The Therapeutic P-35

Part II


In the earlier article bearing nearly the same title, I suggested other than defensive considerations in using the venerable Hi Power.  In this one let's focus on its worthiness in the arena of self-defense.


Proven Design: That the pistol has drawn blood in the world's carnage-strewn battlefields goes without question.  It has been used by well over 60 nations for decades.  It has seen "use" in unpleasantness that was (and maybe "is") cloaked in "plausible deniability".  Even the Hi Power's detractors will usually admit that it's a "classic" and that it was the first "high-capacity" 9mm.


Though John M. Browning passed on before completing the gun, its finished form was from the fertile mind of D. J. Saive, better known as the inventor of the FAL rifle.  Both of these gun designers proved themselves capable of making guns for battle that worked.  The Hi Power was one of them, and it can still serve very, very well in about any situation.  Considering the current world situation, it's interesting to note the frequent sighting of a Hi Power (or clone) with fighters in the Middle East.  The Israelis manufacture their own version of the P-35.  It seems reasonable that the pistol would not be quite so popular in these harsh lands of talcum-like sand and AK-47's if they didn't work.


Closer to home, our own FBI Hostage Rescue Team initially used Browning 9mm Hi Powers. They have since gone to Springfield .45 ACP 1911's, another Browning classic. This happened when their agency went to the 40-caliber. England's Special Air Service used them for decades, and they're still in use with various police agencies around the world.


The point is that the Hi Power has been thoroughly tested over time and in varying and extreme conditions.


It should work for you or me.


Let's examine its characteristics…or at least my subjective observations.


Single-Action:  Though viewed as archaic or "obsolete" by some, I see it as a very viable ignition system for the competent user.  Like the 1911 or Star single-actions, the shorter trigger press required to fire a shot does not suffer improper handling well.  The pistol was designed during a time when efficiently dispatching the enemy was a more important consideration than having a "lawyer proof" trigger system.


The single-action design allows for the same trigger pull from first shot to last.  Despite the frequently heavy trigger pulls on many Hi Powers, it's still lighter than that of the typical double-action auto.  (Both versions can be helped considerably by a good gunsmith, and I personally find the difference between the first DA shot and subsequent SA shots with some autos less of a "horror" than some describe…but that's another story.)


At the firing range when a fellow's shooting a typical DA/SA automatic, we frequently see him cocking his pistol for the first shot to obtain the single-action first shot that the Hi Power (and 1911) start with!


That the uninformed think the cocked-and-locked single-action auto is "dangerous" does not make it so.  Jeff Cooper once wrote something to the effect of, "One can be sure that in technical matters the majority opinion is frequently wrong."  In this case, I fully agree.  A properly functioning Hi Power is not inherently unsafe in trained hands.  It can be extremely dangerous in trained ones, as they will likely put a hole or two in their opponent(s).


Reliability:  The Hi Power is a most reliable handgun.  Older versions before the Mk II could be picky about JHP reliability, but this was easily fixed by removing the hump from the barrel's feed ramp.  The Mk II and Mk III pistols had this change made by FN and in my experience are very, very, very reliable with most expanding bullets. The main problem I've seen with Hi Powers is not failing to feed, but sometimes failing to extract fired cases.  This has been proven to be almost always caused by:


·         Weak extractor springs

·         Sizeable amount of gunk and debris under the extractor arm

·         Defective, worn, or broken extractor claw


These maladies are easily fixed.  Most of the time an out-of-the box Hi Power will operate just fine.  (I do not advocate trusting a gun that's not been tested for reliability, but the Hi Power is usually good to go out of the box.)

The Browning Hi Power has proven itself capable and reliable over the years.  I still think it remains an apex defensive handgun for those trained in the safe use of the single-action automatic.


All of this assumes quality magazines such as the Mecgar or the Browning-marked magazines, which happen to be made by the same company.


