I was very careful when first starting out in the shooting sports. I hung out for hours at a local shooting range, asking the old hands endless questions concerning their hobby. What was the best caliber? The best design? The best manufacturer?
Their recommendations led me to purchase a 1911 chambered in the .45 ACP cartridge, and made by the hoary gun firm of Colt. It took less than 200 rounds for the brand new, factory fresh gun to fail in a catastrophic manner.
That was both the first and last 1911 I have ever owned, as well as the first and last gun from Colt.
I sent the gun back to Colt, and they replaced it without comment. According to my buddies at the range, such failures were not uncommon at the time when it came to Colt firearms. Unlucky me, I had just drawn the short straw in the 1911 lottery.
The guys behind the counter wouldn’t give me full credit for the 1911, even though it was a new gun sent as a replacement for the crappy hunk-a-junk their flawed advice prompted me to buy in the first place. I peered through the glass of the display case where the used guns were kept, and spotted a matte black beauty that looked pretty neat to my admittedly inexperienced eye.
It was a S&W Model 39 with rubber grips, and the asking price was a great deal less than the trade in for the Colt. Seems I could get the gun, as well as a hefty supply of ammo, as long as I gave up the 1911. As you might imagine, I jumped at the chance!
Chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, the Model 39 feeds from an 8 round single-stack magazine. It came with an adjustable rear sight, and I put all that more-or-less free ammo to good use by carefully shooting and adjusting, shooting and adjusting, until it was zeroed in. I learned a lot about proper gun handling from that firearm, as well as a great deal about effective armed self defense. Years later, it was the first gun my first student ever fired in my charity self defense course.
I thought Model 39 was pretty snazzy myself, but my gun talking friends let it be known that I was no longer their friend. I chose a 9mm over a .45, a Smith over a Colt? Apostate! Heathen! Limp-wristed girly man! Unwashed freak! Might as well learn how to play guitar and vote Democrat, you filthy hippy!
This might seem to be an extreme reaction, but I’ve run across it from time to time over the years. There was one instance where I was approached at the firing range while conducting a class. This concerned citizen was unhappy because I was teaching my students all wrong, as I didn’t have any guns chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. How could my students defend themselves with such paltry firepower as I had available? They would shoot and shoot and shoot, and the best that could be hoped was that the bad guy would die of infection in a few days time!
Sounds like a joke? I thought so at first, but he didn’t much like the way I laughed at his suggestion.
This attitude seems to have withered a lot over the past few decades. I would have to attribute it to the vast numbers of new shooters who have joined our ranks, most of whom are only interested in carrying a concealed firearm for emergency self defense. Added to this is the dizzying array of new designs that have been introduced to cater to this desire. It is tough to maintain that only a 1911 chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge is suitable for defense when the nightly news is full of stories where the bad guys were stopped by something else. I suppose most people just forge ahead in the way that they find comfortable, and ignore the old guard.
If only I had done that, back in the day!
So what happened to that M39, what I considered to be my first gun even though it was actually my second?
As mentioned before, it was used in my charity self defense course. I tried to keep it going as long as I could, replacing this or that part when they became worn, but it eventually succumbed to a case of diminishing returns. All in all, about six or seven thousand rounds were fired through that used gun before I finally had to let it retire. There are people alive today living free from fear because of that gun.
I think that is a pretty good legacy, even if it wasn’t chambered for a forty-five.