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Glock 17 (top), G19 (middle), G43 (bottom)

The Glock story is reasonably familiar within firearm enthusiast circles, but virtually unknown elsewhere. “Glock” is a familiar term in contemporary American culture, yet few know much about the evolution of these iconic handguns.

Gaston Glock, who had never manufactured a firearm, but was well versed in polymers, decided to submit a handgun for an upcoming Austrian Army competition. Armed with a long list of specifications, he assembled a group of firearm savvy advisors, and three months later–a lightning fast development time for any firearm–had a working prototype. The legend is Glock would test prototypes with his left hand, so that if anything exploded, he could still shoot with his right, though I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one.

Among Glock’s innovations was the use of a polymer frame, incorporating steel only where necessary, such as on the four, short molded-in slide rails. This innovation also allowed substantially larger magazine capacity compared to metal guns of the same general size. The walls of the grip/magazine well could be relatively thin, and no grip panels were required, allowing most people to handle the weapons comfortably. The design also uses a minimum of parts, and no screws. Glocks are easy to disassemble for routine cleaning, easy to clean, and easy to reassemble. For more substantial cleaning, necessary only after more rounds than many shooters might fire in a decade, only the removal of several pins is required to remove the necessary modules and parts.

The Austrian Army adopted Glock’s handgun—the Glock 17—and it is currently the official handgun of some 50 militaries. Even though our military has not adopted it wholesale—rather a dumb move (go ahead; let me have it)—A number of our special operations units such as the SEALS use Glocks, particularly the G19. At last count, Glock owns some 65% of the American law enforcement market. By this, I mean agencies that buy and issue handguns for all of their officers. Far more police officers buy their own Glocks.

Glock’s first design, which hit American shores in January of 1986 was the Glock 17, which coincidentally has a 17 round magazine capacity in 9mm. It’s a full-sized duty handgun, but still, compared to other handguns, remarkable light. My article on that gun is available here. 

The capacity of the G17’s magazines led some to think Glock’s numbering scheme is based on magazine capacity. Rather, it is based on Glock’s sequence of patent acquisition. The Glock 18, for example, is Glock’s fully automatic version of the Glock 17, requested by an Austrian spec ops unit. The Glock 19 was Glock’s 19th patent (Glock manufactures a variety of products) and its magazine holds 15 rounds, as the following photo illustrates.

G19 magazine

A first generation Glock 19 was my first Glock, back in the late 1980s. It differs from the 4th generation Glock 19 depicted in this article in a variety of refinements, perhaps the most obvious being the addition of an accessory rail. No such device was available on early Glocks. Few, if any, accessories such as lasers and lights were available in those days. The essential features of the design remain unchanged. Glock slides are devoid of unnecessary controls. The right side has no controls, and the left, only the slide stop and magazine release button. There is no “safety” lever.

G19 right side

Some suggest this is inherently unsafe, but it is no different that any revolver: pull the trigger and the gun fires. This is not to say Glocks have no safety features. They do incorporate three separate safeties. The trigger face has a small safety lever. Unless it is depressed, the trigger is frozen in place. It also has an internal firing pin safety, and an internal drop safety. On the left side, one might also consider the extractor to be a sort of safety feature. When the chamber is empty, it is flush with the slide, but when loaded, it protrudes enough to be easily felt.

G19 left side

These safeties are effective. When a police agency where I worked transitioned from revolvers to Glocks, we were told that if we dropped one, not to try to catch it; let it fly. It turned out quite a few officers were secret gunflingers, and many new Glocks went flying onto the concrete floor, some a substantial distance toward the target. None fired, and none suffered any damage. The polymer frames, and slide coating, are tough indeed.

The Glock 19 was designed in response to the need for a large capacity handgun smaller than the full-sized G17, while still retaining as many advantages of the full-sized gun as possible. In this, it succeeded admirably, and remains a standard by which all similar guns are judged. Its 15 round magazines are ample, allowing a total of 46 rounds to be carried with two spare magazines, nearly a full box of ammo. The grip is long enough for full finger purchase for virtually anyone, and the shorter barrel and slide give up little in accuracy and velocity.

The Glock 17 (G4) is 7.95” long and 5.43” tall. It weighs 32.12 ounces loaded. The Glock 19 (G4) is 7.28” long and 4.99 inches tall. It weighs 30.18 ounces loaded. A large part of the justification for making a handgun only slightly smaller than the G17 is to make it more concealable and more comfortable to smaller shooters, which obviously includes women. Though only slightly smaller, it is noticeably more concealable with a wider variety of holsters. The balance is also different. I hesitate to try to clearly delineate that factor because so much depends on the individual, but to me, at least, the G19 does not feel quite as muzzle heavy, and seems slightly quicker compared to the G17.

A much greater difference is found with the G43, which is 6.26” long, 4.25” high, and weighs only 22.36 ounces loaded. It is also only 1.02” wide compared to the 1.18” width of the G19 and G17. As I noted in my article on the G43, it’s not quite a .380 pocket pistol, but with a slightly larger pocket, it suffices.

Glock triggers have always been a matter of some controversy, but they are absolutely consistent shot to shot. Their travel is only .49”, and the pull weight of standard triggers is 5.5 pounds. The G19, like all Glocks, is a hammerless design. It fires by means of a striker, which is essentially a much larger than usual, heavily spring-loaded, firing pin.

Glocks have another unique feature known as “catching the link,” which is of some use when shooting at longer distances. When firing a round, hold the trigger fully back as the slide cycles. Then allow the trigger to reset forward only until a “click” is heard and felt. The gun will then fire the next round with a much shorter travel, and the pull weight feels lessened as well. There is no way to set the gun to do this with every round other than to use the procedure I’ve explained.