Accuracy:  Neither Browning nor Saive designed the Hi Power as a competition target pistol, but the gun has proven capable of quite good accuracy in my view.  Will it beat a tuned and accurized 1911 or the high-dollar SIG P-210?  Nope.  With loads the particular pistol "likes", most are capable of dropping their bullets into a tennis ball size target at 25 yards or so.  For most of us, this is good enough.  Many of us cannot shoot to the gun's inherent accuracy levels; fewer (if any) can do so under the stress of a life-or-death situation befalling us unexpectedly.  In the private citizen's more likely scenarios, ranges will be short, sometimes at arm's length or less!  Trust me, a decent Hi Power has more accuracy potential than needed for 99.999999% of the private citizen's needs.  Some examples are scarily accurate, but the majority will certainly place their hits in 2 1/2" or so at 25-yards with some ammunition and under around 3" with most ammo.


These groups were fired with readily available commercial ammunition in a Mk III with no accuracy work.  This is plenty good for most of us.


Ammunition Capacity:  With original capacity magazines, the 9mm versions hold 13 rounds.  Some versions will actually hold 14, and Mecgar offered a flush-fitting 15-round magazine.  I've normally used the standard 13-round magazines.  That the Hi Power does not hold quite as many cartridges as some 9mm pistols bothers me not one wit.  In the defense situation, I believe we run out of time before we do ammunition. Only hits count; if we cannot solve our problem with the first few shots, I suspect we very well might be beyond caring.


Even the Post-Ban 10-round magazines offer a total payload of 11 shots before reloading.  This is very probably enough, though I still despise the "law" mandating them as well as the flotsam that pushed it through Congress.


CaliberCalled the Browning "Half Power" by some is clearly a reference to its usual 9x19mm chambering.  Physically small for the power it has, some (mistakenly) consider it little more than a .380 ACP.  The difference is that besides having a tad more case capacity, it operates at much higher pressures and achieves much higher velocity for projectiles of the same weight.  It is also capable of shooting heavier bullets at faster speeds than the .380 ACP.


While some researchers offer that the 9mm FMJ and .45 FMJ are equivalent, I simply cannot and do not believe it.  I think the .45 has the edge with ball, but I do not believe that it's as large a difference as is sometimes reported.  With expanding ammunition, I believe the difference narrows to being inconsequential, but still feel the larger caliber does have a bit more power.  Based on what I've seen in the hunting field and a few actual shootings, either caliber can do the job nicely or fail.


There ae many expanding 9mm JHP rounds available in very light weight to "heavy" bullets weighing 147 grains. Ammunition can be had in standard pressure, +P, or +P+. These are standard velocity rounds fired from a Mk III.


Rather than getting too heavily into the "9mm vs .45" thing, I'll simply say that I firmly believe that the best loads in 9mm are superior to some loads in .45 ACP.  At the same time I think that the best loads in .45 ACP are better than the best 9mm rounds.  How much is debatable; I don't think it's very much.


If you simply cannot bring yourself to "trust" the 9mm, don't!  Go with the 40-caliber version.  If that doesn't work either, some are installing custom barrels chambered for .357 SIG in their .40 Hi Powers.  Should this be out of the question, I'd look at a different make handgun.


I'm personally confident with the 9mm for protection and particularly so if its launcher is a Hi Power.


With today's ammunition, the 9mm Hi Power in trained hands is a very efficient tool. It may be dated, but it remains capable.


In police service I carried the mandated .38 Special or .357 Magnum until we were allowed to carry semi-automatic pistols.  The only autos I carried were either .45 1911's or 9mm Hi Powers.  Both served well, but I wound up carrying the latter the greater number of years.  I found it easier to shoot at speed one-handed, and no other pistol points as well for me as the 9mm Browning. Using an electronic timer, I'm satisfied that I'm quickest from the holster to the first shot with the Colt .45 Commander (lightweight), but I'm more accurate with the Hi Power under the same conditions!  In two-handed rapid fire, I find no real difference between the all-steel 5" 1911 .45 and the 9mm Hi Power, but if shooting one-handed, strong or weak, I sure do.  Admittedly, "feel" and "best pointing" are subjective, but such is true for me.  It very well might be for others as well.  I think there's much to be said for easier recoil-control under emergency rapid-fire conditions.  (I am not advocating "spray and pray."  Placement is power.)


