You may not be surprised to learn that at Liberty Safe, makers of the finest USA-built home and gun safes, we like our guns. Our staffers’ love affairs with their boomsticks, hog-legs, pew-pews, heaters, gats, frontstuffers, smoke poles, scatterguns, and just plain firearms of all kinds range from the casual to the enthusiastic to the fanatical.
Whether these guns are used for hunting, recreational shooting, defensive carry, competition, home defense, collecting, or other purposes, we’ve asked around the company and have come up with a list of our favorite firearms, and are excited to share it with you.
Let’s jump right in! In no particular order, here are some of our favorite guns at Liberty Safe.
Younger shooters who have been raised on Call of Duty may think of the venerable 1911 semi-automatic pistol as a “Fudd gun,” but there’s no denying the history, impact, and purely satisfying shooting experience afforded by John Moses Browning’s Model of 1911, also known as the Colt Government Model.
Adopted by the US military in, you guessed it, 1911, this powerful and reliable .45 ACP pistol was in official and continuous use until 1985, when it began to be supplanted by Beretta’s excellent M9.
Many Bullseye and recreational target shooters still prefer the 1911, and it continues to be a very popular CCW choice, particularly now that it has become available from multiple manufacturers in caliber 9mm Parabellum (which purists may deem a blasphemy, but which transforms the 1911 into a very soft, very fast shooter).
For a while in the 1980s it seemed that the “wondernines” from Glock, Beretta, SIG, and Smith & Wesson, with their 15-round (or greater) capacity, low recoil, and improved reliability would be the final nail in the 1911’s coffin, but the 1994 “assault weapons ban” with its 10-round magazine restriction gave the 1911 another lease on life. People figured if they could only have 10 rounds on board, they may as well be big, stonkin’ .45-caliber rounds.
Kimber was probably the first “aftermarket” 1911 manufacturer to find widespread success, but Springfield Armory and many others added to the 1911 craze, which has steadily grown to this day.
The 1911 has had such an impact on the firearms world and is still so good, that in 2011 the Browning model M1911 automatic pistol was officially designated as the state firearm of Utah (John Moses Browning lived in Ogden, Utah and many of his designs were invented there).
Things we love about the 1911: The looks, the way it fits just about every hand, the history, the satisfying weight and pride of ownership that goes along with an all-metal sidearm, and the potential for truly stellar accuracy, but primarily, the trigger. Simply nothing else compares to a great 1911 trigger. Since it’s an SAO (Single-Action Only) design and backed up by both grip and thumb safeties, a good gunsmith can make it reliably safe with a “glass rod” break of down to 2 pounds or even less. The trigger slides straight to the rear on a moving stirrup or bow, rather than pivoting on a hinge like the vast majority of triggers, which means the 1911 provides trigger feel and feedback like nothing else.
Things people may complain about: “Drop-in” parts is not really a thing in the 1911 world. You need to know what you’re doing to keep a 1911 running safely and reliably, and fitting every replacement part with stones, mills, jigs, and/or files is par for the course. Compared to a Glock, the 1911 is quite heavy and its ammunition capacity is relatively low. Many 1911s don’t have provision for mounting lights and lasers, and the 1911 can be pretty expensive. Prices range from several hundred to many thousands of dollars, and you can spend CRAZY money on a full-custom 1911 from the big names—if you have a few years to wait.
But with a growing fan base among hipsters, newer shooters, historical firearm buffs, and just plain enthusiasts, it looks like John Moses’ handgun masterpiece will be going strong for another hundred years at least.
The Glock family of pistols
Gaston Glock turned the handgun world on its head in 1982 with the introduction of his “Plastic Fantastic” Glock 17. In 1983, it was accepted by the Austrian Army as their new service pistol. In 1984, the Glock 17 passed the rigorous NATO durability test with flying colors and was adopted by the Norwegian Army as their standard sidearm. Militaries and police agencies around the world began to take note, and over the past 40 years, the Glock became the standard sidearm for the majority of these organizations around the world.
