The Case for 15 Round Production

Ben BerryBlog

When Production Division was created in the year 2000, it was explicitly a division for mostly stock guns. Following the rise of concealed carry in the 1980s, IDPA had splintered off in 1996, driven both by a wish for a sport with fewer race guns, and more focused on concealment and tactics. Meanwhile, the discussion in the US and internationally had finally come to a head and the need for a “stock gun” division was undeniable.

Of course, that was also 6 years into the 10 year term of the US’s national Assault Weapons Ban, which among other things prohibited the manufacture or import of magazines holding more than ten rounds. Existing magazines were grandfathered in, but they were getting rarer and more expensive by the year. Any gun introduced since 1994 either had to take pre-ban magazines or be limited totally to 10-rounders.

In an article in the September 2000 issue of Front Sight, Robin Taylor provided a rundown of the most popular guns eligible for the new Production division, with the preface: “Before you start slicking up the gun that lives in your bedside drawer, stop to read the equipment rules. The heart of Production Division revolves around a single clause: ‘No externally visible modifications.'”

In the May issue of the same year, an Area Director candidate said: “In designing this category, we need to remember and learn from the mistakes we made in designing Limited Division. We do not need another equipment race.” In March, newly-elected President Mike Voight wrote, “The purpose of this division is to allow shooters new to USPSA to have a place to shoot without the intimidation of our ‘race’ pistols and gear.”

The original specification for Production Division as defined by IPSC is, even to us now, very spare. It featured no magazine length or capacity limits and no minimum trigger pull weight. It just had to be a factory gun with more than 2000 produced, be DA/SA or striker, weigh no more than 2 ounces over listed factory weight, fit in the box, and have no external modifications beyond sights.

Needless to say, this initial formula wasn’t perfect. Eventually, a minimum trigger pull weight was added, and a magazine capacity of 15 was introduced. In my research, I couldn’t find discussion why that number specifically, but it seems self-evident: every modern 9mm double-stack service-size handgun can hold 15 rounds with stock mags. 15 is a number that allows the highest capacity across the board without requiring any special tinkering with springs, followers, or basepads. Of course, it also lines up nicely with the modern system of IPSC course length: short (12 or fewer rounds, no reload), medium (12-24 rounds, 1 reload) and long (up to 32 rounds, 2 reloads).

In the January 2000 issue of Front Sight, outgoing President Andy Hollar updated the membership of the outcome of the 1999 IPSC General Assembly describing the adopted Production division rules and noting “The U.S. version of Production should of course specify 10 rounds maximum loaded into the magazines.”

The sport needed a space for new shooters to bring their recently purchased guns, where they didn’t have to compete with race guns with pre-ban hi-caps. The capacity of the mags that would come in the box with any new gun was at most 10. It was so obvious that this was the right capacity at the time for Production, that it only required the two words, “of course.”

Four years later, when the ban expired in September 2004, the idea of raising the capacity limit in Production got a brief mention in Mike Voight’s November Front Sight column, alongside some other off-the-wall ideas for what to do with these now-outmoded divisions:

With the ability to manufacture and purchase normal capacity magazines, should we make changes in our Limited 10 and Production divisions? I have heard several repeated requests in these two divisions including:
– L10 Single stack pistols only
– L10 Use Production holster/magazine pouch criteria (no race rigs)
– Production Change magazine limitation to 15 rounds
– Production Change scoring to major caliber points
– Production Allow grip modifications

I am sure there are more suggestions that would help us to better determine the direction these divisions should take in future rules. Please send your suggestions to your Area Director with a copy to me for consideration.

After that, nothing. The situation today, 17 years later, is unchanged. (All the more conspicuous given the wide-ranging changes and “clarifications” that Production has been on the receiving end of since 2016.)

So then, let’s inventory the pros and cons of a 15 round capacity in Production.

The guns stay stock, but the shooting gets more interesting: You’d be hard pressed to come up with a rule change that would make one of the most popular divisions immediately and significantly more interesting, while also costing most shooters of that division literally zero dollars. Nobody has to get new gear, but overnight the division gets more interesting.

