Handgun caliber weapons are not good choices for ending armed confrontations. Fortuitous shot placement aside, they seldom cause the necessary ballistic damage to immediately cease hostilities. In fact, nothing handheld can make such a promise. However, police officers fight with handguns because the pistol is always with us, while carbines and other shoulder-mounted weapons are seldom so.
The 9mm versus .45 ACP argument started before most of us were born. Both calibers have stopped fights, and both have failed. Both calibers have devotees and both have detractors. The introduction of the .40 S&W caliber didn’t end the age-old debate, it just added another caliber to the controversy.
Most officers in the United States do not have free reign when it comes to choosing their duty weapons. That choice is done for them by the departments they serve. Some officers have the latitude of several choices of weapons, but few have carte blanchwhen it comes to selecting the weapon that they must entrust with their lives.
Given a choice, however, it is safe to say that a large percentage of officers would opt for the .45 ACP in place of other calibers. In fact, if one were to look at ammunition sales, you would find that the .45 ACP is one of the three best-selling handgun calibers in terms of sales to law enforcement personnel.
Most gun makers offer a duty pistol in the .45 ACP caliber. Glock, however, has risen to overall dominance in the market. The weapons are designed to be simple to operate, are normally rugged in the extreme and have a very good price point compared to some others. Most objective firearms experts indicate that the 9mm Glock 17, the company’s initial offering, is perhaps the most reliable out-of-the-box pistol ever developed.
Still, the Glock 17 is chambered in the 9mm caliber, and some officers would simply prefer a to punch a bigger hole in the target. Glock offers many models and sizes in other calibers, and three models are chambered for the legend…the full-size Model 21, the compact Model 30 and the slimline Model 36. The .45 ACP round has proved itself against a multitude of opponents since it was first introduced in the early-1900s. That’s right…a century of effectiveness. In fact, the .45 ACP is the round against which everything else is compared. The .45 ACP has proved itself in every climate, every condition and every continent. The U.S. military has carried this round into combat for nearly the past 100 years.
While it is true that the 9mm NATO round was adopted as standard issue back in the mid-1980s, many special operations troops never gave up the .45 ACP. Those who did wanted it back. The .45ACP is so good that the United States Army now has decided to once again make the round standard issue for all troops, more than a century after it was first developed.
Glock recognized the effectiveness of this cartridge and the love affair that American shooters have with it, and the company decided to build a pistol capable of using this round in the early 1990s. The first .45 ACP from Glock was its 13-shot Model 21. Frankly, it was large, bulky and felt like gripping a 2x4. Unfortunately, it was also plagued by other problems. Over the intervening years, however, the Glock Model 21 has started to find its way into more and more officers’ holsters as their duty gun of choice. After all, who could argue against the Glock simplicity combined with the .45 ACP reputation?
When Glock introduced its greatly improved, third-generation guns, the ones with the finger grooves and forward universal rail, the G21 received its own much-needed makeover. In the process, the weapon became more user-friendly and became a much more viable law enforcement duty weapon.
Featuring a 4.6-inch barrel, the current G21 measures 7.5 inches long, 5.4 inches tall and weighs just 26 ounces, unloaded. Capable of mounting a variety of accessories such as tactical lights and lasers—thanks to the universal rail now built into the frame of the pistol—the 13-round G21 is a combat pistol to be reckoned with.
During its makeover, the G21 lost much of its 2x4 feel, gaining a sleeker, easier-to-handle profile. The weapon feels thinner, controls better during recoil and conceals better on the body. By no means a hideout pistol, it can be effectively concealed should an officer take the time to learn how do so and choose a carry method up to the task.
But even the third-generation makeover was not without its own share of problems. Some of the new G21s, which had become the darling of LAPD’s elite Metro division, began experiencing failures to fire that were, for a period of time, inexplicable. In fact, due to these failures, the LAPD placed a moratorium on the use of the G21 and ordered it pulled from the street.
Glock was quick to react and ultimately traced the problem to a part that was slightly out of spec. This resulted in the striker not being retracted far enough to always impart a sufficient blow to the primer. Once Glock discovered the problem, parts were immediately designed and inventoried to correct the issue. Since that time, all of the LAPD’s weapons have reportedly been upgraded and are now back in service. All current G21s that leave the factory have the new part installed.
