Whether one looks at comic books, fiction or film, firearms play a huge part in geek culture. In fact, there’s an entire web site dedicated to document who carried what.
Geek Guns takes a look at some of these weapons – focusing on their real-world performance rather than in-universe function. If there’s something you want to know more about, be sure to mention it in the comments.
This week we’re going to mark a milestone in this feature with a gun that’s almost always used by the bad guys: The Luger Parabellum P08.
Enduring Symbol of Evil
The Luger is one of those iconic weapons that merely by its presence lets you know that the owner is up to no good. While it’s true that the Walther P38 was Wehrmacht’s primary sidearm during World War II, the Luger remained a potent symbol of status within the German hierarchy. Lugers were expensive to produce and restricted to the upper tiers of the military leadership. Okay, the really upper tiers got Walther PPKs, which was the weapon Hitler used when he literally killed Hitler, but I digress.
The P38 just doesn’t have the same popular reputation. You watch a movie like High Road to China and a mysterious man pulls out a Luger. You automatically know he’s a bad guy. That’s why it’s the weapon of choice for German Nazis and Illinois Nazis. I think we all have a special hate for the Illinois Nazis.
The Blues Brothers (1980) - Nazis Take a Dive Scene (3/9) | Movieclips
The gun itself seems well suited to the part. The long barrel points like an accusing finger, and the swept-back grip and rear-mounted action give it one of the most aggressive profiles of any handgun. This isn’t a blocky, friendly, liberty-loving Colt, it’s a tool of militarism that morphed into full-on dictatorship.
It’s interesting that when Red Skull decides to ditch his Luger and upgrade to an energy weapon in Captain America, it still looks like a Luger.
That’s what I call branding.
One Cartridge to Rule Them All
Mechanically, the Luger is somewhat unique, using a toggle lock operating system that was hardly ever duplicated. It’s basically a mechanical knee-joint that flexes under recoil, which is part of the gun’s unique appearance.
During its lengthy development, the Luger was initially chambered in a 7.65mm cartridge that looks very similar to the one used by our old friend, the Mauser C96. However, the Imperial German Army wanted a larger diameter bullet and thus was born the famous 9mm Parabellum, aka 9mm Luger or 9x19mm. This is arguably the most popular caliber in the world and many (if not most) of the world’s armies have adopted it as their standard cartridge. The US was one of the last holdouts but caved in 1983, opting to go with the Beretta 92, which we’ve also previously discussed.
Why did the cartridge become so popular? Why do we all use 9mm Luger instead of 9mm Glisenti, 9mm Largo or 9mm Steyr? There are many reasons, but at its core the 9mm is simply good at what it is supposed to do. It is powerful, but not too powerful. It is big enough to do damage, but small enough that you can pack lots of them into a magazine. It has a nice, flat trajectory which improves accuracy.
Look, when John Browning decides he can work with your caliber, you’re onto something.
Your Results May Vary
When the newest models of a firearm are around 80 years old, it’s hard to make a blanket statement about the experience of using one. Lugers were hand-fitted, which is why ones where all the serial numbers matched are do desireable. It’s not just a collector thing, they simply tend to work better than ones without matched parts. Another factor is condition and how much use it has seen.
There’s also the issue of ammunition – older firearms can be very finicky, the point of refusing to cycle if the wrong brand or load is used. For example, Lugers are generally supposed to function better with heavier bullets (124 grain vs 115 grain), but again it depends on the lineage of the given weapon.
All that throat-clearing aside, the Luger is comfortable in the hand, accurate and easy to shoot. The recoil of the toggle lock action is also a unique experience. I think Luger fans oversell the experience, but it is still worth doing.
If You Have to Ask “How Much?” You Can’t Afford One
The Luger came in several variants, all of which are coveted by collectors. Hunter S. Thompson owned one, for example, and shot at his neighbors with it for some reason. Hermann Goering had platinum-plated ones.
I’ve talked about how military-issue Colt 1911s can fetch a high price despite having large numbers available, but Lugers are even worse. As commenters pointed out, you can get a no-frills 1911 at a very reasonable price. There are no cheap Lugers – even the ‘parts guns’ are pricey.
There’s also an enormous markup when we get to the rarer variants, such as the long-barreled “artillery” model. I should mention that not all countries initially wanted 9mm versions of the Luger, so there are some chambered in .7.65mm that fetch a premium price. Add in original accessories (holster/stock, extended magazines) and prices move into five figures.
So while it’s the weapon of choice for villains, they tend to be well-funded ones. If that’s out of your Geek Gun price range, you might consider a Glock.