Glock 19: Origin Story of a Legendary Pistol

June 7, 2023Scott Murdock
glock 19

The Glock 19 — large enough to be a service pistol, compact enough for concealed carry, and one of the most widely used handguns in the US. The odds are good that you've fired one — and loved it. Photo by Kurtis Frasier/Coffee or Die.

When Gaston Glock expanded his business following the success of its first handgun, the Glock 17, he didn’t try to cater to more cartridges or design his own long guns. He took proven success and made it a little bit smaller with a 4-inch barrel and 15-round magazines instead of a 4.5-inch barrel and 17-round magazines. The resulting Glock 19 functioned like its full-size predecessor, was just as reliable, and shot the same ammunition — it was just easier to carry concealed.

The idea wasn’t just good — it created a pistol that’s practically printed money for Glock ever since. It’s smaller than a full-size pistol, but large enough to carry as a duty gun (as many law enforcement agencies and military units have done with great success). It’s larger than a subcompact CCW pistol, but small enough to carry inside a waistband without printing. It’s affordable enough to be the first pistol you buy and tough enough to last a lifetime.

Odds are good that you’ve fired a Glock 19 — it’s one of the most widely used handguns in the US, with roles in the military, law enforcement, and civilian market. It’s been everywhere in the real world and in pop culture for decades. 

glock 19

The Glock 19X combines a compact slide with a full-size frame — not to mention a snazzy FDE finish. Photo courtesy of Glock.

The Glock 19 is so prolific that it’s easy to forget how it rose to prominence. The path wasn’t always easy, either. There were plenty of opportunities for the pistol (and Glock in general) to fail. It’s time to revisit one of the greatest handguns in history, appreciate all it has accomplished, and examine the current state of affairs for one of America’s favorite firearms.

Why Is the Glock 19 So Popular?

The Glock 19’s popularity starts with the manufacturer and its legendary reputation for reliability, which stems from a simple design executed with precision in the manufacturing process. As many owners have discovered, Glock pistols can function in spite of severe temperatures, sand, mud, and water. Haters have a lot of issues with the company’s guns, but the reliability of stock Glocks isn’t one of them. It’s indisputable. 

The Glock 19, in particular, holds something of a Goldilocks role in the company’s lineup, and always has. It’s chambered for the proven, manageable 9mm cartridge. The pistol is small enough for concealed carry and large enough to hold its own in a combat or law enforcement role while still possessing a standard 15+1 capacity. 

You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get one, even these days, but it will still serve you for years no matter where life takes you or how much you have to carry it. And if a part doesn’t last, the aftermarket for Glock parts and components is massive.  

the walking dead glock 19

That’s right, Rick Grimes didn’t always use a Colt Python — sometimes, even he opted for a Glock 19. Photo courtesy of AMC/IMFDB.

From a market standpoint, there’s something to be said for being first in and best dressed. Glock created the market for polymer striker-fired pistols and established itself as the standard before other manufacturers could catch up. There are plenty of quality alternatives today, but none inspire the same fanatical following that Glock created more than the past several decades, and it all began with the Glock 17 and Glock 19.

Then there’s the pop culture aspect — the Glock has always lent itself to on-screen appearances. Because of its lines, features, and colors of stock, Glock pistols are so simple, it’s pretty easy to create convincing rubber or plastic stand-ins, and it can function as anything from a street cop’s sidearm to a spy’s go-to handgun. 

The Glock 19 made its film debut in 1991, when James Woods wielded one as Lt. John Moss in The Hard Way. Between then and 2023, the pistol has appeared in no less than 139 movies. It’s also been featured in TV shows, including The X-Files, Law & Order, 24, The Walking Dead, and The Terminal List. Lyrics like “Grab Your Glocks When You See Tupac” didn’t hurt the pistol’s pop culture status, either. 

History of the Glock 19

national guard g19

US Army National Guard soldiers assigned to the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) in support of Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), train members of the Armed Forces of Djibouti (FAD), Bataillon d’intervention rapide (BIR), on Glock 19 handling procedures, Djibouti, April 7, 2022. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alysia Blake.

Gaston Glock originally set out to build service pistols for the Austrian military. The goal was to improve on the Walther P38, which had been in production since World War II and was long overdue for a replacement.

