How Glock Became America's Favorite Legal Handgun

The handgun has been made popular by movies and television shows

December 19, 2012, 3:38 PM

March 22, 2013 — -- In an ad for one of America's most popular handguns, an attractive girl in tight pajamas settles in for a cozy night of TV, but -- cue the creepy music -- a scary man lurks outside. She grabs her Glock and the tension builds.

In the real world, one study found that women living with a gun were almost three times more likely to be shot to death while, in 2010, women were 16 times more likely to be killed by men they knew than by strangers.

But in the world according to Glock, just the sight of their fearsome weapon is enough to roll the invading stranger's eyes back in his head without even firing a shot.

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Glock's ad has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online to mostly rave reviews in the comment section of YouTube. But in reality, this is a company that doesn't really need to advertise at all, for Glock is already America's favorite so-called "super gun" among good guys and bad, on screen and off.

It got Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval in "End of Days" and Tommy Lee Jones' in "U.S. Marshals."

In the '90s, Tupac Shakur was among the many rappers who sang the glories of Glock before the brand was used to murder him at age 25.

Rep. Gabby Giffords not only was shot by a Glock in Tucson, but she still carries one of her own.

Adam Lanza carried a Glock into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and it is also the standard-issue weapon of the FBI and around 65 percent of American cops.

What Colt and Remington were to America's Wild West, Glock is to this country's violent present. Its rise in popularity is a lesson in how difficult gun control reform could be, going forward.

It all began in the early 1980s in the suburbs of Vienna, Austria, when Gaston Glock decided to move from making knives and curtain rods in his garage metal shop to making guns for the Austrian army. He had never made a pistol before, so he asked expert shooters what they wanted. The result was a game-changing design.

By using composite plastic instead of steel, Glock created a weapon that is light and tough, with a very easy trigger pull and no cumbersome, thumb activated external safety, instead using a safer and easier to use trigger safety. His early models could hold 17 bullets, almost three times as many as the typical revolver, and when it hit the U.S. market in the 1980s, Glock made the decision to first offer them to police departments just when the crack cocaine wars were heating up and cops felt vulnerable.

"Cops were being outgunned in the subways and the streets and so, when I was the chief of the subway police, I fought very vigorously to get that weapon, the semiautomatic, to transit police," said Bill Bratton, a former New York, Los Angeles and Boston police commissioner.

The other group that showed early interest was Hollywood prop masters, who loved Glock's futuristic look. As author Paul Barrett wrote his book, "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun," shootouts on the set of "Law and Order" were soon featuring the new Austrian import.

"Some of the American companies were a little more persnickety, wanting to know, 'Well, will our guns be in the hands of good guys or only bad guys?' and Glock just said, 'Go ahead, put it in the movies,'" Barrett said.

"Die Hard" fans might recall Bruce Willis' little speech about the handgun in "Die Hard 2."

"That punk pulled a Glock 7 on me," said Willis' character, Officer John McClane. "You know what that is? It's a porcelain gun made in Germany. It doesn't show up on your airport x-ray machines, and it cost more than you make here in a month."

Almost every part of that monologue was factually wrong. But when lawmakers in Washington began voicing real fear that an undetectable "super gun" was hitting America's streets, Glock sales skyrocketed. And even when a 1991 shooting spree in Texas led to the assault weapons ban, Glock saw an opportunity.

"When the law was enacted, it was enacted with a grandfathering clause, meaning that everything that existed before the day it was enacted, was still legal. This left Glock with this huge supply of pre-banned equipment that was still legal to sell," Barrett said. "The dark glamour of the Glock went up because gun aficionados resented the restrictions and said well that's the gun they don't want me to have, I want two of them."

Thanks to a legal trade-in program, Glock is able to re-sell used police guns and magazines on the open market, even at a time when cops are desperate to get semiautomatic handguns off the streets.

"In L.A., they make a big deal of taking the guns to melt them down, but a lot of departments are cash-strapped, looking for money," Bratton said. "It's a way of ensuring that their officers are equipped with the best and latest weapons. It's certainly a tool of the trade."

In a statement to ABC News, Glock pointed out that, "Allowing law enforcement agencies to trade in firearms toward the purchase of new duty weapons is a standard practice by all major firearms manufacturers."

But it creates the possibility that police officers could have their old guns used against them.

"That is why I've never been in favor of that type of program," Bratton said. "But oftentimes, it's not in the hand of the chief of police, if you will, it's in the hands of the procurement entity or the city municipality, and it really is a devil's dilemma, if you will, whether you do it or you don't do it."

As with other gun control proposals, Bratton believes that outlawing trade-in programs or mandating the destruction of used guns would be political impossibilities. And much to the frustration of gun control advocates, just the talk of another slaughter and tougher laws puts more guns into circulation. So whichever way the political winds blow, Glock is imported proof that it is always a good time to be in the American gun business.

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