Chapter 3. I want a semi-auto.
OK, that is a reasonable decision. The fact of the matter is that most people, once they have some training and experience, shoot a semi-auto better than they shoot a revolver. Also, semi-autos tend to be easier to conceal because of their shape, almost always carry more rounds and are a lot faster to reload. The main place the revolver is the undisputed king is hard-core power, and the really nasty revolvers are overly-powerful for shooting people, weigh a lot, are physically huge and hard to hide and cost a fortune to shoot. I’m talking .454, .460, .500 S&W, the real hand cannons.
Serious defense revolvers come in two basic action types, double action and double action only. In the end of their revolver days NYPD revolvers were altered to fire double action only, you could NOT thumb-cock them. This is quite simply a liability avoidance move. A cocked revolver can be set off with a 3# trigger pull of about 1/10 of an inch. An uncocked revolver will take about a 8-12 # trigger pull of about 1/2 inch. It is relatively easy to fire a cocked revolver unintentionally. It is relatively harder to do so with an uncocked revolver. LAPD was going the same way before they made the semi-auto move.
Semi-automatics come in 3, or maybe 4, action types depending on how you count. You have the traditional single-actions, like the Colt Government Model. When it is ready to fire it must be cocked. That’s the only way it will work. Then you have traditional single-double actions, like the S&W, SIG, Beretta, or Walther. The first shot is fired double action with a relatively long, heavy double-action trigger pull. Subsequent shots are fired single-action with a relatively short, light trigger pull. There are double-action only semi-automatics, several makers turn out at least one series of them. These decock themselves automatically after each shot. Then there are the weapons like the Glock, which is striker fired but usually have at least some portion of the striker cocking supplied by the trigger. You then get different sub-combinations. The S&W traditional action can use the hammer drop as a safety by leaving it down, or not by leaving it up. Some departments that carry them on duty in uniform mandate one method of carry, some mandate the other. H&K makes a huge variety of action types. You can get practically any variation you can think of.
The fastest type to get into action is without doubt the traditional single-action, like the Colt Government Model. It is also the one that requires the highest level of training because you are constantly interacting with a cocked weapon. The FBI HRT and LAPD SWAT use this weapon, as do a lot of special forces types. Others use the Browning Hi-Power, which is a similar design for 9mm. It’s a good system, very good in fact, but it’s not for the untrained or the marginally competent.
I am personally not much of a fan of the traditional double-action single-action semi-autos. It can be a bear to get used to the shift in the feel of the weapon between the first and subsequent shots. As Colonel Cooper said, it is a solution in search of a problem. That is maybe not 100% on target, but it isn’t 100% off either. That being said, some people do like them and shoot them well. I went through a class at Front Site a while back and my shooting partner was a youngster with a Beretta. He managed that trigger very well indeed.
The Glock and similar pistols, which use a partially pre-cocked striker and are generally considered to be double-action, have a lot going for them. You get the same trigger pull each and every time and it is a pretty decent pull, not too heavy. There are variations of trigger pull available by changing out the spring.
The double-action only semi-autos have a revolver type pull, relatively long and relatively heavy, but it is consistent.
Semi-autos also come in five different sizes, again depending on how you slice it. There is the smallest variety, the pocket pistols, like the Walther PPK and smaller. Then you have the medium frame single column magazine, like the S&W 39 series, the Kahr, or the SIG 239. These are a 9mm / .40 cal frame with a single column magazine. If you have small hands, these are the way to go. They hold less rounds than the double-column magazines, but you can grip the weapon properly if you do not have big hands. You will never be able to shoot a weapon well that does not fit your hand.
Next up in size is the large frame single-column magazines, such as the Colt .45 auto. These hold between 7 and 10 rounds usually, depending on the caliber.
Next up after that in size is the medium frame double column magazine, like the Glock 17 or 19 or H&K USP .40. Some of these hold up to 17 or 18 rounds of 9mm ammunition, or less of the .40 cal or .357 Sig.
From there you go up to the large frame double column magazine, like the Glock 20/21 in .45 auto or 10mm. These are big pistols and you need to have big hands to handle them well. I paid extra to have a butt job done on my Glock 20 to get it to the point where it fit my hands decently. This modification has gotten to be so popular, even with the smaller Glocks, that I understand it is offered by some distributors as a “factory” option.
One thing you want to be aware of, semi-autos are ammunition sensitive, some of them very much so, both with regard to power and bullet shape. You want to run a couple of boxes at a minimum through your weapon before you are willing to bet your life on it. Semi-autos have a definite break-in period, except maybe Glocks, again depending on who you ask. You should be reluctant to risk you life on a weapon you haven’t put some ammo through.
As noted previously, the thoughts expressed herein are mine and not Paco’s, CCPOA’s. CDCr’s, or anybody else.
Next time; Buying a gun.