Friday, September 2, 2011

Quest for the Holy Handgun: Glock 17

Continuing my search for the ideal first handgun, we'll be moving on to one of the most popular guns in the world: the Glock 17.

Perfection?  I guess we'll see.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about with this whole Quest dealio, you should go read this post to check out the details and what criteria I'll be focusing on.  Then, go check out the first entry into the series on the m1911 platform, found here.  Go on, I'll wait...  All caught up?  Ok, let's learn a bit about the Glock.

In 1980, the Austrian military decided to hold a competition to find a new service pistol. (They had been using Walther p38s since the end of WWII.)  Up to that point, Glock was a company that produced quality  military knives, entrenching tools, etc.; but had never produced a firearm.  Gaston Glock put together a team of legit gunmakers to hopefully bring home the lucrative contract.  

The military had 17 criteria that the prospective pistols would be judged upon.  They ranged from pretty standard (must be able to be broken down without tools in the field, must be secure from accidental discharge from 6 feet, blah blah blah) to pretty hardcore (Must not have more than 20 malfunctions within the first 10,000 rounds; must shoot 15,000 rounds, fire a special over-loaded cartridge that would produce twice the pressure of a standard round and continue to function).  

Glock made a pistol to meet all of the criteria and named it the Model 17 as it was the company's 17th patent.  The Glock 17 proceeded to whip some established-gun-maker ass in the military trials, beating out such established names as H&K, Sig Sauer (also coming soon on QHH), and Beretta among others.  

The Glock 17 was truly revolutionary in that the lower half of the pistol is plastic.  A very strong plastic polymer.  This brought all kinds of jests from those who had carried metal 1911s and revolvers all their lives, earning the names Tactical Tupperware and Plastic Fantastic.  Despite the world's skepticism, the Glock's polymer has proven itself over the past 30 years and become an oft-copied design.

The Glock was shortly adopted by the Swedish and Norwegian militaries and was invited to the trials to replace the 1911 as the American service pistol.  However, the Department of Defense demanded a change in how the gun was manufactured in an unrealistic amount of time.  If given the correct amount of time to make the changes, there is a good chance Glock would have beaten out Beretta again and our soldiers would have been carrying Glock 17s for the past 25 years. (Tangent: There've been rumblings that the DoD is looking to replace that same Beretta and Glock could have a good shot at it if they actually hold a new set of trials)

Since then Glock has produced 22 different models of pistol in all different sizes and calibers.  They've gone through four generations (1: OG Glock 2: Changed the grip so it's more grippy and some regulatory changes 3: Added an accessory rail under the gun for lights/laser/etc and added ridges for thumb/fingers 4: Allowed for adjustable grip for smaller/larger hands, changed the recoil spring so recoil was slightly softer, adjusted the front sight, which was previously known to fly off randomly while firing.) and are one of the most widely used service pistols among police and world militaries.

(As before, history paraphrased from Wikipedia.)

Alright, lets get down to business.

Reliability: Legendary.  Absolutely phenomenal.  As we saw, the tests that the Glock passed just to get it's initial contract were pretty thorough.  Since then, people have taken it upon themselves to prove the polymer pistol is more durable than any other handgun on the market.  I came across this article while researching.  The owner has a Glock and decided to put it to the test.  All in all he:

  • Buried it in sand, potting soil and baby powder. (Separately, then all together.)
  • Covered it in salt water (was a little rusty after that)
  • Shot it (!!!) with a .22 caliber gun 10 times
  • Ran it over
  • Dragged it behind his truck (with a primed bullet-less case in the chamber, no misfire)
  • Dropped it off his roof
  • Dropped it out of an airplane (same as above, primed case, no misfire)
  • Shot 15,000 rounds without cleaning.
The pistol survived it all and still thrives.  The guy uses it as a daily carry/competition gun.  This is why Glocks are the standard of reliability that others are held up to and why reliability on the 1911 was a CON.  With that kind of record, reliability has to be a HUGE PRO.