In America, traditionalists initially scoffed at the goofy-looking, blocky design, the “cheap-feeling,” “fragile” (and not terribly ergonomic) polymer grip frame and magazines, and the spongy, weird-feeling “safe-action” trigger break. But after government agencies and police forces began to report reliability testing results, and as American shooters learned the benefits of the Glock 17’s simplicity, light weight, accuracy, parts interchangeability, and durability, the scoffers started becoming die-hard, fanatical converts to the Glock cult.
The first couple generations of Glock pistols were shipped in plastic containers that were affectionately known as “Tupperware,” and the name was apropos since both pistol and packaging prominently featured the use of high-tech polymers. This “plastic” construction led to idiotic (and incorrect) claims that Glock pistols wouldn’t show up on airport X-ray monitors or set off metal detectors. This was cemented in popular culture by John McClain in Die Hard II, who spouts some ridiculous dialogue claiming that the “Glock 7” is a rare “porcelain” pistol made in Germany that cannot be picked up on airport metal detectors and “costs more than he makes in a month.”
Well, since when does Hollywood get anything right as far as guns go? Regardless, anyone who has familiarized themselves with the Glock, particularly those who have taken one apart and put it back together, can’t help but be impressed with the pistol’s ingenious design with its interchangeable parts, and extremely durable construction, and gold-standard level of reliability. If you don’t mess with them, Glocks just plain work.
As far as a specific model, the Glock 19 is probably the absolute favorite and most popular in America, but the nature of Glocks and the similarities between all models mean that if you can shoot one Glock model well, you most likely can shoot them all acceptably well.
Things we love about the Glock: Huge aftermarket industry support (nearly every part is available from custom/aftermarket manufacturers), tons of options for holsters and accessories, nearly 100% reliability, surprising accuracy, parts interchangeability, low cost, ease of disassembly, and tolerance for “iffy” maintenance.
Things we wish Glock would improve: The “2x4” ergonomics of the blocky grip and strangely located curve at the rear of the trigger guard (terms like “Glock knuckle” have become commonplace in gun culture), the sometimes-not-drop-free magazines, the fairly common “BTF” (brass to the face, though this has improved in Gen 5 Glocks), and Glock’s fairly conservative and stodgy record of innovation to the product line.
The Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle
Introduced in 1936, the Model 70 grew to cult status among America’s big-game hunters, and became known as “the rifleman’s rifle.” This was largely due to the popular writings of renowned outdoorsman and author Jack O’Connor, who famously hunted bighorn and desert sheep (as well as just about everything else) with his “Number One” and “Number Two” sheep rifles in .270 Winchester, which was heavily customized Model 70s.
O’Connor helped develop and popularize the concept of a hunting rifle that was light, accurate, ergonomic, reliable, and beautiful, and America’s sportsmen have perpetuated the lore around the campfire and in online forums ever since.
The Winchester Model 70, one of many American rifle designs that were at their core, evolutions of the Mauser 1898, had a massive external extractor claw and benefited from what came to be known as Controlled Round Feeding (or CRF), where the rim of a cartridge slips into the extractor claw early in the cycle and is “controlled” through the entire process of feeding into the chamber.
Proponents swear this is the only way to go when reliability is key and you may become stressed by the chance of a shot at a trophy sheep (or buck, or bear, or whatever) or when hunting dangerous game since CRF reduces the possibility of a double-feed or other jam if the bolt is worked in a less-than-ideal fashion.
The “pre-’64” Model 70 is the true classic, and collectors and hunters will swoon for one of these originals, but the recent-manufacture rifles from Winchester (under Olin and FN parent companies) have returned to the large external extractor, controlled-round feeding, and other features that made the Model 70 such a fave of old. (We’d have kept the original trigger design, though.)
Things we love about the Winchester Model 70: Classic looks, smooth action, CRF, the potential for truly excellent accuracy, and light weight for mountain hunting.
Things that make us go “hmmm”: The cheapened, non-CRF Model 70s (1964-1992), the lack of a solid cheek weld with some optics, the new trigger, and of course, the lighter the rifle, the greater the recoil. Shooting some of the very light “mountain” rifles in larger calibers can be punishing. The shaky state of the “Winchester” company and brand also means that the Model 70’s current and future availability is not particularly confidence-inspiring.
