Semmerling LM4 Video

The Semmerling LM4 has pretty much no historical significance, but it does have a pretty unusual operating system. It is a .45ACP backup pistol developed by a fellow named Philip R. Lichtman in the 1970s. It was a pretty compact pistol, intended as a last-ditch backup weapon while still being in a major caliber. Lichtman’s trick for getting a 4+1 capacity .45ACP into a small package was to make it a manually-operated gun instead of a semiauto.

The LM4 has a slide, but instead of cycling backwards it cycles forward (similar to the Schwarzlose 1908), and the shooter must cycle it manually. This allows the design to get by without many of the components necessary for a self-loading action, thus allowing it to be smaller than the other repeating guns available at the time. In theory, fewer parts would also lead to a less expensive gun, but the LM4 was quite expensive ($750 or so retail in the late 70s/early 80s). The whole gun was made out of extremely high quality tool steels, when lower grade materials would have worked just fine for many parts. Only a few hundred were originally made, in part because of the high cost. The other reason for the gun’s commercial failure was, to be blunt, the fact that it was a pretty lousy gun in practical terms.

Now, I should say that I am basing this assessment on the current-production LM4 as manufactured by American Derringer – I have not had the chance to try out one of the originals. But the American Derringer version leaves an awful lot to be desired. The magazine is held in the gun by two bent tabs at its base, which have a tendency to jolt loose on recoil – which is pretty hefty, as you would expect. The manual action is pretty finicky, and you have to run the slide briskly and with the right technique to successfully eject an empty case and chamber a new round. Worse, the slide is shorter than most folks’ hands, and it is very easy to unintentionally let your pinky finger wander in front of the muzzle while cycling the pistol. I suspect that if a large number of these were actually ever used in defensive shootings, there would be a frightening number of self-inflicted wounds when people were trying to shoot and cycle the action under stress.

As if it needed any more bad news, the LM4 is simply obsolete today. There are several 9mm semiauto hideout pistols being made today that are the same size and a good deal lighter than the Semmerling (which comes in at a surprisingly hefty 24oz). Anyone who is dead set on a .45 has the choice today of a new AMT Backup, or realizing that a reliable 9mm is much more useful that a .45 that you are liable to blow your own finger off with (or getting one of the DoubleTap modern derringers that are just coming onto the market).

For you sci-fi enthusiasts, you may recognize the LM4 from its use in F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series of novels. I really enjoy the stories and Jack’s character, but the Semmerling was really a pretty poor firearm choice for him. But hey, it’s fiction.


  1. I think the reason for the failure of the semerling, was the recoil.
    I tryed to fire is a cuple of years ago. As you dont wisch to ket a brick smashed on your hand, you dont wisch to fire a Semmerling more than once. The 1907 Schvartslose in 32 Browning, that uses the same prinsple is bad enuf for me.

  2. For some reason, this review makes me think of the COP .357 four-shot derringer, Leon’s pistol from the interview scene in the movie “Blader Runner.” Maybe that should be your next review? 😉

  3. Although completely different in operation, it reminds me of the 4 shot COP 357 that was a backup gun design from the ’80’s. In the ’80’s on the US market (GCA ’68 prevented importing really small handguns) it seems like there wasn’t much between 22 and 25 semi autos and 38 snub nose revolvers. Other than some specialty guns, like these, the flood gates of commercial develoment (that brought micro 9’s, etc) did not open until CCW took off. That vast market justified the R&D and the factories that the demand from off duty cops alone could not justify. Until the edee fixe of the gun grabbers shifted to military-looking arms in the very late ’80’s it also looked like the small handguns were the most likely to be banned, which probably did not help to justify R&D.

  4. Back in the day there was a two handed technique for firing this little monster.It involved using the weak hand thumb .Upon recoil one was supposed to press the weak hand thumb on to the top of the barrel during the recoil phase . The action was supposed to open ejecting the fired case and during the “return” phase the firer’s thumb was supposedly to hang on to the barrel and used the momentum to close the action.This was supposed to allow quick firing. It is quite impossible to do under range conditions. It combat it would get you killed.
    Contemporary to the Semerling was the detonics (a very usable pistol) and the ASP (my choice). Remember this is a 1980 perion design. Thanks to GCA 68 and Jimmy Carter there were very few small handguns on the market.If you needed one it was a PPKS or a snub 38 or a WW2 bring back. It was an attempt fill a need for a small powerful handgun. The concept was for a few shots needed in emergency. I think it failed.

    • The two handed technique is the correct way to fire this pistol. The method used in this video is dangerous and inefficient. If you want to see how the pistol should be cycled have a look at this video.

      The below shows how the pistol should be cycled.

