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By Kyle Mizokami, The National Interest
(Note: The following is two of our most popular firearms posts that have been combined for your reading pleasure.)
5 Best Guns:
The bustling global arms trade has resulted in many excellent handguns in the last hundred years. Some of the best handguns are more than a hundred years old, while others have been in production for less than a decade. All are excellent weapons for defense, and in some cases offense; they are equally at home in a homeowner’s gun safe or carried as an officer’s sidearm. Here are five of the best handguns currently in service worldwide.
The Colt M1911A1
Designed by prolific gun designer John Moses Browning, and first introduced in 1911, the Colt 1911 pistol was meant to replace weaker .38 caliber pistols used by the U.S. Army during the Philippine Insurrection. The 1911 was the U.S. military’s first semiautomatic handgun, marking a permanent turn away from military revolvers.
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The original 1911 weighed 2.4 pounds and had a seven-round internal magazine. In 1924, the gun was updated, mostly for ergonomic reasons, to the 1911A1 standard. The 1911A1, while internally complex by modern handgun standards, is still a popular handgun. The end of handgun’s patent, coupled with the weapon’s enduring usefulness resulted in almost every major U.S. gun manufacturer releasing its own version of the handgun. In 2012, the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Special Operations Command adopted the Colt M45A1, an updated version of the 1911A1, as its standard handgun.
The Glock 17
The Glock 17 was built around three key ideas: simplicity, reliability and ease of use. The handgun is easy to take apart, with a single press of the button removing the slide for cleaning and access to the barrel. The Glock passed the Austrian Army’s reliability test with flying colors, jamming only once in ten thousand firings. And the weapon was expressly designed with an eye on “pointability”—the pistol’s natural ability to act as an extension of the shooter’s hand-and-eye coordination.
From the original Glock 17, capable of carrying seventeen rounds of nine-millimeter ammunition, the Glock line has expanded to cover nearly all semiautomatic calibers, including .45 ACP, and the gun has replaced the 1911A1 pistol in such organizations as Marine Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force.
The Sig P226
Developed by the Swiss-German partnership Sig Sauer to replace the M1911A1 in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Sig P226 failed to win the contract but received a major boost when U.S. Navy SEALs rejected their Beretta M9 pistols in favor of the Sig.
The P226 was an evolution of the Sig P220, a postwar favorite of Western and Western-oriented (such as Japan) armies worldwide. The pistol is a so-called double-action design, meaning a single long pull of the trigger will both cock the pistol and release the firing pin, firing the pistol. Users can also operate the Sig in single action mode, in which the pistol is manually cocked and a shorter trigger pull releases the firing pin. The pistol is equipped with a side-mounted decocker for lowering the hammer without firing.
The Sig Sauer P226 served with the U.S. Navy SEALs for twenty-eight years, before eventually being replaced by the compact version of the Glock 17, the Glock 19.
The Smith & Wesson M&P
Smith and Wesson is one of the oldest names in American firearms. Although the company was mostly known for revolvers, it was inevitable that the company would come out with a Glock-style polymer handgun. The result, the M&P (Military and Police) became highly successful in its own right.
Introduced in 2005, the M&P features a steel-reinforced polymer frame and stainless-steel slide. The M&P was one of the first guns to feature three interchangeable palm swells, allowing the user to configure the pistol to better fit his or her hand. The M&P also features ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. Unlike the Glock, the M&P can be disassembled without pulling the trigger.
The M&P is available in a number of midsize pistol calibers, including nine-millimeter, 357 Sig and .40 Smith & Wesson, as well as .45 ACP. The M&P mostly serves in police forces in the United States and abroad.
The CZ 75
One of the best handguns in the world wasn’t even available to recreational shooters for much of the Cold War. The CZ 75 handgun, introduced in 1975, borrowed a great deal from John Moses Browning’s late model pistol, the Browning Hi-Power, both externally and internally, but is not a copy, and features significant differences. The nine-millimeter pistol could carry up to sixteen rounds, making it one of the largest-capacity handguns of its day.
Locked away behind the Iron Curtain and unable to secure contracts with the Czechoslovakian government, the CZ 75 failed to gain adherents until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today the pistol is available in an updated form, the CZ 75BD, featuring a firing pin safety, decocking lever and underbarrel accessory rail, and available in a variety of midsized handgun calibers.
