🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more
Shelf Life

How the Glock became America’s modern handgun

Jeremy Hobson Jan 11, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: This week marks a year since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot at an event in Tuscon, Ariz. The weapon that was used in that attack was a Glock 19. Now even if you’re not a gun owner, you’ve probably heard about the Glock, which is one of the most popular handguns in the country, despite incidents like the Giffords attack.

Paul Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek has just written a history of the weapon called “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.” Paul Barrett, Good morning.

Paul Barrett: Good morning.

Hobson: Well you write that Glock is the Google of modern civilian handguns. Explain that.

Barrett: I think if you say the word “Glock” to pretty much any American, they’ll know that it’s a black, plastic semi-automatic pistol. And I think that that is what really distinguishes the Glock. It has come to stand for ‘modern handgun’ in the richest handgun market in the world — the United States.

Hobson: And it’s an Austrian company. How did it become such a big deal in the U.S.?

Barrett: In the mid-’80s, police departments all across the United States felt that they were outgunned, that their officers were no longer adequately equipped with the traditional Smith and Wesson revolver, which has only five or six rounds in it. And here came Gaston Glock. He said, ‘I have the pistol of the future. It carries 17 rounds in the magazine, and you need to have it.’ Like a lot of marketing fads, it caught very quickly, and once the police were using it, civilians who like to look to the police as a model came along as well.

Hobson: And to what extent — how many people own Glocks these days?

Barrett: It is estimated that Glock has produced seven million guns since it’s began operations in the early 1980s. And it’s further estimated that some 80 to 90 percent of its product is sold in the United States.

Hobson: Now, you mention that it is more expensive than an ordinary gun, it’s lighter and it also has a large capacity for ammunition. So has it had an effect on the entire industry? Has it made all guns more dangerous, for example?

Barrett: There’s different ways you can describe guns. The flipside of dangerous is effective. I mean, guns are designed to shoot bullets, which can kill people. In that sense, it has led a trend all across the industry toward more potent, higher-capacity handguns. That is absolutely true. And if you think that’s a good thing because you’re a gun proponent, the Glock is to get credit. If you think that’s a bad thing because you’re a gun-control proponent, well then the Glock is to be blamed for it. But the basic answer is yes, the Glock revolutionized the handgun market in the United States and all around the world.

Hobson: Paul Barrett is the author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.” Paul Barrett, thanks so much.

Barrett: You bet. Thanks for having me.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.