It seems like a minor change to go from 10 to 15 rounds, but I assure you, stage options open up. You can be more aggressive on steel and partials because you know you have a few more makeup shots. You can shoot on the move and combine two positions of 6 shots each, where with 10 rounds in the mags you’re shooting flat footed and reloading on the move.

No chasing the capacity fairy: 15 rounds is an easy capacity limit to hit for any modern service-size handgun, without having to get flat followers, aftermarket magazine springs, or do any tuning. You don’t have to worry about the top round being too tight, or the last round not locking the slide back. For those of us who are interested in simple gear that works, we get a high-cap-ish division without the annoyance of chasing loading one more round in our mags.

We reduce the discrepancy between our regional rules and IPSC: I know there aren’t a lot of US shooters flying overseas to go shoot IPSC matches. But all things being equal, we should err on the side of not pointlessly making our rules incompatible with the rules of the international body of which we are nominally the regional affiliate. (Again leaving aside all the other Production changes that have also diverged our rulesets.) If there is a good reason to depart from their rules we should go our own way. For example, it’s silly having light and heavy Production Optics divisions. But what is that good reason for 10 round Production? Historical artifact?

We make a better place for new shooters: Your typical 9mm handgun these days comes with three mags. With 15 round Production, that, plus $100 for a holster and double mag pouch is enough to start your first match without an obvious gear handicap. These days, your best option is the same holster and double mag pouch, but you register in Limited Minor, where most people are shooting major. Even the ones who are shooting minor have 140mm mags that let them reload once instead of twice on a 32 round stage.

Okay, so those are the benefits. What about the common objections?

“What about California?”: Yes, there are still a few states in the union that still live under 10-round magazine caps of one form or another. States like California have, similar to the national AWB, grandfathered in pre-ban high-cap magazines, so it’s conceivable you could have, say, 17 round magazines for a Glock, but not a Sig P230.

USPSA rule 3.3.1 states “In states where competitors are restricted by law to maximum magazine capacity, that maximum capacity will be the maximum allowed for all competitors in the contest.” Clearly, the interpretation of this rule in practice does not consider California’s maximum magazine capacity to be 10, or all divisions would be capped at 10 rounds. I personally would probably favor a change in the rules that add some nuance to this rule that would allow grandfathered mags in high-cap divisions like Open and Limited, while Production would be limited to the capacity allowed to newly-purchased magazines in the state.

What about states without grandfathered high-cap mags? All local matches remain at the state-mandated limit, in all divisions. If a shooter in that state wants to shoot 10 round Production in their home state and travel to a big match, they’re going to have a relatively easy time borrowing magazines that will run in their Production gun. Compare that to someone shooting Limited 10 at home trying to find 140mm Limited mags to borrow for an out-of-state match that work with their gun.

“All the stage plans will be the same!” Some people have advanced the argument that different divisions having different stage plans is what makes stages interesting. I disagree. If every shooter in division A is running the same plan as each other and every shooter in division B runs the same plan as each other, but the two plans are different, that just indicates that each individual shooter has no interesting choices to make. They are boxed in by the constraints of the stage. Within their division, they have no options.

What you want are stages where there are multiple viable stage plans within a single division. If there are three or four viable stage plans for Limited and CO shooters with 22-24 rounds in their mags, it’s pretty likely some of those are going to be viable for 15 round Production shooters as well. The goal is not to artificially induce differences between divisions just for arbitrary difference. The goal is to have interesting stages with meaningful choices.

“15 rounds doesn’t help on 8-reload-8-reload-8-reload-8 stages.” No disagreement there. But those stages are objectively bad, so we should not consider them valid reasons in any discussion among adults who take this sport seriously.

This topic has been on my mind for a while. I’ve tried my best here to capture the various arguments I’ve heard over the years, but if you think I’ve missed something, send me an email. The topic was brought up at the BOD meeting in February:

Reviewed discussion topic from February 2020 (see February 2020 BOD Meeting Minutes) related to Production Division increasing to 15 rounds

Failed by unanimous consensus without support or motion

If you think this is something worth pursuing, contact your Area Director. If there’s no point contacting your Area Director because they don’t care, consider replacing your Area Director.