Having owned revolvers and double and single action handguns, the Glock compares well. Its trigger is superior to double action handguns, and much superior to revolvers, which have a much longer and heavier double action pull. Only single action handguns, such as a model 1911 with an action job have shorter travel and are lighter, but the 1911 is a much larger, heavier handgun with a generally smaller magazine capacity.

Another interesting feature of the Glock is its low bore axis. In other words, the barrel is closer to the shooter’s hand than in many other designs. This, as well as the polymer frame, helps to attenuate real and felt recoil. I can feel no real difference in recoil between the G17 and the G19, though again, this is subjective and a matter of anatomy and experience.

All of this adds up to an accurate pistol. There are essentially two kinds of accuracy: intrinsic and practical. Intrinsic accuracy is a result of the design, thus high quality revolvers might have the edge in intrinsic accuracy. Practical accuracy is what the shooter is capable of producing with a given pistol. During my early police days, I actually shot better with a Ruger Security six with a 2 ¾” barrel, compared to the same weapon with a 4” barrel. Logic suggests the gun with the longer barrel would be more accurate, but practical accuracy won out.

I see no difference in accuracy between my G17 and G19. Both are capable of 3” to 4” groups at 25 yards, and much better accuracy closer, of course. Both guns are as accurate as I need, and probably more accurate than I am. Both the G17 and G19 are light recoiling pistols, which also contributes to accuracy.

Railmaster Pro laser and light

The Crimson Trace Railmaster Pro mounted on my G19 is a light and handy accessory, as my article on the unit explains.  It houses a standard CT laser, and a 150 lumen LED flashlight, as the photo above illustrates. The laser emitter is above the flashlight lens.

Rail Master Pro Specifications:

Battery: one 3v CR2 lithium

Laser Output: 5mW (maximum allowed)

Laser dot: app. .5” at 50 feet

Light Type: Light emitting diode

Light Output: 100 Lumens

MSRP: $289.00 (Green laser version: $379.00)

The prices listed are Crimson Trace’s suggested retail pricing, but the units can be found considerably cheaper at Amazon, and a variety of other sources. At 150 lumens, the light may not sound very powerful compared to the inexpensive 500 lumen and brighter lights available, but particularly at close range, which is where virtually all gun fights take place, it’s important not to obscure the laser dot, which a very bright light might tend to do.

This photo was taken at about ten yards. Keep in mind the camera “sees” much differently than the eye. In person, the dot is slightly smaller, much more intense and brilliantly red and coherent. The flashlight beam is rather wide angle, brighter than the photo reveals, and more than sufficient to fully illuminate a man-sized target from head to foot. The unit weighs very little, and is only slightly wider than the G19 slide.

Railmaster Pro activation switch

The activation switch is ambidextrous, and positive in operation. It falls perfectly under the trigger finger in register. Trigger fingers always should be in register if not on the trigger moments prior to firing. For more information on the Railmaster Pro, take the link to my article.

Disassembly of the G19, as with all Glocks, is simple, but before going into the process, let’s address one of the common complaints about the Glock design. Some argue the gun is inherently dangerous because the trigger must be pulled in order to disassemble the weapon. Some people have had negligent discharges when “taking down” or “cleaning” Glocks.

This argument holds only if one considers it normal and safe to try to disassemble and/or clean a loaded gun, or a gun one isn’t absolutely certain is not loaded. Following standard safety rules for the handling of any firearm eliminates negligent discharges. Failing to follow the rules invites them.

Disassembly: Remove the magazine and set it aside. Cycle the slide at least three times. Lock the slide fully back and inspect the chamber visually and with the tip of the little finger. Only then close the slide, and pointing the weapon in a safe direction (ALWAYS), pull the trigger.

Notice the trigger is back, and the position of the hand. This provides enough leverage to retract the slide only about ¼” (all that’s necessary). This grip is actually, with a bit of practice, ideal for a “pinch check”–retracting the slide just enough to see if there is a round in the chamber.

Holding the slide retracted, pull down and hold the serrated levers on both sides of the slide just below the slide stop notch on the slide. Holding down the levers, simply ease the slide forward off the frame. It may take a little practice to get the hang of pulling down and holding the levers.

Lift the recoil spring up and out of the slide. Slightly lift the rear of the barrel, slide it slightly forward–out of battery with the slide–and lift it up and out of the slide. Note that the back of the recoil spring assembly rests in a rounded shelf on the barrel. Reassembly is in reverse order, except one doesn’t have to touch the takedown levers. Merely carefully run the slide, with barrel and recoil spring installed, backward onto the two sets of short slide rails. Cycle the slide several times to ensure everything is assembled properly, and pull the trigger to ensure it works properly.

Final Thoughts: Every Glock I’ve ever owned has been absolutely reliable right out of the box. I’ve always followed the maxim that one shouldn’t carry a handgun without first firing at least 200 rounds through it, not only to ensure reliable function, but to learn the gun and to feel comfortable with it. I’ve found Glocks to be something of an exception to that rule.

Glocks come in a nice carrying case containing the pistol, a cleaning rod, a magazine loader, the obligatory lock, a comprehensive manual and a total of three magazines.

I still shoot at least 100 rounds through any new Glock, but they feel so similar, and their actions are identical. If one knows one Glock, they pretty much know them all. No semiautomatic pistol is perfectly reliable, but in my experience, every Glock I’ve owned is as close to that sort of perfection as possible. Glocks are normally found in the $450 to $550 range, which is a good general price for a high quality handgun.

The G19 remains the mid-sized standard, and deservedly so.