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L. Neil Smith's
Number 677, July 1, 2012

"We gotta get off this rock."

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The LNS-Spec 1911 Pistol
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Several years ago (nine, to be exact), a company approached me with a proposition. If I were to "spec out" or describe in detail, the kind of self-defense pistol I, myself, would want to carry, they would manufacture (meaning "assemble) them and sell them under my moniker.

I would examine and test-fire each weapon as it came out of the shop (which would be fun), sign a certificate of authenticity, and my signature would be engraved on the slide. The serial numbers would all begin with my initials, LNS. I would receive the first example (two would have been better) and a modest royalty for every pistol sold.

Unfortunately, the deal never happened, for reasons I will discuss below. But before I get to that, I'd like to describe the pistol I "designed".

To begin, mostly for reasons of economy—that is, so you could afford it—the gun would be a variation on the ancient war-horse 1911A1, and chambered for the equally trusty .45 ACP, reputedly first created "to kill a man and make a horse sick", or maybe the other way around. Like personal computers, there was more than one pistol design that could get the job done. But only Saint John Moses Browning's 1911 combined time- and battle-tested reliability with the degree of modularity needed to assemble what I meant to be a perfect instrument for maintaining your health and safety at a hostile moment in your life.

At the time, I was carrying various CZ-75 clones—EAA Witnesses and the Springfield P9—but I know the 1911 well, as a gunsmith, hunter, competitive shooter, and self-defense consultant, and would cheerfully go into harms way with it—and have done so—if I had to.

The weapon would be single-action, to broaden its appeal, although my personal 1911 has been converted to double action. I disagree with the late Jeff Cooper and others about this. He said "double action is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist." Maybe the Colonel didn't wake up as groggy as I do and have to deal with hammers and safeties and triggers while struggling for consciousness, possibly with a stranger in the house. Maybe he never had a dud (I doubt this very seriously) that could often be encouraged with a second slap of the hammer.

He also observed that with a double-action gun, you can never put the second shot into the hole made by the first. I have practiced and have done so, although it wasn't easy. But my question is, why would you want to? Better far to have the stopping power spread around a little (no more than a couple of inches), perhaps hitting different bones, blood vessels, and organs, and starting a second cone of shockwaves.

Nevertheless, the gun I called for would be single action, to be carried with the hammer "cocked and locked". The company and I didn't like any of the double-action 1911s on the market, and the hallmark of this piece would be its simplicity. Having spent countless hours, at the request of clients, hanging every possible "add-on" available to their guns, I wanted to create something clean and elegant, based on all that the last century had taught us about self-defense, but without a single feature that didn't have to be there. It must also be as affordable as possible. So the idea was to subtract parts, not add them.

I had given lots of thought—35 years' worth—to what the ideal pistol ought to consist of. The basic gun was to be provided by a famous maker, would bear their logo on one side of the slide. The weapon would have been assembled here in my home town by the company I was dealing with. As I say, I had planned to personally inspect every gun, test-fire it myself, and include a signed target when it was shipped.

The important features of what we called the "LNS-SPEC 1911" began with a frame (yes, steel) and dust cover of a standard 1911. The dust cover is that half-cylindrical "chute" the slide runs in at the front of the frame. This allows the use of certain aftermarket accessories such as .22 adaptors, and these days it would likely be machined with a Picatinny rail for lasers, flashlights, dog-whistles, bayonets, and marshmallow roasting forks. If I truly had my way, the dust cover would be twice as thick, and reach all the way to the end of the slide.

The original plan was to equip the LNS-SPEC 1911 with Novak tritium (low light) front and rear sights. I have learned, thanks to Kahr Arms, that lighted sights are not a frivolity, but a necessity in some circumstances. But in the nine years that have passed since this project was conceived, during which my vision has gotten worse and worse, I have begun to appreciate the need for a new kind of pistol sights.

They can be tritium-powered or not; I like that system very much. What they would have to be is at least twice as high as ordinary sights, with a front blade and rear notch at least twice as wide. Their profiles could be streamlined so as not to catch in a holster or in a pocket. Even those with good vision would come to appreciate them.

The slide itself would be of "semi-compact" length, with a 4" conical or bushingless "bull" barrel and a full-length recoil spring guide. I've come to believe in this kind of barrel. It eliminated a part (the bushing) and it was positively weird to see my 3" Detonics make tighter groups than my highly-tuned Colt Mark IV Series 1970 Gold Cups.

In my personal experience, full-length recoil spring guides do not noticeably increase accuracy, as they were once advertised to do, but they add some weight to the business end of the gun, which is always good, and the significantly increase feed reliability, which is why I have them on all my 1911s, including the mighty Grizzly .45 Winchester Magnum.

Because an unmodified pistol always beats up the web of my thumb and forefinger, the LNS-SPEC 1911 would have come with a "beavertail" grip safety. Nothing fancy. No "memory bump" No need for cutting into the frame to install them for a higher grip. Most of mine are from King's and simply "drop in". You have to match them to your kind of hammer.

