I’m a walking case of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ I have an apprentice (a student really) in my knife-making shop. I frequently remind him to follow the rules even when he sees me breaking them, and I’ve explained that I do so because I’ve been doing this forever and know what I can get away with. He needs to follow the rules because he does not have that experience.
I’m in a similar (though less expert) position when it comes to defensive pistols. I have been known to carry obsolete pistols for self-defense, including revolvers and 1911s. Some people regard me as an ‘expert’ and might take that fact as advice to do so themselves. It isn’t. It totally isn’t, and don’t take that as a recommendation!
I often stress that we are individuals and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to self-defense pistols. What I sometimes forget to mention is that there are a plethora of one-size-fits-most solutions, and I recommend that new owners avail themselves of them. When asked what they should look at I usually tell new gun owners to look at Glocks, S&W M&Ps and Sig P365s. These are good, modern guns that have proven themselves in use and have good features for the purpose. They are very well-suited for the task and should be the place most people start.
I have long maintained that the 1911/2011 platform is for advanced users; yes, it can yield exceptional results but it has more points-of-failure in use than more modern guns. A dedicated user who trains properly can overcome these issues. I’ve had people point to the use of these pistols as a military service weapon to counter this point, but context is everything. The military carried hammer-down on an empty chamber, and trained us to draw the weapon and rack the slide. The safety was there to make the gun safe after shooting, not before or during.
Here’s this posts first ‘mic-drop’ moment: We kept the 1911a1 as our service pistol for 70 years not because it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but because it was literally the least important weapon we used, it was good enough mostly, and it would be a big, expensive hassle to replace it.
Don’t get me wrong, while I view the platform as obsolete a properly prepared 1911-based gun can return extraordinary results in the hands of a skilled user. But a new shooter is not, by definition, that person. Another thing to consider is that the average person employing a pistol for self-defense needs ordinary results, not extraordinary ones. It needs to go bang every single time and put the bullets approximately where the user needs them to go. There are any number of models and configurations that qualify among modern pistols, and no compelling reason not to use them until or unless one achieves an extraordinary level of skill. Even then it’s arguably not necessary.
So yeah, my carry gun of choice is a custom 1911 tailor-made for me. This is despite it’s antiquated features and relatively low capacity. I have great confidence in the gun and my ability to use it effectively. This is because I have decades of experience to rely on, and in my hands the gun can deliver extraordinary results. I am also extremely comfortable with it, and the manual-of-arms is basically hard-wired at this point. Does that make this an entirely rational decision on my part? No, and here’s why.
I can get good enough results for civilian self defense with a large variety of pistols, notably pistols that are more modern, have better features and are generally better suited to my needs. But it’s not always about need. I feel more confident with the 1911a1 because of long familiarity with the platform and knowing it can return those unnecessarily good results.
The Conventional Wisdom is never absolutely correct for every single individual and situation, but it’s the Conventional Wisdom for a reason. It applies to most people in most situations and odds are better than not it applies to you. In a gunfight any gun is better than no gun, but a lot of very smart people have spent a lot of time and effort making guns specifically for self-defense and they are very well suited-to-purpose. Odds are good one of them will work for you. Why wouldn’t you use it? It had better not be because some old fart with unusual and largely obsolete experience tells you different. That would be just dumb.
So start with the go-to guns from Glock, S&W, Sig, Beretta and others. Find what works for you and train with it. If those options don’t work for you by all means venture further afield, but start with the standard options. They’re standard for a reason: they are fit for task for a very large majority of people.
Stay safe and take care,
Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 March 2023