The .45 makes a comeback during the war on terrorism

Christopher Holton,
Monday, April 5, 2004

In 1911 the U.S. military adopted a new sidearm: John Browning’s venerable .45 caliber automatic pistol. That pistol served with distinction as our armed forces’ standard sidearm into the 1980s, when it was officially replaced by the Beretta M9 9mm automatic pistol. In recent years, however, the 1911 Model .45, in a more modern guise, has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts.

The Kimber .45
At the time of the M9’s adoption, it was regarded as a more modern design and thus a suitable replacement for the tried and true .45, many examples of which were very elderly and worn out, giving it an undeserved reputation for unreliability.

The .45 never found much acceptance in law enforcement circles over the course of the 20th century. There were a variety of reasons for this, almost none of them legitimate:

  • Most law enforcement agencies saw the 1911 Model’s single action design as unsafe, a false assumption usually borne of ignorance. The fact is, the “old” single action design has several safety advantages over the more “modern” double action designs that have emerged over the past few decades.

  • Many leaders within the law enforcement community view the 1911 Model .45 as difficult to learn to shoot and master. Under budgetary restraints, some law enforcement agencies have been forced to cut corners on firearms training. It is cheaper and quicker to teach a trainee to just “point and squeeze” with a 9mm double action with a high magazine capacity.

In recent years, however, the .45 has been making a comeback, thanks in large part to the revolutionary efforts of a company named Kimber.

Since 1999, Kimber .45s have been unofficially and officially adopted by military and law enforcement units at the front of the war on terrorism:

  • Throughout the U.S. military's special operations community (USSOCOM), literally the "tip of the spear" in the war on terrorism, Kimber .45s are seeing increasing use as the severe limitations of the so-called modern M9 have become apparent. The M9 was a good concept, but in practice it has proven to be less durable in operational use than was hoped. More to the point, as .45 users have known for several decades, the 9mm cartridge is downright anemic in terms of stopping power. Special operations forces must have a sidearm that is completely reliable under severe conditions: the proven 1911 design has never been surpassed in terms of reliability or durability. Special operators also need a weapon with stopping power. The .45 automatic is unquestionably equal to or better than any other widely used automatic pistol cartridge in the world. It has even been rumored that General Tommy Franks carried a Kimber .45 as his personal sidearm during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

  • In 2001, the elite Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team shocked the law enforcement community when it adopted the Kimber .45 automatic as its official sidearm. LAPD SWAT is considered one of the most important counterterrorist units in the U.S. law enforcement community, having been primarily responsible for security at the 1984 Olympics. Today, the unit is the first line of defense against terrorists in one of America's largest metropolitan areas.

LAPD SWAT was not actually the first law enforcement agency to adopt the Kimber .45. In 1999, the Tacoma, Washington police department raised some eye brows when it authorized its officers to carry the Kimber .45 in the line of duty. In the selection process, a variety of pistols were tested and put through the paces. The Tacoma PD was shocked at the reliability demonstrated by the Kimber. In fact, they were not able to produce a single malfunction in the test pistols provided by Kimber and they began to "smell a rat." They suspected that Kimber had supplied them with "ringers" — specially assembled examples — to test, rather than regular production pistols, such as their officers would carry in the event that the pistol was adopted.

So, the Tacoma police went out to local firearms dealers and purchased pistols "off the shelf" for further testing. To their astonishment, these Kimber .45s performed just as well as the pistols originally supplied by the company which were erroneously suspected to be "ringers."

Today, in addition to LAPD, Tacoma PD and USSOCOM, first responders across America use the Kimber .45, as evidenced by the fact that SWAT teams in the following cities issue the pistol to their members:

    Seminole TX PD
    Petersburg AK PD
    Raton NM PD
    Ault CO PD
    Kerville TX PD
    Lake County MT Sheriff
    Loveland CO PD
    Mentor OH PD
    Umatilla WA PD
    Whitman City Sheriff
    Grey GA PD
    Bremfield OH PD

Traditional design meets space age manufacturing

How did Kimber, a company that had never manufactured a pistol before the 1990s, bring about the renaissance of the 1911 .45? By marrying John Browning’s proven century-old, robust and reliable design with a high-tech, state of the art manufacturing process.

Because Kimber was relatively new to the manufacture of the 1911 model, they were literally able to start from scratch with a brand new factory—called by some the most modern, fully computerized gun factory in America.

The first priority was CAD/CAM (Computer Assisted Design/Computer Assisted Manufacturing). Before making a single pistol, Kimber invested $1 million in a CAD/CAM system that had never been employed in the manufacture of a 1911 .45 automatic before. By using CAD/CAM, the Kimber’s tolerances are up to 3 times as tight as traditionally manufactured .45s.

While the dimensions of every part is important, the two most critical dimensions and fits on a 1911 are:

  • Slide-to-frame
  • Barrel-to-bushing-to-slide

These fits largely determine the reliability and accuracy of the pistol. The better the fit and the tighter the dimensions, the better the reliability and accuracy. It is in these two aspects that the modern manufacturing process at Kimber produces superior results. The result is a century-old design with accuracy and dependability equal or better to even the most recent pistol designs.

In the interests of full disclosure, I think it is only proper to inform the reader that I am not without bias when it comes to .45 automatics. I have been a .45 owner/enthusiast since my military days when my father gave me my first .45—a Colt Government Model-- as a gift for my 21st birthday. Over the past 20 years, I have owned and shot competitively (but not very!) .45s from Colt and Springfield Armory.

However, upon my introduction to Kimber in 2001, I am a devoted Kimber shooter exclusively. I own three Kimber .45s and their performance straight out of the box is superior to other .45s that I own that have been heavily customized at the cost of hundreds of dollars in aftermarket parts and pistolsmithing. Almost immediately the Kimber made me a better shooter.

I attribute this to the consistency of their manufacturing process and the high quality of each of the components. I imagine these are the same attributes that made our military and law enforcement heroes select the Kimber .45 as well.

Christopher Holton is the Editor of and serves on the World Tribune Board of Advisers. He has been writing about national security, defense issues and economics for more than a dozen years. He is a full-time direct response marketing consultant and lives in New Orleans with his wife and five children. He can be reached at

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