September 02, 2023
Here’s a little friendly advice. If you’re topping off at the local Quik-E-Mart and you see some tough, competent-looking guy in a hot old car just be friendly and tell him you think his car is rad. You might make a new friend. What you really, really, really don’t want to do is follow that guy home, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. That’s because that quiet introspective dude might just be John Wick. If you read gun magazines and you haven’t seen John Wick at least twice, I sure wouldn’t admit that to anybody. Certain films are genre-spawning pieces of cinematic art. JAWS introduced us to the trope of the rampaging monster animal that eats people. Star Wars piqued our curiosity regarding events a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Halloween demonstrated some unconventional uses for common kitchen cutlery. In the same vein, John Wick introduced the world to what has since become known as gun fu, along with some iconic firearms. One of the most notable is the HK P30L pistol featured here.
Spoiler alert—you know the deal. John Wick is masterfully played by the ever-cool Keanu Reeves. Reeves is known to throw himself into his action parts, actually learning the martial arts and close combat skills required to bring life to his exotic screen personas. In the case of John Wick, Reeves trained extensively with legendary 3-gun shooter Taran Butler to get the nuances of tactical mag changes and close quarters gun handling locked down to perfection.
Wick is a seasoned assassin who recently retired to take care of his dying wife. His wife, whom he clearly adores, succumbs to cancer in the first act, but ships him the world’s most adorable beagle puppy as a loving gift from beyond the grave. It’s just a shoot-em-up flick, but when John reads the note that comes with the dog it is indeed pretty moving. John tries to put his old life behind him and finds solace in raising this floppy-eared little beagle. Then one day he is refueling his 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 when he encounters the snot-nosed son of a Russian gangster out sowing chaos alongside a couple of his thugs.
Junior covets the ride and offers to buy it right there at the pump. John explains that the car is not for sale and heads for the house. Then the kid and his buddies follow Wick home, beat him up, trash his place, steal his car, and, in a fairly gratuitous bit of tragedy just to show how ghastly they are, dispatch his adorable little hound with a baseball bat. Unfortunately for them, John Wick survives. The rest of the photoplay involves John killing pretty much everybody who ever met those guys. No kidding, there are people who actually quantify such things. Wick personally offed 77 Bad Guys in the first movie. By the closing credits we are set up for the obligatory sequel. As I type these words, John Wick 4 stands ready on the launching pad. It will be released in two weeks with a runtime of two hours and forty-nine minutes. I can’t wait.
Bad Guy Heat
One Russian thug, towards the beginning, runs a silver Inox Beretta 92FS. The obligatory hot chick evil assassin Ms. Perkins rocks a Walther P99. Sundry evil henchmen who are important enough to earn closeups or speaking parts are packing customized Glock 17 pistols from Salient Arms International. The disposable background goons most typically wield stock Glock 17 and Glock 19 handguns. These latter dudes are like the red-shirted crewmen on the Star Trek landing party. They’re sole raison d’etre is to get whacked.
A few of the Bad Guys’ Glock pistols ride about in FAB Defense KPOS stocks. That’s also what Daniel Craig’s James Bond was packing in the epic opening sequence of Spectre. One of the more common SMGs wielded by the Russian hitters is the Coharie Arms MP-10. This unusual polymer-framed submachine gun is kind of a cross between the MP5 and the UMP. Interestingly, these same weapons were seen in the hands of the Ranger security detail at the beginning of the legendary zombie flick I Am Legend as well. The HK MP5K and MP5K PDW round out the Bad Guy lineup.
The sequel, John Wick Chapter 2, was essentially a cinematic 3-Gun match executed against live targets in a big cave. Nobody cares about the story. We pay our $9.50 admission to see Keanu Reeves jump around shooting stuff. Everything else is just filler. The first iteration, however, was indeed a bit more nuanced.
In the original John Wick, Reeves actually only uses four weapons de novo. He liberates a handgun or three along the way, but his primary weapons are limited to a rifle, a shotgun, and a pair of pistols. The rifle is a curious Coharie Arms 415, a fairly obscure American-made copy of the HK 416. HK sued Coharie Arms for trademark infringement, so these guns are no longer in production. This piston-driven AR-style rifle would pass for the original German gun in dim light. The gun nerd truly committed to his craft can run the movie forward and back and see the Coharie Arms logo clearly displayed on the right side of the magwell. We see John reload his 415, but he nonetheless still clearly spews out more rounds than he has stuffed in.
