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How come the 1911 was never a "cop's gun"?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Autoloaders' started by Ivy Mike, Oct 26, 2020.

  1. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    The US was among the first nations to adopt an autoloading pistol for its military, following a long history with revolvers. It served for more than 70 years as the primary sidearm in every branch of the service. Given the number of police who come from those branches of service, it seems odd that the various police departments stuck with revolvers rather than a proven autoloading pistol.
    It would seem to me at first glance that the 1911 offers some real advantages for most police officers.

    What gives? Was Colt just charging too much for the things to make them attractive to departments? Too much recoil from .45 Auto compared to the .38 Special? .38 Super wasn't really popular back in the post-war years? They didn't like single action guns?
     
  2. ozarkhillbilly

    ozarkhillbilly Member

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    The 1911 original mags held 7 rounds. The military did not allow for cocked and locked carry and the majority of 1911s were only really reliable with FMJ rounds, this had a lot to due with produced ammo and not the gun. So was the 38spl with 6 hollow points that much of a step down than 7 rounds of 45FMJ that you had to rack before shooting.
     
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  3. mjsdwash

    mjsdwash Member

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    the big intro to the 1911 was WW2, and by then the .357 was out and famous.. as was the 9mm. The .357 loads of the day were pretty intense, supposedly a 125gr at around 1600. Cars were more common, and the .357 was the best at that. Revolvers were also a little easier on training, S/W and Colt had lots of influence, and the sights on GI 1911's weren't what police wanted.
    That said, if you look deep enough, I'm sure some departments have records, and some cops did carry them. The US postal air service is the only one I can name, but I don't really know much on the subject. I think the USPS used .38 super.
     
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  4. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    Yeah, I was going for a generalization. I'm sure there were departments before the 70s (and the S&W Model 59) that carried autoloaders but the majority seemed to use revolvers with .38 Special. I don't think .357 Magnum was as common though and it would kind of negate the recoil advantage of the revolver over the .45 Auto 1911. Good point on the sights, I hadn't considered that.
     
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  5. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    Makes you wonder if police departments would have opted for autoloaders if they had been available as DA/SA models. The Walther P38 was such a pistol so these things did exist at the time. That would have been interesting, US police walking around with Walther P1's on their hips.
     
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  6. George P

    George P Member

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    Cost of guns, cost of ammo; most police ammo in 38 was a 158gr RN lead bullet, considered good enough to stop bad guys
     
  7. Howland937

    Howland937 Member

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    I'm guessing cost as much as anything else.
     
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  8. Nature Boy
    • Contributing Member

    Nature Boy Contributing Member

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    It also seems that police departments in other parts of the world world were predominantly outfitted with autos. This is something I've never given much thought to but it's interesting
     
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  9. lysanderxiii

    lysanderxiii Member

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    U.S. Police Departments never had to shoot Moros in the Philippines, so they never got the word that .38 Long Colt was inadequate.

    As to revolver vs automatics, training for revolvers is much simpler and revolvers were much more reliable. Pull the trigger, it goes "bang!", if it doesn't, pull the trigger again.
     
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  10. WestKentucky

    WestKentucky Member

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    I suspect a lot of it had to do with expected engagement. .45 carries a lot more down range energy even if it doesn’t have a whole lot of penetration down range. Also since revolvers were the whole handgun game essentially until The lead-up to WW1 that’s what techniques and training were geared towards. Also consider how many people would have had experience shooting a revolver and how many would have experience with an auto loader. Post WW2 that point was negligible, but resources were tapped out from the all out efforts to supply the war and money was held tighter because of political uncertainty on a global scale. Remember there was a depression mixed in there as well so you really have to consider the willingness of folks to turn loose of a dime.
     
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  11. Ru4real

    Ru4real Member

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    It’s only been in the last 40 years that PD’s have been outfitted with military and tactical weapons. War on drugs and all.

    And by the 1980’s, for PD use, there were “better” options. Better in quotes because beat cops didn’t make the decisions about what primary weapon the department was going all in on to replace 38 / 357.

    I’m assuming “cops gun” in thread title to mean on the same scale across our nation as a S&W or Colt 38 and “cops” to mean local city PD’s, county Sherriff’s and state Troopers.

    Sure, some cops carried a 1911 and some law enforcement had an M1 in their battery. For example, just about every PD car in 2000 had an AR-15 in it but in 1975 most PD cars didn’t have M1’s in them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
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  12. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    One town I lived in the police carried Colt Government .45s, nickel plated at that! They use to have them in Condition 1 and their holsters had a thumb strap between the hammer and the back of the slide. I think to the average citizen it made them a bit nervous to see the police officers carrying their service pistol like that. Eventually they switched over to S&W 9mm.s.
     
  13. jmohme

    jmohme Member

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    I cant speak for all, but I know more than a few police departments in the 70s and 80s but fell prey to the myth of springs in loaded magazines failing if not cycled regularly and because of this only allowed revolvers.

    My brother was a Count Sheriff deputy in Illinois and was only allowed to carry revolvers for that very myth.

    And to be honest, if I were to choose between a semi auto with a 7 round capacity and revolver, it would be a pretty tough choice for me.
     
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  14. CapnMac

    CapnMac Member

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    1911 was carried by a number of lawmen in TX, NM, and AZ.
    Was not always an issue item.
     