The M1 Garand
Whether you pronounce it “guh-RAND,” like the US military and those who used the rifle, or “GAIR-und,” like the man who invented it (John C. Garand, a Canadian-born expat American gun designer), many shooters, historians, and firearms enthusiasts echo General Patton’s estimation of the “US Rifle, Caliber .30 M1” as “the greatest battle implement ever devised”… at least at the time that statement was made in 1945.
In a time when all other militaries were fielding 5 or 6-round, bolt-action rifles as their primary infantry weapons, the 8-round, semi-automatic, gas-operated M1 Garand, feeding from auto-ejecting en-bloc clips, could lay down a lot of hard-hitting, .30-caliber hate in a surprisingly short time.
The M1 was first developed with a “gas trap” operating system, which was later (starting around 1940) changed to a more-reliable, long-stroke gas piston setup (with the piston brazed to the end of a hand-bent, barrel-length operating rod). The initial development cartridge was the .276 Pedersen, and 1931 trials of this combination showed great promise, but General McArthur and the Army Chief of Staff ordered development of the .276 Garands immediately ceased in 1932, and all future rifles would be chambered in the .30 caliber to simplify logistics and use up existing stocks of the then-current military cartridge.
While the Marine Corps stubbornly held on to their 1903 Springfield bolt action rifles through the majority of their campaigning in the Pacific, the M1 was preferred by the remainder of the armed forces for its game-changing firepower.
The distinctive “ping” that the ejected en-bloc clip makes as the rifle runs empty has been the subject of many silly rumors, such as “enemies would wait to hear the ping and then rush the American position” or “US soldiers would carry around empty clips and throw one down to lure enemy soldiers out.” You can decide for yourself how credible those stories may be, but this video may help in your research.
Things we love about the M1 Garand: The history, the purposeful looks, the durable reliability, the powerful (.30-06) cartridge, the truly excellent iron sights, and the wonderful mechanical puzzle that makes up the internal action.
Things people may not love about the Garand: It’s difficult to “accurize” for competition; adding a scope is a goofy proposition since the rifle must be loaded from directly above the action; “gunsmithing” a Garand really requires an actual gunsmith; the inside-the-trigger-guard safety is probably not the greatest idea these days; the 10-pound weight is not insignificant (though it helps soften recoil), and the rifle’s legendary cult status has made even the crustiest, beat-up Garands very pricey lately. Also, a note must be made here about the legendary “Garand thumb.” Yes, this is a real concern for the uninitiated. The M1’s action includes a very stout spring that closes the bolt smartly when you release downward pressure on a loaded en-bloc clip, OR when manually closing the action after inspection to show the rifle is empty. If you don’t blade your hand against the operating rod handle, or if you don’t fully and sharply lock the bolt to the rear when withdrawing it, you can get a very nasty wound as the sharp and heavy bolt smashes your thumb against the receiver. So be extra careful, or brush up on your favorite swear words.
Probably the most misunderstood, controversial, and maligned rifle in modern history (except for perhaps the AK-47), the AR-15 is known as “America’s rifle” due to its nearly ubiquitous popularity among the USA’s recreational, hunting, defensive, practical competition, and target shooters.
The Eugene Stoner/Jim Sullivan-designed ArmaLite Rifle (that’s what the AR stands for, in case you didn’t know) has become so popular and is manufactured by so many different companies that the term “AR-15” now has the same common understanding and widespread usage as “Band-aid,” “Xerox,” “Frisbee,” and similar terms.
The tongue-in-cheek term for ARs is “Lego for grown-ups,” since the AR platform is so modular and so easily customized that some fans and shooters have “built” dozens of AR-15 variants with different buttstocks, receivers, barrel configurations, handgrips, forends, sights, triggers, muzzle devices, optics, and other accessories.
The AR-15 has proven so reliable, accurate, and easily modular compared to its competitors that for many riflemen, it represents the pinnacle of modern rifle design and utility.
Just as we feel everyone should own at least one 1911, we think every free, law-abiding American should own at least one AR-15 and know how to use it.
Things we love about the AR-15: The lightweight, reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, and easy accessorization of the modern AR-15 are pluses. In non-crazy times, a very good AR can be had for $600-$800 as well, which represents crazy-good value for the money.