Glock rolled out the full-sized Glock 17 for the Austrian military in 1982, and the US market in 1986, followed by the Glock 19 in 1988. The Glock 19 was essentially a scaled-down version of its predecessor — it could even accept longer Glock 17 magazines (something that has contributed to Glock’s success ever since).

By that time, Glock had already built a factory in Smyrna, Georgia, to serve US customers. Police departments across the country needed to upgrade their inventory of service revolvers, and many turned to Glock for models that included the Glock 19, which is famously easy to handle across a wide array of hands and shooters of different sizes. 

The company has faced its share of challenges along the way but always managed to come out on top — sometimes through clever maneuvering. When the federal government passed the 1994 Assault Weapons Bill, the law restricted pistol magazines to 10 rounds — if the mags were manufactured after the law was passed.

garand thumb glock 19

The Glock 19 is a solid duty pistol and, as Garand Thumb will explain, it’s a fantastic concealed-carry option. Screenshot via Garand Thumb/YouTube.

Paul Barrett, the author of Glock: the Rise of America’s Gun, told NPR that, "Glock had seen this bill coming for years and had been running the factory nonstop — three shifts a day, seven days a week — building up the [stock of] large-capacity firearms and the large-capacity magazines. 

“When the law was enacted, it allowed for a loophole that grandfathered in pre-existing equipment before the ban went into effect. [And] Glock had this huge stockpile of the very equipment that many gun owners wanted to get because it was banned — and the value of that equipment skyrocketed."

Ironically, one of the ways people got their hands on pistols that were banned from gun stores was by buying police surplus units. Many fondly remember the days when you could get an awesome deal on a G19 that spent a few years in a holster.  

Consumers always lust after products they can’t have. They’re drawn to things referenced in pop culture. Gun owners tend to want the same firearms they see being used in law enforcement.

glock 19 gen5 MOS

Members of US Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Europe (NSWTU-E) fire their custom Glock 19 pistols during shooting drills at a range in Cyprus, Sept. 29, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.

During the ban, the Glock 19 checked all three boxes and remained a massive commercial success. After the ban expired in 2004, the Glock 19’s popularity kept on climbing, and it remains one of the best-selling handguns in the US — if not the best-selling — year after year.

Breaking Down the Glock 19

The Glock 19 is a compact, striker-fired, semi-automatic compact handgun chambered for 9mm. Its polymer frame keeps weight down without sacrificing durability and includes an accessory rail for a weapon light. There is no thumb or grip safety (although the components do exist), but Glock’s Safe Action trigger system has proven extremely reliable and has long been mimicked and tweaked by other gunmakers for striker pistols.

The standard G19 magazine capacity is 15 rounds. One of the biggest advantages of owning a Glock, though, is the ability to use larger magazines interchangeably. Compatible extended magazines can increase the Glock 19’s capacity to 17, 24, 31, or 33 rounds — and beyond. 

Glock introduced Gen5 versions of its handguns model by model, and each generation has noteworthy changes associated with it. Most people look for visual cues, such as the presence or lack of finger grooves on the grip frame, but there are important internal differences as well.


Glocks run well even when filthy, but they’re easy to clean when the time comes. Photo courtesy of Glock.

The Glock 19 Gen5 MOS comes with upgraded internal components, traditional rifling in the 4-inch barrel instead of polygonal, a slightly flared magazine well, and an optic-ready slide that’s compatible with Glock’s Modular Optic System. It also deleted those infamous Gen4 finger grooves on the grip.

The Glock 19’s size (7.3 inches long and 5 inches high) allows it to blur the lines between a carry gun and a duty gun. If you’re looking for a smaller, slimmer option for carrying concealed, the Glock 48 was introduced in 2019 to fill that need.

Glock 19: Military and Law Enforcement Use

Getting the Glock 19 fielded as a military sidearm took some creative thinking in the Special Forces community. While many agreed that a Glock 17 would serve them better than the standard Beretta M9, the Army would not allow the purchase of a second full-sized pistol.

What Special Forces actually needed, they argued, was a concealable pistol for specific roles. And what do you know — the requirements they drafted exactly matched the mid size Glock 19.

glock FBI

The FBI issues the Glock 19M as the agents’ primary weapon. Screenshot via FBI/YouTube.