Wick’s shotgun is a KelTec KSG. This high-tech, twin-magazine, pump-action 12-bore carries fifteen 2.75-inch shotshells onboard and is made from high-tech steel and polymer. The KSG weighs about seven pounds empty and has developed a solid reputation since its release in 2011. We don’t see Wick reload his KSG, but that thing admittedly holds a lot of shells. Wick packs a fairly stock Glock 26 in the small of his back as a backup gun. He also carries plenty of spare magazines on his belt, even when wearing a suit, which is cool. He runs the G26 extensively in the nightclub scene while he is actively hunting the car-thieving idiot who started all of this. Interestingly, this is the same model Glock dual wielded by Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff in The Avengers. The real star of the first John Wick movie, however, is his pimped out German service pistol.
In the movie narrative, John really has put his violent past behind him. He has a go-to-war box filled with gold coins and some basic handguns, but he has inexplicably sealed it in concrete in his basement. To retrieve his weapons he has to tear up the foundation with a sledge hammer, which is good for some proper dramatic effect. Wick’s service pistol started out as an HK P30L. The P30 is arguably the apex predator among
the original single action/double action wondernines. Unlike the striker-fired handguns that eventually took over the planet, the P30 sports an exposed hammer and a single action/double action trigger. Introduced in 2006, the P30 is the evolutionary development of the HK USP and their P2000.
The P30 is offered in both 9mm and .40 S&W and is available with a variety of trigger and hammer options. The original 9mm version sported 15+1 on tap, though later flush-fitting magazines carry 17 rounds. I’m not really sure how they pulled that off. P30 mags are interchangeable with those of the VP9 family of pistols. Like the VP9, the P30 grip sports interchangeable backstraps and sideplates. If you cannot optimize this pistol for your particular anatomy you might not actually be human. All the controls are mirrored on both sides of the gun for completely ambidextrous operation. Incidentally, while John Wick runs his weapons right-handed, he signs the shipping release for his new dog with his left hand. As a left-handed cross-dominant guy who shoots right-handed myself, I just thought that was cool.
The most common P30 variant sports a conventional single action/double action trigger along with a thumb safety that operates in the manner of that of the 1911. This allows safe carry with the hammer down and a long double action trigger pull as well as Condition 1 operation with the hammer back and the safety on. In this model there is also a discrete thumb button to the left of the hammer that will safely decock the weapon. HK also offers the P30 with a curious double action only trigger they call the LEM or Law Enforcement Modification. This design features a preloaded trigger akin to that of a striker-fired gun along with the second-strike capability of a double action pistol. The LEM variant does not have the decocker or the thumb safety.
The bilateral magazine release is a pivoting lever behind the trigger. Love it or hate it, the lever versus button debate never meant much to me. I have really long thumbs. Magazines leap out of the butt of the pistol when the release is stroked like asparagus through a toddler. The extended slide stop is easily accessed from either side. The extractor doubles as both a visual and tactile loaded chamber indicator. Simple three-dot, no-snag steel sights include luminous, non-radio-active green dot inserts. Barrels sport a polygonal bore profile for long life and slightly higher velocities over more conventionally rifled tubes. The fiber-reinforced polyamide frame is nigh-indestructible. HK also offers the P30 SK (Sub Kompact) concealed carry version as well as the longslide P30L. In 2010, one randomly-selected P30 pistol fired 91,000 rounds without a major component failure.
John Wick’s gun began life as a stock P30L. This stretched version features a barrel that is half an inch longer than the standard sort along with
a corresponding elongated slide. This expanded geometry increases the sight radius and decreases muzzle flip. Otherwise the gun is identical to the standard P30. Later John Wick movies featured highly customized Glock pistols overseen by Taran Tactical. By contrast, the sole addition to Wick’s first combat handgun is a unique vented compensator that extends the P30L longslide even further. This nifty rig bolts onto the dustcover rail and helps channel muzzle blast upwards to counteract the physics of both muzzle rise and recoil. It also looks just super cool. HKParts.net offers this compensator as an aftermarket accessory.
