What is reliable?

In response to the 1911 post, a lot of people have asked me what I define as “reliable”.  It’s a good question, because that’s a top that subject to a lot of arbitrary nonsense when it fact it really needs to be objective.  So here are my standards for a “reliable” or semi-auto rifle:

  • Out of the box must be able to fire 1000 rounds over the course of a single week without a failure, either mechanical or shooter induced.
  • Over the course of 10,000 rounds, it cannot have a failure rate greater than 0.5% (50 failures in 10,000 rounds).
  • Less than 10% of the failures can be operator induced (more on this below)

Those are my general guidelines for reliability.  The 10,000 round standard is actually VERY generous, as the S&W M&P, HK P30, and HK45 have all been demonstrated to absolutely destroy that number.  Modern, well made pistols are incredibly reliable straight from the factory.  We live in a delightful modern age, so there’s no reason to bet your trophies or your life on crappy guns.

As far as the operator induced failures go, that’s a big pet peeve of mine.  If a gun is set up in such a way that it’s easy to induce failures due to riding the slide stop, short stroking the trigger, or ejecting the mag and thus activating the magazine disconnect, than I don’t recommend that gun for self defense if my experience has show those issues.  All of those examples above are from guns that I’ve shot that I don’t recommend specifically because they do exactly that.

Set standards for your guns.  If your guns cannot meet the first criteria (1000 rounds of the box with zero failures of any type) I’d strongly urge you to consider a new heater.


  1. I assume you discount the occasional ‘dud’ round stoppage?
    (Yes, factory ammo occasionally goes ‘clink’ instead of ‘boom’, even with a good firing pin hit)

  2. I agree that some allowance for break-in period ought to be made.

    But 1000 rounds in a week? I think there would be a shooter and/or wallet failure if I tried to do that!

    1. It’s not that bad moneywise. $400 should get you a thousand BVAC or CCI .45ACP. On the other hand I don’t enough experience yet to want to fire 1,000 rounds of .45ACP in a week! I would be limp wristing from fatigue.

  3. Just like modern cars, modern pistols don’t require special break-in period. They’re designed to work properly even surface mating between parts is not perfectly settled.
    Going a little easy at the beginning may prolong the absolute service life but by that time, ammo cost would be many many times over the cost of the gun.
    Quite a few pistols can easily run through 10000 trouble-free rounds with minimum cleaning and lubrication.

    1. We all might take a word of advice from Les Baer on this topic. He generally recommends a break-in period of 500 rounds of ball due to his extremely tight tolerances, and the results afterward are hard to argue with. As for me, my “home gunsmith” is Mr. Shootsthehelloutofit, and his buddy Mr. Dryfire. They join together to smooth out the initial wrinkles. I might add that my purchases of late have been new S&W revolvers. Malfunctions 0; smoother by far afterward.

  4. Here is my history with 1911s
    * Colt Gold Cup (circa 1978) sight pin would work out, fixed it myself with a drill rod.
    * Colt Combat Commander, OK but better with an action job.
    * Remington UMC (made in 1918) work needed to feed lead bullets.
    * Springfield MilSpec, good to go from the box
    * Colt 1918 Black Army, needed gunsmith work to eject properly.

  5. Excellent point re: user induced malfunctions “counting” against a firearm’s reliability. I wholeheartedly agree. I learned a while back my wife shoots heavy guns better than lighter poly guns … it’s a limp wristing thing I’m working on with her BUT if she can’t shoot my GLOCK without inducing a malf then I shouldn’t hand it to her to trust her life with. She might be better served with a SIG or something else that I personally wouldn’t choose for myself.

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