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Gaston Glock Dies at 94

The Austrian inventor became a billionaire selling pistols popular among cops and criminals

On December 27, 2023, Gaston Glock, the Austrian engineer who invented the Glock 17 pistol and founded Glock GmbH and its American subsidiary, Glock Inc., to manufacture and sell it — and the many variations that followed in various sizes and calibers — to customers worldwide, died at the age of 94, according to an announcement on the Glock website.

Gaston Glock attends a film gala in Vienna, Austria, in May 2006.
Gaston Glock at a gala in Vienna, Austria, in 2006. (Imago Photo)

Gaston Glock, whose company originally manufactured knives and curtain rods, invented the Glock 17 — so named because it was his 17th patent — in 1982 to compete in Austrian military trials. After winning a contract to supply 25,000 pistols to the Austrian army in 1982, Glock steadily grew his business before establishing Glock Inc. in Smyrna, Georgia, in November 1985 to capture the law enforcement market by offering steep discounts and sparking interest among civilians. This tactic, pioneered by Glock’s head of sales, Karl Walter, proved highly successful.

With its polymer frame and striker firing system, the 9mm Glock 17 was lighter than comparable pistols at the time and much simpler — boasting only 34 components. The pistol also came with 17-round magazines so it could hold more ammunition than previous designs. The Glock 17’s success led to several subsequent models, and today police departments across the U.S. overwhelmingly use Glock pistols.

But the guns are also popular among criminals — as indicated by a recent report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) identifying Glock as the number one manufacturer of crime pistols recovered and traced in the U.S. between 2017 and 2021 — as well as mass shooters. Glock pistols have been recovered in 37 of the country’s deadliest mass shootings, including the Killeen, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Tucson, Charleston, and Newtown shootings.

While Glock calls its products “Safe Action” pistols, the company has faced dozens of lawsuits related to unintentional shootings — for which Gaston Glock allegedly “wanted to blame the dumb Americans” — and police across the U.S. have sounded the alarm on Glock pistols being converted into machine guns, but according to The New York Times, Glock has stated that its pistols “cannot be altered” to make them more difficult to convert in this manner.

Until his death, Gaston Glock remained the majority owner and director of Glock GmbH, amassing over $1 billion in wealth. He survived a 1999 assassination attempt brought on by a financial adviser who embezzled money from the company. According to The New York Times, “Investigations of Glock corporate financial affairs later revealed a global chain of shell companies that hid income, laundered profits, reduced taxes, deflected liability lawsuits and made payments to lobbyists and the campaigns of public officials. Some company officials were prosecuted, but Mr. Glock was not.”

No further details about Glock’s death were provided in the company’s announcement.

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