Will a 1911 really, really fire from firing pin inertia if dropped on the muzzle? The answer is yes. Friend Drake Oldham tested this, I dunno, 7-8 years ago and found that it is real. I mean it's been known to be a real thing for a long, long time but it's the kind of thing that seemingly has a cycle of being known or believed, and then, not as much. I tested it two decades ago and could not make it happen but it was a very flawed test and far from thorough. Drakes' testing was dropping it from various height onto various floor types-- I'll see if I can dig up the info and put it here. Good stuff for 1911-isti to know.
Then I recently read a very thorough, almost laboratory-grade test. They kindly cited Drake's work and basically got the same results. For some reason that at the moment escapes me, they also tested with just a slide and barrel with bushing, and got that set-up to fire, also.
Forward to last week. I'm preparing for a 1911 class over the weekend, in Detroit. It's billed as "1911 Armorer" but really I need to call it something else because one day? No one can become an armorer on anything in one day. Anyway-- I'm reviewing my material, updating a few things, re-ordering a few points. Now I'm at the part where we talk about checking extractor tension: can you slip a loaded round under the extractor, and give it mild shake without the round falling out? Seems like a crude, field-expedient test but it's pretty darned effective. How do you know if you're on the right part of the breech face with the cartridge? Well, you could install the barrel and bushing into the slide. Basically chamber the round, with the barrel moved up into the locked position, then move the barrel down until it will juuuust unlock; move it forward out of the way. Now the round is pretty much right where it would be on the breech face during extraction.
So: for a moment there, you have a chambered round in the barrel and the firing pin is lined up with the primer. But, >whew< the hammer's not in the picture, so what could go wrong? You could drop it. This kinda took on new meaning when read the recent test and it included a slide/barrel/bushing-only drop.
So I demo'd this in class, first time I've actually tried it this way. We had a nice concrete floor with some grey epoxy paint on it. I taped the barrel into the locked position after loading a primer-only case, and dropped it from 4'. I got lucky and it fell as straight as it had rocket fins on it. BANG!
So the new extractor test will be, should be for all of us I believe, if you only have a loaded round and not a dummy round, ideally you should remove the firing pin before testing and/or do the test seated at a table with a towel in place or something that is a "less hard" surface. Maybe kneeling in the grass at the range or over carpet or maybe a bag of cotton candy
. Pretty much anything but standing over concrete or other hard surface.
In discussions about passive firing pin safeties, I've heard the admonishments: "If you drop your guns, maybe you shouldn't have guns. It's easy, you're not supposed to drop guns so just don't be stupid, don't drop your gun." Mmm-hm. Well if that guy drops a gun, and he will if he's really around guns all the time, and it fires and shoots him in the foot (got to examine a gun that did this, for a PD), I'll bet he'd pay dearly for a time machine. Then he could go back to the point where he was watching it fall and put a passive safety in it. And maybe he'd even go back in time further and take back his comment about only stupid people dropping guns.
I don't mind a 1911 with a passive firing pin safety but like every other aspect of the gun, it has to be done right. The Series 80 has been pretty good for me, with a few caveats...... the Swartz system has been rather chronically poorly executed and more than half that I examine are subject to misfires because of it...... the 2nd pic above. More on this later.