Handguns: Polymer vs. Metal

Ever since high tech polymers, fiber-glass composites and carbon based plastics have been used in firearms manufacturing, the debate between gun owners has been “What is better, plastic or metal?” Anytime I think of a metal handgun I ultimately first think of a 1911, and probably most gun enthusiast do the same. It’s an iconic and historic firearm. When John Moses Browning designed and created the infamous 1911, it was the crowning achievement of its day. It was made of the metals of that day as well…and in some cases still is. Since then, it has served as the benchmark for many other handguns to be compared against…no matter how fair or not. It is frequently compared to every other type of handgun on the market. But then that begs the question….why? Why are some people so fixated on metal guns like the 1911 versus polymer-framed guns, or visa-versa.

There are a few things you’ll want to consider when deciding to go metal or plastic: Purpose, Maintenance, Ammo Capacity, Recoil and Feeling.

• What is your intended purpose of use? If your intent is to carry, I’d recommend polymer. And my main reason for that is weight. Polymer guns are normally designed to be lightweight. Carrying a handgun is added weight to your belt; therefore I want as little weight hanging off my side as possible. When you’re comparing similar model handguns, polymer and metal; the polymer-framed guns win here hands down.

Plastic = 1, Metal = 0

• Many think that you will not have as many maintenance issues with polymer-framed pistols as you will with metal; and based on my own experience I think this is more related to how you maintain your weapon, how you carry and where you live. Most people don’t shoot their handguns everyday, so detailed levels of maintenance for either type should be about the same here. In hot climates such as Arizona, I worry about my body sweat causing rust and/or corrosion to the slide or hammer on my daily carry polymer-framed gun. But to be honest, I’d have that problem if I lived in a humid area as well with a metal or polymer gun. Therefore, to be fair, I’m calling maintenance a draw. Both should really be treated with care equally.

Plastic = 1, Metal = 0

• Is ammo capacity going to be an issue? Generally speaking, when comparing most metal guns like the 1911 or Sig P220, Sig P226 or P229 to any polymer-framed guns of the same caliber, the plastics tend to have a higher ammo capacity. For example purposes I’ll compare some plastics to the 1911 and its 7 round standard-capacity magazine + one in the chamber. The Glock 21, CZ 97B and Beretta Px4 Storm all normally have a 10-13 round magazine + one in the chamber, the H&K USP has a 12 round magazine + one in the chamber, and the FN FNP-45 has a 14 round magazine + one in the chamber. All are full sized handguns and chambered in 45ACP. Firepower here is generally dominated by the plastics without the need to carry a spare magazine, etc. Enough said.

Plastic = 2, Metal = 0

• Recoil Management: The metal handguns have a slight edge here due to the laws of physics. A heavier gun will generate less recoil than a lighter weight (poly-framed) handgun. It’s just that simple. However, with the proper practice this shouldn’t be an issue either way. With that being said, the point still goes to metal framed pistols.

Plastic = 2, Metal = 1

• Many shooters just like the way that a metal pistol feels in their palms versus a plastic piece. There is no right or wrong answer here as it comes down to personal preference. I do agree an all metal pistol feels good, solid and generally well built compared to some polymer-framed guns; however, I also feel the increased weight. Weight to me is a huge factor as I carry daily and don’t want to tote around a heavy object on my belt. Therefore, since this category is really all up to personal preference, I’m calling it a draw too.

Plastic = 2, Metal = 1

Really, in all honesty, there is no right or wrong answer here. It’s really all about your personal preference and what you like. I still think if you consider the topics of Purpose, Maintenance, Ammo Capacity, Recoil and Feeling when buying of carrying your handgun, you’ll be better off in the long run. As for guns like the 1911, they are excellent and I have a lot of respect for them and their makers. I love to shoot them and they are great to own. But I think it’s time to let the old-school nostalgic magic wear off a bit and recognize that its time to welcome in the new technology and new designs of today…and the future.

– Stay Alert, Stay Alive

© 2014 The Ballistic Blog


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