Shooting Illustrated | Personal Defense with Classic Firearms
The content of this column is most often aimed at handgun enthusiasts who have likely been around for a while and who can exercise and / or compete with some regularity. These are readers who therefore likely have a fairly up-to-date pistol that they had the luxury of choosing from a wide market of pistols in all different sizes, configurations, and calibers.
However, the riots of 2020 brought a flurry of new gun owners; People who felt the need to get a pistol for protection, not only at home but also on the go in these uncertain times. Like playing a ballistic music chair game, people late for the buying frenzy were often unlucky as the shelves had been thoroughly searched and prices skyrocketed on auction sites like Gun Broker. It was exactly the definition of a seller’s market. One online commenter quipped that the time to worry about which caliber, size, or brand of pistols to buy was back in March and the only question now was, “Is it in stock?” ? “
In times like these, America’s sock drawers and attic storage have emerged, bringing heirlooms into arms stores. Grandpa’s service revolver or the semi-automatic pistol of a great-uncle with a war trophy is handed over to the clerk behind the local gun shop with the questions “Can we check whether this works?”. and “Can I get ammunition for it?”
Fortunately, the most common pistol I’ve seen in these situations is the classic government model M1911 or 1911A1. There is no telling how many of these service half-cars from the wars of America, from World War I to Vietnam and beyond, came home hidden in a duffel bag or suitcase.
I say “fortunately” because the recipient of one of those old GI weapons who decides to put it back into service as a piece of defense will at least have no trouble finding holsters or magazines thanks to the continued popularity of handguns with designs from 1911 to find. It’s a rare gun shop that can’t send the government model owner home with a CrossBreed or Galco holster and a couple of extra magazines.
Wilson Combat, Chip McCormick, or Metalform magazines would also likely improve the reliability of the pistol slightly, although with an original USGI barrel without a larynx, ball ammunition or hollow points with fairly rounded ogives would be preferred. A well-stocked store could probably replace the recoil and firing pin springs off the shelf as well, to be on the safe side.
The second most common scenario is the old law enforcement revolver, usually a Smith & Wesson K-frame. I’ve seen all kinds of products from the stainless Model 65 released in the early 1980s to a 0.32-20 profit. Hand ejector that belonged to a great grandfather who was the Depression-era Sheriff in Tennessee .
The Smith & Wesson K-frame receiver is almost as lucky as its neighbor, who was left with an M1911A1. Ammunition is still being manufactured, and holsters and speedloaders are widely used. If the gun is still stocked with the old “splinter” supplies, an off-the-rack set of Hogues or Pachmayrs may be more convenient. Probably the only concern is that the barrel may not be heat treated if the gun is old enough. The actual date they started heat treating K-frame cylinders was 1919, but as a rule of thumb, I only personally limit + P ammunition to post World War II weapons.
Of course, some bring-backs have virtually no essential accessories available. This is the situation with many of the Cold War trophy rifles. Eastern bloc pistols may be easier to find than 9mm in times of panic buying, but equipment is scarce. The Makarov could be an exception to this rule. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was common for Hornady to load both XTP and Critical Defense ammunition in 9×18 Makarov, and companies like Alien Gear and DeSantis offer holster options in case the Russian relic needs to be brought back into service.
While I wouldn’t call any of these solutions ideal, one of them beats a handful of nothing when you need a carrying weapon in a pinch.