The Browning High-Power

By Bob Cohen

Browning High-Power
Illustration courtesy of Browning.

Went to the range today, and on a whim, I checked out a 9mm Fabrique National FN35, better known as the Browning High Power. This was the last work of the American firearms genius John M. Browning, an improvement on his famous Colt M1911 design. It was also the first true high capacity pistol, back when double-digit mags were unheard of.

The High Power has seen service in many armed forces, including both sides of the conflict in WW II, and was carried in the movies by Detective Axel Foley of the Detroit Police Department. I fired one twenty years ago and it made no particular impression on me; then again, I think I only fired one magazine load, if that much. Today, I put several hundred rounds through a beat-up range loaner, and here's what I think of it:

Oh, my. This is a good pistol!

The High Power is a full-sized service weapon. The first thing I noticed was the comfortable grip. Where some of the high-capacity 9mm pistols that followed felt more like holding a two-by-four, the High Power feels like it was designed for me personally.

With nobody on the firing line and no instruction manual I was able to quickly get the piece up and running due to prior experience with the M1911. The two pistols are very similar. The High Power points naturally and the sight picture is effortlessly aligned with the eye, even better than with a M1911. As a matter of fact, it actually reminded me of my S&W service revolver, a weapon that points almost instinctively for me.

The High Power's solid heft soaks up recoil very well, making it a joy to shoot with 115 grain ball. At 10 yards, from a two-handed unsupported position, it put all rounds through one small jagged hole on the silhouette. The acid test was putting on the war-face and screaming while rat-tat-tatting an entire high capacity magazine. When I opened my eyes, all fourteen holes in the target were center-mass. This gun really shoots! I was not consciously aware of the trigger at any time. It was smooth and crisp, unlike my NYPD Glock that has the trigger-pull of a staplegun.

This pistol was such an easy shooter that I found myself giving serious thought to ditching the Glock and getting a Browning. Like the M1911, the High Power is large and flat, with no unusual protrusions or sharp edges. Other than the weight, it would carry and conceal well. The controls are completely familiar to anyone versed in the M1911, although the ambidextrous safety is more awkwardly placed for me; it's a little closer to the web of my hand than the safety of a M1911.

This particular pistol still had the original magazine safety, which prevents firing the weapon when the magazine is removed. I'd delete that feature, since having a weapon disabled while changing mags seems like a bad idea. I'd also replace the range loaner's rubberized grips, as they can be a hindrance to concealed carry.

I had one unanswered question: how do you properly carry this piece? I asked a gun-store commando who said, "Either hammer down or cocked-and-locked." That didn't sound right. Later, a quick check of both the Internet and my reference library shed no further light on the matter. Carrying a M1911 with the hammer down on a loaded chamber is a no-no, and my military training did not include carry with a loaded chamber, hammer cocked, safety on ("cocked-and-locked"). Even if I remedied my own training deficiency, the High Power's awkward safety might still be an issue.

So, while it looks like I'll probably be staying with my idiot-proof Glock for now, I'd say that you could do lots worse than using a Browning High Power for personal or home defense. Having one in your hand, ready to go, it would be awfully hard to beat.

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Copyright 2003 by Bob Cohen. All rights reserved.