HK makes undeniably great guns. There is a reason the USMC, Delta Force, and SEAL Team 6 all fill their arms rooms with HK iron. However, in years past HK’s attitude toward American civilian shooters has been a bit tepid. SIG Sauer wrote the book on the American civilian gun market. Those guys sell civilianized stuff to us as soon as Uncle Sam gets his mitts on it. They invested zillions of dollars so they could build guns domestically and minimize import restrictions. By contrast, HK has been, shall we say, somewhat standoffish. [EDITOR’S NOTE: One important point to understand is that the German government has put restrictions on HK on some civilian offerings which HK proposed to manufacture in the USA at one time. These models included the HK91, HK93, HK94, and G36.]
Larry Correia supposedly coined the term, “HK. Because you suck. And we hate you.” Google that. It is guaranteed for a giggle. The point he makes is that HK makes high quality guns, but it is their relative rarity along with some simply superlative marketing that make them so darn desirable. I acknowledge to having drunk some of that Kool-Aide myself. Draconian German export laws supposedly preclude their selling us the good stuff. That, along with the George H.W. Bush “assault weapons” import ban of 1989 (still in effect), are some of the reasons their semiauto UMP clone is gray rather than black, features an uber-lame fixed thumbhole stock, and will only feed from single-stack 10-round magazines. Ditto the SL-8 version of the military G-36. They also both cost more than a beater used car.
HK pistols indeed represent the state of the art. They will, however, typically set you back a hundred dollars or so more than comparable Austrian or American fare. Heck, you could potentially land three superb Canik guns for the cost of a single HK P30L. Accessories are correspondingly spendy as well. The P30L is nonetheless a truly superlative combat pistol with simply magnificent particulars. HKParts.net is one-stop shopping for everything HK. They have parts and accessories for everything from handguns to SMG’s to assault rifles to sniper rigs. Their gear is expensive, but it is available. It is also often cheaper than many other sources.
There is indeed a reason we still keep buying these high-priced smoke poles. For all the hype and online vitriol, the quality is unassailable. I have had a few stoppages with a few HK long guns, but not many. I’ve yet to see a credible accusation of poor workmanship coming from the Oberndorf factory.
The John Wick compensated HK P30L is indeed dreamy on the range. The extra weight up front combined with the modest recoil impulse from the 9mm Parabellum cartridge thoroughly tames recoil. The gun shoots plenty straight off of a rest and runs fast in close quarters. The comped P30L won’t fit in just any concealed carry rig. HKParts.net offers a custom version from Comp-Tac for $79.95. Given the bulk of the gun, it is likely best used as a home or car defense weapon anyway. In the days of the eminently packable SIG P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat, it can be tough to convince yourself to tote such a chunky hogleg around underneath a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
The trigger is indeed smooth and friendly. As SA/DA triggers go, this is about the top of the heap. I like the option of packing the gun in Condition 1 as well. Even if that’s not what trips your trigger, it is nice to have the option. The grip, once properly customized with the included backstraps and sideplates, fits my big monkey mitts perfectly. None of that is why you build this gun, however. You go to the trouble and expense of crafting John Wick’s pistol so you can run it fast and hard.
The John Wick compensated HK P30L does indeed index beautifully and runs just super fast. Magazine changes earn extra cool points if you give your wrist a little flick to help toss the empty mag out before slamming in a fresh one. However, I am disappointed to report that at the end of our afternoon at the range together I am still just some 57-year-old gray-headed goober and not an uber-cool international assassin movie star. Apparently it takes more than a sweet gun to make me awesome. Well, at least I tried…
John Wick really is a fun movie. You have to overlook the fact that its central premise is ripping the very life out of as many people as possible in its one hour and thirty-six minute runtime, but it is a great way to kill a lazy evening while you clean weapons or load magazines. You can stream it free with commercials on Peacock. I have it on reliable information that the life of a genuine assassin is actually pretty sucky. The hours are bad, the company questionable, and the retirement plan abysmal. However, they do make for compelling fodder for action movies. I suspect I’ll still be forking over my hard-earned ticket money for John Wick 27: The Quest for Continence to see an octogenarian Keanu Reeves rid his assisted living facility of wheelchair-bound demented Russian gangsters. I’m pretty pathetic that way.
About the Author
Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He is airborne and scuba qualified and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…at the controls of an Army helicopter. After eight years in the Regular Army, Major Dabbs attended medical school. He works in his urgent care clinic, shares a business building precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989.
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