September 24, 2018
By James Tarr
Because of watching too many episodes of “Miami Vice” as a teenager, when I was in my early 20s I found myself the owner of a Lightweight Colt Officer’s Model. It was the closest thing I could afford to the Detonics Combat Master detective Sonny Crockett carried in his ankle holster.
New 1911 in hand, I headed to the range—and sold the gun a short time later. Small, light 1911s chambered in .45 ACP are painful and abusive to shoot. Even if you’re a true believer in the magical stopping power of the .45 ACP—as I was in my youth—you find reasons not to shoot small, light guns chambered in that cartridge. The problem is, if you’re not shooting you’re not practicing.
The new CCO LW—Concealed Carry Officer’s, Lightweight—from Ed Brown Products is designed to be the ultimate carry 1911 that combines features you want in a custom 1911 carry gun while recognizing the advances that have occurred in ammunition. Yes, you can special order it in .38 Super or .45 ACP, but the standard model CCO LW is a 9mm with an eight-round magazine.
The Ed Brown CCO LW combines a compact Officer’s-size frame with a Commander-length slide. This means a grip that is about a half-inch shorter than the original Government model frame and a barrel that is 4.25 inches long instead of the five-inch tube on the original.
To me, this is the exact way to make a “carry” model. Too many manufacturers build their carry models with full-size grips and shortened slides. But it is the grip and not the slide that makes guns hard to conceal. Shortening the grip, as Ed Brown has done here, reduces printing while the longer slide makes it easier to shoot the pistol accurately.
The frame of the CCO LW is Ed Brown’s single-stack lightweight aluminum frame. According to the company’s specs, the pistol weighs about 29 ounces with an unloaded magazine. I weighed my sample, fully loaded with 8+1 rounds of 124-grain jacketed hollowpoints, and it came in at 32 ounces even.
Of course, loaded weight will vary depending on the bullet weight of your preferred 9mm load. Regardless, that is an eminently carryable weight, and since just about everyone will be able to get their entire hand on the frame, it’s also a quite shootable package.
The CCO LW is the smallest, lightest 1911 Ed Brown has ever offered. The company’s bread and butter is full-size, all-steel 1911s, usually chambered in .45 ACP, and if you read the last issue of Handguns, you probably saw Ed Brown is getting into the 10mm long-slide game as well. The CCO LW is a big step in the opposite direction, and the company seems to have nailed it.
This gun is far too large for pocket carry, but that’s okay. A custom 1911 just begs for a custom leather or horsehide or sharkskin holster on a quality belt, not just to support the weight but also to keep the gun properly tucked into the body. Overall, the gun is 7.5 inches long and five inches tall—5.5 inches if you include the provided magazine with its tall bumper pad.
Ed Brown provides only one eight-round magazine with this pistol, with that aforementioned large extended bumper pad. I recommend a flush magazine for carry, as that bumper pad completely erases the concealability of the compact frame. Companies such as Wilson Combat and Chip McCormick make excellent flush nine-round magazines to fit Officer’s-size frames, and I’d carry the gun with one of those inserted and a full-size 10-round magazine on my off-side for the reload.
The stainless barrel is one of Ed Brown’s own match-grade tubes, mated with a stainless match bushing. The barrel is flush with the bushing and sports a significantly recessed crown to protect the rifling.
The barrel/frame/slide lockup was totally tight, with no wiggle anywhere, yet the slide cycled with ease. That’s also one of the advantages of a 9mm 1911: The lighter recoil springs make it easier for people with compromised grips to cycled the slide.
You want a sure sign of a quality hand-fitted 1911? As I said, the Ed Brown CCO LW locked up completely tight, yet the bushing could be removed by hand, without the use of a bushing wrench. That is the mark of expert craftsmanship.
Ironically, though the 9mm offers fewer foot-pounds of energy than the .45 ACP, it operates at higher pressures. The CCO LW’s barrel is not ramped as many 9mm 1911 barrels are, but it does feature a fully supported chamber to handle those higher pressures.
While the barrel and bushing are stainless steel, and the trigger is brushed aluminum, the rest of the pistol has been treated with Ed Brown’s proprietary corrosion-resistant black Gen 4 coating.