Things that we don’t love: AR culture (like Glock culture) can get a bit fanatical and myopic, and fans can often max out their “lightweight carbines” with so much bling and bulk that they end up considerably heavier than the porky M14 the AR-15 replaced. The huge aftermarket also means that there are a lot of crappy AR parts and accessories out there, so do your homework before putting down your cash.
The SIG P365 “Micro-compact” 9mm pistol
SIG absolutely transformed the “carry pistol” market in 2018 with the release of the P365, a super-compact 9mm semi-automatic handgun with a magazine capacity that dropped everyone’s jaws. The pistol is effectively the same size as (or smaller than) the popular single-stack CCW pistols of the day, but rather than 6, 7, or 8 rounds in its magazine, the P365 came with 10 in its flush-fit mag and 12 in a slightly longer, but still amazingly compact magazine with a pinkie extension. 15-round magazines have since become available.
The proprietary new “one-and-a-half stack” magazine technology allows the tiny P365 to keep putting out bullets like an endless bunch of clowns exiting a compact car at the circus.
The fact that the P365 comes with awesome night sights, a fantastic trigger, excellent ergonomics, and is astoundingly easy to shoot well despite its diminutive size, means the model has become a top seller for SIG and a game-changer for the concealed-carry market. Nearly every serious handgun manufacturer has been forced to come up with a direct competitor to the “new wondernine” over the past 4 years with Springfield, Ruger, Taurus, Kimber, Smith & Wesson, Glock, and Kel-Tec all providing options, with more on the way.
The fact that SIG has released LARGER versions of the micro-compact pistol goes to show that they really got it amazingly small to start with. The modular nature of the P365/P365X/P365XL and similar variants and offerings from competitors means that you can select your personal preference of barrel/slide length, grip length, and capacity. These truly are amazing days for fans of shootable, small, concealed-carry handguns.
Things we love about the P365: Almost everything. The size, capacity, shootability, and market support are nearly peerless, and since SIG worked out some early issues with the durability of the striker, the pistol is remarkably reliable right out of the box.
Things we think SIG could improve: The initial P365 and many remaining models have a proprietary accessory rail rather than a picatinny rail, and the optics footprint was initially very SIG-centric, though that is improving of late. Sometimes the trigger travel can be a bit spongy with a longish reset, but usually a few hundred rounds will either smooth it out or acclimate the shooter to what is truly a good defensive trigger.
Colt 1851 Navy (replica black-powder revolver)
Samuel Colt produced the first practical revolving handgun with his 5-shot Paterson model in the 1830s, but it sold poorly and found popularity only among the Texas Rangers. However, those rangers used Colt’s revolving pistol to such good effect in several prominent battles that word got around, the concept of the revolver became less of an unknown novelty, and in 1847 Colt got a military contract to produce .44 caliber Walker “horse pistols” for the US Mounted Rifles. This contract saved Colt from bankruptcy and gave him the capital and credibility to begin selling the much smaller, lighter, and more practical (for civilians, anyway) .31 caliber pocket model revolvers (starting around 1849), which caught on like wildfire and cemented Colt as a serious player in the firearms world.
In 1851, Colt released an upsized, .36-caliber version of the pocket model, variously termed the “Colt Revolving Belt Pistol of Navy Caliber,” or the Ranger Size model, or the Revolving Belt model, but the designation “Navy” is how this hugely popular model came to be commonly known.
Many early gunfighters, lawmen, and Western figures used Colt Navies, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Doc Holliday being but a few.
The 1851 Navy was the ideal size for a belt revolver: light, handy, ergonomic, and easily pointed. It proved remarkably accurate in skilled hands, and the grip frame was so well-liked that it was perpetuated in the Colt Single Action Army of 1873 (see below).
Original Colt Navies are at least 150 years old at this point, and though some do get used by historians and shooters, the majority of 1851 Navy models in current use are modern reproductions, having been produced by Italian firms by the likes of Uberti, Pietta, Armi San Marco, Armi San Paolo, and Palmetto, among some others. Uberti and Pietta are the commonly available brands today, and both companies produce excellent shooters, imported and sold by firms like Cabela’s, Cimarron, Dixie Gun Works, and Taylor’s & Company.
