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Criminals and ordinary Americans alike love their Glock pistols

Roanoke Firearms store owner John Markell holds a Glock 19 handgun April 17, 2007 in Roanoke, Virginia. Virginia Tech senior Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a native of South Korea, bought a similar Glock 19 handgun from the shop 36 days before going on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead, including the shooter. Markell said Cho bought the gun legally by showing his Virginia drivers license, a checkbook and his U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service identification.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When he opened fire in a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot last weekend, killing six and wounding 14, Jared Lee Loughner used a Glock 19 semi-automatic. The same gun was used by Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and wounded many others during the April, 2007, massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

It's likely not an accident that the Glock should have become the weapon of choice for two mass murderers - and increasingly popular among ordinary, law-abiding Americans as well.

Over the past two decades, the light and reliable sidearm - designed in the early 1980s by Austrian civil engineer Gustav Glock - has imprinted itself on the cultural consciousness of the United States.

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Starting with Mickey Rourke in the 1989 film Johnny Handsome, versions of it appear in dozens of Hollywood movies and TV shows, in anime and in video games. It's also become a staple of rap music lyrics, referenced by the likes of Snoop Dogg ("Nothing left to do, but buy some shells for my Glock") and the late Big Pun ("Blow your top with the Glock, that's my favourite kill").

The Glock, in fact, is now the best-selling pistol in the U.S. and the weapon of choice in law enforcement - favoured, reportedly, by some 65 to 70 per cent of city police departments. Police forces demand them because, increasingly, they need the fire power to compete with Glock-armed criminals on the streets.

Even U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, miraculous survivor of Mr. Loughner's rampage, owns a Glock, her spokeswoman said. Many women do, because the lightweight gun fits well in smaller hands.

So what exactly is its cachet?

According to Fred Calcagno, owner of the American Sportsman gun shop in Rochester, N.Y., the Glock's popularity is no mystery. "It's easy to operate and shoot," he says. "It has fewer moving parts. It can fit into small hands. It seldom jams. It's easy to maintain. It's lightweight and easy to carry. And it has safety features that prevent it from firing until you pull the trigger." Most Glock models sell for between $500 to $700 (U.S.).

Headquartered in the city of Deutsch-Wagram, near Vienna, Austria, Glock vaulted into the sidearm manufacturing arena in 1983, when it won a tender contract to provision the Austrian army with 25,000 guns. Mr. Glock himself designed the weapon, using a new, lighter, polymer-based frame that could fire as many as 19 rounds, three times as many as conventional revolvers. According to legend, Glock test-fired it with his left hand so that if it blew up, he'd still be able to draft blueprints.

For its time, it was revolutionary and has since been copied, with only minor variations, by most of the company's competitors. Mr. Glock's ingenious design did away with external safety levers, hammers, decockers or other operational controls, making the pistol faster, simpler and safer to use than any rival. Firing it automatically deactivates the trigger, firing pin and drop safeties.

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It's simplicity also makes the Glock significantly cheaper to manufacture and yields staggering profit margins. A model that sells for $500 likely costs less than $100 to make.

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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Michael Posner has been with the Globe and Mail since 1997, writing for arts, news and features.Before that, he worked for Maclean's Magazine and the Financial Times of Canada, and has freelanced for Toronto Llfe, Chatelaine, Walrus, and Queen's Quarterly magazines. More

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