5 Worst Guns:
Guns are tools meant to address life or death situations, so a poorly designed or manufactured gun often earns particular scorn. The gun world has long memories of particularly bad firearms, many of which sealed the fate of brave soldiers. The rapid pace of firearms development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries meant that few if any mistakes were repeated, but the memories of these weapons—some with lethal consequences for the owner—linger go on. Here are five of the worst guns ever made.
Chauchat Light Machine Gun
Produced by the Gladiator bicycle company, the French Chauchat machine gun was the one of the very first squad level automatic weapons ever produced. Made for the French and later American armies during World War I, the Chauchat even looked like it was made from bicycle parts, using a great deal of metal tubing nearly identical to that found in bicycle frames. The weapon was capable of only firing three hundred rounds between jams under the best of circumstances, and the trenches of the Great War were far from that, with mud and dirt liable to work its way into the Chauchat’s innards through its many openings and foul the weapon. The gun was poorly designed and often punched the shooter in the eye or cheek if improperly held. Despite these shortcomings the Chauchat soldiered on, mostly because there was nothing to replace it with. While the gun deserves credit as the first of its kind, the fact that all major armies removed it from service at the end of the war speaks for itself. The Chauchat was replaced in U.S. service with the much improvedM1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.
Imperial Japan, despite its technological prowess at sea and in the air, was a hopeless mess on the ground. One of the least ergonomical pistols ever built, the Nambu was privately purchased by thousands of Imperial Army and Navy officers and became the unofficial pistol of the Japanese military. The Nambu superficially resembled the famous German Luger P-08, with the addition of a safety that could only be operated by the user’s free hand. The double recoil springs, as well as magazine spring, made removing an empty magazine extremely difficult and nearly impossible when the firearm was wet or oily. A weak striker spring often lost power over time and resulted in light primer strikes—something that happened so often the holster had a pouch for a replacement spring. The 8mm cartridge had notoriously poor stopping power and was never used in any other weapon.
Although Germany started the war with the bolt action Karabiner 98k, as the fighting dragged on German engineers looked for ways to increase the individual soldier’s rate of fire. One result was the Gewehr 41. The Gewehr 41 was adopted an early gas piston, rotating-bolt rifle operating system that was featured in the M1 Garand. The Garand, however, did a much better job of implementing it. The G41 was expensive to manufacture and the machining involved was complicated. The weapon demanded constant and meticulous maintenance, and its muzzle often fouled. At eleven pounds unloaded it more than two pounds heavier than the 98k, and the weapon was poorly balanced. Although a semi-automatic weapon the integral, nondetachable magazine was slow to load, limiting the rate of fire.
Colt 1855 Revolving Rifle
Nineteenth-century American inventor Samuel Colt created the modern revolver, receiving a patent for an early design in 1836. The revolver system, which promised up to six fast-firing shots before reloading, was quickly adopted as the standard pattern on handguns. An attempt was made to bring revolver-level firepower to the world of rifles, the Colt 1855 Revolving Rifle. Unfortunately for Colt, the weapon was a failure: the open nature of the revolver-cylinder system and the amount of noise it produced was acceptable in a weapon held at arm’s length, but not in a weapon held close to the face. Having the action close to the face was also dangerous in case the weapon suffered a mechanical failure or explosion. Only 1,000 Colt 1855s were built and the entire concept was abandoned by the gun industry.
The Colt 2000 was the legendary American company’s response to the Austrian Glock pistol—and the worst of the company’s many recent misfires. Despite being developed by noted gun designers Reed Knight Jr. and Eugene Stoner (inventor of the original AR-15 rifle) the Colt 2000 was an embarrassing failure. The actual design of the gun was theoretically quite good, with a polymer frame coupled with metal slide to shed weight, a double stacked magazine that held fifteen rounds and a striker-fired design. Unfortunately the gun had serious reliability problems, with many owners experiencing failure to extract jams, poor accuracy and a safety recall. The Colt 2000 was billed as a gun that would dominate the world of twenty-first-century handguns, but the gun lasted only four years on the U.S. market, from 1991 to its cancellation in 1994.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat*,* Foreign Policy*,* War is Boring and the Daily Beast*. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog* Japan Security Watch*. You can follow him on Twitter:* @KyleMizokami.
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