Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 415, April 29, 2007

"How come our country is such a paradox?"


The Forty-Something Generation
by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

First published in L. Neil Smith at Random, April 24, 2007

Warning: gun talk up ahead.

This May 12th I'll be 61 years old. To my readers who are a great deal younger, I know this seems ancient, but believe me, it doesn't seem that way from the inside. When you're looking out at the universe with eyes the age of mine (and it'll happen to you so soon it'll make your head spin), it won't seem ancient to you, either. Everything that you love—pretty girls, steak and lobster, Jameson's, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"—I love, too. The difference is, I've learned to appreciate them more than you can.

But don't worry, you'll learn, too.

Most of my best friends and associates (with notable exceptions) are about my age, or ten years older, or ten years younger. I refer to that twenty-year bracket as the "Forty-Something Generation". That's because we're of an age to have grown up alongside the Colt Government Model 1911A1 .45 caliber automatic pistol, designed by Saint John Moses Browning. Most of us have used it much, become very familiar with it, and even regard it with a sort of reverence.

It was not always so. When I was a kid, my dad, a member in good standing of what one might call the "Seventy-Something Generation" (because of the Winchester Model 70 rifles they all seemed to own, and the 700 Remingtons and 77 Rugers made in flattering imitation of that august number) didn't have handguns. He didn't have anything against them, mind you. They were regarded by most shooters his age as weak and inaccurate. Dad was also a victim, early on, of some of the most pathetically idiotic self-defense training in human history: pistol fighting as instructed for Strategic Air Command by the 1950s FBI.

Thus the handguns I knew best (from movies and the flickery TV screen) came in pairs. They were often nickel-, silver-, or chrome- plated, heavily engraved, with ivory or mother-of-pearl grips, and held six rounds of a different .45 cartridge than the 1911 used (although it was wisest to load five and let the hammer nose rest on an empty chamber). Another thing about those guns, they were round everywhere: round cylinder, round barrel, round front sight, even a handle that was roundly oval in cross-section. They were round.

By contrast, the G.I. .45 was square—or squarish—everywhere, full of corners, flat surfaces, and right angles, like Dick Tracy's chin. That struck me, at whatever age I first noticed it, as kind of nifty. The first firearm I ever owned was a good Spanish copy of a Colt pocket pistol (turned out the Spaniards made the "real thing" for Colt, as well). It was squarish all over, just like the big ones.

Starting around 1873, the Army had issued .45 revolvers in that "different" cowboy caliber, and it served them well, although the gun only held six (or five) cartridges and was slow and clumsy to reload. After a bad time in the Philippines with a ridiculously ineffective .38 revolver, they went back to the old .45 "wheelguns" until a new pistol, automatic, could be commissioned. The informal specifications, so it's said, were that it had to be able to "kill a man and make a horse sick". Saint John Moses gave them their pistol in the end, along with a cartridge that offered about the same power as the old sixguns, but was shorter because it used more efficient modern powders. The 1911 carried seven in a box magazine in the handle, plus one "up the spout", in the chamber. No great improvement, there.

The new weapon served very well, with only a few minor changes, from 1911 until the mid-80s (though there was an attempt in the 40s to fill its place with maybe the cutest but puniest rifle ever issued to troops anywhere), when it was replaced with a brand new, ridiculously ineffective ".38? automatic—the Beretta Model 92F nine millimeter (9mm) pistol. It isn't the fact that folks keep reinventing the wheel that I mind so much, but that they keep reinventing it with corners.

Saint John Moses's invention seemed made for practically anything, mostly with big, rugged parts that worked no matter what. Constructed loosely—on purpose—so dirt and mud and dust couldn't bind it up, it was nevertheless remarkably accurate. Some found it too robust to master, although I've trained women and children to handle it well.

If it had any drawbacks, they were range and capacity. Seven plus one doesn't seem like much to take into battle, and it's downright abysmal if you have to venture into the jungles spawned by left wing socialism, the shadowy urban realm where trouble comes in packs. In the field (I mean the real field, with sagebrush and prairie grass) the .45's stubby 230-grain bullet, meant for short-range, last-ditch self-defense, almost seems to fall on the ground at about 75 yards.

Around the time when I was getting interested in the technical aspects of firearms, I ran across a novel by Randall Garrett, called Too Many Magicians, about a detective, Lord D'Arcy, solving murder mysteries in an alternative reality where magic works and has produced a culture that feels as rational and progressive as our own. D'Arcy carried pistols for self-defense, one in an imaginary caliber Garrett christened ".29 Heron", and another in ".40 McGregor".

That's all it took for me. Back then the only serious alternative to .45 ACP ("Automatic Colt Pistol") that provided longer reach was .357 Magnum—which took you back to a six-shot wheelgun. Or you could have a 9+1 .38 Super Automatic, which I did for quite a while, or a 13+1 Browning P-35 "High Power", but the former has some inherent accuracy problems, and—although Saint John Moses had designed the latter for an interesting experimental .39 caliber cartridge—the Belgian factory chambered it for the wimpy 9mm.

What the world needed was an autopistol cartridge with the high velocity and (therefore) flat trajectory of .357 or even 9mm, but also possessing the guaranteed horse-sickening knock-down power of the .45. No such cartridge existed in the mid-1960s, so I wrote two or three short stories that I could have called Buffy the Government Slayer, in which Kimberly Bright, a girl hero long before it became trendy, carried a big, powerful .40. Regrettably, those adventures, written about the same time as my Bernie Gruenblum stories, were rejected by every editor I sent them to, and were lost in a flood we had in 1997.

