March 25, 2013
STI International of Georgetown, Texas, first made a name for itself in the world of 1911 pistols during the 1990s with the development of what is today its extensive 2011 series of high-capacity modular-frame guns, which utilize a fiber-reinforced polymer lower grip and trigger guard as a separate component from the metal upper portion of the frame that comprises the dust cover and frame rails.
It was not long, however, before the continuing (and growing) demand for classic-format single-stack 1911s led the company to expand its offerings in that market as well, and today STI's list of single-stack 1911 models is even longer (21 items) than its catalog of 2011 items (15 items).
Among the newest of STI's single-stack Model 1911s is the Lawman series, available in five-inch full-size, 4.25-inch Commander size, and 3.25-inch Officer's size—all in either .45 ACP or 9mm chamberings.
STI has long been well-known in the world of M1911 IPSC/USPSA competition shooting due to the high-capacity advantages of the 2011 series and competition-oriented semi-custom packages, but it is not as familiar to single-stack Model 1911 owners in general, and some confusion exists due to the company's history. So some background is in order.
Around 1980, Texas gunsmith and machinist Virgil Tripp got into building custom 1911 pistols for USPSA/IPSC competition. Dissatisfied with the quality of many of the accessory M1911 parts then available, he began designing his own—most notably hammers and sears that he manufactured by electrical discharge machining and a polymer/titanium match trigger. Most of these Tripp Research, Inc. parts were marketed and sold through Chip McCormick Corp. and quickly established themselves among shooters and other custom pistolsmiths due to McCormick's stature as one of the leading national championship competitors of that era.
In the early 1990s, Tripp linked up with a Texas engineer and computer-aided design specialist named Sandy Strayer, and together they developed and patented the modular high-capacity 1911 frame—the foundation for today's 2011 series—under the name Strayer-Tripp Inc. or STI.
This was a big deal for the USPSA/IPSC world. Para Ordnance's all-steel high-capacity 1911 frame was already on the market, but STI's polymer/steel modular system weighed less than half of an all-steel gun. Shooters also liked the STI design because it felt smaller in the hands due to the fact the grips were molded in instead of screwed on. The new system took USPSA Open division by storm.
But success breeds its own complications. In 1994, Strayer left STI, and with Strayer's departure, Tripp partnered with Texas USPSA/IPSC enthusiast and businessman Dave Skinner. In 1997, Skinner and his wife Shirley bought STI outright from Tripp and renamed the company STI International. Eight years after that, the Skinners sold STI to its employees, making it the first employee-owned company in the firearms industry.
The "International" that Skinner added to the STI name in 1997 is significant. At that time, the Clinton-era high-cap magazine ban was in full effect, effectively killing domestic sales of STI's signature 2011 guns. So Skinner decided to focus on exports, and by 2007 STI International was the third largest exporter of pistols in America after Smith & Wesson and SIG Sauer.
At the same time, he decided to focus on the growing personal defense and concealed-carry market in the U.S. by moving strongly into the traditional 1911 single-stack market for complete guns as well as custom accessory parts. And this brings us to the new STI Lawman series.
The 9mm versions of the 4.0 (l.) and 3.0 offer magazine capacities of nine and eight rounds, respectively, making these excellent choices for concealed carry for people who favor single actions.
STI's thin grip panels (l.) are available at no charge on all Lawman versions. They reduce grip width by 0.12 inch.
All the Lawmen feature RecoilMaster full-length guide rods. The 3.0 employs a bull barrel while the other two have bushing setups.
STI's proprietary aluminum Long Curve trigger features overtravel adjustment and comes standard on all Lawman versions. Pulls on all three sample guns were crisp and in the three- to 3.5-pound range.
All three sizes of the .45 ACP and 9mm STI International Lawman pistols are traditional 1911s built to modern standards to provide exceptional duty and personal-defense tools. The three versions are designated as the Lawman 5.0, Lawman 4.0 and Lawman 3.0, although their actual barrel lengths are 5.11, 4.26, and 3.24 inches, respectively.
The Lawman 5.0 and 4.0 guns are built on forged steel, standard width, Government- and Commander-length frames, respectively, with finely checkered frontstraps and backstraps, and steel flat mainspring housings. The Lawman 3.0 pistols are built with forged aluminum frames with similar checkering and aluminum flat mainspring housings.
The controls on all versions in both calibers are STI International's single-sided thumb safety positioned for right-handers and STI's high-rise beavertail grip safety with hammer cup and palm hump. The beavertail tip on the Lawman 3.0 is slightly bobbed for increased concealability.
