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INOCULATION FROM INDOCTRINATION

Notes on modern handgun design. Or, why you should consider the Grand Power pistol.

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Image from The Probability Broach graphic novel from Big Head Press

Since the end of the assault weapons ban handgun design has been going fairly steadily in one direction. That direction is to create a thousand different variants of the Glock 19. This are good reasons for this, the G19 is a good gun. Not too big, not too small, reliable as all get out. Ammo is common, with a simple operating system. Anyone who can use a gun can use a G19 provided they have been trained to keep their index finger off the trigger until it is time to actually start shooting.

Despite what is suggested in the novel The Probability Broach. (and a variety of other libertarian/ancap works) Even if we lived in a world where everyone was allowed to be armed with powerful weapons at all times I seriously doubt that the majority of people would walk around armed most of the time. Never mind that regardless of whatever the law says, carrying a firearm is a grave responsibility. Never mind the fact that most policemen, whose job demands that they occasionally get into conflicts with nasty people do not usually train with their firearms enough to pass the benchmark of basic proficiency tests. Let alone hit small moving targets under stress, oh no. Handguns are a solid mass of steel, aluminum and plastic that are usually rather uncomfortable to carry without a quality holster, belt and experience. It’s kind of hard just to find someone who carries who invested in a proper belt! So, even if Lib-Par emerged tomorrow I seriously doubt that we would see large numbers of people openly carrying large weapons for very long. Some might do it for awhile for the sheer novelty of it. But after awhile most people would either dispense with carrying large weapons or carry something a bit more manageable.

Which brings me to the next reason why G19 copies are everywhere nowadays. Many gun guys say that a pistol is what you carry to fight your way back to the rifle you never should have put down in the first place. While that may be so if your house comes under attack by a dozen heavily armed and armored thugs. Or you are in an actual war zone. Here in most of North America and Europe, unless you are dealing with honest to god ISIS terrorists. A decent handgun will address the bulk of hairy situations you may find yourself in. Long guns are heavy and awkward to lug about all day. Not to mention carrying an AK outside one of those aforementioned war zones can be a bit reckless.

Concealed carry is the general habit for most civilian handgun carriers for a variety of practical, legal and tactical reasons. Carrying concealed demands a small weapon. You can go all the way down to something like an NAA Mini Revolver. But those are impractical to shoot, even with practice your odds of hitting anything bigger than a bus at a range of ten meters with one of those is not good. Besides that with their small capacity and heavy triggers, revolvers are widely perceived to be obsolete. Few companies make them and new models are few and far between. Although with the general fluorescence of the firearms industry there has been more innovation in revolvers as of late with things like the Ruger LCR, Taurus Judge and the Kimber K6s revolver.

1911 pattern guns are still selling fairly well. But those are more and more often perceived as range toys due to a perception wether true or false that they are unreliable. They are also kinda heavy. With each passing day more and more companies come out with guns that are obviously inspired by the G19. Simply because that is what is selling.

With everyone buying polymer framed, striker fired compact handguns resources go into designing and manufacturing more of them. From an engineering perspective copying a Glock 19 is no great challenge. All you have to do is make the thing with sufficient quality control to be comparable with the G19. Change the external appearance just enough so you don’t get sued. Sell it at a reasonable price and preferably add some features that make it more appealing than the original like a better trigger and a more ergonomic grip.

There are companies that are bucking this trend. Getting a lot of attention at the moment is Hudson Manufacturing with their H9 pistol. Another attempt to create a hybridization of the Glock and 1911 pistols. This has been tried before.

Behold the Alchemy Arms Spectre pistol! A deranged engineers fever dream representing the excesses of late 90s attempts to create “safe guns”. The H9 is not intended to be a “safe gun” with gimmicky features like a built in lock. It shows a clarity of purpose not seen in the Spectre, although time will tell wether it will be worth it’s $1,000+ suggested retail price.

Remington is trying to get into the handgun market in a big way. But not a good way. Following Remington’s buyout by the Freedom Group it is clear that the company has become yet another tragic case of being run by a pack of bean counters who don’t give one flying muskrat what shooters want. They just want to sell out. In their desperate scrabbling for pennies they see that handguns are where many gun companies are making the most money these days. So they tell their engineering staff. Who probably don’t know all that much about firearms to start working on handguns. Their first attempt, the Remington 1911 has been moderately successful. Though I wouldn’t recommend one. The channel the trigger slots into is very wide and the frame castings are not of the best quality. In that price range the Ruger and Springfield Armory 1911s are better options.

Their second handgun, the R51 has gone down as one of the biggest disasters in recent firearms history. There is nothing inherently wrong with the gun itself. However some moronic design choices, serious quality control issues and some serious payola in the press have rendered the R51 a laughingstock, even after a massive recall and factory retooling. The R51 even has an entry on TV Tropes detailing its failures, TV Tropes is not a gun oriented website.

The biggest tragedy of the R51 is that it could have been a decent gun by using parts up to the standard of quality of the original Remington Model 51. and using steel instead of aluminum for certain key components. Which brings me to Remington’s latest attempt to cash in on the American handgun buying public. Hang on to your butts! This is the RP9 pistol.

The RP9 is a piece of handgun copy-pasta. Not an original feature as far as the eye can see. That is not an inherently bad thing. However, the way it comes together is an absolute salad of nonsense. It’s massive, clearly it was originally intended to be chambered in 45 ACP, not 9MM. It feels even more massive than it looks. As you can see in the video above the early production models had some issues which may be straightened out. But even if those issues are dealt with there is still the issue of its design faults like its inoperative right side slide release and the fact that it’s magazines are apparently Para Ordinance 38 super magazines being used in a 9MM pistol results in issues like this.

