I first encountered the Springfield Armory EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol) in late 2004, at a company seminar in San Diego, California. It was a 1911 with aluminum frame, scaled down for the short .45 GAP (Glock Auto Pistol) round that Ernest Durham and his team at Speer had just created for Glock. Not only had the barrel and slide been shortened, but the grip-frame had also been reduced in dimension front-to-back for this shorter cartridge, which in its turn had been developed to fit in a .40 S&W/9mm platform.
Recoil of this potent new high-intensity cartridge turned out to be surprisingly controllable. The gun ran 100% with all the .45 GAP ammunition that I and the proverbial gaggle of gun writers could shoot through it… and when the ammunition is provided for free, that adds up to buckets o’ bullets.
What impressed me most was that with the grip-frame (and of course, the magazine it housed) being shorter front to back in proportion to the shorter cartridges therein, the shooter could get “more hand around the gun,” and “more finger onto the trigger.” That pistol felt in my average size hand about the way I imagine a standard size 1911 in .45 ACP felt in the giant hands of my 6-foot-7-inch mentor, the late Bill Jordan. More flesh and bone wrapped around the “handle” simply gives the pistol shooter more control, up to a point, particularly in one-handed shooting.
When Springfield Armory produced the EMP, they manufactured the gun in 9mm instead. The good news was that with the smaller diameter 9mm cartridge, the magazine could hold more ammunition. The 9mm EMP carries nine rounds in its single stack, and a tenth in the firing chamber. With a lightweight firing pin and strong firing pin spring, it’s “drop-safe” and immune to inertia discharge if it’s struck or dropped on either end. This allows safe carry cocked and locked with a torpedo in the launch tube.
At the time of its introduction, this short-handled gun was amazingly holding the same cartridge capacity as a full-size 9mm 1911 in Government Model configuration. Only later would Wilson Combat introduce a 9mm EDM magazine that would hold ten rounds, bringing total capacity up to eleven before a reload became necessary.
Not only was it eminently shootable, it was eminently reliable. This is important because 9mm 1911s are notoriously finicky in that regard. John Moses Browning designed the 1911 platform as a recoil-operated gun, firing a powerful cartridge that would generate ample recoil to operate its big steel slide. He also built it around the .45 ACP, a distinctly longer cartridge than the 9mm. Not until the mid-20 century would Colt, and then others, chamber the 1911 for the shorter 9mm, a cartridge that also had less recoil to operate the slide.
Explains Dave Williams, head of the Springfield Armory Custom Shop and the man who designed the EMP, “Most magazines have a spacer to position the 9mm cartridge forward, to allow for it being so much shorter than the cycle length the 1911 was designed for. The full-size 1911s have had a pit of a reputation for maybe not being as reliable as a .45 ACP. 9mm cartridges, when you carry them in a single-stack magazine, are not well supported at the front end. Rob Leatham several years ago came up with a magazine design which, instead of the spacer in the back, had an integral feed ramp guilt into the magazine to help a nose-down cartridge come up.”
By simply shrinking the size of the 1911 pistol to the proper dimensions for the 9mm cartridge, those expedients were eliminated in the EMP. The result was an extraordinarily reliable pistol.
The first EMP I got from the factory, a 9mm with the serial number 0159, proved to be malfunction prone. I sent it back, and Dave—an honest man—told me that there had been some problems with the first few hundred guns. He sent me a replacement…and that one went through several hundred rounds of assorted ammo with no malfunctions whatever. I bought it when the test, done for another gun magazine, was complete.
Later, they came out with a .40 caliber version, which holds a bit less. I never tested that one extensively, though Tom Gresham and I played with one during the third season of Personal Defense TV, and I found it to be accurate, controllable, and reliable.
There has been a lot of demand for a longer-framed one with 5-inch barrel for IDPA and similar competiton. Dave Williams tells me the company is looking at that…but also is so backordered on the products they’re making now, that a longer EMP with longer grip and larger magazine capacity is probably some distance down the road.
While the .40 has worked out well, the 9mm version has proven to be the most popular. I’ve seen several of them in the courses I teach over the years—there were two or three of them in my last course in California—and I can’t help but notice that they all seem to run like tops, and create very satisfied owners.
When I tested the EMP in 2007, group size averaged 3.05 inches and “best three of five shots” measurements averaged an amazing 0.83 inches. Given that this is a 3-inch barreled pistol with a sight radius of only about four and a half inches, I found this remarkable. I do the “best three” measurement because the years have taught me that when an experienced shooter is running the gun and doesn’t “call” any “flyers,” those best three hits factor out enough human error to give a very good idea of what the same gun and ammo would have done for all five shots from a Ransom machine rest.
In that test, the best five shot group came with Federal American Eagle 147-grain subsonic full metal jacket. That quintet of bullet holes measured 1.30 inches apart, center-to-center, and the best three were in 0.80 inches. With a short barrel pistol like this, that performance is simply extraordinary. All these groups, by the way, were shot from a benchrest at 25 yards.
Shortly before writing this, I embarked on a recent three-week trip where I carried the EMP as my primary handgun. One week would involve wearing a suit in an anti-gun environment where, though I was perfectly legal to carry, it would have been a hassle to explain it if the pistol was noticed. The other two weeks involved teaching, and the host for the class in the last week had asked if I could bring my EMP along for him to try. The choice was obvious: the EMP was coming along.
I went to my range to verify point of aim/point of impact with my preferred 9mm carry load, the Winchester 127-grain +P+ Ranger-T. I emptied the 10-shot EMP with two 25-yard groups, both of which clustered around point of aim. One group measured 1.9 inches for all five shots, with four of them in just over an inch (1.05 inches), and the best three in 0.90 inches. The second group went 2.25 inches for all five, with four in 1.40 inches and the best three in 0.95 inches.