Around the same time, a friend of mine and I began to experiment with an idea we had for a new cartridge. We never got further than a mock-up (cut from a .30 Remington rifle cartridge) into which we planned to load a .40 caliber round-nose, flat-point cast lead bullet meant for the .38/40 Winchester, a cartridge that was, all by itself, more than a century ahead of its time.

Gratifyingly, we were on the right track. Many years later, after Norma introduced the 10mm auto cartridge (actual size: .400?) for the ill-fated Bren Ten pistol, the only way Norma's baby differed from our mock-up was that it was 1/16 of an inch shorter. I became terribly interested and enthusiastic in 10mm (I still am, in fact) and have had several different weapons that use it. In many ways, it is the best handgun round ever devised. The only one that rivals it—for its general effectiveness and reliability—is another big favorite of mine, .44 Magnum.

If you're gonna use a revolver, use a frigging revolver.

The 10mm load I prefer is the Winchester SilverTip, a 175-grain bullet travelling at 1290 feet per second, yielding 647 foot pounds of energy and an "Efficacy" (my way of calculating effectiveness, and I have discussed it at length elsewhere) of 81. (By comparison, .45 ACP's numbers are 230 grains, 850 feet per second, 369 foot pounds, and an Efficacy of 59. .44 Magnum's are 240 grains, 1180 feet per second, 741 foot pounds, and an Efficacy of 107.)

Unfortunately, the 10mm has drawbacks, too. It can be rough on some of the guns that end up getting chambered for it; I've seen it do awful things to Colt's "Delta Elite". Without some special measures, the poor old 1911 wasn't meant to take stress like that. The heavy, big-framed EAA Witness handles it just fine, as does Glock's big Model 20 in the combat Tupperware line.

Since slide velocity is key in all this, I'd love to try an AMT Javelina—a 1911 with two extra inches of slide and barrel—or the L.A.R. Grizzly 10mm conversion, but I haven't had the opportunity. The N-frame Smith & Wesson Model 610 revolver is also well suited to 10mm (used with "moon clips") and very accurate, which is why I prefer it for 100-yard metallic silhouette competition.

Another drawback to 10mm—if you want to classify it as such—is that it's just too big and powerful for the Waco Baby Killers, otherwise known as the FBI, that "thin gray line" whose sworn duty is to protect us out of every right we have left. They tried the cartridge (in one of Smith & Wesson's horrible autopistols) and the poor dears just couldn't take it.

As Gary Larsen put it, "Yoo-hoo! I think I'm getting a blister!"

Their "solution" was to persuade some of the ammunition companies to produce a special government load that (using my Efficacy numbers) was 25% less powerful than the original, and therefore a great deal easier to shoot, although it cancelled out most of the new cartridge's advantages. Same theory as the M-16, I guess: if the boys and girls in sillyflage can't handle a real rifle, give them a .22.

With 10mm, however, It turned out to be "a serendipitous exercise in unintended consequences": before long, some genius realized they could load a much shorter cartridge that still met FBI specs, but would also fit the frames and magazines of weapons that had been designed for 9mm. The happy result was called ".40 Smith & Wesson"—which I have long referred to as ".40 Liberty" because of a dirty deal the company was persuaded to sign with Waco Willy Clinton. The factory load I like best—Winchester SilverTips again—drives a 155-grain bullet at 1205 feet per second, delivering 500 foot pounds even, for an Efficacy of 63.

This means that, along with .357 Magnum, .40 Liberty is the full equivalent of .45 ACP for self-defense. .45 gets there with a big, heavy, slow-travelling bullet. .357 gets it done with a small, light, very fast-moving slug. .40 splits the difference almost exactly.

As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating."

I have a big bulletin board in my office covered in overlapping blue and red ribbons—from Handgun Metallic Silhouette competition—that prove the .40 has the same long reach and potential accuracy (at least in a revolver) that .357 is famous for. Although it isn't big-game-legal under a ballistically ignorant State Fish and Wildlife bureacracy that measures hunting cartridge effectiveness by case- length (and would really rather people didn't hunt with autopistols), I wouldn't hesitate to take deer with it.

Best of all, when I grab my EAA Witness pistol, it's exactly like strapping on a 13-shot .357 Magnum. While it isn't quite as capable, ballistically, as the 10mm Witness, it's smaller and lighter—and a great deal hand-friendlier than the Glock, which, for all its virtues, feels like a 24 when I wrap my fingers around it.

My next project, when time and money permit, will be to have a Marlin 1894C lever action rifle refitted from .357 to .40 (although 10mm is tempting, too) and see how the cartridge does out of a 20? barrel. That long magazine oughta hold a lot of flat-point cartridges.

Load on Sunday, shoot all week.

I read somewhere recently that nearly every police officer in America now carries an automatic pistol instead of a revolver—something that would have seemed like science fiction back in the 1960s, when the standard was a 4-inch .38 caliber S&W Model 10, gradually being replaced by the Model 15, which sported adjustable rear sights—that 60% of them are Glocks, and that the vast majority of those are .40s. Nearly everyone I know in the Forty-Something Generation now leave their Forty-fives at home and pack their Forties, instead.

Too bad those girl hero short stories of mine got washed away in the flood. Who knows, I might have acquired a rep for predicting things.

If anyone had ever published them.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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