As a gun writer and longtime firearms enthusiast, I’m oftentimes asked “What is the best handgun for self-defense?” Though I certainly have my personal favorites, I don’t consider any one gun best for everybody, but there are certain makes and models of revolvers I suggest that new shooters and first-time gun buyers might consider. One of the guns on that list of suggestions is invariably the 9mm Glock 17.
Knowing what a Glock fanboy I am, our Editor asked me to address the following question: “Some say the Glock 17 is the best overall semiauto in the world today. Do you agree or disagree? And why?” At the risk of sounding like a politician talking out both sides of my mouth, my answer is “Yes and No!”
Okay, lemme ‘splain: I don’t consider the G17 to be the best semi-auto pistol in the world in every category, but I *do* consider the gun to be the best in the two most vital categories of all: reliability and durability. I shall provide stories of torture tests from three different entities to prove my point.
Glock 17 Reliability & Durability Stories Part I: The Austrian Army
The Austrian Army was the first significant entity to test the mettle of the G17, commencing these tests shortly after the gun first went into production in 1982. These brutal field tests included freezing the gat in a solid block of ice as well as the opposite extreme of subjecting it to temperatures over 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). The gun took all this punishment in stride and the manufacturer was awarded the Austrian Army’s pistol contract.
Glock 17 Reliability & Durability Stories Part Deux: Miami (Florida) Police Department
Fast-forward to 1987, and Miami PD’s rank-and-file officers were begging for a switch from revolvers to semiautomatic pistols. One-upping the Austrian Army, Miami PD’s then-Armorer, Sgt. Paul Palank, did his own torture tests on the G17, which included dropping the pistol from a helicopter at an altitude of 400 feet. Other than a broken front sight, the gun still worked just fine, and it soon became Miami PD’s standard issue.
Glock 17 Reliability & Durability Stories Part Three: The Chuck Taylor Torture Tests
Arguably the most famous story of Glock 17 reliability and survivability comes to us from Chuck Taylor, U.S. Army Special Forces Vietnam veteran, highly respected firearms instructor, and author of multiple books on guns for combat. Chuck was also a diehard fan of the M1911A1 pistol and the .45 ACP cartridge and was initially very much inclined to hate the Glock. But he eventually conceded, “They work.”
Chuck’s endurance tests of the Glock 17 started in 1990, starting off with 10,000 jam-free rounds without a cleaning. As Chuck wrote in 2018, “No other pistol I knew of would have gone anywhere near 10,000 rounds and still work.” Neither do I, and I challenge our readers to come up with any credible stories of any other gun that can top this, whether from Beretta, Heckler & Koch (HK), FN, SIG Sauer, Walther, or whomever.
It was at a whopping 325,000 rounds – yes, THREE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND ROUNDS(!!!) – that Chuck’s G17 finally experienced a trigger spring breakage, which in turn caused a stoppage. “It was quickly replaced and shooting resumed. Then, after another hundred rounds, the firing pin tail chipped, but the gun continued to function.”
Chuck also provided a testament to the gun’s hardiness in terms of resistance to rust, wear, and corrosion:
“On one occasion, knowing I would return for another class in 30 days, I tossed it into the harbor where the unit’s headquarters was located to see if it would rust. When I returned, one of the team members obligingly donned scuba gear and retrieved it for me … Examination disclosed no rust … So I then left it on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for a whopping six months. When it was subsequently recovered, the only corrosion evident was on the slide stop lever, and it wiped right off. No pitting or other rust was evident. Even submerging it in mud, sand, dust and snow on multiple occasions failed to cause the gun to malfunction.”
A big reason for this is the Glock’s Tenifer finish, which is more rust-resistant than stainless steel.
Okay, But What About Accuracy?
Well, in terms of both intrinsic and practical accuracy alike, the Glock 17 is very, very good … but not quite the “best.”
Practical accuracy-wise, It’s not even the most accurate Glock I personally own; from having used both the G17 and .45 ACP Glock 21SF in multiple competitions, including the Nevada Police Fire & Games and the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation, I can attest that the latter, bigger-bore Glock is the more accurate of the two. As far as stacking it up against other 9mm pistol brands, though the G17 shoots very well for me, I’m a tad more accurate with the CZ-75 and Beretta 92FS.
There’s also the question of the trigger pull quality. On the one hand distance of the Glock’s trigger stroke is a definite plus when attempting to shoot with both speed and accuracy, but on the other hand, having the safety on the trigger can give it a spongy and sometimes somewhat irritating feel. Installing the aftermarket 3.5-lb. trigger connector certainly helps, but it’s still never as crisp as a well-tuned single-action (SA) trigger on a more “traditional” hammer-fired auto pistol.
In terms of intrinsic accuracy, the Glock 17 doesn’t even crack the Top 3, being easily left in the dust by the SIG P210, Walther P88, and HK P9S. That said, going back to Chuck Taylor’s G17, even after 325K rounds: “From a Ransom Rest, the test Glock 17 still clusters any kind of decent ammunition into an inch or better at 15 meters.”
So then, like I said, the G17 ain’t the best in every category. But it is the best in two extremely important categories and pretty goshdarn good in others.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.