Gun World - - Contents - By Jame­son Parker

Con­vert­ing a Colt Com­bat Com­man­der into the per­fect carry gun

The Los An­ge­les Po­lice De­part­ment (LAPD) used to (and might still) have the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the small­est po­lice force rel­a­tive to the pop­u­la­tion served of any po­lice force in Amer­ica. The LAPD also used to have (and might still have) the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of serv­ing the largest area in terms of square miles cov­ered of any metropoli­tan po­lice force in Amer­ica.

The re­sult of these two dis­tinc­tions is that the LAPD has had to de­velop tech­niques and tac­tics that make it one of, if not the, great­est and most ef­fec­tive po­lice de­part­ments in the world. Other de­part­ments from around the na­tion and around the globe come to learn from the LAPD and par­tic­u­larly from its Spe­cial Weapons and Tac­tics (SWAT) team. They also come to train with Scott Reitz’s In­ter­na­tional Tac­ti­cal Train­ing Sem­i­nars (ITTS).

There is a rea­son for that.


Scott Reitz is a 30-year vet­eran of the LAPD, specif­i­cally of the elite Metro Divi­sion’s “D” Pla­toon—oth­er­wise known as the SWAT team. He served there for 10 years be­fore he was kicked up­stairs to be­come the pri­mary firearms and

tac­tics in­struc­tor for the en­tire Metro Divi­sion and all LAPD ad­vanced in-ser­vice firearms and tac­tics train­ing. He was also in charge of ad­vanced train­ing for all spe­cial­ized units such as the gangs unit, the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Sec­tion (SIS), the anti-ter­ror­ist divi­sion, In­ter­nal Af­fairs fol­low teams, the L.A. Fire De­part­ment ar­son squad and a host of oth­ers.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he has trained and worked with the Navy Spe­cial War­fare’s Team Six, U.S. Army Delta and the Air Task Force, as well as elite branches of var­i­ous over­seas mil­i­tary and po­lice forces. He is one of only a hand­ful of men across the coun­try con­sid­ered qual­i­fied to tes­tify as an ex­pert wit­ness on the use of deadly force in both Fed­eral and Su­pe­rior Court. As an of­fi­cer on the LAPD SWAT team, he pre­vailed in five of­fi­cer-in­volved shootouts, all of which were ruled jus­ti­fi­able. In short, he is the real McCoy and has first­hand knowl­edge of what works and what doesn’t.

In ad­di­tion to a wide range of cour­ses for var­i­ous lev­els of pro­fi­ciency with var­i­ous weapons sys­tems—many of them re­stricted to law en­force­ment only—ITTS is the only school I know of that teaches a M1911-only course. There are two rea­sons for that.

The first rea­son is that Scott is one of the men who were able to con­vince LAPD bu­reau­cratic brass to al­low SWAT and SIS of­fi­cers to carry M1911s on duty. Back in those early days of the trans­fer from re­volver to pis­tol, that meant of­fi­cers could ei­ther buy their own sidearms or scav­enge guns and parts of guns from the prop­erty divi­sion (Scott has some very funny sto­ries of of­fi­cers end­ing up with, uh, shall we say, sin­gu­lar items, such as gold-plated slides or ivory grips in­laid with gold longhorn skulls, com­plete with faux rubies for eyes).

The sec­ond rea­son (which is how the first came to be) is that Scott is the “Old Dope Ped­dler” of M1911s. It is the only semi­auto pis­tol he car­ries, likes, trusts or rec­om­mends. His own sig­na­ture model, made for him by the Phoenix, Ari­zona-based com­pany of Robar on a Kim­ber plat­form, is a model in­tended for real-life hard and dirty use in a hard and dirty world.

Scott be­lieves so ar­dently in the M1911 that if you are un­lucky enough to spend more than about 10 min­utes in his pres­ence, he will have you spend­ing money for the M1911 of your dreams that you might oth­er­wise have fool­ishly squan­dered on your chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion. I’m a good ex­am­ple—or a cau­tion­ary tale, de­pend­ing on your point of view.


