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Shootout: 5 Best Guns from Glock, Smith & Wesson and Heckler & Koch
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(Here we present several of our most popular handgun profiles as one combined post for your reading pleasure. These appeared seperately in 2017 and 2018.)
5 Best Glock Handguns on the Market
The Glock 17 handgun shook up the gun industry in a big way. Gaston Glock’s polymer pistol masterpiece, with its emphasis on ruggedness and reliability, swept the military and law-enforcement world and conquered the civilian market. Slowly, the company has introduced new handguns, all based on the original design, to compete in virtually every niche of the handgun market, from large-bore semiautomatics to discreet concealed carry. Here are five of Gaston Glock’s best designs.
The handgun that started it all, Gaston Glock’s first handgun was originally designed to win a contract to supply the Austrian Army with handguns. It is a remarkable piece of engineering for someone who had only studied, but never designed, handguns of his own. The polymer lower receiver reduced the handgun’s weight where metal was unnecessary while keeping a traditional all-steel frame. The G17 can stand up to a wide array of physical abuse, including being run over by a car and frozen in ice, as well as dust and other environmental factors while remaining completely reliable. The Glock’s seventeen-round magazine had the highest ammunition capacity of any commercially available pistol of its time.
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One of the first Glock variants, the Glock 21, was simply the original Glock 17 scaled up to accept the .45 ACP round. The result was a high-capacity .45 pistol, something that wasn’t exactly common. The Glock 21 could carry thirteen .45 ACP rounds while the standard .45 pistol, the Colt 1911A1, could carry seven or eight. The use of weight-reducing polymers was particularly useful in the G21, as it offset the weight of a magazine full of .45 rounds. The introduction of the Glock 21 early in the company’s line proved that Glock understood many American shooters were skeptical of what they considered the relatively low-powered nine-millimeter round, and that the basic design could scale up to accommodate more powerful, higher recoil ammunition.
The Glock 17 was a very popular handgun but, designed for military service, it was a bit larger than what many enthusiasts, concealed-carry wearers and home-defense users wanted. The result was the Glock 19. The Glock 19 was designed as a compact version of the Glock 17, approximately half an inch shorter than the G17 in overall length, height and barrel length. Ammunition capacity was decreased only slightly, to a still-respectable fifteen rounds. The G19, while not designed as a service pistol, has attracted a military following, with Navy SEALs and U.S. Army Rangers choosing it as their standard sidearm. A modified Glock 19, the 19X, was submitted to the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System competition.
Designed as a subcompact carry pistol, the G43 is Glock’s first “single stack” handgun, featuring a thin magazine carrying six nine-millimeter rounds in a single vertical column. The G43 is one of the smallest pistols in the subcompact category, just 6.26 inches long and four and a quarter inches high. The pistol is just one inch thick, and loaded weighs just 22.36 ounces. This combination of small size and light weight makes the Glock 43 exceptionally easy to conceal on one’s person. While the relatively small ammunition capacity is a bit unusual for a Glock, concealed carry pistols in general are strictly defensive firearms and the low round count is a tradeoff.
In Glock’s entire inventory of handguns, there is one gun not available for sale in the United States to regular gun owners. This particular gun, the Glock 18, has a selector switch located on the slide that allows for two modes: traditional semiautomatic fire and fully automatic fire. The Glock 18 is a Glock 17 full-size pistol with the ability to fire at rates of up to 1,200 rounds per minute. In addition to seventeen-round magazines, Glock also manufactures thirty-three-round magazines that fit in the magazine well of most nine-millimeter Glocks, and would be particularly useful in the G18. Saddam Hussein had a Glock 18C, a version with a built-in compensator to deal with the recoil of fully automatic fire, on him when he was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003. The gun was later presented to former president George W. Bush as a war trophy.
