‘America’s Gun’: How Did Glock Pistols Become Such An Icon?

You see them nearly everywhere guns are sold or used. But how did Glock pistols become such popular firearms? A new book is answering that, and laying out the compelling history of the Glock pistol and describing how it became an iconic symbol for American law enforcement and gun enthusiasts.

In his book “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” author Paul Barrett describes how the sleek, high-capacity Austrian handgun became famous not just because of its innovative design, but because of a shrewd marketing campaign as well.

As a result, the Glock has found its way into Hollywood films, rap lyrics, and two-thirds of all U.S. police departments.

The Glock was created in 1982 by Gaston Glock, a curtain rod manufacturer and gun enthusiast from Austria. Glock disliked the handguns  on the market at that time and decided to start from zero and manufacture a completely new weapon design.

As research, Glock asked gun experts what they would want in a redesigned handgun. The reply, according to an NPR interview with Barrett, was that the new weapon should have:

“Much larger ammunition capacity, a gun that is much more durable and reliable … [and] the gun should be easy to fire [and] easy to learn how to use. He integrated all of those elements into the Glock and that’s how he won his original contract with the Austrian army.”

With those goals in mind, Glock created the storied Glock 17, which the Austrian army soon adopted for its use. The Glock 17 contained only 36 parts and didn’t have an external safety like other semiautomatic handguns, but could still hold 17 bullets in its magazine.  This allowed the Glock 17 to be a very light, “interchangeable model that could be dropped, submerged and subjected to temperature extremes – and still accurately fire.”

Glock 19 with additions

Glock pistols made their way to the United States in 1988, which was fortunate timing for the manufacturer. American crime rates were approaching an all time high, and law enforcement felt literally outgunned in a number of high-profile shooting incidents. The introduction of a lightweight, high-capacity handgun– that was cheap for law enforcement– was soon embraced by police departments across the country.

In an excerpt from Barrett’s book, he writes that:

“Police departments were amazed when they took their officers out to the range and found out not only could they learn to use the Glock pretty quickly, but the Glock also made them more accurate as marksmen,” he says. “And that’s in part because it has a very light, very steady trigger pull … Critics of the guns say the trigger pull is so light that it makes accidental discharges so likely. But the Glock always has that that dual nature to it – the advantages can be reframed as disadvantages.”

Glock’s sales teams also used some business savvy to get the gun out into the mainstream market and help it garner credibility. They sold the gun at a marked discount to law enforcement in a brand-building exercise, knowing that once the word had gotten out, they could charge full-freight for the Glocks on the much larger civilian firearms market.

G21 Gen 4

In addition, some controversy surrounding the Glock in the early days helped boost its profile in the American media. There were rumors that the Glock was made out of plastic, and therefore it wouldn’t show up on airport x-ray scanners. This was false, but it got the media into a frenzy that raised the profile of the Glock weapons.

That media hype, plus actor Bruce Willis discussing the merits of the weapon in Die Hard II, and its inclusion in the lyrics of countless rap songs, made the new Austrian pistol famous quickly. Barrett described this non-traditional marketing in some detail to NPR, saying that:

“The Glock was adopted early on by some of the biggest names – Tupac, Dr. Dre – as soon as it appeared here, they began to embrace it for its dark, futuristic side. The fact that it looked tough, [had a] large magazine capacity, and not incidentally, the fact that it rhymed so well with words you might want to use in rap lyrics. Within the space of a few years, you not only had the Glock showing up in lyrics, you had song titles with the name in it and people changing their stage names to incorporate Glock into them.”

Today, the Glock remains one of the most popular pistols in the world, and the Austrian brand endures as a serious player in the global firearms industry.

(You can read more about Barrett’s new book by clicking here and reading the full NPR article.)