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The ASP 2.0: Re-Imagined with a Shield

RECOIL and ROBAR Reinvent One of the Coolest Pistols You’ve Never Heard of
Photos by Straight 8 and Iain Harrison
[This story first appeared in Concealment #6]

The last several years have seen a veritable blossoming of the concealed-carry pistol market, as well as the culture of self-reliance that comes with it. And we strive to bring you the latest and greatest in carry guns. But sometimes you need to take a look back to move forward. Many of the features that we all consider standard fare for defensive pistols can be traced back more than 30 years to a man, whom most people have never heard of, and the pistols he built, which few have ever seen.

We teamed up with Robar Guns in Phoenix, Arizona, to examine the innovations of this unique gunsmith and pay homage to his pioneering with a 21st century reimagining of his pistol that (we hope) would make him proud.

Sneaky Stuff and a Man Named Paris
The name Paris Theodore is all but obscure gun trivia now, but in the early 1970s he ran a small holster shop in New York known as Seventrees Ltd. His holsters were designed for deep concealment and rapid access. They were known to be popular among undercover police officers and intelligence agents — so popular that he was awarded small contracts by federal agencies whose people specialized in this kind of work.

While gun leather was their primary front, Paris was a dedicated tinkerer and basement engineer. Seventrees had a much smaller sister company known as Armament Services and Procedures, based out of the same office on West 39th St in Manhattan. ASP focused on designing and building clandestine and concealed weapons for several intelligence organizations. If ever there were a real life (American) counterpart to James Bond’s quirky techno-nerd “Q,” Paris Theodore was it. But beyond the mythos of being a super spy gadget guru, Theodore conceived and implemented some cutting-edge handgun improvements that we still consider ideal on a self-defense gun.

DSC_7471.NEF DSC_7454.NEF

The Gun. The Myth. The Legend.
Their most well-known design was a compact 9mm pistol with no name, eventually known simply as The ASP 9mm. The ASP started life as a Smith & Wesson M39 or M39-2. For those unfamiliar, the M39 is a double-action/single-action, single-stack 9mm auto with an aluminum frame and steel slide. It was the first of S&W’s “first gen” semi-autos and one of the oldest mainstream American-made auto-loading pistols. It saw use by everyone from the Illinois State Police to Navy Special Warfare units. When Paris Theodore started building ASP pistols in the early ’70s, it was one of the most widely used duty pistols of the time.

The list of modifications made by Mr. Theodore was extensive. The slide and barrel were both shortened. The barrel was throated and ramped. He replaced the traditional bushing system with a  fixed version. All metal parts were coated with Teflon-S.


On the outside, he checkered the front and backstraps of the frame. The side panels were deliberately left smooth to avoid snagging on clothes. Said side panels were made of clear Lexan, offering an instant visual index of your round count. The trigger guard was reshaped to include a hook for the support side index finger, a popular shooting grip at the time. The trigger guard was also thinned out along one side, the shooter’s dominant side, to facilitate a higher grip.

Both front and rear sights were removed and replaced with a unique sighting system known as the Guttersnipe. This was a U-shaped half pipe coated on the inside with fluorescent paint. The tube narrowed from back to front, channeling the eye toward the target. It was one of the earliest (modern) attempts to create a single focal-plane sighting system for defensive pistols — a feat we now accomplish with micro red-dots. The entire exterior of the pistol thoroughly de-horned and every hard line or sharp edge was “melted” down to be totally snag free during draw and presentation.


We’re willing to bet most of you have at least one or two of these upgrades on your current carry gun. We sure do, and all of us can thank Paris Theodore for pioneering these mission-specific refinements to the contemporary compact autoloader. It’s said that less than 500 of the original pistols were built by ASP. An unknown, but equally small number, were produced by a now-defunct company known as Devel. Unable to get our hands on a sample of either for less than a kidney, we decided to update a classic.

The Rest of the Story
Since the original ASP guns were built on Smith & Wesson pistols, we went straight to the source. Luckily, we didn’t have to cut down a full-size duty pistol since S&W already makes a very popular compact single-stack nine. Their M&P Shield is one of the most recognizable concealed carry pistols on the market today, enjoying a hefty helping of aftermarket support. The folks at S&W were kind enough to send us one to have our way with. Then the wizards at Robar Guns gave us a hand with the labor. Here’s what we asked them to do:
> Enhance texturing around the frame
> Undercut the trigger guard
> Mill slide and install Shield SRS sight
> Install Apex action enhancement kit with flat-faced trigger
> Cut channels in the grip and install Lexan inserts
> Skeletonize magazines to make rounds visible through Lexan
> De-horn pistol
> Refinish slide and internals in lowfriction Rogard and NP3 finishes.


