Old School — Should you carry the latest model or a proven performer?

Two revolver reproductions with a 1911 pistol

Not long ago, I was able to spend time with a long time correspondent and email buddy at an NRA convention. Each of us were carrying cocked-and-locked 1911 .45s and snubnose .38 backups. Each of us has real-world experience that lead to this combination.

‘Old School’ he noted. Things become classics because they work and do the task well. That is why the Colt Single Action Army is still in production and the Merwin and Hulbert isn’t.

Ruger SR1911 pistol left side with burled wood grips
The Ruger SR1911 is definitely old school quality. It offers a subtle improvement over previous 1911 handguns.

The Colt 1911 is alive and well while the Luger isn’t—although historically it is a classic. You have to know what old school is to appreciate it. My friend and I are conversant with modern firearms and make our living testing handguns and training individuals to use these firearms well. We have seen handguns come and go while others are too good to die. A lot of forward planning and attention to detail goes into designing a successful handgun. Necessary details are required to design a handgun and the details that have stood the test of time make for an old school handgun.

There are certain attributes that set Old School apart. At the time of their introduction they were new and innovative and served a real need. They were the cutting edge and stood head and shoulders above the competition. This is true of the Colt 1911, the Browning Hi-Power, the Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver and few other handguns. Today, new introductions are seldom true innovations. The maker has simply found a way to make the handgun cheaper or added a new finish. Sure, there are exceptions such as the Ruger SR1911 9mm, but for the most part a ‘new classic’ isn’t forthcoming and isn’t on the drawing board.

In today’s competitive market improvements are most often incremental. Authentic genius was behind the Colt, Browning and Smith and Wesson handguns of the previous century. There are a few out of production classics that left a big imprint on the firearms tapestry. The Walther P38 is one. Arguably, the P38 lives on in the form of the Beretta 92, which most of us recognize as a high capacity and highly developed P38 variant. The Smith and Wesson Model 39, an Americanized P38 with enclosed slide, had its day in the sun and is now a footnote in history.

Two revolver reproductions with a 1911 pistol
Many legendary shooters of the past used the SAA, 1911 and big frame Smith and Wesson revolvers. All of these are new production.

Looking for a modern classic isn’t easy. About 40 years after the Walther P38 came the Czech CZ 75. The all steel Czech 9mm is arguably the youngest of the true Old School handguns. It is a contemporary of the Beretta 92, which is a modified Walther, and the SIG P220. The SIG is almost a classic but its stamped slide and other innovations perhaps makes it a Glock forerunner rather than a true classic. With the introduction of the SIG P226 and the Beretta 92 came a new day in firearms.

Competition is fierce and there are a number of truly excellent products. No longer would a single type dominate the market. A generation or a niche is now filled by several different handguns. And today, much like in the past, there are more cheap firearms than good firearms. The classics are not inexpensive or cheap. When I was young, there were plenty of Star and Llama handguns around on the cheap. I gained experience, and the experience wasn’t too costly. Once you have begun with such handguns, you appreciate the quality you purchase later.

The novice will not recognize quality in the beginning. Some handguns of the previous century were so cheaply made they were intended simply to fleece the uninitiated. Today, we have plenty of second- and third-rate handguns. They may look like the 1911 or a Smith and Wesson revolver but they are not old school quality. Neither are they new CNC quality. Old school is forgings. Some say blue steel and walnut. That is perhaps a good definition but there are classics in nickel and stainless steel as well.

Cast frames are often very durable with a nod to Caspian but then all cast frames are not equal. There are old school 1911s other than the Colt. Some of Springfield’s production is arguably possessed of the best barrel to slide fit ever seen on a 1911. We are seeing new CZ 75 pistols that are both old school and old world. These handguns are proven in hard use the world over. If the cheap gun is just as good as some would have us believe, well, then perhaps it was Jonah that swallowed the whale.