For those of you lucky enough to live in a civ­i­lized state, let me ex­plain that Cal­i­for­nia has some of the most ab­surd and dra­co­nian gun laws any­where in Amer­ica. Among other things, there are very strict reg­u­la­tions de­ter­min­ing which hand­guns may be sold—reg­u­la­tions that defy com­mon sense and were never passed with any in­ten­tion other than to make gun own­er­ship as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble. For ex­am­ple, I have a full-sized stainless SIG M1911 .45 that is Cal­i­for­nia le­gal. The ex­act same model with a blued slide is il­le­gal. Yeah, that will stop those crim­i­nals all right!

So, when I de­cided I wanted a steel-framed M1911 .45-cal­iber Com­bat Com­man­der, the only choice I had was a Colt Com­bat Com­man­der (as op­posed to any one of sev­eral cus­tom or semi­cus­tom com­pa­nies that are not “Cal­i­for­nia ap­proved”), and I had to buy it im­me­di­ately, be­cause it was slated for re­moval from the “ap­proved” list. It has since been re­moved (clearly mak­ing Cal­i­for­nia a much kin­der, gen­tler, safer place ... ).

It has also since been (tech­ni­cally) dis­con­tin­ued by Colt in fa­vor of an up­graded vari­ant. The up­grades in­clude an un­der­cut trig­ger guard (for a higher grip), slightly dif­fer­ent slide cock­ing ser­ra­tions, No­vak sights, an ex­treme up­swept beaver­tail, an ex­tended thumb safety and G-10 grips—all mod­i­fi­ca­tions that ren­der it il­le­gal in Cal­i­for­nia ( ... don’t ask).

Just to clar­ify, while dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies use dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of the name, “Com­man­der,” from a strictly tech­ni­cal and his­tor­i­cal point of view, the name, “Com­man­der,” as man­u­fac­tured by Colt, orig­i­nally meant an M1911 with a 4¾-inch bar­rel and an alu­minum al­loy frame, and it was first in­tro­duced in the early 1950s. A “Com­bat Com­man­der” re­ferred to an M1911 with a 4¾-inch bar­rel and an all-steel frame. That model wasn’t man­u­fac­tured un­til some­time in the 1970s.


I also wanted to have some cus­tom work done on it with an eye to mak­ing it my daily carry weapon. The work in­cluded a shorter trig­ger, thin grips, an Ed Brown mem­ory-bump grip safety, check­er­ing on the front strap to ac­com­mo­date my hands, No­vak­cut Tri­ji­con front and rear sights with an over­sized, or­ange fiberop­tic front sight to ac­com­mo­date my ag­ing eyes, an am­bidex­trous thumb safety, de-bur­ring and a low­ered ejec­tion port.

Be­cause I had had an op­por­tu­nity to shoot Robar’s Scott Reitz ITTS model M1911 and had been im­pressed with the com­pany’s work, I sent my Com­man­der off to Robar and promptly got talked into hav­ing it coated with one of its pro­pri­etary coatings. (Af­ter all, how much ed­u­ca­tion do chil­dren need these days, any­way?)

Robar is a Nad­cap-ac­cred­ited coat­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pany. Putting it in baby talk, this means it pro­vides var­i­ous coatings (pri­mar­ily elec­tro­less or au­to­cat­alytic, for those of you in­ter­ested in such things) ap­plied to met­als for the pur­poses of cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance and in­creased hard­ness to pro­tect and im­prove the base metal. The tech­nol­ogy has a wide range of ap­pli­ca­tions, but the phrase, “Nad­cap-ac­cred­ited,” refers to the Na­tional Aero­space and De­fense Con­trac­tors Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Pro­gram. The Robar Com­pa­nies are Nad­ca­pac­cred­ited be­cause they coat crit­i­cal parts for prod­ucts such as Boe­ing jets and Black­hawk heli­copters, among oth­ers.

Why should this be of any sig­nif­i­cance to some­one look­ing for cus­tom work on a firearm?