After all that, we slapped on a Streamlight TLR-6 subcompact weapon light. While the original ASP lacked a light, we believe it was only due to technology lag. Considering that the pistols were hand built for personnel doing good work in bad places all over the globe … if they could have had a light on board, they would have. The TLR-6 offers 100 lumens. Some might turn their noses up at a “measly” 100 lumens in this age of 1,000-lumen light sabers, but the TLR-6 fills an important niche of providing illumination on guns that are too small for such super lights. Streamlight’s offering also adds no length or width to the original dimensions of its host gun. Not to mention that given the choice, we’d rather have 100 lumens than fight in the dark.

The result is a pistol that includes almost all the features of an original ASP with modern conveniences like a polymer frame and electronic optics. Nano-sized red-dots on pistols are the natural evolution of the guttersnipe — both are single focal-plane sights that draw the eye with bright color and allow you to focus on the target rather than the sight. As a bonus feature, the UK-made SRS sight includes an integral rear sight that co-witnesses perfectly with the OEM Shield front sight. That means with this particular setup there’s no need to use a suppressor-height front sight. This maintains the lowest possible profile and keeps your viewing window free of garish sight posts sticking up under the dot. Out of the box, the M&P Shield comes with one 8-round extended magazine and one 7-round flush-fit magazine. We improved the flush-fit with the addition of a Strike Industries +2 baseplate. This combination gives the end user a total of 17 rounds in a package that’s very low profile while still being comfortable to shoot and chock full of all the modern amenities that any secret agent could ask for.

The Full Package
The original ASP pistols came with a custom leather holster and mag pouch. That design is still available through Milt Sparks. But in keeping with our theme of modernization, we decided to go the Kydex route. While there are plenty of holster solutions for the M&P Shield, there aren’t any that accommodate a Shield with TLR-6 light attached. At least, not any that we liked. So we visited our friends at We Plead The 2nd and asked for a lowvis Kydex sheath for our super-spook project pistol. They delivered in force with a squat, flat holster in “Gray man” gray that’s both low profile and comfortable. Their original design had to be slightly modified to accommodate the slide-mounted red-dot. But this proved to be no obstacle, and after a little alteration work in a gun store parking lot, we were off and running. This wasn’t our first
encounter with WPT2 and likely won’t be our last. Their service is quick and craftsmanship top notch. Our holster featured a single-wide clip and adjustable retention. A loose Tshirt made the ASP 2.0 hard to spot. A cover shirt or light jacket made it practically invisible.

Of course, this fancy project isn’t worth the polymer it’s molded with if it can’t actually perform. Fortunately, the Shield is a market-proven design that demonstrated both reliability and accuracy. While its light frame and short barrel will forever prevent it from achieving “tack driver” status, we were able to print sub 2-inch groups as far as 15 yards thanks to the red-dot and crisp Apex trigger kit. The trigger seemed to dance back and forth on either side of the 5-pound mark, gauged by a Lyman digital. There’s no over-travel, thanks to a small stop
molded into the trigger guard. While we’d love a slightly lighter trigger, the Apex bang switch breaks crisp with a loud snappy reset. That’s plenty good enough for us and miles beyond the average OEM striker trigger.

We ran a proper gamut of duty-worthy JHPs including SIG’s 115-grain V-Crown and three versions of Federal’s HST: 124-grain standard, 147-grain +P, and their ultra-heavy 150-grain standard, specially crafted for sub-3-inch barrels. While this homage to firearms history is currently a RECOIL one-off, ROBAR is ready and willing to do all of this work to your pistol. The full package, as shown here, runs in the $1,100 range. Not inexpensive. But the value added is undeniable, and we’re sure ROBAR would be willing to scale back the package based on your budget and priorities. Not only do these upgrades enhance the capabilities of your carry gun, they also pay tribute to a pioneer of combat pistol innovation. If you decide you just gotta have it, reach out to ROBAR and ask for the ASP 2.0 package. Don’t forget to tell them you saw it in RECOIL.


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