Are you Old School? What Old School model have you owned or carried and why? Share your answers in the comments section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. I guess one could say that I am old school. I did SAR/Recon overseas back in the early 70’s. I was a medic and since I was not a Conscientious Objector I carried a 1911. Now I have 2; one is a government model with Crimson Trace grips; the other is Smith’s ProSeries (their version of the Officer’s model) The latter is my carry gun. They are both loaded with light frangible loads and are kept ready to go. The 1911 is a thing of beauty and God Bless John Moses Browning.

  2. I have a RIA .45 cal 1911 backed up by an old Charter Arms 44 special 5 shot revolver. I carried the 1911 for 20+years in the US Army and still carry it today. The 44 special is just as lethal as the 45. Since retiring back in the early 90s I have had to pull my 45 ONE time and the confrontation with two carjackers ended, with no shots fired.

  3. My wife and I both swear by old-school handguns. Neither of us carry but for home defense it is, indeed, a Springfield 1911 and a .38 (+p), plus a .357 in another location with .38 +p ammo. We shoot these well and though I’ve fired lots of modern weapons (I love shooting the Glock 30) I’m confident with these weapons and can do a fast tactical reload on the 1911.

    There are so many arguments, some quite good, for a high-capacity 9mm for home defense. My motto is stick to what you shoot best, get some tactical training from a really good instructor, and pick a good round to put in the gun.

  4. Bob, thanks for reiterating what I have been telling folks for 40 years now: that the classics tend to be classics because they work! I too have three classics and one relatively untested weapon. One is a turkish clone of the CZ 75 in 9mm that feeds, fires and ejects everything I put in it. It’s accurate, reliable and is a testament to the genius of the original’s design! I also have a Glock 22 that I picked up for a song that was a police trade-in that was refurbished by Glock with a new barrel, springs, extractor, etc. It also is supremely reliable, and as a special bonus, is very accurate to boot! My third classic is an H&R 1921 clone of the Rem. 870. Yeah, I know it’s made in China, but the proof of the genius of Remington’s design shows up every time I fire it, and as an old-time police firearms instuctor and armorer, I can tell you that my all-steel “870” functions as well as any “real” 870 I ever operated. The key is: They all come from good stock, and the shotgun is my “go-to” at home when things go “bump in the night.” My new one is something I’m still checking out. I traded for new Ruger American .45 auto full-size a few weeks ago and despite the fact that it has the disconcerting habit of self-loading about every third time I place a loaded magazine in it, I’m otherwise impressed with its fit, finish and reliability. There you have it, I believe that any weapon we own must be operable by both my wife and myself; be reliable, accurate and powerful enough for the job at hand. God bless!

    1. Thanks for reading!

      I have a Canik made CZ 75 clone I like very much.

      The Ruger American is among the brightest stars among new handguns.


      Bob Campbell

  5. I bought a Colt Gov’t model, Series 70 in 1976. I really liked that gun, but it needed a throat polishing to reliably feed HPs. Now, after a custom job, it doesn’t rattle, the slide and receiver fit is excellent, reliability is 100%. The only trouble is, on my small frame, it is difficult to CC it without printing. I also have a S&W 1911 SC that is smaller, just as reliable, lighter, just as accurate, and hides easier in the wintertime when I can wear a coat. I now have a Sig Sauer P938 that is like a mini 1911 that I edc in Condition One at the 5 o’clock position, and a Sig P238 in my pocket as backup. In all, I have 15 rounds of 9mm and 7 rounds of .380 acp. I still love the 1911s, I have two RIAs in .45 acp, and one in 9mm. The cheaper RIAs surprised me at how accurate they are, rivalling my custom Colt 1911., or the S&W 1911 SC. At home though, my defense go to is a 12 gauge shotgun, the S&W 1911 SC and a full size 13 round capacity XDm in .45 acp. I think I am well armed.2

    1. Norm,

      Thanks for reading! I appreciate your input, lots of good information there. You are well armed. As for your comments on the RIA pistols the later versions certainly are easy enough to shoot well- but then I am thinking you are a good shot- and reliable. We may not admire the finish but the RIA pistols do impress don’t they? And yes you are well armed. Like myself you are not armed for the average but for the worst case scenario, a good place to be.


