The Modern Pistol- What Does That Even Mean?

The Glock 17 is entering it’s fourth decade, but it remains a modern pistol. Indeed, it established the template for the modern-standard pistol; polymer frame, striker-fired, passive safeties only. The bulk of new pistols being introduced and carried are of this pattern, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Glock 17 is perhaps the finest basic-issue service pistol made to date.

Yet new models and variants of ‘legacy’ pistol designs continue to be introduced, and new variations on those themes like the 2011 remain popular. In the face of ‘Glock Perfection’ why is this so?

It has something to do with Glock; it’s the forefather of the modern defensive pistol but that’s not what it was made for; it was designed as a military service pistol. That has a lot of ramifications for it’s design philosophy. Let’s talk for a moment about Military Service Pistols (MSPs.) We’re not going to delve into their function as a badge of rank or their role in special operations and applications, but rather their role among the rank and file.

The first and foremost thing about an MSP is that it is literally the least important weapon in a military organization’s arsenal. It will have zero influence on the outcome of a conflict and may never even be used. You have MSPs because it’s better than not having them; there are persons that could potentially find themselves in harm’s way even though their job does not involve combat. Such people are almost certainly screwed, but a pistol is at least arguably better than nothing. On rare occasions in warfare they have made a difference in individual survival but even those instances are very rare indeed.

This means you aren’t going to invest a lot of time training people to use them. You train them enough to decrease the likelihood that they will shoot themselves or others unintentionally and can be reasonably expected to hit a target. You want the pistol to be reliable of course; it’s unlikely to be needed and probably won’t help if it is needed but you do want t to work. Since personnel will have minimal training it also needs to be as fool-proof as possible. This is a monumental task because fools are so damn clever.

If at all possible it should be lightweight. Modern soldiers have to hump enough crap around already, and support personnel don’t need it getting in the way. IOW it needs to pose as little inconvenience as possible in terms of training, manual of arms and weight. If it’s too heavy and gets in the way soldiers won’t carry it if you don’t force them to.

Most military forces carry pistols in a protective holster and policy is not to chamber a round until you need to. Of course soldiers will disregard this in combat, so it needs to be safe when carried in its issued holster with a round chambered.

The Glock 17 was masterfully designed to meet the requirements of an MSP. The trigger is mechanically safe and with even modest training it’s unlikely to be pulled by accident. Insert magazine, rack the slide and it’s ready to go. No safeties to disengage, no extraneous features or controls. In operation only a revolver is arguably simpler. It is, as an MSP needs to be, an ‘Any Idiot’ weapon. It is deliberately, consciously and very thoughtfully designed to be the Lowest Common Denominator. This is not to say it isn’t a good pistol; it’s an excellent pistol and superbly suited to its role.

Naturally as the Military goes, so go the police. Their needs are broadly similar and by and large a good military pistol will be a good police pistol for many of the same reasons. Police get more training and are more likely to employ their pistol in the line of duty, but even so it’s still a matter of the lowest common denominator. And as the Police go so go civilians.

I mean, if the professionals use them they must be the best, right? Well, yes and at the same time very much no. An MSP represents the best compromise the military could find between cost, being functional and being idiot-proof. It is very much not the best possible civilian arm. This is why there is an absolutely huge aftermarket for the Glock and its ilk. The first thing a lot of people do when they get one is to start modifying it. Improved trigger, improved texture on the grips, better sights. The lowest-common-denominator is probably fine, but civilians want better than ‘fine.’

This is where other sorts of guns and updated legacy designs come in. A civilian might be uneasy with the point-and-click nature of a Glock. A safety or a double-action trigger might be more comfortable for them. They might want performance that is difficult to wring out of a MSP. The 2011-pattern isn’t popular because ‘Two World Wars!’ It is popular because it has excellent ergonomics, a vastly better trigger and for putting precise hits on target it’s ‘Cheat Mode.’ This can be very appealing to civilians, for whom the pistol represents not merely a Last Act Of Defiance or a working tool; it is a comfort and potentially a lifeline in a chaotic and uncertain world. That’s before we even address the issues of recreational use and intangibles like pride of ownership and personalization.

Is a 2011 a ‘Modern Gun’ despite being based on a 120 year-old design? I would argue that it is.

Yes, such pistols require more training than an MSP but that’s fine. Much of that training can be done ‘dry’ and costs nothing. It’s also fun to shoot a pistol, work on your skills and personalize a firearm. Much as we might want to pretend we’re focused Urban Operators there is a very large element of hobby interest in our guns. There is nothing wrong with that.

To use a car analogy most of us can adequately serve our needs with a very basic vehicle. Maybe a base-model Toyota Corolla will adequately serve your day-to-day needs, but if you are inexplicably drafted into running it in an autocross it would not be anyone’s preferred tool and you are not likely to win. A base-model Corolla is a fine car but it must be said, it’s not fun.

Modern ‘clones’ of the Glock offer better triggers, improved ergonomics and a feature-set that better matches modern perceptions of what is needed in a civilian pistol. Looks cooler too.

I don’t like the word ‘obsolete’ in this context. A gun that varies from the modern norm is not necessarily obsolete as such, even if the design is old. With their dominance in high-performance competition and increasing use by police and special service operators can we really call a 2011 obsolete? Sure we can. People say stupid things all of the time.

The CZ P-01 is a NATO certified service pistol. Old-Fashioned? Not a ‘modern pistol?’ It’s almost two decades newer than the Glock 17, and even the pistol it’s based on is only 5-6 years newer than the Glock.

Likewise the venerable Beretta Model 92 platform. Modern iterations of the gun offer performance that can be far superior to an unmodified ‘modern’ pistol while maintaining acceptable reliability. Many of the features of legacy designs lend themselves to superior performance in real world uses, not just in direst extreme but also in the more common, more likely uses as a competition or range pistol.

So, want to tell me you are thoughtless and/or ignorant without saying so? Tell me that a pistol is ‘not modern’ or relevant because it isn’t a polymer-framed striker-fired pistol. I’ll get the message loud and clear.

Stay safe and take care,

Michael Tinker Pearce, 23 January 2024

2 thoughts on “The Modern Pistol- What Does That Even Mean?

  1. William Prince

    A pistols actual performance irelies more on its weilders actual skill than any other firearm. I know a fellah that with a Ruger or Colt single action firearm can draw and fire minute of golf ball out to 20 yards faster than 99.5% of the human race. And he can do it on two or even three targets. Most people would look at him carrying his ‘Cowboy’ gun and think he was poorly armed for a serious fight. In fact for him he has exactly the weapon he wants for that dire circumstance.

  2. Carl

    Flintlocks are pre-modern.
    Percussion-cap revolvers are transitional.
    If it shoots metal-cased centerfire cartridges then it is modern.
    Elmer Keith is considered by some as the guru of the modern revolver, and he learned his craft with Percussion-cap guns. Maybe Keith was transitional too . . .


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