Although revolvers functioned admirably, military personnel and gun enthusiasts wanted more. In particular, they wanted two things revolvers couldn't deliver -- faster reloading and greater capacity. Gun engineers designed the pistol to accommodate both of these requirements. A pistol is a semiautomatic handgun with a magazine that slides into the grip. It also tends to be lighter and more compact than a revolver. When a pistol is fired, some of the energy is used to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one from the magazine. The magazine commonly holds seven to nine rounds, but some current models hold 17, 19 or even 33 rounds.
Many of the early semiautomatic pistols came chambered for .38-caliber cartridges, but in battle, officers complained of the .38's inadequate stopping power. Enter John Browning. Browning already had a reputation as an innovative gun maker when he set out to improve the semiautomatic pistol, but his .45-caliber design for Colt set a new standard. It came with a seven-round detachable box magazine and performed flawlessly in any condition. The U.S. Army adopted Browning's new pistol in 1911 and designated it the M1911. It remained the standard U.S. military sidearm until the 1990s, when it was replaced by the 9 mm Beretta.
Even with its removal as the standard sidearm for U.S. armed forces, the M1911 remains popular, especially with civilians who participate in competitive shooting. Several companies continue to manufacture M1911-type models, and they all sell well. Many consider it to be the finest handgun -- and perhaps the finest gun -- ever made.
Shoot on over to the next page for more links to weapons articles.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bourjaily, Philip. "It Always Goes Bang." Field & Stream. Aug. 13, 2007. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/guns/shotguns/2007/08/it-always-goes-bang?#
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "2007 Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report." (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.atf.gov/firearms/stats/index.htm
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2003." (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/ind/GUNS.Ownership.1.html
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2008." (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/ind/GUNS.Ownership.1.html
- Dougherty, Martin J. "Small Arms from the Civil War to the Present Day" Fall River Press. 2005.
- National Shooting Sports Foundation. "Modern Sporting Rifle Facts." (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.nssf.org/MSR/facts.cfm
- National Shooting Sports Foundation. "The Writer's Guide to Firearms and Ammunition." 2006. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.nssf.org/media/WritersGuide/
- Quinn, Jeff. "High Standard's New AR-15 Rifles." Gunblast.com. Sept. 15, 2005. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.gunblast.com/HighStandard-AR15.htm
- Remington. "Model 870 Shotguns. The Most Popular Shotgun in Firearms History." (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.remington.com/products/firearms/shotguns/model_870/
- Sangster, Don. "Muzzleloader Buyer's Guide." Bass Pro Shops, OutdoorSite Library. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.basspro.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CFPage?storeId=10151&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&mode=article&objectID=31198
- Schoby, Mike. "ArmaLite M-15A4(T) Review." Cabela's Field Guide Story. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.cabelas.com/story-123/schoby_armalite_review/10204/ArmaLite%252BM-15A4%252528T%252529%252BReview.shtml
- Sigler, Derrek. "New to Traditional Muzzleloaders?" Cabela's Field Guide Story. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.cabelas.com/story-123/sigler_nw_muzz/10527/New%252Bto%252BMuzzleloaders%25253F.shtml
- Wakeman, Randy. "Rating the Inline Muzzleloading Manufacturers." Chuckhawks.com. (Oct. 16, 2009)http://www.chuckhawks.com/rating_muzzleloading_manufacturers.htm
HowStuffWorks wonders how high bullets fired straight up into the sky can go? We talked to experts who break down the complicated answer.