December 23, 2005

Do It Often or Do It Hard

The most accepted definition for the word "firepower", at least for handguns, is how many rounds you have in the gun before you reload. If my memory isn't leading me astray, it wasn't always like that.

Prior to 1975 or so, most American handgun enthusiasts would use the word when describing how powerful their gun was. (“I prefer the .357 Magnum because you never know when you’re going to need that extra firepower.”) Most autoloaders were considered to be finicky and underpowered beasts, with only the 1911 enjoying any sort of respect in self defense circles. Ask anyone back then and they’d tell you that the only serious gun for concealed carry was a snub nosed .38 Special. At least, it was if you couldn’t figure out a way to hide your 1911 when you were going out.

This led to an interesting trend amongst those who relied on a handgun for defense. You’d find responsible people, those dedicated to protecting the helpless, who would carry two guns. Usually one snubby would be in a belt holster of some kind while the other would be tucked away in an ankle rig. When your first gun ran dry you’d pass the empty along to your off hand, draw your backup, and stay in the fight.

This started to change in the mid-1970’s when hollowpoint ammunition was developed that would reliably feed in autoloaders. If forced to choose I’d have to say that the Winchester Silvertip was the one bullet that changed it all, at least so far as getting the word out to reluctant and skeptical gunners. Almost overnight all of those calibers that Americans considered to be too small for defensive work were reassessed. The choice for concealed carry also changed.

The “Wonder Nines” started to hit the market, double stacked high capacity 9mm autoloaders that had an amazing number of rounds nestled in their magazines. The 1911 fans grumbled quite a but (still do), but the weapon of choice slowly started to change. It didn’t help that most 1911’s needed some sort of after market gunsmithing before they could reliably feed the hollowpoints that the 9mm’s ate without complaint.

The Brady Bill put this on hold for a time by banning handgun magazines which could hold more than 10 rounds. Fans of the .45 ACP were certainly happy about it, particularly when Springfield Armory and other 1911 manufacturers started to make versions that could hold 10 rounds. (Why they felt threatened by people buying 9mm handguns instead of a 1911 is something I still haven’t figured out. They don’t complain when someone chooses a .38 revolver for defense, after all.)

Designers for the 9mm guns turned lemons into lemonade when they started to shrink in size. Soon enough one could buy Parabellums using 10 round magazines in tiny packages that used to be reserved for .32 ACP or, at best, .380 ACP. Thanks to the gun grabbers we now have more choices of CCW ready guns chambered for serious defensive calibers than ever before. This is good news so far as new shooters are concerned.

All this extra ammo has also changed the way Americans talk about their guns. I can’t remember when someone last said “firepower” without meaning “shoot a bunch of times”. But that’s the way it goes. I remember when “pistol” could be used to refer to any handgun, not just an autoloader.

Posted by James Rummel at December 23, 2005 04:35 PM | TrackBack
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