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Glock Family of Handguns

Learn why Glock's High-Tech, Double-Action, Semi-Automatic Handgun Took Sport Shooting and U.S. Law Enforcement by Storm.

By John Wooldridge

glock model 23 pistol chambered in caliber 9mm Parabellum
Model Caliber Capacity Barrel Length Weight loaded magazine
Glock 19 9 mm Parabellum 15 / 17 / 24 / 31 / 33 102 mm
4.02 inch
31.04 oz

The slide leaps forward, chambering the first round with a precise metallic snap. Light seems absorbed by the dark-finished steel slide, polymer receiver and grip. The Glock is light and controllable in your hands, easy to point. White highlights on front and rear sights line up quickly. At the range officer's signal, you take aim, slip your finger inside the trigger guard, and squeeze off six quick shots. The guy in the position next to you shooting a well-regarded revolver also fires six rounds, then stops to reload. You continue firing, concentrating on the target instead of reloading, squeezing off another 11 rounds before it is time to insert a fresh magazine. The firepower advantage is clearly yours.

High capacity and a wide range of useful calibers mean superior firepower for law enforcement and sport shooters alike. First chambered in 9mm for international military and police use, Glock pistols are now available in .40 S&W (a potent round developed by Smith & Wesson and Olin/Winchester), 10mm, and the venerable .45ACP -- an increasingly powerful range of bullet weights and muzzle velocities to satisfy military and law enforcement needs. Availability of the .45 caliber model is good news for those who have long prized big-bore challenges on the firing line and sure takedown potentials in personal protection situations.

The Glock 17 is a remarkable success story. Gaston Glock, an Austrian mechanical engineer specializing in synthetic materials, but having virtually no firearms experience, produced the first two working prototypes of the Glock 17 from scratch in roughly eight months. These he submitted to the Austrian Army, who were searching for a new 9mm sidearm that was lightweight and very durable, with a large capacity magazine. Following rigorous testing and intense competition, the Glock 17 was selected in 1983 and 28,000 pistols were purchased. In 1984, the Norwegian Army followed suit after Glock's new pistol toppled existing NATO sidearm standards.

The first shipment of Glock 17s arrived from Austria in January, 1986. After more than 10 years in the U.S., Glock pistols are the issued or authorized sidearms for over 3,600 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, with over 1,300,000 in use nationwide. Achieving that kind of success was no accident. Neither was it easy.

The first thing you notice about the Glock 17 is its virtually indestructible synthetic polymer receiver. When it was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1986, this element ignited a firestorm of sensational press coverage and anti-gun political rhetoric, which briefly hindered acceptance of the Glock in this country as a viable law enforcement pistol. The Glock 17 was variously described as an "all plastic gun," as a firearm that would "pass through metal detectors undetected," and as the pistol that "Libyans are said to be trying covert methods to obtain."

Once the headlines had cooled down and the government hearings were completed, the facts snuffed out the fears. The Glock 17 is hardly all plastic -- 19 of its 24 ounces are steel. No gun with 83 percent of its mass invested in steel will pass undetected through metal detectors or X-ray scanners, unless the machines are unplugged or the operators are asleep at the wheel.

Having surpassed that blockade, the Glock endured further challenges. Consider the torture tests devised by the Miami Police Department, which requested two Glock 17s to evaluate as duty weapons. With a primed casing in the firing chamber, a Glock was hurled against steel and concrete walls, then repeatedly dropped 15 feet to a cement walk, landing on all sides. Because of its revolutionary safeties, the firing pin never touched the primer. Fully loaded with a live round in the chamber and 17 more in the clip, a Glock 17 was buried in beach sand, dug up, and discharged 18 times. Fully loaded again, a Glock 17 was dropped into a bucket of Biscayne Bay sea water and left for 50 hours, retrieved, shaken dry, and discharged 18 times. According to the Miami Police Department, who subsequently purchased more than 1,000 Glock 17s, their two test guns were thereafter carried by instructors as duty weapons, and both have in excess of 50,000 rounds through them without stoppages or breakdowns.

The original Glock 17 is a hammer-less, auto-loading 9mm pistol measuring 7.21 inches long, 5.16 inches in height, and 1.18 inches wide at the grips, roughly the same overall dimensions as the Colt M1911-A1 and numerous similar standard-sized pistols. A double-column magazine accommodates 17 rounds stacked offset rather than in-line, with "witness holes" on the back for a quick visual check of rounds remaining. A fully-loaded Glock 17 weighs in at 31.41 ounces, just at or below what similar-sized steel frame pistols weigh empty.

From its massive steel slide to it's virtually indestructible synthetic polymer receiver (lower portion of the frame), the Glock17 is a durable, high-tech marvel that is designed and constructed to be unique among auto-loading pistols of all calibers.

Polymer in the pistol's receiver, unaffected by extremes of cold or heat (it has been fired at temperature extremes of minus 40 degrees to plus 140 degrees Fahrenheit), by everyday oils and solvents, or by considerable physical abuse, diminishes corrosion and minimizes required maintenance compared to traditional materials. Glock says that it will withstand heat ranging up to approximately 392 degrees Fahrenheit without any structural changes. Ounce for ounce, Glock's patented polymer is about 17 percent stronger and 14 percent lighter than stainless steel.

To demonstrate how tough this material really is under fire, a Glock 17 assembled from random components fired 10,000 rounds in four hours during one highly publicized event, suffering only a broken trigger spring at approximately 4,500 rounds fired. Field stripping and replacement of the broken spring required one minute.

Glock also uses polymer or polymer/steel components throughout the pistol -- in the trigger and trigger mechanism housing, the recoil spring assembly, the magazine and the sights, just to name a few. Glock patents the specifications of the polymer they employ, and they injection mold the receiver to include recesses for internal components as well as external features, such as the deep-checkered panels on the backstrap and front of the grip for a secure, non-slip hold.

Corrosion resistance in firearms has progressed over the years from bluing, to chrome plating, and most recently to the use of stainless steel. Steel surfaces inside and outside of the Glock 17 barrel and slide, as well as surfaces of other small metal parts, are protected by a carbo-nitrating hardening process, producing what Glock calls a Tenifer finish. This penetrates the metal surface several thousandths of an inch, locking it up against corrosion, and producing a surface hardness rated as 70C on the Rockwell Scale, one step down from diamond hardness. Scrape the resulting glare-free, matte-black surface with a file, punch or nail and the streaks you see will be microscopic bits of metal left by the tool you dragged across the Tenifer surface.

Four steel bearing plates set into the upper rails of the receiver support the slide and prevent friction wear as it recoils (cycles back and forth, ejecting a spent casing and chambering a new round from the magazine) between shots. The slide rides higher than other pistols, which usually have milled rails in the frame for close-fitting slides, making the Glock less likely to jam when choked with sand, dirt or mud.

Length of the cold-hammer-forged barrel is 4.49 inches, featuring a distinctive hexagonal profile rifling with a right hand twist measuring 9.84 inches that is free of the sharp, square cut edges of more typical lands-and-grooves patterns. Glock credits the atypical rifling with several advantages: Carefully radiused lands and grooves lacking sharp edges allow a better hot powder gas seal between bullet and barrel, producing higher velocities and less fouling. Bullet deformation is lessened for improved accuracy and barrel life is increased, as well.

Glock-Factory-Barrel chambered in caliber 9mm Parabellum