1 Jan 21
End of an Era!
“Out on the street, I was talkin’ to a man
He said ‘There’s so much of this life of mine that I don’t understand’
You shouldn’t worry; yes, that ain’t no crime
‘Cause, if you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time”
From “You’ll Get it Right Next Time,” written and sung by Gerry Rafferty in 1978
Trigger-cocking, auto-loading pistols were in serious use as early as 1939 when the Walther P38 pistol entered service with the German military. The P38’s pattern differed from the popular Browning-designed Belgian Hi-Power (P35) in that it featured (for the first time) what we call “DA/SA” (double-action/single-action) operation.
The Browning Hi-power, like its antecedent, the 1911 Pistol, fired only one way. When carried on the person as a personal defense weapon, the external hammer was in full-cock, with a live round in the chamber, magazine fully-charged, and the two-position manual safety in the “on” position
When the pistol was presented, all the user need do is push the manual safety lever downward with his right thumb, thus taking it from the “on” position to the “off” position. Subsequently pressing the trigger will cause the hammer to fall forward and the weapon to discharge, and then instantly reload itself, fully prepared to be fired again.
The American 1911 pistol worked exactly the same way.
With both pistols, all the trigger does is release the hammer from its full-cock position, so that it can fall forward and strike the firing pin. Accordingly, that hammer must be already in its full-cocked position as the weapon is carried. Pressing the trigger when the hammer is forward does nothing!
Carrying a pistol around with the hammer visually in the full-cock position made some people nervous, even back then, and trying to logically reason with them with regard to the pistol’s design and correct use was an exercise in futility (much as it still is today).
Carl Walther and his designers took a (then) novel approach, largely owing to the foregoing. He designed his P38 Pistol so that it could be safely carried with a live round in the chamber, and the hammer forward. His pistol was “trigger-cocking.” That is, pressing the trigger drew-back and released the hammer, discharging the weapon and, through instant reciprocation of the slide, re-cocking it. So, the second and all subsequent shots began with the hammer in full-cock. A two-position “de-cocking lever” was added on the left, rear of the slide which allowed the shooter to safely lower the hammer on a chambered live round without ever having to touch the hammer itself, nor the trigger.
American police, along with non-police gun-owners and carriers, largely ignored the P38, Browning Hi-power, even the 1911, until 1967 when the Illinois State Police broke the ice by officially adopting the S&W M39 pistol.
While the M39 did not look like a German P38, from the user standpoint it worked in exactly the same way. It was attractive because it held more rounds than a six-shot revolver, and it could be reloaded much faster!
Over the next few decades, S&W, along with Ruger, Beretta, SIG, et al continued to refine the “DA/SA” method of operation, in the process manufacturing and selling millions of pistols using this system.
“DA/SA” is a not particularly useful term! It was first coined to describe double-action revolvers, and distinguish them from older “single-action” revolvers, which are not trigger-cocking. The M39 autoloading pistol is trigger-cocking, but the user can also manually cock the hammer by thumbing it back to its full-cock position, thus ending-up with a short, light trigger-pull on the first shot, when a high degree of accuracy was required.
In 1982, Gaston Glock’s polymer-framed, striker-fired G17 pistol turned the entire industry on its head!
In one stroke, Glock pistols eliminated exposed hammers, de-cocking levers, manual cocking, and manual safety levers, greatly simplifying operation and training.
Between 1982 and the present, the “Glock System” has slowly pushed all others, particularly DA/SA autopistols, into permanent obsolescence!
Other gun manufacturers have, on-by-one, reluctantly thrown-in the towel and stopped trying to compete with the Glock System. Instead, everyone now is making their own version of the Glock! Most are successful and sell briskly.
In American Law Enforcement, 1911s, old-style S&W pistols (ascendants of the M39), Beretta’s M92F, Ruger’s P85 and ascendants, revolvers, etc have all faded away.
The South American nation of Brazil has just announced that they will finally be discarding their well-warn Beretta 92 pistols (mostly copies made locally by Taurus) in favor of Beretta’s version of the Glock, called the “APX”
Until we’re all carrying charged-partial-beam pistols, the Glock System, as currently manufactured by Glock and now a host of other gun-makers, will be with us.
Old systems served us well in their day, and are in fact still perfectly functional. Some, like the 1911 Pistol, continue to enjoy an (aging) following. Yet, all have long-since been superceded and are now mostly outmoded.
Time is relentless!
“Into my eyes stiff seahorses stare.
Over my head sweeps the sun like a swan.
I stand alone in Parliament Square,
A cold bugle calls
… and the city moves on.”
Charles Causley