So, what does Frank Serpico, the famous whistleblower NYPD cop, my own father, and yours truly, all have in common?
We all, at some point in our lives, carried a Browning Hi Power.
Springfield Armory has released their updated production of the Hi Power and that has led me to reminisce about this particular gun and my own history with it. I actually have an interesting history with this particular pistol that many of you may find pretty cool. My very first carry gun, circa late 90s, was a Browning Hi Power. The reasons for this are entertaining:
My own father, who is currently in his mid-eighties, retired from the division of parole in the early 1990s. That division of law enforcement was just in the process of moving to the Glock at that point. My dad carried a Smith and Wesson Model 19 for most of his years on the job within my own living memory. However, after he retired, he upgraded his carry firepower. He ended up switching to the Browning Hi Power and he used them, almost exclusively, for five or six years. Those of you who have grown up in a world of only plastic fantastic pistols may find that an odd choice, but I will explain.
I got to put hands on the early Glocks that were being adopted by law enforcement when my father first saw them in the early 90s. Those particular Glocks were neutered by lawyers who insisted that the state issued pistols have a New York Plus, Plus, trigger in them. They literally pulled at over 13 pounds. So, when I picked up one of those early model Glock 19s it felt like a plastic toy with a trigger that was even worse than the trigger on most plastic toys. Putting it down and picking up my father’s tuned Colt 1911 was like putting down a fugly, plastic, club and picking up Thor’s Hammer. There was no comparison.
The alure of higher ammo capacity, however, was already in full swing, and my father went with the Hi Power over the 1911 for quite a few years, and I followed suit. By the end of the 90s, however, we both moved away from the Hi Power, my dad went to the Glock 17 and I went to the 1911, still not willing to go plastic at that point. The primary reason for this was simple: the Hi Power was a good shooting gun with a manual of arms identical to a 1911, but they did not hold up to a high round count. We found that the barrel lug would sheer off the barrels at about 5,000 rounds, and the slide stop within the frame would actually sheer off at about 15,000 rounds. That was not working out, so we abandoned the Hi Power.
After the Hi Power I remained exclusively a 1911 guy from roughly 2000 until 2011 when I adopted the Glock19/26 platform and never looked back. Once I spent some time with a stock Glock that was not ruined by a lawyer trigger I realized that it was perfectly shootable. My dad has continued to switch it up every couple of years, moving from Glocks, to M&Ps, to CZ75s, and now he loves the Walther PPQ. However, the initial move from revolvers to the Hi Power is still something I find interesting in my father’s life.
His adoption of the Browning Hi Power, most of which were produced by FN at the time, I believe, was certainly influenced by Frank Serpico. The Hi Power makes an appearance in the movie about Serpico, staring a young Al Pacino. The real Frank Serpico, who my father had met at some point in the 70s or 80s, moved to carrying a Hi Power when he was in fear for his life in the midst of the whistleblower fiasco he was involved in while at the NYPD.
When analyzing that choice, I would submit that it made good sense in the early 70s when Frank Serpico went through that debacle. It was a pre-Glock world, and the real choices were revolvers, 1911s, or the far less common Browning Hi Power. Ironically, the Hi Power was never that popular in the United States, although it is one of the most common handguns in the world outside of the US. But, for an individual who wanted higher capacity than what the 1911 had to offer, it made good sense, and I know that Serpico’s choice of that gun certainly influenced my own father, and, in turn, myself.
So, for those of you who want to carry a double-stack 9mm in the 21st Century, congratulations, that is the best choice these days. However, my advice is to keep the Hi Power relegated to barbeque gun duty and carry something made of plastic. While the Hi Power was revolutionary for its time, it is not as reliable or practical as is a Glock, M&P, Sig, H&K, Walther, or any other modern variant. I would say that, if all-steel is your deal, a Baretta 92 is a far better choice as well since the reliability is there. And, of course, the 1911 remains more maintenance intensive than poly guns, but they can run reliably if you have a good one.
The Browning Hi Power is very cool and retro, but there are much better carry choices in 2022.