I have also come—from experience shooting NRA "Falling Plates" (which, for me, were mostly "Standing Plates")—to grudgingly admit the Army was right in 1929 when they re-evaluated the 1911 and mandated, among other things, an arched mainspring housing (that's the bottom half of the backstrap, just below the grip safety) rather than the flat housing used during World War I. That's one of the major characteristics that distinguishes the spiffy 1911A1 from the plain 1911.

Without a doubt, the flat mainspring housing is prettier—the arched housing looks like a dowager's backside—but equally without a doubt, every time you're in a real hurry and slap leather, you'll shoot low without it. It acts as a wedge between the handle of the gun and the palm of your hand, that forces you to shoot higher—and it works.

In my days as a gunsmith, I beveled many a magazine well, on my own guns as well as others, to serve as a funnel for the incoming magazine. I wouldn't bother today. Cutting a gun is always a scary proposition (I'm sure diamond cutters feel the same way) and it isn't necessary. What gets that magazine home where it belongs is technique and practice, not a tiny bit of metal removed from the bottom of the gun.

I did see something the other day that I'm thinking about very hard. Some custom gunsmith had shortened the slidestop shaft where it passes through the pistol, until it was dead flush with the right side of the frame, chamfering it just a little to make it easier to insert in the gun. Then he beveled the opening in the frame so that you could still push the slidestop shaft out with your thumb for periodic disassembly.

This was all in aid of using a Laser Grip system, which forms the top of the right grip panel. The beam parallels the frame so closely that an edge of it catches the end of the slidestop and scatters the light, which I find very disagreeable and dangerous—it could give your position away. This modification solves the problem handsomely— provided it doesn't weaken the frame. As I said, I'm thinking about it.

Now I am with Colonel Cooper where it comes to slidestops. I know it's hard with bullets flying and adrenaline pumping, but you should acquire a habit of counting your shots, so you still have one in the chamber when the magazine runs empty. That way, you can just keep shooting, instead of fumbling with the slidestop and the hammer. That being the case, you don't need and shouldn't use an extended slidestop.

An extended thumb safety is something else altogether. Most 1911 safeties are small and hard to find with the thumb. When you look for a safety with a larger paddle, be aware there are two kinds. One just suddenly stands out, its rear edge at a right angle to the backplate it's a part of. Wear it in the wrong holster, it will dig into your ribs or hips (depending) and you'll get sick of it. The LNS-SPEC 1911 safety would taper gracefully from the backplate to the extended paddle.

Folks ask me all the time about ambidextrous safeties. The only ones that ever worked for me are on my Gold Cups and came from Safari Arms. There's dialogue about them in one of the Tom Selleck Jesse Stone movies, in which he says "I don't like them—too much torque", meaning they break too easily. The Colt ambidextrous safety on my Grizzly broke the first day I had it. I don't know much about left-hand only safeties. I think if I were left handed, I'd just buy a Glock.

For handles, I would have chosen my own favorite, the plain black plastic Navy-style panels Springfield Armory uses, and there should have been two or three vertical grooves cut into the frontstrap to improve the shooter's hold on the gun. My Gold Cups, Vikings, and CZ-clones all have them. At the moment, I have a very nice pair of fully-checkered, square-bottomed Smith & Alexander grips on "my little pony", made from the reddest, most beautiful tulipwood you ever saw. But I can change back to black plastic in a minute and would in an emergency.

The LNS-SPEC 1911 would also have sported a Colt Commander-style "burr" hammer simply because it stays out of the way a little better and catches less on clothing. I have nothing, really, against spur hammers, but I prefer the really wide kind they had back in World War I.

A long, plain steel trigger (no cutesy holes to collect dirt) would have been adjusted for a 4 to 5 pound pull, which is exactly right for the weapon's primary purpose. (There's a big difference between competition and combat.) And finally, the LNS-SPEC 1911 would have come with a pair of plain eight-shot magazines. I prefer Chip McCormick's Shooting Stars, myself, sometimes carrying 10-rounders as spares.

At the time, I'd like to have packed a signed copy of my book of essays Lever Action with each weapon we sold. These days it would more probably be Down With Power: Libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis.

The LNS-SPEC 1911 would have been all stainless steel, but it would have had a no-nonsense matte-black finish like my Kahr K-9, with my signature engraved on the slide, down into the silvery-colored steel.

In fact, that's where the whole deal went kablooie. The company liked to engrave weapons lavishly and adorn them with gold and silver inlays. The grips were rare wood, decoratively laser-cut. I wouldn't have wanted a pistol like that. You could never have taken it out into the field. It would be like taking my Martin HD-35 guitar to the beach.

Me, I like guns you can use.

But I'm still sorry it never happened.

L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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