  6. During several years in the early 70’s as a member of a Navy pistol team, we maintained a 3-gun box, shooting in rotation, a 1911 .45, .38 revolver, and a .22 semi-auto. To this day, I have a 3-gun box that I lug to the range a couple of times a week. My 1911 is an old Remington, accurized courtesy of a USMC armorer at Quantico. My revolver is a S&W Mod. 5 2″ 38 SPL that I relieved a Vietnamese of during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975; and my .22 is a venerable Hi-Standard, bought at a pawn shop. With over 40 years experience with all three, along with both military and civilian training, including shoot-no shoot training, I am confident and comfortable carrying any of the three; and will add my 2 cents worth to the conversation in that it’s not so much the caliber as the shot placement. Breathe, relax, align sight, squeeze…….repeat as necessary……

  7. I have numerous handguns and I prefer to carry my Kimber Pro Carry II with tritium sights & Crimson Trace green laser & my S&W M60 3″ with laser and Hornady Critical Defense 125 gr loads, all concealed of course. Not high cap I know but if 14 rounds don’t get it done I haven’t done my part. Practice (X3). Considering that when I first got into my line of work I was working on pterydactyls I guess I am old school.

  8. I understand this is a firearms blog, but part of the point is being hit, but not hard enough. Most anything can kill someone. A plastic knife, a rock the size of a que ball, etc. The MOST important factor is: Are you prepared and do you know how to use the tools you have?

    Knowing your limitations and strengths are much more important than the weapon you have. So, whatever you choose, practice, understand what you can and cannot do, and be prepared. There are dead people who had guns because they were not aware of their environment or prepared.

    That’s what I teach anyone who comes to me. Young, old, police, civilians, whomever. It’s how I was taught in the military and boys scouts. Hopefully you will never have to use what you learn and practice, but if you do, you will always survive.

    1. I hear this constantly, and it sounds more like a reprimand for carrying. Many of the comments, not yours specifically, almost sound anti-gun. I just finished an advanced combat pistol class. I brought my Beretta and my revolver. We studied situational awareness, physical infirmity, inside a car, outside a car, sleeping or prone, etc…. I’ve done my part. Is it really such a huge problem in the ccw community that so many people get a gun and rush into high crime areas looking for trouble? I seem to meet far more people, like me, who constantly continue their self defense education. I suppose it needs to be said. Not sure how many people aren’t doing it.

  9. I always preach become proficient at whatever caliber you choose to carry because at the end of the day,shot placement reigns king over any caliber.A well placed heart or head shot with a .22lr at close range will drop the bad guy just as quickly and efficiently as larger caliber rounds.Just my two cents.Have a nice day gentlemen.

  10. hello,

    carrying a firearm is like wearing pants, you have to find something thats comfortable and fits you. i switch up from a 1911 commander on an officer frame, a s&w 65 and a custom glock 19. Thats what works for me. thanks for the oppertunity to post

  11. i carry a S&W 686(.357 magnum) in 4 inch, along with a good bright flashlight and a can of Sabre pepper spray..My backup is an old .38 revolver my stepdad bought back in the 80’s..Both work flawlessly and have never failed to fire..

  12. The FBI Academy ‘stats’ have documented that historically .22’s have killed more people in the world than any other caliber. I am retired now and suspect this information is still valid. Big or small guns with big or small bullets are lethal (deadly). The “how quickly” may not be as huge an issue as most people want to believe. If you have ever been shot – then no further explanation is necessary. Simply put: 99.9% – “out-of-game” with no desire to play any longer.

  13. I guess you could say I’m old school. I fell in love with the 1911 in basic training 50 years ago. I carry a 1911 to this day and will continue to so til I’m no longer breathing.
    I carry one because over the years based on Military and Law Enforcement experience, it has done what I asked of it, every time with out a problem.