Be­cause, due to var­i­ous fed­eral reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the aero­space in­dus­try, the Robar Com­pa­nies may not sep­a­rate their aero­space op­er­a­tion from their firearms op­er­a­tion. As a re­sult, this means any firearm treated by the Robar

Com­pa­nies is done to aero­space spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

Rob­bie Bark­man, Robar’s founder, was a former in­struc­tor and gun­smith at Jeff Cooper’s famed Gun­site Academy. He built sniper ri­fles (the SR-60) for the LAPD, so when Scott de­cided to cre­ate his sig­na­ture M1911, Robar was the log­i­cal place for him to go. It is also the log­i­cal place for any­one who wants ex­tremely high-qual­ity work done on any firearm—from pis­tol to tac­ti­cal pre­ci­sion ri­fle, from that old M1-Garand to a weath­er­proof hunt­ing ri­fle and from tac­ti­cal shot­guns to semi-auto ri­fles.

ITTS has a per­fect safety record, some­thing for you to con­sider when look­ing for a shoot­ing school, and af­ter sit­ting through Scott’s safety lec­ture that pre­cedes ev­ery class, you’ll know why. He is an ex­cel­lent teacher: tough, de­mand­ing, very funny, very en­ter­tain­ing, with an un­be­liev­able eye for de­tail and zero tol­er­ance for mis­takes. He also, at least in his M1911 class, breaks things up in a way that keeps you on your toes.


We started at 7 yards on sta­tion­ary tar­gets with the ba­sics: the ba­sics of draw­ing; the ba­sics of shoot­ing (Scott’s mantra is “Front sight, trig­ger press, fol­low through,” which you hear again and again and yet never often enough); and the ba­sics of re-hol­ster­ing. Then, over the next two days came a course I found ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing:



25 yards, then 50 yards, then back to ba­sics;

Mul­ti­ple tar­gets in vary­ing se­quences, then back to ba­sics; Mov­ing tar­gets (left to right and right to left), then back to ba­sics;

Shoot­ing at night with a flash­light and shoot­ing at night us­ing only night sights, then back to ba­sics;

Shoot­ing from a mov­ing ve­hi­cle, then back to ba­sics; Shoot­ing off hand at a 175-yard tar­get, then back to ba­sics; Hostage res­o­lu­tion (i.e., a small, mov­ing “bad guy” tar­get be­hind a sta­tion­ary “good guy” tar­get), then back to ba­sics; Shoot­ing prone, then back to ba­sics;

Shoot­ing at a flee­ing tar­get (yes, there are times when that is jus­ti­fied un­der the law), shoot­ing at an on­com­ing, knifewield­ing at­tacker, and shoot­ing and reload­ing un­der pres­sure from an on­com­ing at­tacker, then back to ba­sics; and

Shoot­ing one-handed and with the weak hand, then back to ba­sics.

Al­ways, again and again, this course re­turns to the ba­sics— with­out which you’d be bet­ter off throw­ing rocks.

For the knife at­tack, Scott has tar­gets set up on rail­road track with which he can sim­u­late an on­com­ing at­tacker com­ing at you al­most as fast as a man (a young stunt­man was on hand to demon­strate how fast he could cover the max­i­mum dis­tance, and he was faster than the tar­gets) mov­ing to­ward you from 25, 21 or 15 feet. There were eight of us in the class, in­clud­ing two law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, and not one of us was able to draw and hit the knife-wield­ing tar­get at a dis­tance that would have stopped him be­fore his mo­men­tum could have car­ried him onto the shooter if he had been a man and not a tar­get hit­ting a stop. That’s worth re­mem­ber­ing the next time you hear peo­ple scream­ing be­cause a po­lice of­fi­cer shot some­one armed with “only” a knife.

I per­son­ally came away se­cure in the knowl­edge that if I am ever at­tacked by a knife-wield­ing oc­to­ge­nar­ian grand­mother with a walker, I might—might—be able to save my­self ... that is, if the walker has ten­nis balls and no wheels.

