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Most Influential Handguns of All Time

We trace the lineage of today’s top pistols and revolvers to determine which firearms helped shape our modern conception of what a handgun should be.

There are a wide variety of different handguns on the market today, everything from ultra-compact mini-revolvers to sophisticated semi-auto race guns. But if you look at the DNA of most modern guns, you’ll see that the vast majority trace their lineage back to some common ancestors. Sure, all have different features and specifications, but the history of these great guns is visible in virtually every modern handgun offered for sale today.

Still, it’s hard to pick just 10 firearms that helped shaped our understanding of what a handgun should be. You can trace the history of firearms back for centuries to a time when primitive powder ignited a flash of flame and an idea that would change the history of humankind and the trajectory of the world as we know it. But for our intents and purposes, we’ll stick to guns of the modern smokeless powder era, those from the mid-nineteenth century and forward.

That’s still not a short list, and picking guns that deserve a spot isn’t easy. It’s sometimes hard to judge the influence a gun has on other models; sometimes, it’s a matter of mechanical design, sometimes aesthetics, and sometimes it’s caliber, capacity or some nuance that could easily go unnoticed. So, above are our picks for the 10 most influential handguns of the modern era.


Walther PPK


The original Walther PP, or Polizeipistole, in German, first appeared in 1935. It was a compact, safe, reliable semi-auto chambered for a light-recoiling cartridge, an ideal gun for personal defense. It also introduced a host of new features that would become commonplace on later guns, including a firing pin block and loaded chamber indicator. It used a blowback operation system, which is used by many small-caliber semi-auto handguns to this day. Although it appeared several decades before the U.S. concealed carry movement, the PP/PPK became a gold standard for pocket semi-auto pistols, and despite 80 years of new designs, there are still plenty of people that carry their Walther every day. Hey, if it works for James Bond…