By Massad Ayoob
From online gun forums to gun magazines to the competitive shooting ranges of America, the 1911 pistol chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge has burgeoned in popularity. There are several reasons why, some of them counterintuitive; the more you and your staff can explain those good reasons to the customers, the more of these guns you’re going to sell.
The “personal defense market” is the title of this column, after all, and it’s where most sales of 9mm 1911s actually seem to be generated. Let’s look at some of the reasons, which your staff can inspirationally share with customers.
Extraordinary Recoil Control: With a 1911 chambered in .45, a shooter with proper grip and stance will see the muzzle flip up, and then immediately come back to the target after the shot. But with the same pistol in 9mm, the shooter with the same solid fundamentals can watch the sight picture rocket back and forth as the slide cycles, barely leaving the point of aim. It’s a stark difference. You’ll often hear a .45 shooter with his first 1911 9mm exclaim, “Wow! It’s like shooting a .22!” It’s not exactly that soft, of course, but you get the idea.
More Ammo: Just like in all pistols, the smaller diameter of the 9mm cartridge compared to the .40 or the .45 allows more cartridges in the magazine. Capacity of a full-size 1911 with, say, Wilson EDM magazines is 8+1 in the traditional .45 ACP, but 10+1 in 9mm. The little 3-inch barrel of the Springfield EMP 9mm is recognized as a subcompact pistol, but holds nine rounds in its mag and a tenth in its firing chamber.
This fact should help sway your cus-tomers who are concerned about magazine capacity. Of course, this affords an opportunity of a potential add-on sale, too.
Michelle Pickett, manager of Harry Beckwith’s Gun Shop in Micanopy, Fla.,
finds it hard to keep 9mm 1911s like these in stock to keep up with demand.
Trigger Reach: 1911s sized especially for the 9mm cartridge, like the Springfield EMP or the SIG, have a shorter reach from backstrap to trigger. This is a huge benefit for people with shorter fingers, and it also allows the average size hand to get on the trigger at the distal joint, which improves leverage. Trigger reach is the most critical element of answering the question, “Does the gun fit the hand?” — it’s a major selling point in and of itself.
Ease of Slide Manipulation: With a less powerful recoil impulse to run the relatively heavy 1911 slide, manufacturers had to go with a much lighter recoil spring. A bonus from this is once the hammer is cocked to relieve mainspring pressure, the slide is much easier for the shooter to cycle. How many semi-auto pistol sales have you lost when the elderly/arthritic/injured customer found he or she couldn’t rack the slide?
The 9mm 1911 generally solves this problem — leaving the customer with a gun they can buy knowing they can operate it properly. This solution also aids in establishing credibility between you and your customers.
These are just some of the reasons behind the burgeoning popularity of 9mm 1911s. The more of these features you share with the right customers, the more of these pistols you’ll sell.
Kimber Pro Carry II
SIG SAUER 1911 Traditional Match Elite Stainless
How 9mm 1911s Came About
Designed by John Browning, the 1911 pistol was built around the .45 cartridge. It achieved moderate success with the .38 Super cartridge of 1929, and wasn’t chambered for 9mm until the Colt Commander model circa 1949. This move by Colt was intended for the U.S. military’s earliest proposal to switch to 9mm for ammo compatibility with other allied nations. It didn’t happen until 1985, however, when Beretta got the contract — and the 9mm Colt was an orphan from the start. A handful was sold to people who “wanted something different” or were particularly recoil sensitive.
To most American handgunners of the mid-20th century, a 9mm was something you’d buy if you wanted high cartridge capacity (like the Browning Hi-Power of 1935) or a double-action first shot (such as the S&W Model 39, built for the same trials as the 9mm Colt Commander and offered to the public about five years later). Demand for 9mm 1911s was so weak Colt often went long periods of time between manufacturing them.
The rise of competition shooting in the ’80s and ’90s — Steel Challenge, PPC and IDPA — led to an increase in demand for 1911s chambered in 9mm. However, this development led to “trouble in paradise” because the 1911 platform was designed around the .45 ACP cartridge. As you know, the 9mm Luger cartridge is distinctly shorter, which caused feeding problems and took a long time for gunsmiths to solve.
Innovators like Al Greco of Al’s Custom and Dave Williams of Springfield Armory largely solved the reliability problem with 9mm 1911s. With the Springfield EMP in particular, Williams scaled down the 1911 proportionally to the 9mm cartridge — creating a very reliable production 9mm 1911. In the custom gun-manufacturing world, Nighthawk’s Shawn Armstrong teamed up with legendary pistolsmith Bob Marvel to redesign the chamber, feed ramp and ejector — creating the most reliable full-size production 1911 in 9mm.