Due to some health is­sues, I had been un­able to fire my Robar-cus­tom­ized Colt, so I de­cided to make the class part

of the test­ing and break­ing-in of a new gun. My think­ing was that if any­thing were to go wrong, it would go wrong un­der the stresses of hard, fast-paced use; and if any­thing did go wrong, ITTS keeps two gun­smiths present at the classes pre­cisely for that rea­son. The only mod­i­fi­ca­tion I had made to the Colt af­ter I got it back from Robar was to in­stall a 20-pound spring to mit­i­gate any pound­ing on the frame.

I went through more than 500 rounds of three dif­fer­ent brands of 230-grain hardball FMJ in two days with­out so much as a wipe-down of the gun and didn’t have a sin­gle hic­cup. Ku­dos to Colt; ku­dos to Robar.

There was no op­por­tu­nity within the con­struct of the class to test for ac­cu­racy from a rest or sand­bag. How­ever, Scott likes to break up his ba­sics, ask­ing some­times for dou­ble-taps or Mozam­bique drills and some­times for slow, mea­sured shots specif­i­cally geared for tight groups. With that caveat, the ac­cu­racy was ev­ery bit as good as my full-sized M1911, which is ex­cel­lent.


One. But it had noth­ing to do with ei­ther Colt’s man­u­fac­tur­ing or Robar’s con­ver­sion. Scott is a con­firmed be­liever in am­bidex­trous safeties. His think­ing, which is a re­sult of his ex­pe­ri­ence and ob­ser­va­tions in real-life sit­u­a­tions, is that if you are com­pelled to shoot with your weak hand, you will need that ambi.

He’s right, but I did find that af­ter 300 or 400 rounds, the am­bidex­trous safety was wear­ing away sig­nif­i­cant amounts of my hide where the large knuckle of my trig­ger fin­ger touched it. Would this be of any con­se­quence in a real-life en­counter? No. Would it be of any con­se­quence in a day at the range? No. But in terms of pro­longed shoot­ing over two days, it did show the ad­van­tage of the good, ag­gres­sive check­er­ing on my front strap to keep the gun se­curely an­chored while my hand was slip­pery with blood. Since this is in­tended as a carry gun, it is of no con­se­quence. If I in­tended to com­pete with it, I would re­move the ambi. GW

Note the ex­tremely dark olive drab fin­ish. The ex­te­rior of the au­thor’s gun has Robar’s Poly T2 fin­ish for max­i­mum cor­ro­sion pro­tec­tion, which was im­per­vi­ous to the au­thor’s blood. Not so the stainless thumb safety, which re­quired am­mo­nia to re­move the stains.

The 20-pound spring helped keep re­coil to a com­fort­able min­i­mum. The NP3 fin­ish on the bar­rel is de­signed to add lu­bric­ity for longer fir­ing and ease of clean­ing.

The large, or­ange front sight was specif­i­cally cho­sen to help ag­ing eyes in all light con­di­tions. It worked beau­ti­fully.

The Com­bat

Com­man­der has al­ways been pop­u­lar as a con­cealed-carry weapon, even though it is only slightly smaller and slightly lighter than the full-sized M1911.

The am­bidex­trous safety made shoot­ing with the off hand much eas­ier, but it did even­tu­ally take a toll on the au­thor’s strong­hand fin­ger joint.

The dove­tailed rear sight is both large and wide to ac­com­mo­date a large front sight.

Scott Reitz of ITTS at work with his own M1911 Think you can’t hit a tar­get off hand at 175 yards with an M1911? Think again! And look closely at how far away some of those tar­gets are.

The mov­ing tar­gets are chal­leng­ing by them­selves, but they are made even more so by plac­ing them close to­gether. Skeet shoot­ers might have an ad­van­tage here.

From the au­thor’s point of view, the Com­bat Com­man­der of­fers the best pos­si­ble com­pro­mise be­tween full-size per­for­mance and re­duced-size con­ceal­a­bil­ity in the M1911.

Hol­ster, belt, mag­a­zine holder and knife were all made by Dave and Ni­c­hole Ferry of Horsewright Cloth­ing and Tack.

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