The front of the slide has been narrowed slightly. Ed Brown calls these “carry cuts,” but traditionally they’re known as “Hi Power cuts” because they make the front of a 1911 resemble the front of another of John Browning’s creations: the Browning Hi Power. The carry cuts are ostensibly to aid in holstering, but they also just look good.
The bottom corner of the slide on my first 1911 was nearly knife-sharp, and it was a rare USPSA match that I walked away from without a fresh cut on my thumb. If you peer closely at the photos of this pistol, you’ll see the bottom edge of the slide has been heavily chamfered so it won’t slice your thumb if you shoot the gun with a proper thumb-high hold, choked way up on it.
The single-side safety is an extended model and had loud and positive clicks up and down. There are no sharp edges and no sharp corners at the rear of the pistol, either on the frame or at the rear of the thumb safety where it meets the frame. While this is not as important when shooting 9mms, this is a lesson learned by shooting .45 ACPs: Any corners at the rear of a hard-recoiling metal-framed pistol dig into your hand.
The grip safety is perfectly blended to the frame, but what immediately caught my eye when I first cocked the hammer of this pistol was the abbreviated shape of the beavertail.
Ed Brown’s beavertail design offers the highest cut and highest hand positioning of any factory beavertail on the market. Normally, the curve sweeps up in back to cup the bottom of the hammer, but you’ll notice the beavertail on the CCO LW goes nearly straight back and then stops. This is Ed Brown’s Concealed Carry grip safety, and its shortened length takes about 1/8 inch off the part of a 1911 that is the second most likely part to print behind the butt of the gun.
The first most likely part on a gun to print is the frame itself. The CCO LW features a round butt on the frame. It’s not a “bobtail” frame cut, which chops a substantial hunk off the back corner of the frame, but rather just a rounding of that back corner so it nestles a little deeper and a little more comfortably in your hand. I much prefer this round butt to bobtailed frames both for look and feel because bobtails change the grip angle slightly.
That rounded butt does two more things. It removes a corner on which your covering garment could catch and takes another eighth-inch or so off the part of the pistol that is most likely to print, making it even more concealable.
These are small things, but this is, after all, a custom gun. A custom gun should offer those small custom features that together add up to a big difference. Owning a custom gun should provide you with something more than just bragging rights.
The frame features Ed Brown’s Snakeskin texturing. The texturing looks like scales and can be found on the mainspring housing, frontstrap of the frame and the slide. The Snakeskin on the mainspring housing was noticeably more aggressive than anywhere else on the gun and was at least as aggressive as checkering.
I would have preferred Snakeskin that aggressive on the frontstrap as well, but for years I carried and shot hand-checkered 1911s that were only slightly less rough to handle than cheese graters. Snakeskin is advertised as being less aggressive than checkering while still providing a firm, non-slip grip.
The grips are G10 laminate with a pattern designed to mimic wood. They’re made by VZ Grips, and VZ does excellent work. The checkering on the grips is more aggressive than the Snakeskin texturing on the front of the frame and really does a good job helping keep your hand in place while shooting. At the bottom of the frame, the magazine well opening has been lightly beveled to smooth reloading.
Traditionally, the slide stop sticks out of the right side of the frame slightly to help with disassembly. That’s not actually necessary, though, and considering this is a purpose-built “carry gun,” the people at Ed Brown have cut off the slide stop even with the frame to make it more streamlined. They then slightly relieved the frame around the pin to aid in disassembly.
The latest carry-gun archetype fad all the cool kids have is commonly referred to as a “Roland Special” and features a red dot on the slide and a weapon light mounted on the frame rail. You won’t find those here. The Ed Brown CCO LW has iron sights. The front has a red fiber-optic insert inside a steel post. The rear sight is plain black and steel and resembles a Novak no-snag design. Further, the gun lacks a frame rail for a light or light/laser.
To my mind, that’s perfect—and perfectly fine. Enjoy your toys, but to me, if you’ve slapped a red dot and weapon light on your concealed-carry piece you’ve lost sight of your goal. Concealed-carry pieces don’t get pulled until you’ve already identified a threat, in which case that light is possibly superfluous.
And at traditional defensive handgun distances—arm’s length to 15 feet—I’ve seen extensive independent testing that has proven what I’ve always believed: A red dot is slower to acquire than iron sights for shooters of all skill levels.