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Innovation brought the rise of the Glock handgun

A new book by reporter Paul Barrett documents how technology helped make the Glock pistol one of the top-selling handguns in the U.S.

The type of gun responsible for severely injuring former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing 32 people in the Virginia Tech massacre, and murdering rapper Tupac Shakur was a Glock pistol.

Now, these pistols are the top guns of choice for criminals and police alike in the U.S., according to Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Paul Barrett.

The Glock 17 is the most widely used law enforcement pistol worldwide, according to Glock. Glock

In a new book called "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun," Barrett details how Glock handguns managed to surpass other manufacturers' guns, like Smith & Wesson, by using unique, simple, and low-cost technology.

"Police departments were amazed when they took their officers out to the range and found out not only could they learn to use the Glock pretty quickly, but the Glock also made them more accurate as marksmen," Barrett said in an interview with public radio program Fresh Air. "And that's in part because it has a very light, very steady trigger pull."

According to Barrett, the three main features that define Glock pistol technology are a large amount of plastic used in the gun body rather than metal, its light weight, and its lack of external safety--which other semiautomatic handguns tend to have. This means that Glock pistols are also extremely durable.

An Austrian curtain-rod maker named Gaston Glock invented the Glock pistol in 1982; it was his first attempt at creating a firearm. His original model, the Glock 17, had only 36 parts but held a 17-bullet magazine and was used by the Austrian army. Six years after its debut, the Glock was introduced to the U.S. and has since been widely used by law enforcement--including the New York Police Department and the FBI--criminals, and gun aficionados, according to Barrett.

"The Glock was adopted early on by some of the biggest names--Tupac, Dr. Dre," Barrett said. "The fact that it looked tough, [had a] large magazine capacity, and, not incidentally, the fact that it rhymed so well with words you might want to use in rap lyrics."

Barrett also noted in his Fresh Air interview that one of the reasons Glock became so popular was because the company gave huge discounts to police departments.

"This was smart, because the point was to get the police departments to adopt the gun, and that would give the gun credibility in the much larger, much more lucrative civilian market, where you can charge full price and get your full profit margin," Barrett said. "So this was...a very crafty strategy."