The carbon-steel slides on all Lawman versions feature traditional round-top 1911 style with lowered and flared ejection port and front and rear cocking serrations. All Lawman barrels are fully supported and ramped.
Lawman 5.0 and Lawman 4.0 models feature a barrel bushing; the Lawman 3.0 features a bushing-free, cone-fit bull barrel. The Lawman 5.0 has a full-length guide rod. The Lawman 4.0 and Lawman 3.0 pistols are equipped with STI's RecoilMaster guide rods. All Lawman pistols come standard with an STI International Commander-style hammer with weight-reducing side cutouts.
The triggers on all Lawman 1911s are STI's patented aluminum Long Curve design with adjustable overtravel screw. Measured trigger pull weights on our three review sample pistols were very crisp, from three to 3.5 pounds. All Lawman versions are fitted with STI's G10 Micarta grip panels featuring aggressive proprietary checkering design and engraved STI logo. Thin-grip versions with the same checkering pattern are available at no extra charge for increased concealability or for smaller hands. Thin grips reduce width by only 0.12 inch but make a significant difference in how they fit your hand.
Standard finish on the Lawman pistols is matte blue with polished slide sides. Optional polymer finishes include OD green frame with black KG-coated slide, or brown slide over coyote tan frame, both offered at no extra charge. Grip panels are offered to match finish in black, olive drab or tan. A hard chrome finish (available only for the slide) adds $300 to the price. Base retail price for all versions in all calibers is the same: $1,433.
Lawman 5.0 .45 ACP pistols come with an eight-round STI-branded magazine with oversize polymer base pad. All other versions come with flat-metal base plate magazines with the following capacities: Lawman 5.0 9mm, 9+1 rounds; Lawman 4.0 .45 ACP, 7+1; Lawman 4.0 .9mm, 9+1; Lawman 3.0 .45 ACP, 6+1; and Lawman 3.0 9mm, 8+1. The base plates on the flat-bottom magazines are drilled to accept screws to attach aftermarket base pads if desired.
All versions are equipped with STI's Tactical Adjustable Sight, which allows full screw adjustment of both windage and elevation. This is particularly important for the shorter-barrel guns because ammunition variation can have a marked effect on point of impact, depending greatly on how each individual shooter controls the pistol during its recoil cycle.
The TAS sights are extremely low-profile, no larger than most of the fixed low-profile combat sights on the market. The sight blade on all versions is the STI ramped front with a width of 0.120 inch, dovetailed for additional lateral adjustment or replaceable for different height in case of extreme ammunition variation. I regard this combination as one of the best sight systems for a personal defense or concealed-duty handgun on the market.
Regardless of their refined components, exquisite trigger pulls and precision fitting, the STI Lawman 1911s are no-frills, no-fancies packages, designed specifically for all-your-chips-on-the-table, life-threatening situations. As such, their absolute criteria must be absolute reliability and absolute shootability.
We received three Lawman versions for review: a .45 ACP Lawman 5.0, and a Lawman 4.0 and Lawman 3.0 in 9mm. I've grown increasingly fond of the 1911 in 9mm over the past couple of years, particularly when working with shooters new to the concealed-carry world who have decided to adopt the 1911 platform.
I've solved many a capability problem with a new 1911 shooter who shows up on the range with a Commander- or Officer's-size .45 ACP, simply by putting a 9mm version in his or her hands. And many of them decide to stick with the 9mm, even though they are slightly heavier due to their additional barrel mass.
I put all three review STI Lawman pistols through a reliability and performance session with five varieties each of commercial defense-type ammunition at 25 yards (for the Lawman 5.0 and Lawman 4.0) and 50 feet (for the Lawman 3.0). I use 50 feet for three-inch defense pistols in general, as a rule of practicality. The results are on the accompanying chart.
First comment: There were zero malfunctions or stoppages with any of the loads in any of the guns. Nor did I expect any. Second comment: I'm embarrassed that the average group sizes are not smaller. These days, as a retirement-age shooter, firing any iron-sight pistol, no matter how good the sights themselves, I'm torn between being able to focus on the front sight with the target a blur when wearing my reading glasses, or being able to focus on the target with the sights a blur when not.
Results are about the same either way: not as good as they used to be. Average 2.5- to three-inch groups are about as good as it gets for me these days, no matter how good the gun. And no, I'm not going to use a Ransom rest. I want to know how well I can shoot these guns, not how well a machine can shoot them.
But consider this: Both at the 25-yard and 50-foot distances, all my groups from all guns with all loads could easily be covered with a coffee cup. These pistols are designed for defense. And I'll take that onto a mean street any day or night of the week.