      • Dan that was an excellent presentation, thank you. The ACE holster was highly respected back in the day. I remember that those who carried the pistol loved it. One of my friends still owns and carries his since 84. It is his only handgun .The recoil of the pistol is intended to be part of the actuation of the repeat fire function. I saw an experienced operator shoot the tip of the weak hand thumb while practicing rapid fire.Accidental opening on the draw could happen if the operator was not properly trained. I was active in those days and chose Theadore French’s ASP as my carry weapon.Small powerful handguns were hard to find back then in the US due to Carter Administration backroom deals with US manufacturers and the GCA 68 point system for importation. Most carried PPK/S or S&W M60s.

  5. The Semmerling is neat but as a practical firearm it falls short. It is not any smaller than my AMT Backup .45, which is 5+1 and semi-auto. Their is also the Springfield XDS, which is a little bigger, but a lot lighter than the Semmerling of the AMT.

    That said, recoil on my AMT is not bad at all, thanks probably to its weight, and accuracy out to 25ft is just as good as with my 1911.

    • Interesting graph and blog. Thank you for the reference. I think people look to the .45 for the size of the hole it makes. The 230 gr FMJ was the most common back in the 80s and it still had enough energy to stop a fight. Snub nose S&W M 1917s were very popular between the World Wars as a primary concealed carry weapon. It was similar to the old time Webley Bulldog revolvers; much prized for ease of carry and stopping power.

  6. Judging Philip Lichtman’s Semmerling LM-4 on the basis of its American Derringer knockoff makes as much sense as judging Dom Perignon by the bubbly swill jailbirds brew in toilet tanks. I own two original LM-4 Semmerlings, with another one on the way from Switzerland. They are by far the best backup guns ever made, with the power to bulk ratio second to none. Unlike its slimmer brethren, the .45 ACP round loses next to nothing ballistically in the 1.25″ abridgment of the standard M1911 5″ barrel. The static breech makes the gun very accurate and pleasant to shoot. Lastly, the claim of “pretty much no historical significance” is belied by U.S. government procure Here are my carry rigs, in and out of leather.

  7. The American Derringer version is awfully expensive for prison moonshine…can you elaborate on the differences between them and you originals? Having not handled an original I’m open to the possibility that they are much better, although I think the design is outdated enough that I wouldn’t pick one to carry no matter how perfect its execution was.

    • Its hard to deny the quality of the real LM4; its also difficult for the average person to master the repeat fire drill. Judging by its contemporary handguns it is still a specialists weapon. In the early 1980s there were the AMT the Detonics and American Derringer Line. All had faults and all had advantages. The LM4 was hard to use. I trained on it. I know of a woman who mastered it and still carries it. I chose the ASP and still carry mine. The AMT had teething troubles due to incorrect metals and other issues. The new one by High Standard is a really nice but heavy pocket gun. All things considered the LM4 is very well made but very difficult to use.

      • This is true.

        I have experience with a number of AMTs (a Backup is my backup & errand gun) and know a little about the company history. Essentially the designs were/are sound, but the business minded partner implemented a number of shortcuts which led to a fall in quality and reliability. Most importantly, fit and finish were reduced, causing function issues if not corrected.

        Try to get an early serial number, these are much more reliable off the bat but there can still be issues due to early type of stainless steel used. This can be greatly minimized by lubricating the contact surfaces.

        I’m glad to hear High Standard has improved the line, for the most part I really like my AMT guns and I was sad to see them fall.

        • Ian for years my wife carried an AMT Back Up in 380 and later in 45. She still carries the 45 and would not part with it. It is a very early one and is really reliable. Spare mags are easy to get and they made a nice pocket holster for it back in the 80s. The AMTs need to be worked over by someone who knows them. FYI you can smooth the trigger but never try to reduce the trigger pull weight. It was balanced with the mainspring to be safe with 230gr Hardball. The new ones are really nice and worth the money in my opinion. You have chosen wisely in your carry weapons.

          • Hi Andrew,

            Definitely a great gun. Until the XDS came a long there was no other semi-auto .45 in that form-factor. My backup is also an early gun and has always run great, people complain about the heavy trigger but it is a great safety in a pocket gun and it doesn’t affect accuracy much at defensive ranges. I’ve got at least 2000 rounds in it an haven’t had any malfunctions, even with a variety of HPs put through it. On a well finished gun, the only thing you need to look after is the recoil spring ( I swap mine every 500rds just to be safe) and magazine spring/lips.

            On the other hand, my .380 backup, a later gun, required some work to get reliable but is still a nice glove compartment gun.

  8. Philip Lichtman made his guns to the highest quality standard in the industry, matched at the time only by Korth revolvers and Korriphila HSP701 pistols. The American Derringer version is made of inferior materials, fitted and finished beneath Hi-Point standards. Judging the design outdated would presuppose a basis for comparison, but there is no big bore handgun with a form factor as compact as that of the LM-4. Admittedly, the manual of arms can get you killed for want of familiarity, but the same is true of many contemporaneous service sidearms with stellar field records, such as the HK P7 series. The LM-4 was never meant as a primary defensive arm; but it has no equal among weapons designed to escape detection by a patdown.