I suppose that’s what ticks me off the most about the RP9. It is possibly the laziest effort to design a handgun I have ever seen. It is a kludge of a variety of perfectly functional design elements together into a moderately functional monstrosity which I can’t see being used by anyone for any purpose except perhaps a security guard or for home defense. In both cases that guard or homeowner had better be either a huge Remington fanboy or so stupid that he can’t do some very basic research. This is a true triumph of “Bean Counter” thought, penny wise and pound moronic.

Now let’s go in the opposite direction. A handgun that is the opposite of a lazy design. As you may know about me I am a huge CZ fan. I am a fan of things from the Czech Republic, not just their guns. To their east is the nation of Slovakia. The Czechs and Slovaks used to make up the nation of Czechoslovakia until they broke up in the one case I know of where a country split into smaller parts without everyone trying to kill each other. For a long time I wondered if the Czechs make my favorite guns do the Slovaks made guns I might like as well? It seems they do.

I recently acquired a Grand Power P1 Mark 7 pistol. It was on sale at a local shop, they were closing out the Mark 7s for the new Mark 12 models. At $450 it wasn’t much more than the suggested retail of the RP9 funnily enough. Once again the P1 could be considered handgun copy-pasta. The CZ-75, Steyr Hahn and yes the Glock being its most obvious ancestors. However in my brief time with the P1 I have been very impressed. Build quality is outstanding, you would be hard pressed to find a gun that shows similar quality of machine work for less than a grand. But what really draws me to this bullet launcher is the outstanding refinement of its design.

First of all the trigger is outstanding. Double action is a smooth and consistent 8 pounds. Single action is a ridiculously crisp four pounds. Yes I do mean ridiculously crisp. Reset is unbelievably short and clean. Instead of riding in frame rails mounted in polymer or a detachable chassis the rails make up a solid block of steel. Effectively giving the P1 the full accuracy and strength potential of a steel frame gun with the lightness of a polymer frame.

Speaking of the frame, it’s more comfortable than any Glock I have ever handled. It feels better in my hand than the praiseworthy Steyr M9. Even more ergonomic than the CZ-75 which is the the benchmark for handgun grip comfort in my opinion. If it is not comfortable enough for you Grand Power pistols come with multiple replacement back straps that can fit to a variety of hand shapes and sizes.

The P1 uses a rotating barrel instead of the usual Browning derived short recoil tilting barrel seen on 1911s, Glocks and the overwhelming bulk of handguns floating around nowadays. Rotating barrels are also used in some Beretta and Stoeger handguns. However Grand Power goes about using this operating system in a much better way. Using a simpler design than what Beretta uses to drop the bore axis as low as it can go with fewer parts. The locking mechanism also has the longest unlocking cycle of any handgun I have ever handled. As I mentioned in my review of the Sig 10MM the unlocking cycle is something that not a lot of handgun designers understand nowadays.

For comparison the Steyr M9 9MM has an unlocking distance of six millimeters. The Sig Elite 10MM has an unlocking distance of eight millimeters. An unusually long cycle which eliminates many accuracy and fatigue issues with 10MM pistols. The P1’s cycle goes on for an astonishing ten millimeters. A whole centimeter of travel with a much smaller cartridge! This combined with the low bore axis seems to have the effect of soaking up recoil in mechanical action instead of transferring it to the shooter.

Recoil of the P1 is noticeably lower than the CZ-75. A much heavier gun with an all steel frame. When I disassembled my P1 the first time I noticed that there were deep cuts made into the slide around the firing pin. I can’t help but think that in the original prototype the slide was too heavy to function reliably. So mass was removed from the slide, making the gun somewhat easier to carry. This is an unusual contrast with most modern auto pistols but especially with the RP9 where instead of dealing with the problem of recoil energy though mechanical resistance designers just add weight to the slide. Hi Point pistols use slide mass exclusively to address recoil energy and as a consequence are relatively huge, clunky things. A rather lazy design, simply made but at a consummate price, intended to be used as a last ditch defense by people who cannot afford anything better.

With all that said in its praise the P1 is not perfect. Disassembly is a tad difficult and reassembly is a real headache. My Mark 7 uses the trigger guard for field stripping. Competition shooters using Grand Power pistols found that after about 30,000 rounds the frame is at risk of cracking. It was originally intended that the trigger guard would be replaced on these guns every now and then as a wear part. Since almost no one remembered to do that these pistols were redesigned with Glock style takedown levers. I don’t plan to run 30,000 rounds rapidly through this gun so I am not too worried about that.

Comparing the RP9 the P1, it’s hard to believe that they were designed to do essentially the same job of launching 9MM rounds. That they even have commonalities in their design like their polymer frames. The RP9 would be like a broadsword, roughly made of untempered metal by a blacksmith who is perfectly good at making horseshoes. But doesn’t have too much experience with making blades. The P1 is a rapier, crafted by an innovative mind with an intimate understanding of a blades function, made of excellent materials with a fine temper. Just enough mass to make a functioning weapon that can withstand strenuous conditions and no more.

Would I trust an RP9 enough to concealed carry it? Perhaps of my only other option was a Hi Point and even then I would seriously consider the Hi Point. Do I trust the Grand Power? Well, I have been carrying it off and on for the past couple weeks and for only the second time in my life I was in a situation where I may have had to draw a handgun on an attacker. It wasn’t anything to call the news about. Just a bunch of hoodlums who thought it would be a good idea to chase me. They backed down when I illustrated that I was willing to call the police on them. Had they decided to continue their moronic pursuit I was in a secure position with cameras rolling. With complete confidence in my skill and my P1s ability to down multiple attackers.

The Grand Power P1 has become my favorite new pistol. In the future I intend to acquire one in 10MM and if it is as good as the 9MM models it might become my favorite pistol design full stop.

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