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Back in the first decade of the 20th century, a man named John Moses Browning invented a semi-automatic pistol that later became legendary. While countless other guns have since been invented, become popular and then passed into obscurity, the 1911 is still being produced in great numbers by numerous manufacturers.

Browning’s design, chambered in .45 ACP, was adopted by the U.S. government as the Model of 1911— hence the M1911 moniker. The company that secured the first contract to build M1911s was Colt’s Manufacturing Company, and despite the design being over a century old, demand is still strong.

For many years, Colt was focused on fulfilling its contract with the U.S. government to produce the M16 rifle and its many variants, but the contract recently ran out, so Colt found itself with resources available to once again manufacture more guns for the general public. And with the demand for small handguns rising due to the number of states adopting “shall issue” concealed-weapon permit laws in recent years, Colt recognized an opportunity and rose to the challenge. It now offers three small, easily carried guns based on the 1911 design.

The Defender

Retaining the same profile as the classic 1911 with some minor but important modifications, the Colt Defender appears to be a slightly shrunken version of Browning’s original. It’s small enough to be easily hidden underneath a jacket or shirt, or even carried in a pocket. What is particularly nice about 1911-style handguns is their slim profile, which reduces the chance of printing through clothing and letting bad guys know you’re carrying a gun.

The Defender is available in traditional .45 ACP as well as in 9mm, which is an advantageous cartridge for a smaller gun because of its reduced recoil. And since the stopping power of 9mm ammunition has been so greatly improved over the last decade, the smaller caliber has become a much more acceptable option for many.

Even though the gun is compact, the Defender is equipped with the three-dot Novak Low Mount sights like those found on a full-sized gun—and that’s a big plus, since with the smaller sight radius, sights become especially crucial to hitting the target. Since the gun is small and meant for discreet carry, you won’t find an extended thumb safety, but instead a safety like the one on the old 1911. But it still works. The beavertail grip safety features not only an upswept tang, designed to prevent the web of the shooter’s hand from being cut or abraded by the reciprocating slide, but also a palm swell to assure the grip safety is disengaged when the shooter grips the gun.

The single-action trigger has three lightening holes and a Hogue rubber wrap-around grip, with finger grooves and stippling, providing a slip-resistant surface for wet hands. The barrel is only 3 inches long, but the magazine still holds seven rounds of .45 or eight rounds of 9mm. To keep the weight down, the frame is made of Cerakote-covered aluminum while the slide is brushed stainless steel for strength and resistance to corrosion. To enhance safety, the gun is equipped with a Series 80-style system that features a firing pin block designed to prevent the gun from firing if dropped. The Defender weighs 24 ounces and is 6.75 inches long.

New Agent

Coming in at about the same size as the Defender is Colt’s New Agent. It’s 6.75 inches long and nearly the same weight, but has a distinctively different sighting system. Designed specifically for close-in shooting and snag-free withdrawal from under a garment or out of a pocket, the New Agent’s sights really aren’t sights at all. Running along the length of the top of the slide is a groove—Colt calls it a “Trench Style” sight—that helps the shooter align the barrel with the target for a quick shot. It takes a little getting used to and is not built for precision, but it is effective at putting rounds on target at close range in a combat situation.

The New Agent is a very handsome gun and, like the Defender, looks like a small-sized 1911—and naturally so, because that’s what it is. The thumb safety is like the one featured on the 1918 version of the 1911, with a bit more contact area for the thumb, but it is not extended like those found on many full-sized 1911s. Nevertheless, it’s still quite functional, and in keeping with the gun’s purpose, it’s less prone to catching on clothing or being accidentally activated when carried.

The beavertail grip safety, though it lacks a palm pad and a pronounced upsweep, should prevent hammer bite. The standard single-action trigger has three holes, reducing its weight, and the ejection port is lowered and flared to prevent spent brass from jamming and stopping the show.

The New Agent comes equipped with either attractive rosewood stocks or Crimson Trace Lasergrips, which really improve the ability of the shooter to make precision shots. Like the Defender, the New Agent holds seven rounds of .45 ACP or eight rounds of 9mm. The slide is blued carbon steel, and to keep the weight low, Colt installed a black anodized aluminum receiver. For those uncomfortable with carrying a single-action gun, Colt provides a double-action-only (DAO) version without a thumb safety. To enhance safety, the gun has the Series 80-style firing pin block that allows the firing pin to strike the primer only if the trigger is pulled.

Mustang Power

It’s not called a Pocketlite for nothing. This palm-sized 1911 is small and light enough to be carried easily in a pocket—with a pocket holster for safety of course. With a 2.75-inch barrel, the Mustang is only 5.5 inches long. Though chambered in .380 ACP, it’s hardly useless for self-defense. I know a number of people who carry a gun for a living and don’t hesitate to arm themselves under certain conditions with a .380 ACP. When discreetly carrying a gun is difficult, very small is sometimes the only option. And with modern ammunition, .380 ACP is not the wimpy round it was years ago.

The Mustang has an aluminum receiver finished in electroless nickel and a brushed stainless-steel slide for strength and corrosion resistance. The corrosion-resistant part is particularly important in preventing rust when a gun may be carried in a pocket or close to the body where moisture can attack it.

The barrel is also stainless steel and is CNC-machined from bar stock. Although it lacks a grip safety, the Mustang has a Series 80 safety system and a thumb safety like its larger stable mates. The aluminum single-action trigger is true to the 1911 design and the magazine holds six rounds. It sports black composite stocks and sights consisting of a rear notch and an integral front blade. Despite its small size, the .380 Mustang Pocketlite is easy to shoot. For more information, visit coltsmfg.com or call 800-962-2658.

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