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Buying a Surplus 1911 Pistol from the CMP January 2021
Bruce Rogers  

The Civilian Marksmanship Program or "CMP" is operated by a federally chartered nonprofit corporation whose primary role is the promotion of firearms skills and safety, with an emphasis for youth sports. The CMP was originally created in 1903 but was privatized into its current form by Congress in 1996. To fund their endeavors, CMP is permitted to facilitate sales of surplus U.S. military rifles and parts to private collectors and sport shooters. Thousands of M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, 1903 and other rifles have been released from Army stores over the years via CMP stores and mail order. Handguns were last released as surplus in the early 1960s. Since then only rifles, parts, and ammo were available.

That changed with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018. Buried in the back of this massive bill (a version has to be passed by Congress every year to fund the military) was authorization for the Army to begin disposing of its "surplus" stock of approximately 100,000 .45 caliber pistols. The stipulation was that a maximum of 10,000 pistols per year could be transferred to the CMP. In fact the first year's shipment consisted of just 8,000. Also, CMP was required to build a new facility and install a secure vault to store the guns before the Army would physically transfer possession of them.

These original US government .45 caliber model 1911 and 1911A1 pistols, all of which were originally manufactured between 1911 and 1945, were built by several vendors. WW1 era production started with Colt, Springfield Armory, and Remington-UMC. To ramp up production going into WW2 contracts were issued to Colt, Ithaca Firearms, and non-traditional vendors like Singer (sewing machines), Remington Rand (office machines), and Union Switch and Signal (railroad equipment). Overall, roughly 2.7 million of these guns were produced. They were used as standard service weapons by all branches of the military until about 1990 when they were replaced by the Beretta M9. It's unclear how many survive in military stocks today, but only 100,000 were declared "surplus" for disposition.

The CMP tries to price their guns reasonably near their free-market value to maximize revenue for their programs and avoid having everything they sell immediately "flipped" for profit. Still, in most cases the secondary resale market for collectible WW2-era firearms exceeds CMP's asking prices. There was considerable "grumbling" in internet discussion groups about "no bargains" when the pricing of the 1911 pistols was announced, but in fact the demand clearly exceeded supply, as a lottery was necessary to allocate the available stock. CMP armorers inspected and tested every weapon and graded them as Rack ($850), Field ($950) and Service ($1050) grade with a few exceptional examples pulled out and placed in their online auction.

During September 2018, CMP opened a 30-day window to accept orders. To qualify to place an order an individual needed to meet the usual requirements:

  • Proof of ID and US citizenship
  • Member of a CMP affiliated club; NRA doesn't count. (I used Arizona Rife & Pistol Club)
  • Proof of participation/marksmanship activity (official match score, instructor status, CWP, C&R, hunter safety, etc. Waived if over age 60.)
  • Able to pass a standard background check. Unlike rifle sales which ship directly to your door, the handguns were required to transfer via a local licensed dealer (FFL).

After the order window closed, CMP assigned a random number to each of the over 9,000 orders submitted. In May of 2019 I was notified that I was #13293. So no chance at getting a pistol in the first year, and no telling if more were coming. The CMP was very quiet about whether or not the Army was releasing any more, or when. As the months stretched on, I pretty much stopped thinking about it. So it was a pleasant surprise in May of this year (2020) when I got a call saying my number had come up.

So in early June I visited my friendly kitchen table FFL and picked up my new “Service Grade” 1911A1. It’s a Remington Rand built in 1943 and most likely refurbished by the Army in the 1960's. It looks great and probably was never issued after the rebuild. Test firing ran perfectly, and it seems to shoot pretty accurately. So overall, I'm a happy customer.

Apparently, more pistols have been released and I see that they're up close to #18000 as of Nov 2020. So it looks like everyone that ordered will eventually get one.

Late Breaking News: The CMP has just announced the opening of another ordering window. New orders will be accepted between January 4th and March 4th, 2021, under similar rules. The average quality of the guns may degrade going forward, as reportedly the best condition grades were released first.

Check CMP's official website for the latest status:

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