Things we love about the 1851 Colt Navy: The easy pointability of the grip, the pleasantly nose-heavy balance, the reliability and accuracy, and the clickety-snick of the action as the hammer is drawn to the rear. The Colt Navy is probably the ideal “starter blackpowder revolver” for new enthusiasts, as the gun itself as well as components are a bit less expensive than the larger .44-caliber alternatives.
Things that ain’t so great: Cap jams can be a problem for untuned revolvers, the .36 doesn’t put out the thump or the energy of the larger .44 Colts, and the reproductions must be modified pretty significantly to accept historical paper/conical cartridges.
The Beretta 92 series
The Beretta 92 series has been in continuous production in one form or another since 1976, but its popularity in the USA was greatly influenced by its adoption by the US armed forces in 1985 as the M9. The M9 was the standard-issue sidearm of the US military (barring special-unit anomalies like the SIG P226 used by the Navy Seals) for the next 30 years until its replacement, the SIG M17/M18, came along. The Beretta’s cult status was also boosted by prominent roles in the hugely popular Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movie series of the late 1980s.
It would be fair to say the Beretta 92 is an iconic pistol, and along with Glock and SIG, helped transition America’s police forces permanently away from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols as their primary sidearms. For sheer handgun-shooting pleasure, it’s hard to do better than a nice Beretta 92.
Things we love about the Beretta: The buttery-smooth slide that feels like it’s on greased ball bearings, the unfailing reliability, the sexy-curvy Italian styling, and a lovely smooth double-action trigger pull for the first shot, with a crisp single-action trigger break for follow-up shots.
Things we don’t really love about the Beretta: The large grip can feel bulky in smaller hands, the weight and size is significant for concealed-carry use, and the slide-mounted, trigger-deactivating safety/decocker can cause problems when the user is reloading or clearing a malfunction under stress (though the 92G and other variants ameliorate this). We’re also not fond of the perpetuation (by ignorant folks) of the “Beretta M9s are garbage” myth that began when clapped-out and poorly maintained M9s in military armories experienced malfunctions and failures in informal testing.
Since Beretta USA is now manufacturing the 92 in America, even hardcore “USA-only” fans can now experience the joy of owning and shooting this iconic handgun.
The Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle
John Moses Browning was probably the most important firearms designer of all time, and the Model 1894 is one of his most famous designs. This light, slim, reliable, handy rifle was the first rifle to chamber a cartridge loaded with smokeless powder (the .30 Winchester Center Fire, which came to be known as the .30-30), and became one of the most famous and popular hunting rifles of all time, with more than 7.5 million built.
Firearms historians have deemed the 1894 the “ultimate lever-action design,” and the ‘94 in “thuddy thuddy” is likely responsible for the harvesting of more deer in America over the past century-plus than any other firearm.
Things we love about the 1894: The slim, good looks, the reliable action, the satisfying sound and feel as you work the lever, and (in .30-30) the effective punch delivered by its widely available cartridge.
Potential downsides: Light weight and (generally) the lack of a butt pad mean the recoil can be significant; unloading requires you to cycle each round (at least partially) into the chamber before ejecting; recent models come with an unnecessary and ugly manual safety; and don’t even think about taking one of these rifles apart unless you REALLY know what you’re doing and have a very good set of gunsmithing screwdrivers. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Remington 870 pump-action shotgun
Introduced in 1950, the Remington 870 is the most popular shotgun in history, with more than 11 million having been made. The 870 was designed to be easier and cheaper to make than competitors like the Winchester Model 12, but it still earned a reputation for durability, reliability, handling, and sleek “space-era” good looks.
Dozens of different variations have been offered over the years, but our favorite for sporting (and defensive) use is the classic-era, polished-blue-and-walnut Wingmaster in 12 gauge. A buttery-smooth action is the sign of a well-used 870, and the things just keep getting better the more you use them.
A large aftermarket has grown up around this popular and well-loved shotgun, so you can build your 870 into the ideal tactical blaster, pheasant-getter, or backyard clay-buster. Nearly every police or military in the free world has at one time or another adopted the 870 into its arsenal.