    • “Judging the design outdated would presuppose a basis for comparison, but there is no big bore handgun with a form factor as compact as that of the LM-4.”

      The AMT Backup .45 is a semi-auto .45, 5+1 and is only .55 longer than the Semmerling, it also has the same unloaded weight.

      The Springfield XDs .45, semi-auto 5+1, is 1 inch longer but weighs .3 lbs less.

      • Like I said, there is no big bore handgun with a form factor as compact as that of the LM-4. Size counts.

        I don’t know how else to put it, so please forgive what may come across as bragging. I am a collector and scholar of small arms, specializing in mid-XXth century military and constabulary designs, roughly dating between 1930 and 1980. I own hundreds of handguns of all kinds. Most of them have been bought way below the market rate, either in obscure stateside venues or in auctions abroad. I paid full freight for my Semmerlings. Of all the guns I own, they are the ones “most wanted” by my friends, expert sport shooters and gun-carrying professionals alike. They are that good.

  9. For all its faults, a fascinating and innovative pistol in its own right, nevertheless.

    Speaking of hard-to-find pistols, has a small stock of CZ-82 pistols in 9mm x 18 Makarov available for sale at the time of writing at $279.95 apiece. From what I can see, they appear to be in “very good” to “excellent” condition, with strong polygonal barrel rifling and only a minimum of external wear on the bluing.

  10. Totally agreed,mechanical failure and nothing else….
    The cost 750 bucks away too much,I rather buy H& K VP70 with lots of clips..

  11. There is bunch of 45s under 7 inches with mag capacity more than five rounds:
    Glock 36
    Glock 30
    Kahr CW45
    Kahr TP45
    Colt Defender
    Kimber Ultra Carry II
    Kahr P45
    Para Ordnance Carry 45
    Para Ordnance Slim Hawg
    Para Ordnance WartHog
    Sig P250 SC
    S&W SW1911 SC
    Taurus 24/7 Pro Compt
    Taurus Millenium Pro
    Firestorm Mini
    Bersa Thunder UC
    Cobra Patriot 45
    And more……., so why someone go for this?!!!

  12. You can ‘enjoy’ the same recoil experience with any of the two shot Remington derringer copies in .45 ACP. It is pretty brutal.

  13. On the subject of importability, I was recently amazed to discover that there are categories of pistols which cannot be imported into the US. Apparently the BATFE is still using an arbitrary point-based system to determine whether or not a pistol can be imported. It seems to be biased against small caliber pistols, perhaps a holdover from the “Saturday Night Special” panic?

    In order to be eligible for import, a gun must score at least 75 points, based on the following criteria:

    Length: 1 point for each 1/4 inch over 6 inches.
    Forged steel frame: 15 points
    Forged HTS alloy frame: 20 points
    Unloaded weight (w/mag): 1 point per ounce.
    .22 short or .25 auto: 0 points
    .22 LR and 7.65 mm to .380 auto: 3 points
    9mm parabellum and over: 10 points
    Locked breech mechanism: 5 points
    Loaded chamber indicator: 5 points
    Grip safety: 3 points
    Magazine safety: 5 points
    Firing pin block or lock: 10 points
    External hammer: 2 points
    Double action: 10 points
    Drift adjustable target sight: 5 points
    Click adjustable target sight: 10 points
    Target grips: 5 points
    Target trigger: 2 points.

    Link to official ATF Form 5330.5:

    Believe it or not, this is why we can’t get the .380 Glocks over here.

    • ATF’s point system is founded on its interpretation of the 1968 Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). In addition to the foregoing, the overall length has to be over six inches. There are passive safety requirements for revolvers and active safety requirements for all other pistols. I’m working on a Tokarev TT33 safety located off of the frame.

    • The GCA 68 and the Omnibus Crime Control Bill of 73 both tried to limit small handguns from the US market especially in minority “inner city” neighborhoods.Remember the GCA was a way for US manufacturers to effectively block foreign weapons from our market. Military surplus weapons were banned from importation and small pocket guns were excluded by this insane point system. It was proposed to apply the same system to US made handguns as well. In the 70s snub 38s were produced in numbers less than the demand with a wink and a nod from Carter’s DOJ/ATF and the US manufacturers. The companies that made the Raven,Davis and the other “ring of fire” companies stepped up to fill the need once answered by Spain and Belgium. Hope this helps

  14. Had a COP Derringer. Hell of a hand full of wallop with full house .357’s. and the rounds would keyhole within 10 feet. Hey, anyone remember an Israeli made all plastic .45 ACP back up called the Intra-tec CAT-45? And as for screwey back up pieces. At one point I owned that manually indexing .45 LC Leinad MR Pepper Box!!!

  15. Designing a firearm requiring two hand use in a category supposed to use
    especially one hand, seems rather ironic.

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