Price: A brand new Glock 17 can regularly be had at about $500.  Used for around $400.  (And I can almost guarantee the previous owner didn't shoot 15,000 rounds thru it so there's no real reason you'd HAVE to buy new.)  Out of the box, you've got a pistol that'll handle whatever you can throw at it without any modifications.  (Well, as long as you get a Generation 4.  Like I said earlier, the older generations had pretty shabby sights that were prone to fly off while firing.  If you pick up a Gen 3 or earlier, alot of places I've read have recommended the purchase of aftermarket sights ASAP.  The Gen 4 guns have the front sight screwed into place.)  
So a used Glock costs about $200 less than an entry-level 1911 (one that isn't barebones basic anyway).  Also, the Glock 17 shoots 9mm, which costs 30% less per round than the 1911's .45ACP.   30% less per round = 30% more practice rounds = Mark being a better shot.  While it's not the least expensive pistol we'll look at, price is a definite PRO.

Capacity: Remember how most 1911's ship with one or two 7 or 8 round magazines?  A new Glock 17 ships with two 17 round magazines.  Yeah, 17.  This is attributed to two things.  For one, the 9mm round is thinner than the .45ACP.  Also, the Glock uses a more modern double-stack magazine that... double-stacks the rounds.

If you can't tell which is which I don't know what to tell you.

This makes the grip of the pistol much bigger (one of the common complaints about the Glock) but obviously gives a major advantage.  Even in .45ACP versions, the Glock comes with 13 round magazines, far outpacing it's single stack competitors.

Thats not all. You can get a different floorplate for the magazine that sticks out just a little below the magazine and adds two rounds to the capacity. That's 19 rounds of 9mm. If you carry with one round in the chamber and an extra magazine you're looking at 39 rounds on your person. 

But wait, there's more: Glock made an automatic version of the Glock 17 (originally named the Glock 18) and produces 33 round magazines for it. The magazines are fully compatible with the Glock 17. While these aren't practical for most applications, it would be nice to have one loaded in the glovebox in case things go horribly wrong really fast. Also, you can carry (where legal) with the regular 17 round magazines all day and switch to the 33 round magazine at night. Snap on a flashlight/laser combo and you have a great “bump in the night” gun.

I've really gone on too long with capacity. Needless to say, it's a resounding PRO.

(EDIT: Sorry bout the different font here.  My internet kept dropping while I was writing this post and I had to write some of it in Word and paste it over.  Apparently I suck at matching fonts.)

Caliber: It's been proven time and time again that the 9mm is enough to get the job done. A lot of bad stigma the caliber gets is because our military only uses full metal jacket or “ball” ammunition because of a ridiculous treaty that our congress never actually ratified. Ball ammo doesn't expand and gets major penetration, flying through tissue with a channel only as big as the original bullet, thus bigger is always better. When you use hollow point ammo, the high speed of the round flattens it out, making it larger and transferring more energy to the target.

But let's say you think that's bullshit. Or you say “well if a 9mm hollow point is good, a .40/.45 hollow point has gotta be better right?” Well that's your decision to make. But if you don't want to go with a 9mm, Glock's got you covered. They have basically the same gun in every popular self defense caliber (.380,9mm,.40s&w,.45ACP) and some not very popular ones (10mm,.357SIG,.45GAP) for basically the same price.  (Try searching for police trade in .40s, readily available for about $350)  I would personally prefer the higher capacity but capacity being equal, 9mm just doesn't stack up to .40/.45/10mm/etc.  Caliber has to be a con for the Glock 17 specifically.  A small con to me personally but still a CON.

Carryability: Some find the Glock 17 to be a bit bulky.  That's why the Glock 19 ( slightly smaller profile, 2 less rounds) and "Baby" Glock 26 (Subcompact with 10 round mag) were developed.  The full size slide and bulky grip of the G17 make it hard for alot of people to carry it concealed.  With my stature, I don't feel it'd be an issue but the fact that it is probably the largest pistol I'll look at make carryability a CON.

Gen 2 Glock.  Blech.

