The one thing most don’t understand about the first Roland Special is the unique problem it addressed; the Special Forces operator needed to use his pistol while wearing night vision goggles (NVG). With a handgun-­mounted RMR, the red dot reticle is in the same focal plane as the target, so the problem was solved. But back to the issue at hand: What do red-dot sights have to do with threaded barrels?

Have you noticed that a lot — maybe a majority — of red dot-­mounted carry guns are now also sporting compensators? Many of companies offering models with threaded barrels are also selling comp’d models. FN, Shadow Systems, SIG Sauer, Springfield Armory, and Wilson Combat are examples. There have never been so many brands mounting compensators to non-­competition pistols. There’s a reason for this. Shooters are losing sight of the red dot between shots. 




Handguns are the hardest type of firearm to shoot with any speed or accuracy. The tiniest shift in one’s grip can cause even an experienced shooter to lose the dot sight under recoil. This is a common problem, and one reason I’m generally not a proponent of red dots on carry guns for most people. When you fire, the gun recoils; the dot bounces up, right and out of the optic’s window. With a firm grip, if you did everything right, the pistol should comes down out of recoil and the red dot should reappear. How do I know this is an issue? All of the compensators I’m seeing are appearing on red dot-­wearing carry guns. If losing the dot wasn’t a problem, there would be no comps on new carry guns. More practice drawing and training are options, but many shooters look for a hardware solution to fix the problem. That hardware solution is a compensator.

Interestingly, by sticking single-­chamber compensators to the ends of carry guns, handgunners have reinvented the “carry comp” concept. As they like to say, what’s old is new again.

I’m not certain when the first carry comp appeared, or who coined the term, but they were popular in the 1980s. “Carry comp” is just shorthand for a compensated pistol meant for defensive carry. These guns were all custom jobs built by gunsmiths on 1911s back then, usually featuring a Commander-­length slide with a barrel-­mounted compensator replicating the overall length of a Government Model. Comps sported one or two ports at the top, but in the ’90s, these faded from public consciousness. First, they weren’t cheap. Installed by gunsmiths, they required pricey parts that needed fitting. Second, being comparable to a full-­size Model 1911, not many people were willing to carry a gun that big and heavy. Third, comp’d guns were inherently less reliable. Sticking a weight on the end of the barrel caused problems. Fourth, because comps were usually installed on .45-caliber 1911s, they didn’t improve performance enough to justify their use. In 2023, we have threaded barrels everywhere on small, muzzle-flipping 9mm micros. Users chambering high-­pressure 9mm loads benefit more from using a comp on a micro pistol.

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Big compensators don’t conceal well on pistols meant for carry and the more effective the compensator, the more likely there will be reliability issues unless the recoil spring is addressed. In addition to adding weight to the barrel, any gas that is vented up is not pushisg rearward against the gun, thereby altering the recoil operation. Most Open Class IPSC and USPSA race guns with four-­chamber compensators use sub-­10-­pound recoil springs to get them to cycle reliably, as compared to the typical 15-­pound recoil spring found in 9mm carry guns. Radian’s new Afterburner compensator and Ramjet barrel ($390, radianweapons.com) and Shadow Systems’ thread-on compensator for its MR920, DR920 and XR920 slides ($100, shadowsystemscorp.com) are examples of compensating systems that were specifically designed to reduce felt recoil and muzzle rise without affecting the reliability of the host factory pistol. Any time you start changing operating dynamics on a pistol — even if it’s just ammunition — you can create a problem. Radian even offers the Compressor quick-tune guiderod ($80) because comps are notorious for causing cycling issues on pistols that were not designed for them.If you add weight to the slide by mounting a red dot, add weight to the barrel with a comp, and further reduce recoil, reliability may be affected. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

As with anything, at some point you must consider if the “upgrades” to your pistol is worth the risk to its reliability. Are you going to end up where you started? If your dot-­sighted, comp’d carry gun is important to your way of life, and you’re heading out the range to practice and train with it, then I’m all for it.

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