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1911 government vs commander 1

1911 Government Vs. Commander

The 1911 pistol is one of the most enduring handguns ever made, and with good reason. Not only did this pistol serve with notable distinction across many wars and conflicts around the world, but many people to this day have simply found the 1911 to be one of the most ergonomic and well-balanced pistols ever made.

1911s have come in many different sizes and configurations over the years, but the two most popular have long been the Government-style and Commander-style models. 

The Government 1911 is the original size, while the Commander style has the same size of grip and frame, but a slightly shorter barrel and slide. 

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely because you’re thinking about purchasing a 1911 but aren’t sure about which size is the best for you. 

We’re here to help you out. 

History of the Government and Commander Models 

history of the 1911

The biggest difference between the Government and Commander models is in the slide and the barrel. The Government is the original configuration with a 5-inch barrel, while the Commander has a shorter 4.25 inch barrel. 

Sometimes, Commander-style 1911s will come with a lighter aluminum frame as well (in contrast to the Government’s steel frame), but not always. 

The names ‘Government’ and ‘Commander’ originated with Colt, who was the original manufacturer of the 1911. Colt was producing M1911 and later M1911A1 pistols for the United States Armed Forces. 

When Colt released the M1911A1 to the commercial market for civilians, they designated it as the ‘Government’ model, and the name stuck to refer to any 1911 that was of the original size. 

In the late 1940s, the United States military requested a lighter pistol to issue to officers. Colt simply cut down the barrel of the M1911A1 to 4.25 inches, switched to a rounded hammer (in contrast to the Government’s spur hammer), and used an aluminum alloy frame to reduce the weight.

While this project with the military eventually fell through, Colt unveiled this modified 1911 as 

the ‘Commander’ to the public in 1950. Like the Government, the Commander was available in .45 ACP but was also released in the 9mm Parabellum and .38 Super cartridges

Later, Colt released the “Combat Commander,” which was simply a Commander with a heavier steel frame like the Government. The term “Lightweight Commander” was then used to designate Commanders with the lighter aluminum frame. 


Today, there are a myriad of manufacturers who produce 1911 pistols. While the names ‘Government’ and ‘Commander’ are officially only used for the Colt-branded guns, the terms are still used colloquially for 1911s with 5-inch or 4.25-inch barrels respectively. 

Both the Government and Commander are the most popular sizes of the 1911 on the market today. There are other configurations of the 1911 as well, but that’s a story for another day. 

Pros and Cons of the Government and Commander 

government vs commander

So, which is the better choice?

Here’s the short answer: the Government is the superior choice for some applications, and the Commander is a better choice for others.

Let’s explain.

The Government is the larger and heavier pistol. It usually weighs around 39 ounces with an empty magazine. The Commander, by contrast, has a shorter slide and usually weighs 29 to 33 ounces with an empty magazine. 

Here’s what that means:

Carry: Commander 

1911 concealability

As a result of its smaller size, the Commander is generally slightly easier and more pleasant to carry on your person every day (regardless of whether you choose to open or concealed carry). 

This was the whole purpose the Commander was created in the first place: to offer military officers and later civilians a 1911 in an easier-to-carry package. 

Shootability: Government 

1911 shootability

Both pistols are very satisfying to shoot, but the Government is generally the easier gun to shoot because the heavier weight helps to tame recoil. The Government also offers (at least theoretically) superior accuracy and bullet velocity thanks to the longer barrel. 

For these reasons, most people find the Government model to be the more shootable gun. If you want to get a Commander that offers shooting performance similar to the Government, you’ll want to take a look at the Combat Commanders rather than the Lightweight models

Firepower: Equal 

1911 firepower

Both pistols accept the same magazines and therefore offer the same firepower, regardless of the caliber that is used. 

Reliability: Equal 

1911 reliability

Most people find neither the Government or the Commander to be more reliable than the other. While the very early Commander-style pistols that were produced were known for being more ammo-sensitive, they have been refined over the decades. 

Today, a brand new Government-style or Commander-style 1911 from a reputable manufacturer should run fine with most modern ammunition, so long as you take care of the gun and keep it properly maintained (which is something you should be doing with any gun).

Customization: Equal 

1911 customization

The 1911 is well-known for being one of the most customizable firearms in existence, and this holds true for both the Government and Commander style guns. 

Additionally, the frames between the Commander and Government and most of the internal components are interchangeable as well. 

The primary components that are not interchangeable between the two guns are the barrels, slides, and the recoil springs.   

Conclusion

If you want to buy a 1911 that is closer to the original configuration as John Moses Browning (the gun’s designer) originally intended, you’ll want to take a look at the Government 1911.

You’ll also want to take a look at the Government if you prefer the look of the full-size 1911 or if you want a 1911 that is somewhat easier to shoot. If you want to get a 1911 that is somewhat lighter in weight and somewhat easier to conceal carry, at the expense of slightly greater recoil, the Commander will be your pick. 

Besides those factors, however, neither the Government or Commander offer much of an advantage over the others. Both are reliable, customizable, and offer a satisfying shooting experience. There’s a reason why both have proven to be enormously popular over the decades and will likely remain so for many more to come. 

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