  15. earplug

    earplug Member

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    Hiring standards for many other nations is higher then the USA. This a a real issue and a court case is documented. The NRA is and was the primary training certification agency and they were never on the cutting edge of training or development. Consider the development of USPSA shooting and the continued PPC style training for LEO. Then wonder nines and 40 S&W rapidly eclipsed the 1911 for LEO use.
     
  16. Mr. Mosin

    Mr. Mosin Member

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    The DA wheelgun is and was a simple platform to learn and maintain. Easier to make safe, easier to handle all around than a 1911. The .38 Spl was considered more than adequate when most cops settled issues with a nightstick and a fist.
     
  17. 340PD

    340PD Member

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    The 1911 style .45 has been carried by LE all over the United States.
     
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  18. Monac

    Monac Member

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    I agree with this. I would also point out that back before about 1960 or 1970, people felt that 45 ACP kicked like a mule. At least, a lot of WWII vets felt that way in accounts written during the war. I remember one writer calling the 1911 "pocket artillery".

    Also, I think cops did not want to walk around with a pistol cocked-and-locked, both for safety reasons and because the impression it would make on the public. Even though I was already a gun collector at the time, I was surprised to see a cop carrying a Browning High Power that way on a university campus in the 1980's.
     
  19. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Maybe that was before my time. I can only recall seeing one single action automatic carried by a cop. That was a Browning High Power in the 1980's. I only got interested in pistols in the late 1970's; before that I would never have noticed what a policeman was packing, unless it was something truly weird, like a Luger.

    I have lived and traveled mostly in the Midwest and the East, though; maybe it was more common out West or down South.
     
  20. toivo

    toivo Member

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    I knew a guy who was a sheriff's deputy in Maine in the late '60s-early '70s, and he carried a 1911. He said they were taught to carry it Condition Two -- hammer down on a live round.
     
  21. Mr. Mosin

    Mr. Mosin Member

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    Local retired copper carried a Mdl 10 S&W for several years, then purchased his own Mdl 19, then his own Colt Gov't. He still has his M19 and Colt Gov't. Still practices regularly, even at ~70yo.
     
  22. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    I recall that in the 1960s. it was widely believed that standard "service" Colt autos were less accurate than revolvers.

    Part of that had to with terrible sights; part, with overall looseness; and part, with the shooter, due to recoil.

    Army and Marine pistol ream members whom I knew had their competition pistols "accuratized". They said that they were then less suitable for duty.

    The conventional wisdom was that the .45 shooter had a choice: accuracy or reliability.

    I could not hit with a well worn old issue .45. The Gold Cup NM was a different story, but the manual for the Gold Cup warned against the use of service ball ammo.

    All part of the past.

    It's clear to me that if hundreds of thousands of GI's could learn how to operate the .45, so could police officers--if they had wanted to.

    One other thing--I once had a friend in the SAC Air Police. He said they changed to revolver because they could not hit with the .45.
     
  23. Old Dog

    Old Dog Member

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    That most certainly is not true at all. Even went I first entered the field in '79, the SO armory had a couple Thompsons and M1 carbines in the racks (yeah, gathering dust for the most part, but they did get to the range).

    The FBI quickly figured out in the '30s that it was under-gunned compared to some of the bank-robbing gangs and adopted several military weapons, including Thompsons, BARs and the 1911. High-profile agencies such as the Texas Rangers were early adoptees of the "Gov't Model."

    The 1911 has been historically found over the years, throughout the latter part of the 20th century, in law enforcement holsters, mainly out west, though I recall some Southern agencies that allowed it. One of our local metro departments started issuing Kimber TLEs (LAPD issued it to SWAT) to its line officers a few years back. But over the past few decades, the 1911 has been in use by the FBI's HRT and many, many urban and rural SWAT/SRT/ERT/ESU teams. I could name a couple departments in my area where you'll see some 1911s in some uniformed cop holsters.

    Not widespread, but it's certainly been a presence.
     
  24. Trey Veston

    Trey Veston Member

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    My dad was the town Marshall of Potlatch, ID, a notoriously tough logging town, in the early 70's. Johnny Cash played there and remarked that it was the toughest town he's played.

    Dad was a big believer in "speak softly, but carry a big stick" and this was his sidearm while keeping drunk loggers in check...

    gZ2OXfG6TFWntabx_8hctQ.jpeg

    When he got on at a larger police department in the area a few years later, this was his issued sidearm.

    IMG_20200110_200926458.jpg

    And when he made Lieutenant in the 80's, he was issued his first autoloader. He and I took it out and shot it this summer along with my 1911...

    IMG_20200722_165303177.jpg
     
  25. ozarkhillbilly

    ozarkhillbilly Member

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    My father was on the Highway Patrol from the late 50's to the mid 90s, he was not issued a .357 until the mid 70s and then a glock in the early 90's. He told me he never remembered being issued anything other than hollow points and wad cutters for practice, for any of his several 38's or two issued .357's. We always had several semi-autos around the house but I know that he and the other officers that we knew shot always viewed hollow points superior to FMJ for stoping power. Also nobody we knew at that time had any confidence in 1911's, Hi-Power's or S&W 39's with hollow points of the day, no matter how well they liked the guns.
    I am not saying any of these opinions are always correct but I grew up around a lot of police and I know these were widely held beliefs.
     
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