While the G21 has had some very public problems, the compact Glock 30 has not shared these. The G30, at 6.7 inches long and 23.9 ounces (unloaded), is about the same size as Glock’s excellent Model 19, albeit having a somewhat wider slide and frame.
The G30 uses a 3.7-inch barrel, which makes it ideal for off-duty or plainclothes use. The G30 normally holds 10 rounds but is capable of accepting the G21s 13-round magazine and also a specially designed nine-round flush mounted magazine that can be had for enhanced concealability. All told, the G30 is a more than capable weapon that should be at the top of the list for detectives and officers who want a relatively compact, concealable .45 ACP pistol.
Along with basic accuracy testing, both the upgraded G21 and the G30 were put through a series of tests designed to replicate real-world situations. Both performed admirably with officers praising both pistols for their ease of use and controllability.
For formal accuracy testing, Remington sent several different types of ammunition. Included in the ammunition provided was its outstanding 230 grain Golden Saber Bonded hollow point (GSB45APB) and the equally excellent 185 grain Golden Saber Bonded round (GSB45APA).
All of the rounds performed flawlessly in the pistols after the G21s received its upgrade. In fact, throughout the entire test procedure using five different G30’s and 10 upgraded G21Cs (compensated) there was not one malfunction. The G30 was found to very accurate for a “compact” pistol. At 10 yards, the best five-shot group, this coming from the 185-grain Golden Saber, measured 1.75 inches. The G21 was somewhat more accurate with five-shot groups that measured 1.5 inches.
Each of the 15 test pistols digested several different ammunition brands and bullet weights without issue. Even the frangible ammunition that Remington provided—its 175-grain Disintegrator lead-free frangible—went through both models of pistol without a problem.
During rapid-fire combat drills, officers believed that the G21 performed better, as it seemed more balanced in the hand. While this is truly subjective, the thought process was the same for multiple officers, indicating a trend in this area. While no one stated that they disliked the G30, all felt that the G21 was best-suited to uniform patrol or tactical use, which is exactly what it was designed for.
Overall, the officers felt that both pistols handled well and were easy to use in comparison to other high-capacity .45 ACP designs. Pairs, hammers and other combat drills were achieved with ease. Like any other Glock pistol, the G21 and its smaller brother, the G30, are about as simple as one can get. Essentially, point gun, pull trigger; the Glock manual of arms is easy for the novice and expert alike.
The prospect of a pistol that carries 13 rounds of very potent .45 ACP ammunition is one that is hard to ignore, so this pistol continues to receive very favorable looks from officers and agencies alike. With the 13 in the magazine, plus one in the chamber, along with two spare magazines on the uniform belt, an officer can bring 40 hard-hitting .45 ACP rounds to any crisis, which is a comforting feeling indeed.
It can be argued that the G21 is too big for officers with smaller hands. This is a valid criticism as the weapon is definitely at the high end of the “comfortable” scale for those with average-size hands, much less those with small hands. There exists, however, a cottage industry of gunsmiths who can reshape the G21 and other Glock Models to the point where the G21 can be made to approximate the circumference of the 9mm G17.
While departments may be unwilling to spend the extra money to have a gunsmith customize a pistol for one officer, it remains a choice for those officers who might purchase their own weapons and want the capabilities that a customized G21 can bring.
Rumors continue to abound among members of the firearms industry that Glock is gearing up to compete in the quest for a new United States military handgun. Because this pistol is being requested in the .45 ACP caliber, it can only be assumed that any such submission by Glock, if there truly is one, will be based somewhat on the G21 and the lessons learned in its development process.
No one will argue that the .45 ACP round is about as effective as any pistol caliber round in existence. This round has proved itself throughout history and deserves the place that it holds in modern firearms lore. While they do not “all fall to hardball,” the .45 ACP does a more effective job at ending hostilities than most other calibers. Whether the foe is a terrorist in a downtown Baghdad or a crack addict in a downtown tenement, being armed with an easy-to-use 13-round Glock .45 ACP pistol is a definite comfort.
The Glock Models 21 and 30 hold great promise. It would seem as though Glock has finally succeeded in producing a .45 ACP pistol worthy of its much-heralded reputation. Both the G21 and the G30 should receive careful study from officers and agencies who are seeking a .45 ACP duty pistol.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.