Rock Island Armory: Bigger Than You Know

— James MaybrickCADRE Dispatch

If you like 1911-style handguns, one name looms large: Rock Island Armory, producer of more 1911s than any other maker combined. Their handguns tend toward the budget-friendly, but with their sheer variety, there is something for everyone. In fact, Rock Island does more than just 1911s.

rock island armory 1911
Armscor/RIA makes more 1911s than any company in the world. they make a number of different handguns, rifles, and shotguns as well. [Armscor]

This is the story of Rock Island Armory, a company that is bigger than its name and bigger than you know.

When Was Rock Island Armory Founded?

Rock Island Armory was initially founded by David Reese in 1977. Reese was responsible for the founding of Springfield Armory in 1974. Springfield Armory was named for the defunct federal arsenal of the same name and initially sold surplus from the arsenal before diving into the building and production of M1A 7.62 NATO rifles and other firearms in their own right.

Rock Island Armory began in a similar fashion. It was named after the Rock Island Arsenal in Colona, Illinois, and sold surplus.

In 1985, the Arms Corporation of the Philippines, later known as Armscor, acquired Rock Island Armory as a bridgehead to sell their products in the United States.

Who Makes Rock Island Armory Firearms?

Rock Island Armory today cannot be distinguished from Armscor. Armscor initially started as a print shop and sporting goods store in 1905 before switching to the firearms industry entirely in 1952.

Armscor started out making clones of the Colt M1911 service pistol at their plant in Manila but has long since diversified into revolvers, rifles, and even shotguns. In 2011, Armscor opened its first American manufacturing facility located in Stevensville, Montana. Rock Island Armory itself makes no firearms but Armscor firearms made in all of its facilities have long been sold under that brand.

When it comes to anything mechanical, going down in price tends to drag down the reliability part of the equation. But Armscor and Rock Island Armory firearms are in a unique category of being budget-friendly while still holding up to hard use. Armscor can do this without cutting corners because, unlike many in the industry, they own their own forging facilities, which allows them to keep prices down, from raw steel to finished firearms, without outsourcing.

Beyond 1911s

Armscor and Rock Island Armory are primarily known for their M1911 handguns in various calibers, but they make more than 1911s. Here are a few others you may not have heard of:

The Rock Island Armory VRPA 40 Shotgun

rock island armory vpra40 shotgun
The VPra 40 is available as a full-stocked shotgun or as a pistol Grip Only Model. [Armscor]

A number of shotguns have been sold by RIA, ranging from traditional and tactical versions of the classic pump action shotgun to semi-automatic magazine-fed AR-types.

The VRPA 40 is a spin on both. It is a 20-inch barreled 12-gauge pump shotgun that is set up for personal protection, but it takes detachable box magazines holding five rounds. It came onto the market just as other makers were seeking to solve the issue of reloading the tubular magazine of a pump shotgun without sacrificing the reliability of the platform by going to a finicky autoloading design.

The VRPA has a receiver that is made of 7075 aluminum, much like the Mossberg 500 series, and it feeds from a detachable five-round magazine that can use either 2.75 inch or 3-inch 12-gauge shells.

The Rock Island Armory STK100 Duty Pistol

The STK100 is a recent arrival, and it is their entry into the striker-fired pistol market. It is better late than never and the model oozes originality. The gun has an all-metal frame, a rarity for striker-fired handguns. It is an aluminum frame consisting of two halves that are torqued down into one piece. Inside is a changeable and serviceable fire-control group.

Rock Island Armory STK 100
The STK 100 is Rock Island Armory’s Take on the Polymer Framed Duty Pistol, Albiet without the polymer. [Armscor]

This full-sized double-stack 9mm pistol has a diminutive slide that comes optics ready from the factory, as well as an extended beavertail on the grip frame that affords you a very low bore axis and less muzzle rise from shot to shot. Uniquely, it takes Glock 17 magazines.

The Rock Island Armory M200 and M206 Revolvers

Rock Island Armory M206 revolver
The M200 and M206 revolvers operate like old colt revolvers, but the lockwork is different and a bit more robust. [armscor]

The M200 and M206 are a pair of revolvers based on the Colt Police Positive Special and the Colt Detective Special, respectively. These are all-steel double-action revolvers. Both are small, framed handguns but afford you six rounds of .38 Special instead of the usual five. The M200 has a four-inch barrel, while the M206 wears a two-inch barrel.

The M206 is particularly popular. It comes with either a nickel or black oxide finish and is available with a bobbed hammer for pocket carry. To make things easier, the M206 takes readily available Colt Detective Special holsters and speed loaders.

The Rock Island Armory TM22 Rifle

Rock Island Armory has its fair share of rifles in calibers both large and small, but their line of .22 rimfire rifles are often overlooked. The TM22 is their flagship model and a competent answer to the tactical .22. It is a .22 LR rifle meant to do .22 things, but it is set up for modularity in ways most rifles of this caliber are not.

rock island armory tm-22 rifle
The RIA TM22 is a thoroughly modern take on the .22 rimfire rifle that deserves a look. [armscor]

The base model TM22 sports an 18-inch threaded barrel and ships with a factory 10-round magazine, although 15 and 25-round magazines are available.

The TM22 features an aluminum handguard to take any number of AR accessories and uses a commercial buffer tube so the stock can be easily changed for something more accommodating than the minimalist fixed stock.

The .22 TCM and the Rock Island Armory TCM Standard

While you will not find ammunition labeled Rock Island Armory, Armscor makes ammunition in popular calibers. In 2012, Armscor introduced an RIA pistol chambered for a round of their own design — the .22 TCM.

rock island armory 22 tcm standard 1911
The .22 TCM is part of the light and fast power club and it can be found in RIA TCM pistols and Rifles. [ARmscor]

The .22 TCM was developed by shortening a 5.56 NATO case to the same overall length of the .38 Super. It was then bottlenecked to accept a .22 caliber bullet. With a barrel change, this new round could be chambered in Armscor’s existing 1911 handguns.

This new round fired a 40-grain bullet at over 2000 feet per second, velocities rivaling the 5.7×28 round without the need for a proprietary handgun design. The .22 TCM is chambered in the TCM Standard from RIA, but the power potential of this round did not go unnoticed by varmint hunters.

Should You Get a Rock Island Armory?

Rock Island Armory is a no-frills brand. Amongst 1911 aficionados, RIA pistols make for a great starter pistol or one that can be molded to your liking with a vast array of aftermarket upgrades. Their 1911s represent a surprisingly large portfolio of firearms in the “a lot of gun for the money” category.

Rock Island Armory, and Armscor more generally, do more than recreate old designs. Their other designs represent the latest in what the market wants today and there is something for everyone.

Whether you are searching for your first handgun, rifle, or shotgun, pick up a Rock Island Armory and see how it feels in the hand. Chances are, you will come away happy.

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