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What is an ASP? Among other things, it is an exotic custom-made 9 mm pistol developed by the mysterious Paris Theodore, who was reportedly an undercover agent for the U.S. government. It is documented that Theodore, a New Yorker, was the driving force behind Seventrees, a maker of custom holsters of legendary quality. Primarily designed for the concealed carry market of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Seventrees made innovative designs with unusual fasteners and materials. Theodore was also involved with ASP (Armament Systems and Procedures), a specialized equipment company that pioneered restraints, collapsible batons, lighting and other law enforcement equipment. The firm's first products, however, were highly specialized custom handguns that bore the “ASP” designation (with obvious reference to the deadly little snake of biblical lore). One such gun was a five-shot conversion of a Ruger Speed Six to .44 Spl., but relatively few of these were made. A much more common pistol was the ASP 9 mm.

These slick little guns used the popular and easily obtained (in the ‘60s and ‘70s) S&W Model 39 9 mm as a starting point. The basic Smith was shortened in both height and length. This required shortening the magazine, which sounds easy, but is a bear of a job to do. Original sights came off, to be replaced with the innovative “Guttersnipe” one-piece rear sight. This was a long, tapered block of metal with a tapered, square-bottomed trough down the middle. When the trough was aligned on the target by the shooter, he saw a yellowish “U” with the target therein. I fired one once, but wasn’t real fond of it. The remainder of the gun included features that were different enough to be copied on other guns. This is particularly true of the hooked forward edge of the trigger guard, a feature that still crops up on some guns. ASP slides had radical lightening cuts, as well as the melted treatment. Intended to be a slick, easy-to-carry, easy-to-draw little gun, the ASP was a great trend-setter.

But it had one feature that I don't recall being used on anything else since. ASP magazines had great windows cut in their sides, so the single column of cartridges was visible. Theodore (or some other designer) developed a clear plastic window grip for the ASP pistol, so the cartridges could be viewed under stress from outside the gun. This is a slightly different form of a “cartridge counting” system once found on a few early auto pistols. The ASP was a milestone custom gun and set a lot of nimble minds to work.

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