Meet the 5 Best Smith & Wesson Handguns Ever Made
Smith & Wesson is one of the oldest, and most storied names in American firearms. Founded in the 1800s, the company specialized in revolvers and guns such as the No.3 and Schofield became synonymous with the Old West. Although Smith & Wesson is best known for its handguns,the company now makes guns of all stripes, from revolvers to pistols to their own version of the AR-15 rifle. Here are five of the storied company’s best contemporary offerings.
Smith & Wesson 686
Smith & Wesson categorizes its revolvers using a system of letters, with the so-called “L” frames set in the middle between small and large caliber guns. One of the most popular “L frames” is the Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum. The 686 is capable of shooting both high powered .357 Magnum and lighter .38 Special ammunition. This gives shooters the option of training on .38 Special until they know the ins and outs of the revolver and then stepping up to the more lethal .357 Magnum when they feel comfortable.
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The 686 has a four-inch barrel, an overall length of 9.6 inches, and weighs two and a half pounds. It also adjustable sights, a satin stainless steel finish, double action firing system and a six or seven round cylinder.
Smith & Wesson Model 29
The Smith & Wesson Model 29 was one of the first revolvers chambered for the powerful .44 Magnum round. A blued, six cylinder revolver with wooden grips and a classic style, the Model 29 became particularly popular after its use in the “Dirty Harry” series of films. The Model 29 is an all-steel handgun with heft, all the better to soak up the punishing level of recoil a user experiences when fired. Barrel length ranged from four to ten inches. The powerful .44 Magnum cartridge was particularly popular with gun enthusiasts and hunters who stalked dangerous prey. Discontinued in 1999, Model 29 was recently put back into production.
Smith & Wesson Model 442 Pro Series
In Smith & Wesson’s lettering system the smallest revolvers use the so-called “J frame,” and one of the smallest revolvers of all is the Model 442 Pro Series. Designed as a concealed carry revolver, the 442 is chambered in .38 Special and can handle more powerful, higher pressure +P rounds. The revolver frame is made of aluminum alloy to reduce overall weight with the cylinder itself made of carbon steel and barrel made of stainless steel. The 442’s cylinder holds five rounds, resulting in a narrower pistol that is easier to carry concealed. The revolver is double action only, meaning a single pull with both advance the cylinder to fresh round and release the firing pin, firing the gun. The 442 lacks a hammer, allowing for a smoother draw from under clothing.
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0
Smith & Wesson’s successful “wonder nine” pistol, the M&P followed in the footsteps of the Glock to produce a highly effective, high capacity polymer frame pistol. The Military & Police Model, currently in version 2.0, has a low bore axis, which the manufacturer claims reduces muzzle climb and allows the shooter to get sights back on target faster. The M&P 2.0 incorporates a five-inch stainless steel barrel into a pistol with an overall length of eight inches. The double action pistol is available in nine millimeter and .40 Smith & Wesson, with the 9mm version sporting a seventeen round magazine plus one in the chamber, for a total of eighteen rounds. The pistol also features an optional loaded chamber indicator and optional thumb safety. Somewhat unique among pistols it comes with four different palmswell grip inserts for maximum ergonomic comfort.
Smith & Wesson 1911A1
The patent on John Moses Browning’s 1911 handgun design ran out long ago, and nearly all gun companies now manufacture their own versions of this iconic handgun. Smith & Wesson is no exception, producing its own S&W1911 E-Series pistols. The pistols are generally true to the final version of the 1911A1, with the exception of stainless steel barrels, skeletonized hammers, and in some cases an accessory rail for the mounting of lights and lasers. The company makes both full-size Government and smaller Commander handguns, the latter with a barrel three quarters of an inch shorter than the five-inch Government barrel and a slightly shorter slide. Commanders also feature bobtailed mainspring housings and aggressive checkering to help the shooter stay on target. The 1911 E-Series is generally true enough to form to satisfy 1911 purists.
The 5 Best Heckler & Koch Guns on Planet Earth
One of the most prolific gun sellers in the United States is Germany’s Heckler & Koch. The company, started in the wake of World War II by former Mauser engineers Edmund Heckler, Theodor Koch and Alex Seidel, was propelled to worldwide prominence with the adoption of the G3 as the official rifle of the West German Army. Since then, the company has expanded to everything from pistols to grenade launchers, and is a major outfitter of NATO armies—including the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps.