Things we love about the 870: The stock and overall fit of the gun hits that impossible ideal that seems to work for 90% of shooters, and the smooth action and good trigger make it easy to hit just about everything in the air.
Things that could use a re-think: The location of the action-release lever in front of the trigger guard is an ergonomic stretch, and is a real pain if you install a pistol grip. The latest models have plastic trigger group housings, and the “Express” bargain-basement models of recent years have had finishes that seem to rust if you look at them wrong. We’re also not fond of the staked-in cartridge stops and sharp internal surfaces.
The newly revived Remington Firearms company is up and running now, so we have high hopes that they can bring back the glory days of the 870 for another 11 million copies.
Colt 1873 Single Action Army
The “Peacemaker” is probably the most recognized firearm in the world overall, and for good reason. Colt’s Single Action Army transformed the face of the American West with its powerful, waterproof, metallic, 45-caliber cartridge, its reliability, its excellent ergonomics, and its accuracy.
Though many civilians, gunfighters, and lawmen continued to carry cap-and-ball revolvers well after the introduction of the “SAA,” it became clear that the Peacemaker was the way of the future, particularly after Colt introduced the Colt Frontier or “Frontier Six-Shooter” in 1877, which was a Colt 1873 “Model P” type revolver manufactured in .44-40 Winchester caliber instead of .45 Colt, to allow ammunition commonality between a user’s Colt revolver and his 1873 Winchester rifle of the same caliber.
Production of Colt’s Single Action continued up until 1941, when it was halted to allow Colt’s factories to focus on more modern firearms for the war effort. However, due to huge demand spurred by the popularity of the “Western” TV and movie genre in the 1950s, Colt began producing new SAAs in 1956, and if you’re lucky, you can get a newly manufactured, 3rd-generation Colt to this day. They aren’t cheap, but like the man once said, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.
Things we love about the Colt Single Action Army revolver: The four clicks, the easy pointability, the classic looks, the fits-everyone grip, the history, and the timeless quality of polished steel.
Things that could improve: The trigger can be rough before attention is given by a knowledgeable tuner; adjusting the point of impact requires turning the barrel and/or filing the front sight, and the price has become eye-watering. Italian copies are available for a quarter to half the price, but there’s something about a real Colt that keeps us coming back for more.
The Browning Superposed over-under shotgun
Produced from 1931 to 1986 (with some interruptions), the Superposed was the first over-under “luxury” shotgun that was within the reach of America’s middle class. John Browning died of a heart attack while working on the elegant Superposed in 1926, and the design was completed by Browning’s son Val in 1931. More than ten times less expensive than some British over-unders of the day (and with arguably better function due to the single inertial trigger system adopted in 1938), the Superposed was a prize that was within reach of the affluent American sportsman, or even the “regular guy” who saved his lunch money for a few months.
Production of the Superposed was put on hiatus during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, but the classy over-under shotgun was reintroduced in 1948, and quickly became the choice of many postwar wingshooters during the ’50s and ’60s. Surpassed in technical function by the more modern Citori and Cynergy models, the Superposed (which ceased production in 1986) remains our choice for the “in-the-know” upland game hunter or clay-busting sportsman, and in our view, the Superposed is responsible for establishing the over/under Browning as the glamor-dream gun of the American everyman.
What we love about the Superposed: The bank-vault action, the classical lines, the lovely finish, and the instinctive pointability. Not to mention the social cred you get among the “in-the-know” shotgunners at the sporting clays club or the pheasant field.
Things we might complain about if pressed: The weight is probably more than it could be, as is the height of the action. “Salt wood” is a problem with Superposeds built during particular years, so be sure to read up on that. Collectors are snapping up the reasonably priced guns, so finding a nice Superposed for a less-than-jawdropping price is becoming more difficult.
Our favorite safes to store our favorite guns
Now that you’re read our list of some of our favorite guns, be sure to read up on our favorite gun safes, handgun vaults, vault doors, and home safes. From inexpensive but functional to fully customized and top-of-the-line, Liberty offers quality, USA-made safes for every taste and budget.