In an argument older than time itself (or at least 40 years), we find ourselves in the middle of a heated debate: Are metal-framed handguns better than polymers? Purists say yes; practical shooters, shooters on a budget, etc. say no. Well, which one is it? It’s tough to say one way or another because they both have advantages and disadvantages.
We’re going to take a look at this and shed some light on the pros and cons of each, along with key takeaways. Let’s go down this rabbit hole!
What Defines “Better”?
Your definition of better and my definition of better is. The two frame compositions are used for the same thing, but the designs are decidedly different. There are famous pistols on both sides of the aisle, although the most iconic designs in the world are decidedly metal-framed (1911, Hi-Power, PPK, M9/92, etc.). Although no one can argue that the venerable Glock is iconic, it may be the only truly iconic polymer-framed handgun, and it is iconic because it paved the way.
Better really is up to your interpretation. Do you like a traditional feel and the heft of steel? Okay, the metal frame it is. If you want lighter, cheaper, and ergonomics over aesthetics, it’s polymer all day, all the way.
Why Choose A Metal Frame Handgun?
Okay, so let’s pick this apart fairly and equally. We’ll start with metal frames.
Pros Of A Metal Frame
Metal frames are great. They have been the standard for most of the history of firearms. They are strong, beautiful, and rugged.
A stainless-steel frame is a thing of beauty, as illustrated by the Tanfoglio Defiant.
Metal frames are very strong, heavy, and sturdy. They are an excellent option for target shooting, where a heavy, balanced handgun is not a liability. There is a reason why the 1911 still reigns supreme in competition match shooting, 3-Gun, and so on.
The biggest pro of a metal frame is the natural ability to soak up recoil without relying on compensation ports. This is particularly important on stout calibers like the 10MM, where a steel-framed pistol absorbs much of the punishment. Also, a metal frame handles punishing loads for a lifetime of use.
Cons Of A Metal Frame
Metal was used exclusively because it was the only option. It is still a wonderful option, but polymer has become the most popular frame composition in the world for a reason.
● Metal is much more expensive than polymer, whether cast or milled (but especially milled).
● Metal is much heavier than polymer.
● Metal is much easier to mar than polymer, and it will not just buff out.
Are these deal breakers? It depends on the user, really. If you are particular about the appearance of your handgun, a scuffed frame could be a big problem.
And weight is a major decision point because a metal-framed handgun generally weighs more than a comparable polymer gun. If carrying an additional few ounces on your belt doesn’t bother you, then you’re good to go. But let’s compare the Glock 21 and a standard 1911 Government model.
Depending on grips and accessories, the 1911 weighs in around 39 ounces, with a capacity of 7+1. The Glock 21, with a capacity of 13+1, weighs in at a hair over 29 ounces empty and is the same weight loaded as an empty 1911.
Why Choose A Polymer Frame Handgun?
Even the most diehard purist for metal-framed handguns has a hard time arguing against polymer pistols at this point. With so many different brands on the market functioning flawlessly with untold millions of rounds downrange (maybe even billions at this point). They have proven to be incredibly durable, sturdy, and up to any task.
Pros Of A Polymer Frame
Polymer frame pistols are the King of the Mountain; there is no denying it. They are crazy light and easy to carry, either concealed or open. But another somewhat underappreciated factor is how much simpler it is to produce polymer frames over metal. Not only that but polymers can be molded to any shape or contour you can imagine. There is a reason why metal frame guns have a fairly generic look, especially milled ones.
But the best pro of a polymer frame handgun? The price. Polymer is much cheaper for the manufacturer to produce, which gets passed on to the end user. You can find really high-quality polymer-frame pistols retailing for sub~$300, and even custom-shop versions (competition guns) that rarely tip the scales past $650-$700.
Finally, and this might not matter much to a lot of shooters, but it can help lead in one growing but small demographic, but polymer can be molded in just about any color or combination of colors. There are many examples of purple, pink, or duck egg blue frames out there, catering to younger and female shooters. Of course, you can also get a frame in FDE, OD green, or stealth gray, just to name a few.
Cons Of A Polymer Frame
Of course, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Let’s face it: Polymer pistols are generally ugly. They are improving, but they tend to look like a tool instead of art. Now, not all metal-framed pistols are beautiful. Still, when you look at a classy stainless-steel pistol like the Tanfoglio Defiant or the Walther PPK/S, you cannot help but appreciate the attention to detail and the craftsmanship.
The only other problem we’ve seen with polymer pistols is if a dog gets to the frame. They can chew up polymer like a bone. Not common, but it has happened.
Should I Just Choose Both?
Look, there are no rules against having both. Plenty of shooters carry a simple, inexpensive polymer-frame pistol for their EDC but keep that beautiful Kimber in the safe. And why not? Why carry a pistol that costs almost a month’s rent just to have it get marked and scuffed by the rigors of daily carry?
Is There Any Crossover?
Well, it’s interesting that you should ask this because there is some crossover between metal-frame pistols and polymer-frame pistols. We at Bear Creek Arsenal made that crossover from scratch. Enter the Genes1s II. The Genes1s uses standard 17+1 magazines that are very common, and with thousands of common aftermarket accessories, you can tailor it to be whatever gun you want it to be. But while it looks like a polymer frame, it is not. It is a sturdy yet aesthetically pleasing aluminum alloy. Since we opted for aluminum alloy, the overall weight remains light, but there is plenty of heft there to soak up recoil.
We’re proud of our Genes1s pistol, but we also carry an extensive catalog of handguns, both metal-framed and polymer-framed. There is no wrong answer to these; there are lots of great options either way. Get what you like, train with it, and carry it.