In January 1983, Bernard C. White of Magnum Research filed a patent on a mechanism for a gas-actuated pistol which became the design of the Desert Eagle. The revolutionary design used mechanisms found in rifles, instead of the short recoil design in most semi-automatic pistols. In December 1985, a second patent was filed when the Israel Military Industries (IMI) refined it for production.

Functionally, the Desert Eagle feels more like a rifle than a pistol, with its rotating bolt resembling an M16. The benefit of its gas-operation is that it allows for the use of far more powerful cartridges compared to traditional designs.