Magazine DisconnectSome like it.  Some do not.  I fall into the latter category.  It can be argued from various positions.  Here are the main ones:


·         Removing any "safety" device will land you under the jail if you use it against another person.  (Please note that the term used by FN is "disconnector" not "safety".)  This accursed device was intended to allow the military to disable stockpiles of pistols by simply separating them from their feeding devices.  I personally prefer a pistol that can fire a chambered round without the magazine should it be necessary in an emergency.  I think a pistol that could at least be fired one time without a magazine is more useful than one that cannot should the magazine(s) be lost.


I also like that its removal usually cleans up grittiness and reduces the trigger pull.


This is the magazine disconnect.  Much debate exists over its usefulness or lack thereof.  You decide if it is of value to you or not.


I do not see how it should matter if the disconnector is there or not in a lawful shooting IF the shooter intended to shoot the aggressor.  The gun would fire with or without the device in place.  In more than one case I'm personally aware of, the missing disconnectors made absolutely no difference.


On the other hand, should an unauthorized person get hold of a loaded Hi Power in which the disconnector has been removed and accidentally shoot himself or another, it could become an issue.  This often happens when the uninformed remove the magazine and think the gun's unloaded.  Never mind that the shooting was negligent; the chance for successful tort action against the gun's owner gets well onto the "radar screen" I would think.  That said, none of my Hi Powers retain their magazine disconnects.  No unauthorized persons get to my firearms, and people who are authorized are competent in the rules of gun safety.


Should you prefer to keep the magazine disconnect in place, a good gunsmith can provide a very decent usable trigger pull on the gun.


You decide what is best for you in your unique circumstances.


·         The magazine can be dropped and the gun rendered safe if the owner is about to lose control of it in a struggle.  There are certainly some case studies verifying this with not only Hi Powers but S&W autos as well.  While the Hi Power magazine may not drop completely clear of the gun, it drops enough to usually render it temporarily "safe".  (Some magazines have a mousetrap spring to enhance its likelihood of falling free when the magazine release is depressed.)  It is a valid argument in my opinion.


·         It makes the gun safer around children as the magazine can be removed and the gun "can't" fire.  This is partially valid in my opinion.  It assumes that the magazine disconnect is working properly and not being held in the forward ("fire") position by lack of cleaning.  It assumes that no pressure is being applied to the trigger when the magazine is removed.  With but little effort one can take a Hi Power that has a chambered round and fire it from a Hi Power which has the disconnector in place when the magazine is removed.  If the trigger is pressed to the point that the lifter engages the sear lever and that pressure is held constant when the magazine is dropped, the gun will fire if the trigger pull is increased.  If it's released before this, the magazine disconnector pushes the lifter forward and it will not engage the sear lever; the gun will not fire.  A better approach is to adequately secure the Hi Power and educate family members or those potentially able to come in contact with it.


Spare PartsThe Hi Power has been around so long that spare parts are usually not a problem.  They can be had new from Browning Arms Co. in the US as well as used from some companies.  Some aftermarket parts exist.  Sadly this is not to the same degree as for the 1911.


Customization Potential:  The P-35 lends itself quite well to being made handier for its owner.  Several big-name gunsmiths do this work.  The potential is certainly there to obtain changes that we might need as well as those that we simply want.  I am not saying that the Hi Power "must" be altered from its original form to be a "good" gun, only that you more readily have that option than with some other defensive service pistols.


Size:  Defensive handguns are frequently carried concealed.  The Hi Power is neither the lightest nor the smallest viable defense 9mm, but it is not difficult to conceal with a proper holster and clothing.  More than a few carry 5" 1911's concealed on a daily basis.  The Hi Power is more the size of the slightly more compact Commander, which has been a favorite "serious" carry gun for decades.  If you can carry a 1911 concealed, the same will be the case with the Hi Power.


All of these things combined make the Hi Power a reassuring therapeutic tool that gives both confidence and peace of mind to its owner.  They work.  Getting good hits with accurate rapid-fire is not difficult.  In both 9mm and .40 S&W, ammunition choices are generous.  In my opinion either is adequate.  That the gun can be made to fit my individual needs by either the use of aftermarket parts or a gunsmith is a plus.


If you happen to feel the same way, I suggest that the P-35 might just be "good medicine" for you too.