“Now, if you look at pictures of USSF using Glock 19s, you might notice that they’re often running it with full-size G17 extended mags, flared magazine wells, and other accessories to make it more shootable and hold more ammo,” Jeff Gurwich, who served in Special Forces for 19 years, wrote for Defense Review in 2018. “This is because although it was for ‘concealed carry,’ the guys were of course going to use it for everything, particularly CQB, hence extended mags and other items that you could say hurt its ability to be carried concealed.”

In 2016, Special Operations Command used the pistol’s service record with Special Forces as a basis for adopting it as the command’s official sidearm so units from other branches, including SEAL teams, could issue the Glock 19. The platform was updated with the addition of the Trijicon RMR red-dot optic in 2018.

Tracing the history of police equipment is challenging because there is so much interdepartmental variation, but Glocks have long been one of the most popular sidearms for police officers in the US. Notable agencies include the New York Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The FBI uses a modified version called the Glock 19M. This pistol looks a lot like the Glock 19 Gen5 when you compare the stats.

How to Buy a Glock 19 of Your Own

Glock 19 Army

US Army Sgt. Kevin Beuse, right, and US Army Spc. Johnny Long, assigned to US Army Cyber Command, simultaneously fired Glock 19 pistols for qualification during the 2017 Best Warrior Competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, on Oct. 5, 2017. US Army photo by Sgt. Steven L. Galimore.

Unlike many of the firearms used by the military and law enforcement, the Glock 19 is available to civilians — as is and with pretty much any upgrades you can imagine — who need a reliable handgun for home defense. You can buy a Glock 19 in just about any store that sells firearms or order one online and have it shipped to your local FFL (find one near you using the ATF’s online listing). The exception, of course, is if you live in a state that bans the ownership of certain firearms or standard-capacity magazines.

If you aren’t subject to such laws, you have a surprising range of options because many retailers offer older versions of the Glock 19 alongside Gen5 pistols. The Glock 19 costs anywhere from $500 to $750, depending on what and where you buy.

No matter which one you choose, you’ll benefit from massive aftermarket support. Give the stock pistol a chance, then upgrade components as necessary to make it better for your specific needs.

the terminal list chris pratt

Chris Pratt press-checks a Glock 19 in The Terminal List. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios/IMFDB.

Glock 19 Gen5

The current Glock pistol generation looks like the Gen4 model without finger grooves, but Glock also redesigned most of the upper assembly’s components to enhance reliability and accuracy even further.

Glock 19 Gen5 MOS

The current king of the Glock 19 realm is the optic-ready MOS model. Glock uses mounting plates to interface between the slide and the optic so you aren’t pigeonholed into one specific mounting pattern. 

Glock 19X

Glock blended the G19 and G17 to create the Glock 19X. This pistol has a compact slide and a full-size frame that accommodates 17-round magazines. It isn’t optic-ready, but it does come with a Glock Marksman Barrel and an FDE finish.

Glock 19 Gen5 Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Frame size: Compact
  • Grip: Polymer
  • Capacity: 15+1
  • Action: Striker-fired
  • Barrel length: 4 inches
  • Optic ready: Yes (MOS model only)
  • Safety: Safe Action trigger system
  • Weight: 30 ounces (with a loaded magazine)
the avengers glock

The Glock 19 is even capable of stopping otherworldly bad guys, according to The Avengers. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios/IMFDB.

The Glock 19 Is Still the Standard

Five generations and nearly 40 years later, the Glock 19 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Instead of being passed up by newer, more advanced pistols, it’s still the gold standard. A series of updates with each generation has kept the Glock 19 fresh. Being as reliable as a hammer never goes out of style, either. There’s a reason every pistol in this class gets compared to the Glock 19.

There are a lot of great compact pistols on the market and the competition isn’t slowing down, but you’d better believe that when the next batch of wonder-nines comes out, the Glock 19 Gen6 is going to be one of the best.

Read Next: How Army Special Forces Worked the System to Get Glock Pistols

Scott Murdock
Scott Murdock

Scott Murdock is a writer, photographer, and Marine Corps veteran. As a gear reviewer in the outdoor and automotive spaces, he has covered everything from pocket knives to off-road vehicles for publications including Task & PurposeOutdoor Life, and HotCars. He lives in southern Wisconsin, where you can find him making Black Rifle Coffee cold brew and obsessively sharpening his axes.

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