Dave Williams told me in 2011, “The EMP is very accurate for a pistol its size.” This, I submit, was a classic example of understatement.
Over the last few years, the EMP has impressed me as a magnificent little carry gun. In thousands of rounds, it has “jammed” on me exactly once. The gun was filthy and way beyond due for cleaning, and when I performed a speed reload, the 147-grain subsonic FMJ round that was topmost in the magazine didn’t make its way into the chamber when I closed the slide. I distinctly remember fumbling the magazine a little bit when reloading by feel, and may have caused that topmost round to slide a bit forward off the top of the cartridge stack by human error, which would account for the problem. In any case, a reflexive tap-rack cleared the malfunction and I went on to finish and win the match.
That occasion was a BUG (Back-Up Gun) match in which the entire several-stage event was dedicated to these little handguns. It was one of three that I competed in using my EMP, which is small enough to easily fit the rules of IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association), under whose rules these matches were run. The Springfield EMP won two of the three of those for me, including the one in which my own negligence may have caused it to have the single malfunction I’ve experienced with this gun since I’ve owned it. The third match was the Florida State BUG Championship (whimsically subtitled “The BUG Championship of the World and the Known Galaxy” by match director Lance Biddle), and while I didn’t win I did come in among the top five with the EMP. Given that Biddle likes to run lots of low-light stages (including total darkness), I was really, really glad that I had ordered my EMP from the factory with tritium night sights front and back.
The reason the gun made me look good was simply that it’s ergonomic. You have the natural grip angle of the 1911, plus the low bore axis inherent to that platform. With the EMP, you also have an ambidextrous thumb safety that serves you well in BUG matches, which often emphasize a backup gun’s natural strength, the fact that it can be carried accessible to the non-dominant hand, which will be all you have to fight with if your dominant arm is taken out, forcing you to resort to the backup gun in the first place.
They only shots I actually fired from the EMP during that tour were two 60-round qualifications. The staff and I do a “pace-setter drill” prior to the students qualifying, demonstrating the course of fire so they can get a good visual idea of what’s expected from them, and “set their internal clocks” for the time limits. The course involves dominant hand only, non-dominant hand only, kneeling, cover crouch, and various other positions with the stopwatch ticking. Both times, the EMP gave me 300 out of 300 scores. In fact, I can’t remember this gun not shooting perfect scores for me in that environment since I’ve owned it.
A couple of years ago, I had occasion to kill a substantial-size rattlesnake in the parking lot on a range where I was teaching out west. The EMP was the gun I had on; it just conceals so well in an inside-the-waistband holster under an un-tucked polo shirt or tee shirt in hot desert environments. The EMP’s inherent accuracy, its “shootability” under stress, and the potency of the 127-grain +P+ Winchester hollow point made short work of the serpent.
With a smaller grip-frame and a shorter trigger reach, it’s not surprising that a number of women who are comfortable with the 1911 format gravitate toward Springfield’s EMP. Flat, compact, and easy to conceal, it fits shorter fingers very well.
Gail Pepin has twice won High Woman honors in the demanding shoot at the annual National Tactical Conference and currently holds the title of Florida/Georgia Regional IDPA Woman Champion. She owns an EMP and loves it. Only 5 feet tall, she appreciates a compact handgun for all-day concealed carry…and being a pistol champion, she appreciates one that is easy to shoot very fast and very straight.
Gila Hayes is the author of Best Defense: The Woman, the Gun, and the Plan. She teaches with her husband Marty at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and is one of the best firearms instructors of either gender whom I know. Though my father might have described her as “a little slip of a girl,” she’s living proof that you don’t need brawn or muscle to control a powerful firearm. I personally saw her win the stock gun championship of Washington state in bowling pin shooting—not just “women’s class,” but shooting against the men with a full-power .45 and beating them. The state of Alaska has been known to fly her up there to teach their wildlife personnel how to use 12 gauge shotguns loaded with brutal-kicking 12 gauge slugs for bear control emergencies. A few years ago at the Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association’s annual combat shooting championship, Gila won the shotgun event against all the men, shooting full power slugs from a Remington 870 12 gauge pump gun. Suffice to say, this lady is no shrinking violet when it comes to control of powerful weapons in rapid fire.
Gila Hayes’ everyday carry gun is a Springfield Armory EMP, worn in an inside the waistband holster and loaded with CorBon 115-grain +P 9mm jacketed hollowpoints.
The Springfield Armory EMP is a way cool pistol. That said, there are no perfect handguns — if there was one, we’d all carry it…and, come to think of it, we wouldn’t need handgun magazines in which to discuss any other models.
I appreciate that the Mec-Gar magazines work as well as they do. I wish, however, that they would make the damn things with witness holes so you could count how many rounds are in them at any given moment.
I honestly don’t think you need a full-length guide rod or a double-captive recoil spring in a 5-inch barrel 1911 .45. Dave Williams determined that you do need one in a three-inch-barrel 9mm 1911. It obviously works, and I can’t fault that decision…I just wish it wasn’t such a pain in the butt to disassemble. On the other hand, a complicated takedown gives me at least a feeble excuse for having left my EMP so dirty that it jammed on me that one time.
The last few years have taught me that the Springfield Armory EMP subcompact 1911 9mm is simply an extraordinary concealed carry pistol. I honestly think it is the most reliable 9mm 1911 on the planet, for the simple reason that it is the only one that is “dimensioned” for the length of the cartridge.
Once you get to know the EMP, though, you’ll find the little gun is worth every penny. It carries light, but in performance, it’s definitely a heavy hitter. Find out more by calling 800-680-6866 or visiting springfield-armory.com.
I first encountered the Springfield Armory EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol) in late 2004, at…
by Massad Ayoob / Nov 21, 2012