By Steve Tracy I Editorial director
Stick Shift 1911
The green flag is about to drop at the start of your first race. The other drivers behind the wheel have automatic transmissions, proven and tested engines, and experience. Your race car has a manual transmission and you’ve never driven a stick before. On top of that, your particular race car is Australian and therefore right-hand drive and you’ve only driven around town, never on a racetrack.
The field takes off at high speed, while you stall your car’s transmission and have to re-start your engine, only to stall again and again. You are at a severe disadvantage. You don’t belong in this race. You’re not qualified and your decision to be there is endangering your life and those around you.
This analogy applies to firearms, including a competition that I assisted at as an RO. I was asked to keep an eye on a new shooter. I craned around him where he stood in the booth to see what was going on and I dissected several difficulties he was having.
First, his holster’s retention device was delaying a fast draw. Second, his 1911 9mm did not feature an ambidextrous manual safety and he was a lefty. The third problem was a big one; his right hand’s thumb kept pressing on the nub of the slide stop, pushing it out to the left and jamming the pistol’s action. Lastly, his magazine pouch was messed up on his belt. It only allowed the 1911 mags to face for a right-handed shooter, requiring him to twist them when withdrawn during each reload.
I tried my best to give him advice and attempt to remedy some of his maladies, but the firing line wasn’t the time to remedy the problems. He was frustrated enough to give up on his own and, as he packed up his gear, I asked him to meet me at the next range bay over. The new shooter explained that he had not experienced these problems on the static practice range with his new 1911. I advised him that the pressures resulting from competition brings out the flaws in both equipment and skill. It’s much better to experience failure while competing for points than when competing for real with your life.
I’ve been shooting 1911 pistols my entire life and am comfortable with them. All the cops I know who carry a 1911 handle them with aplomb. I had to step back and look at the pistol from the point of view of a newbie. While the 100-year-old design is not all that complicated, there is a bit more to its manual-of-arms compared with modern polymer frame handguns. The current striker-fired wonders are perfectly safe when holstered and quick to get into action when needed.
With practice and training, the 1911 pistol is an excellent tool. With modifications to make it more user-friendly for left-handed shooters, it’s a fine weapon. The new shooter needs to either practice more with his retention holster or acquire one for competition without a manual release. He needs an ambidextrous safety and more time using his trigger finger to press the mag release button. He must use a new grip that keeps his off-hand thumb away from the slide stop and the slide. He also needs a new magazine pouch. He also needs to dry fire practice will all of this before the next competition date.
Fellow police officers have been known to suffer these same maladies with firearms they are not able to manipulate without thought. Experienced officers have hit a Sig Sauer slide release instead of a de-cocking lever. It’s not a difficult task, but it requires practice and muscle memory.
Newer officers sometimes have trouble operating double action revolvers for off-duty or backup carry when qualifying on the range. Instruction for manipulating the cylinder release and ejector rod has gone by the wayside because newer range officers have little to no experience instructing with wheel guns. Weapon handling skills can be improved without the firing of live fire ammo. It just requires practice through time and persistence.
Like a race car driver who’s never driven a stick shift before, the 1911 user needs some time behind the wheel before he is ready to hit the road.
Practically, anyone can learn to drive a stick shift and the same applies to a cocked and locked pistol. There’s a reason John M. Browning’s genius has lasted over 100 years. PM