The Heckler and Koch P7 pistol (Koch is pronounced "coke) is one of the most unique handguns ever made. In my opinion it has the most uniquely useful design of any modern pistol. While its appearance is mostly similar to other handguns, the H&K P7 is most unique in its design and operation. This hub will explore the many innovative features of this excellent handgun.
Awesome Slow Motion Video of HK P7 in Action
The H&K P7 is a semi-automatic handgun capable of firing once for every pull of the trigger. This does not make it a machine gun as some believe since machine guns are fully automatic; meaning they fire more than one round for each pull of the trigger. The large majority of P7's are chambered for 9mm. This is a very common caliber, and is the standard for NATO countries. Since the P7 was originally used by German police they were widely manufactured in 9mm. Much rarer are ones manufactured to fire the .40 S&W or the .380. If you were to find one of these, they would command a much higher price.
While it is not the only handgun to use a gas piston for the action of ejecting spent and chambering fresh rounds, it is but one factor to make this pistol unique. The "gas retardation system" allows a small amount of the spent gases from a discharged round to be diverted under the barrel. These high pressure gases act on the piston that is attached to the slide, and serve to retard the rearward travel a very slight amount. This does two things: reduces recoil and allows enough pressure to build in the chamber to ensure positive ejection of the spent casing. The last part is important to ensure reliability as it all but eliminates jams which can be a problem with semi-automatic firearms. What I find interesting in the design is the chamber has "flutes". These cutouts run lengthwise on the chamber and there are several all the way around the chamber surrounding the brass casing of the cartridge. These flutes reduce friction on the casing as well as allowing the gas more space to push the spent cartridge out when fired. This is a very well-engineered pistol!
The H&K P7 Gas System
Perhaps the most innovative feature of the Heckler & Kock P7 pistol pertains to its safety mechanism. There is none of the common safety lever or switch type of device on this pistol. The H&K P7 is one of the safest pistols ever made, though. How can this be? The P7 uses something called a Squeeze Cocker. This is a simple mechanism that makes the pistol ready to fire when the shooter holds it with a proper grip, and makes it immediately safe when let go. There is nothing to think about, and no levers to throw or buttons to push.
Scroll up and take a look at the top photo again. See the part on the front of the grip that runs from underneath the trigger guard to the bottom of the handle? That is the squeeze cocker. The mechanism behind it cocks the firing pin when your fingers apply rearward pressure to the grip as you would when you are correctly holding any pistol securely enough to fire. This is different from the typical operation of a traditional semi-automatic pistol that would either have a hammer to thumb back (like a revolver, but pistols have them also) or is striker-fired and cocked when the slide is pulled back and released. Both of these traditional designs require a separate, conscious action to "de-cock" them or a safety mechanism to keep them from accidentally firing. Without getting into too much, there are other pistols with no safety at all other than a heavy trigger pull, but those are perfectly fine and safe as you never want to touch the trigger on a firearm without having it pointed in a safe direction and ready to shoot anyway.
The squeeze cocker is spring loaded, so when the shooter releases their grip the squeeze cocker lever moves back forward from the handle, and the weapon is automatically de-cocked and safe. Pulling the trigger will do nothing as it cannot release the firing pin in this state. This makes the weapon of particular use for law enforcement in the event that their gun is taken from them. Most people who have never seen this type of operation (and if you've never used a P7, then you've never seen it :-) ) wouldn't immediately know how to grip it correctly so that it will fire. If the squeeze cocker is not pulled fully to the rear and held there, the trigger just wiggles back and forth with nothing happening.
We all like pictures, so here below is one more colorful diagram showing all the parts together.
H&K P7 Diagram
There are a few other really nice things about the H&K P7 that aren't totally unique to this pistol only, but they aren't common features of every handgun:
The grip angle is 110°. If you hold your arm out straight and point at something while making a fist with the rest of your fingers, the angle of those fingers will naturally be 110°. This means that the P7 will point naturally, so it is easier to shoot accurately.
The barrel is fixed with polygonal rifling. The fixed barrel is different from most semi-automatic pistols which use some variant of John Browning's design which allows the barrel to move during the action sequence. While many other pistols of this design are capable of good accuracy, the fixed barrel is a slight advantage. The polygonal rifling means that instead of grooves cut into the barrel that leave raised "lands" imparting spin on the bullet, the polygonal type has curved edges that the bullet is forced into. This accomplishes the same thing, but it is believed by some that polygonal rifling loses less gas to blow-by and gets a higher velocity. Since some gases in the P7 design are siphoned off to operate the action, I doubt polygonal rifling does much for the velocity, but it does add to the uniqueness of the pistol.
The last thing I find really cool about the H&K P7 is it's trigger. It has a very smooth and very light pull which is also another factor that contributes to good accuracy. If you do not have to exert much force pulling the trigger, you have less chance of pulling your aim off the target. When paired with the squeeze cocker the P7 is also capable of firing with the trigger pulled back and then the squeeze cocker, or traditionally with the squeeze cocker first then the trigger. If you time it right, you can also pull them both at the same time, but any method other than the traditional way is likely to cost you accuracy. Of course if you have to get off a quick shot to save your life, accuracy means little when distances are usually very close.
I hope you've enjoyed learning about this awesome pistol. If you are interested in checking them out or purchasing one, there are a few things to note. They are no longer made. This will ensure that prices are not falling on these, so be prepared to spend a little. There is also a model that is the most sought-after of the commonly-available 9mm version, and that is the P7 M8. This is a strictly U.S. version of this German-made handgun, and these sold new for around $1,200, so expect to pay a little bit. They are worth it. The plain, ole' P7 without the M8 designation (primarily known as the P7 PSP) has a European magazine release on the butt and a shorter trigger guard. At the time of this writing these are averaging somewhere between $600 and $700 for many of the German police trade-ins being imported, but if you want one you better get it because these are soon to be collectors pieces!
José Arnaldo Pinheiro dos Santos on August 28, 2018:
Why a very good pistol is not in production anymore ?
Kuldeep on June 19, 2011:
Your description with diagrams really proved helpful to me.Guns are my favourite toys from childhood but i was curious about their mechanism.I am very thankful to you for this.
Jeffrey Neal (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2010:
Thank you for reading, Seldon55. I am glad you enjoyed my hub!
Seldon55 from Somewhere in Florida on March 28, 2010:
Very detailed article! I've owned a P7 M8 and loved it. I only got rid of it because it's so heavy and my early version overheated after three magazines at the range.
Jeffrey Neal (author) from Tennessee on March 15, 2010:
iskra1916, thank you for your comment and compliments!
iskra1916 from Belfast, Ireland. on March 13, 2010:
Excellent hub & excellent handgun!
Well written & researched !