1911 for Home Defense — The Best Choice?
December 29th, 2023
6 minute read
For more than 100 years, the iconic 1911 pistol served soldiers, cops and armed citizens alike. Springfield 1911 pistols offer precision and reliability making them a solid choice for homeowners. In this article, Dr. Will Dabbs examines the handgun in this context.
1911 was a pretty big year. January 18 was when aviation pioneer Eugene Burton Ely first landed an airplane on the deck of the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania while at anchor in San Francisco harbor. That turned out to be a fairly big deal.
That same year another aviator named Fred Wiseman carried three letters in an airplane between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, California. That made his the world’s first airmail flight. The very first Indianapolis 500 automobile race was held in 1911 with an average track speed of 74.59 miles per hour, and Chevrolet produced their first car soon thereafter. In December of that year, Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to the South Pole.
All that stuff was undeniably groundbreaking. However, in the context of such modern-day staples as cell phones, nuclear bombs, artificial intelligence and robots wandering about the surface of Mars, it all just seems a wee bit dated. How could anything in common use for 113 years really retain much relevance today?
On March 29, 1911, the U.S. Army adopted John Browning’s M1911 pistol as its first standard-issue autoloading handgun. The M1911 went on to serve in this capacity for roughly 75 years. Browning designed the iconic weapon and the big, fat .45 ACP round it fired to address an obvious lack of stopping power in the .38-caliber martial revolvers of the day. Where state-of-the-art European pistols of the period fired a jacketed 9mm bullet weighing 115 grains, old John Moses simply doubled that to 230. The argument could be made that in the 247 years that our great nation has been in existence, nothing personifies America and Americans better than Browning’s inimitable 1911 pistol.
Lots of stuff has obviously changed in the firearms world since John Browning called his family to tell them about his big news. Service rifles got sleeker, smaller and faster. Within the realm of handguns, frames gradually came to be made from high-tech thermoplastics rather than forged steel. The end result was lighter and more environmentally resistant. Advances in engineering and design also increased magazine capacities. With all that mechanical evolution now de rigueur, is there really still a role for Browning’s antique combat pistol to play today, especially as a home defense tool?
The argument can be made that there is indeed still a solid niche for the classic M1911 as a home defense arm, even this deep into the Information Age. All the stuff that those millions of more modern guns tried to improve upon is really negated in the specific mission of home defense. Let’s break them apart.
If there is one thing that a grunt appreciates above all else, it is weight. When striking out for an extended operation in the boonies back in the day, as a matter of course I discarded absolutely everything not critical to the mission. When the objective is 15 miles distant and you have to get there in an afternoon via LPC’s (Leather Personnel Carriers — boots, in the vulgar tongue), every single gram takes on a deep existential meaning. At 2 pounds 7 ounces empty, the steel-framed M1911 is an undeniably heavy gun. However, if the thing is just going to sit secured in the drawer of my bedside table, what do I care?
Physics is the same today as it was back in 1911. Mass times velocity in one direction will always equal mass times velocity in the other direction. That’s not just a good idea, that’s the law. The extra weight of a tuned 1911 actually helps minimize felt recoil and mitigate muzzle flip. When you won’t have to carry a gun any farther than your backyard, a little extra heft is actually a good thing.
But wouldn’t you expect machines to become more reliable over the course of 113 years? That’s a reasonable question. The answer is yes, but…
99 percent of the pistols in common use today use the same tilting lock action pioneered by John Browning in the P35. That action was simpler though not necessarily better than that of its predecessor, the M1911. In my experience, a quality M1911 from a reputable manufacturer like Springfield Armory is every bit as reliable as a more modern polymer gun.
How about magazine capacity? A single-stack M1911 in .45 ACP will usually carry up to eight rounds in the magazine. By contrast, even an abbreviated polymer-framed .45 ACP pistol like the Springfield Armory XD-M Compact will carry 10. Is that a big deal?
Well, if you are clearing your domicile and there is a spouse or kids on the other side of the drywall, you need to make every shot count. Profligate ammunition expenditures when friendlies are about is simply not an option. If you do feel led to pack more ammo onboard, the double stack 9mm Springfield Armory Prodigy 1911 can carry as many as 26 rounds in the magazine. If 26+1 of 9mm won’t solve your problems, you are facing some very tough problems.
Caliber selection is also a consideration. It’s not tough to find a 1911 pistol in 9mm. Springfield Armory offers dozens of different models from which to choose, and they are divine on the range. However, Uncle Sam had John Browning dream up the .45 ACP for a reason. As regards downrange thump, if high-tech expanding bullets make the 9mm acceptable, then that same technology in the larger .45 ACP ought to be awesome.
The M1911 in 9mm shoots like a dream. However, the gun was designed around the .45 ACP. It’s tough to find a nicer-shooting .45 than a steel-framed 1911. Additionally, the single-stack M1911 architecture is like Goldilocks to me. It’s not too big, and it’s not too small. That particular design fits my hand just right.
Most all modern polymer-framed pistols are cut to accept accessories on the dust cover and optics on the slide. Back in 1911, dust covers were something you might lay across the sofa and optics were eyeglasses. However, Springfield Armory offers M1911 variants with railed frames and optics-cut slides with the Prodigy. If you can’t find exactly, precisely what you are looking for amidst their vast pantheon of top-quality M1911 variants, you honestly might be unduly picky. For ages Springfield Armory supplied M1911 pistols to the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team. I can think of no higher accolade.
When it comes to home defense handguns, the world is your oyster. There has literally never been a better selection at a broader range of price points for the American gun consumer than there is today. However, despite the fact that the M1911 pistol is older than CPR, crossword puzzles, supermarkets, and hair gel, it still remains quite viable as a home defense arm even today.
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