  • Looks: Fugly.  Like someone took a block of plastic, implanted a trigger, and dropped a block of metal on top.  IMO, the design has gotten sleeker/better since Gen 3 but it's still high function/low fashion.  
  • History/Track Record: One of the most popular service pistols for militaries and police departments worldwide.  That's all that needs to be said.
  • Safe-Action Trigger.
  • Simplicity: This is both a pro and con for me.  Glocks don't screw around.  There are no safety switches/buttons.  The trigger has a little nub that pokes out of the trigger.  To fire the gun the nub has to be pulled back flush with the trigger.  That means that any time you pull the trigger, the gun fires.  You have to be on your game with a Glock.  There's no safeguard to protect your life if you screw up.  This shouldn't be a problem because you should always be cognizant of the 4 rules when handling a gun but it's still intimidating to me.  On the other hand, if my life is threatened and I need to actually use the pistol, there are no buttons/switches to hang me up and possibly cost me my life.  The simplicity is a wash to me.
  • Customizability: The amount of aftermarket parts available for the Glock is second only to the 1911.  You can build one from the ground up with just aftermarkets.  Sights, customer trigger jobs, grip covers, barrels, lights, lasers, you name it.  You can even buy kits to turn your Glock into a Carbine in 6 seconds.  Speaking of carbines, because the Glock 17 is so popular, you can get many carbines that accept the Glock mags.  Also, there are uppers in 9mm that take the same magazines (basically the top of a rifle, just take off the rifle caliber one and put in the one that accepts the Glock mags.)
So we got a mini-con in looks, mini-pros in customizability and track record and simplicity is a wash for me. Misc. ends up being a small PRO.

So when we add it up we have 4 PROs to 2 CONs.  And the two cons are in categories that aren't of a big concern to me personally.  I gotta admit, I started this process not giving two thoughts to the Glock system but it has alot to recommend it.  There's something about buying a pistol that you know is probably going to last a lifetime.  I mentioned the fact that Glock produces basically the same gun in different calibers earlier, that really appeals to me.  It's cool to know that if I were to outgrow the 9mm cartridge and want a .40s&w, .45ACP, or something really bizarre/awesome like a 10mm (.40s&w's pissed off big brother) that the system would be exactly the same.  Also, that double-stack magazine is awesome.  

I can definitely say that I "get it" now as far as the Glock goes.  I'd even say that the research I've done on it has put it in front of the 1911 in my eyes.  I mean, comparing a Glock 21 to a 1911:  Both shoot .45ACP.  One's magazine holds 8, the other 's holds 13.  If both guns are reliable, both more accurate than I'm going to be, etc, that capacity difference is enough to choose a Glock, right?  Theoretically anyway.  We'll have to see how everything holds up to the next couple guns under the QHH microscope.

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the Glock and how you see it.  I realize that most of my readership is used to fishing content here and may not be into guns or familiar with them. If that's you and you have questions or need me to explain anything, just let me know.  I definitely don't have all the answers but I have plenty of opinion and am happy to track down some facts for you.


Clif said...

Wow, no safety? I didn't realize that about Glocks. That's a big minus for me, but it explains why people always shoot themselves in the ass.

Mark said...

Yea, it scares me too a little. It's actually pretty common in modern handguns. Apparently the sentiment is that since any gun made in the past 30 years will only go off if you pull the trigger, and you shouldn't have your finger on the trigger unless you're shooting at something, safeties are redundant. I'm sure it has to do with some legal reason to, like a safety failing and shooting someone who sues the pants off the company.

I see both sides of the story. If I were to get a safety-less pistol I'd probably just keep it loaded but with an empty chamber until i got comfortable with the idea.

Clif said...

I think there are other things that can pull a trigger besides a finger but I guess I've never handled a gun with no safety so I wouldn't know much about it really.

Anonymous said...

Hey, have you ever handled a DA revolver? They don't have safties either. My two carry guns (depending on the season) are a 1911 and a Glock 17. I like the fact that my Glock loaded with 18 rounds is lighter then my empty 1911. But in the winter when heavier weight clothing is the norm I switch to the .45. If the hollow point clogs I still have a 45 cal hole instead of a 35 cal hole.