  14. Many years ago, I was into stereo equipment. Every time a new model component came out with more bells and whistles, I had to have it as part of my system. Wouldn’t you know, immediately after a new purchase, a new model hit the scene with even more bells and whistles. I spent a sickening amount of money on all that gear. I did the same with camera equipment.

    When it comes to firearms, I just want something that will throw lead every time I pull the trigger, and accurate enough to hit my target, and well made so it will last a good long while. I still have my S&W K19-4 .357 from 1974, and a Firearms International Model D .380 for a backup. I have 6 shots with either. I have never thought about replacing either, although I have added some.

    I realize manufacturers need to keep coming up with something “new and improved” in order that they still have something to sell. Buyers should get what works for them, not do what I did in my younger days.

    In the long run, I could have skipped all those stereo upgrades because all the bells and whistles didn’t change whether or not the unit did what was needed. To play music. I could have had tons of records and tapes, and CDs for what I squandered my money on.

  15. What one carries for self-defense and/or defense of loved ones is pretty much a decision that should be based upon their personal desires and abilities. In the main, one should carry that with which one is comfortable and proficient in it’s use. While caliber can be an important consideration, the most important point should be vested in the piece one can handle most effectively. My usual carry piece is a compact or full size semi-auto pistol in .357SIG or 9x19mm while my back-up is a small 9x19mm. I also tend to favor laser sighting devices on my carry and back-up weapons. As I have commented before, my concealed carry experience goes back for more than fifty years, and over that time, my choices in carry weaponry have evolved from M1911s, .357Mag revolvers, to where I am now…..with DA/SA pieces for principal carry and DAO pieces for back-up.

  16. I currently carry either a Colt revolver with the smoothest trigger you’ve ever shot or an Italian made Beretta 92. I have a P38 and a S&W .38. I used to collect cool Eastern block stuff and they made some nice pieces. But, I remember when I got my Beretta I thought “This isn’t just as nice as an old CZ, this is top of the line.” Quality and feel is outstanding. Like a solid chunk of metal. My Colt .38 is smoooooooth. A pure joy to shoot. The S&W j frame is too notchy with a bad trigger pull for me. My wife likes it. I’ll stick with a Colt 6 shooter or Beretta 92. Flawless. And I didn’t really appreciate it until after I shot the cheap stuff.

  17. Friends are always asking me, what pistol do they need? My response is: are you planning on murdering someone or want personal protection? That gets a puzzled look in most cases, so I answer both questions.
    If you are going murder someone, or in a gun fight then a 1911 in 45ACP is required.
    If you want self-protection, then a snubnose in .38 Special is adequate. If they are afraid of guns, then a .22LR revolver is the best option. Generally noise is a good deterrent and a well-placed .22LR round can kill.

    1. GIB,

      Your comment makes the bullet pucker in my leg and the long knife scar on my face itch. You have went the wrong way on the logic ladder. For personal defense the most powerful handgun you can control and in which you may fire multiple hard hitting rounds quickly and accurately. The 1911 .45 isn’t infallible but the best thing going along with a four inch barrel .357 Magnum. Noise deters the criminal motivated only by profit. The psychopath– and the prison population according to recent research has ten times the normal mix of psychotic personality- is not deterred by anything but a determined shooter and a heavy caliber.
      As for murder- the snub .38 and .22 LR are common murder weapons. Sneak up on an unarmed person and pop them in the head and it is done. Even some folks take a lot of shooting– the history of mob hits is full of men that took a lot of shooting and lived.

    2. I understand your comment GIB. My primary daily carry gun is an XDM-45 and I consider it an “offensive” self defense weapon. With the 9+1 normal load out I would not hesitate to engage a rifle toting active shooter at distances in excess of 25 yards. But when I can’t carry my full size pistol I will carry my lcp380 which I consider 100% defensive. If the shooter isn’t within 10 yards and actively engaging me then I’m just going to hide and hope for the best.

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