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Da Auto Evolution

Da Auto Evolution
What’s Old Is Often New

Firearms design takes odd twists and turns along the way. Sometimes better technology comes along, sometimes buyers decide another design concept better serves their needs. The evolution of the semi-auto pistol is an interesting one. We don’t have to rely on myths or hearsay since auto pistols have been around not much more than a century, and developments have been well documented.

A very influential development was the double-action (DA) concept. The Walther PP series that fathered the idea garnered a lot of publicity. The DA auto seemingly combined the greater capacity, faster reloading, and flat profile of the auto pistol with the “point gun – pull trigger” simplicity of the revolver.

We won’t reopen the endless debate on whether the concept was needed. In fact there was great interest in the concept of an auto pistol, which could be fired simply by pulling the trigger, rather than having to release a safety, cock a hammer, or cycle a slide.

The Walther P-38 adapted the DA concept to a locked-breech, full-size military sidearm. A great many P-38s came to America as war trophies. The US military did a lot of evaluations of enemy ordnance after the war, and evidently found things about the P-38 they liked. One was the ability to lower the hammer on a loaded chamber by using a lever rather than a thumb. Armed forces hate having their personnel killed or wounded, and they really hate having them killed accidentally. Most unintentional discharges with handguns happen during routine loading and unloading.

I know, I know, it’s all about training, but the reality is there isn’t always the time, budget, or individual motivation available. During WWII, soldiers went into combat with handgun training limited to firing one or two magazines. It’s hard to fault ordnance people for looking for ways to make firearms easier and safer to manipulate.

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  1. Re: Dave Anderson’s article on DA Auto Evolution in the May/June issue – the P-38 did have a trigger-actuated firing pin lock, so the M9 Beretta didn’t “add” that feature to those carried over from the P-38.

    Other than that, a great article.

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