G3 Battle Rifle
The Gewehr-3, or G3, was a battle rifle based on the Spanish CETME, which in turn was based on a wartime German rifle design. Adopted by the West German military in 1959, the G3 uses a delayed blowback operating system. The rifle was made from sheet metal stampings, with plastic handguard, pistol grip, and shoulder stock to help reduce weight. The G3 could fire rifle grenades from the muzzle and a standard magazine held twenty rounds of 7.62mm ammunition. The rifle uses the now-classic Heckler & Koch front post sight protected by a metal circle and range-adjustable rear sights. The G3 had a cyclic rate of fire of 550 rounds per minute. The rifle was was widely exported abroad, with notable clients being Norway, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, and to the Third World, particularly Africa.
Introduced in 2014, the Heckler & Koch VP9 is very much in the mold of the current wave of striker-fired, polymer and steel, high-capacity semi-automatic handguns. The VP uses a polymer frame that contains the metal magazine and fire control group, and the metal slide includes a cold hammer forged barrel. The VP9 is a striker-fired pistol, meaning it uses a striker mechanism instead of a traditional firing pin mechanism to strike the cartridge primer. In a striker-fired pistol, a spring-loaded firing pin is partially cocked by the movement of the slide, with the rest of the cocking taking place when the trigger is pulled. As a result, the VP is safer to carry and has a shorter trigger travel distance, making it quicker to fire.
Like an increasing number of contemporary handguns, the VP has a modular ergonomic system that allows the backstrap and grip panels to be swapped out. The result is a handgun that can be tailored for smaller or larger hands, with a total of twenty-seven possible ergonomic configurations. The VP stores fifteen rounds of 9mm ammunition in a double stack magazine.
MP-5 Submachine Gun
The Heckler & Koch MP-5 (Maschinenpistole-5) was introduced in the 1960s as a scaled-down version of the G3 assault rifle chambered in a pistol caliber. Like the G3, the MP-5 uses the same roller-locked delayed blowback operating system, the same general layout, and the same sights. The MP-5’s main difference is in being significantly shorter, more compact, and lighter, due to its use of the 9mm Parabellum round. The MP-5 was adopted by West German Border Guards in 1966, and later was adopted by the Border Guards’ elite counterterrorism unit, GSG-9. This gradually led to the weapon being adopted by the majority of Western counterterror and special forces units.
416 Assault Rifle
The Heckler & Koch 416 may outwardly bear a strong similarity to the M4 carbine, but internally it’s a different ball game. The M4/M16 rifles use the direct impingement operating system, in which hot gunpowder gases are redirected to cycle the weapon. The 416 instead uses a piston to cycle the weapon. The result is a rifle that runs cooler and requires less cleaning, while being a bit front-heavy. In other respects the 416 is similar to assault rifles in service worldwide, using 5.56mm ammunition in thirty round standard-capacity magazines. The 416 has been adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps, the French army, and an accurized version in 7.62mm has been adopted by the U.S. Army as the Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System (CSASS).
The Heckler & Koch Universal Service Pistol (USP) was designed by the company as a response to the meteoric rise of the Glock 17 handgun. Developed in the late 1980s to challenge Glock in the U.S. police market, the USP would later fulfill a requirement with U.S. Special Operations Command for the Offensive Handgun Weapon System program. The SOCOM program resulted in the Mk.23, a .45 caliber variant of the USP with a twelve-round double stack magazine, laser aiming device and suppressor. The weapon is also offered on the civilian market (sans suppressor) chambered in 9mm, .40 Smith & Wesson and .357 Sig. The USP serves as the standard handgun of the German and Spanish armed forces, and is carried by elements of the Danish, Irish, Japanese and South African armed forces.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
Image: Creative Commons.