Lately the US military’s push for a “Modern Handgun System” (aka MHS) has come under some fire from Capitol Hill for absurd levels of expense. It’s worth noting that MHS has been floating around in some form or another for about a decade now, and as yet without result. Although it looks like this time they are actually going to solicit samples and a number of manufacturers have already introduced potential candidates for the contract. You can expect at least one more potential candidate to debut at SHOT.

This latest article happened to hit the news about the same time that the Navy Special Warfare Group’s decision to adopt the Glock 19 hit the web. Most of the units in JSOC have actually been using Glock sidearms for quite some time, and even MARSOC has brought the Glock 19 on board as an alternative to the customized Colt 1911 pistols that they bought in 2012. mysafety

This has led many people to ask why the military as a whole doesn’t just adopt the Glock 19 and be done with it. It’s a reasonable question and there is certainly a sizable amount of DOD bureaucratic nonsense involved…but there are a couple of really good reasons, too.

Yesterday CNN ran a piece on a report about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s upsurge in unintentional discharges with their recently adopted Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. The LASD issued the Beretta 92FS for many years prior, as had several other major LE agencies in California. The Beretta 92FS is, as you probably know, a traditional double-action semi-automatic pistol. This means it has a long double action trigger pull for the first shot, and the action of the slide cocks the hammer for subsequent shots giving a single-action trigger pull from that point on. The Beretta 92FS also has a combination decocker and manual safety that, when activated, completely disengages the firing mechanism from the trigger.

The S&W M&P as adopted by the LASD, on the other hand, is a striker-fired pistol with no manual safety and a relatively short, relatively light trigger pull. The M&P can be had with a manual safety, but for whatever reason the LASD opted not to adopt the safety-equipped version of the M&P pistol. The LASD’s uptick in accidents after transitioning to a striker-fired gun with a relatively short, relatively light trigger pull is not at all unprecedented. The very same thing has happened at a number of departments that have made the transition to striker-fired guns.

The simple truth of the matter is that every handgun on the market has a certain margin of error that results from its design.

In other words, certain designs are more forgiving of handling mistakes than others. The Beretta 92 with its long double-action trigger pull, manual safety, and method of disassembly has a relatively wide margin of error. The Glock 17 with its relatively light, relatively short trigger and a requirement to actually pull the trigger to field strip has a much narrower margin for error.

Let me make this concrete. Removing the slide from the Beretta 92:


As you can see, removing the slide on a Beretta requires pressing the button on the right side of the gun, and rotating the lever on the left side of the gun, at which point the slide assembly moves right off the gun. If someone ignores the manual’s prescribed procedure and neglects to properly clear the weapon before attempting to field strip it, an accident is extremely unlikely because they don’t need to pull the trigger. It’s possible to remove the slide assembly from a Beretta 92 style pistol with a round in the chamber and I’ve seen people do precisely that when they forgot to properly clear the chamber of the pistol on multiple occasions. The indication of a failure to properly clear the chamber on the 92 comes when you remove the barrel from the slide and find that there’s a round sitting in the chamber. Oops.

If, however, someone ignores the Glock manual’s prescribed procedure and neglects to properly clear the weapon before attempting to field strip it, the indication of a failure is going to be a gunshot because you have to pull the trigger to field strip that weapon. That’s a much bigger and much more consequential oops. If the exact same person makes the same handling mistakes with both weapons, it’s only with the Glock that a bullet gets launched.

When it comes time to field strip the weapon, the Glock family of pistols has a much lower margin for error than the Beretta 92 family of pistols.

The same disparity is present when we discuss other handling situations with both weapons. The Beretta’s longer, heavier trigger pull gives a larger margin for error if someone is not following proper safety procedures and has their finger on the trigger at inappropriate moments. It’s certainly not impossible to fire a Beretta 92 on startle response alone, but the Beretta’s trigger gives more of an opportunity to realize that you are doing something wrong than a Glock’s trigger does…and when people are handling weapons under unfamiliar levels of stress that margin of error can mean the difference between a close call and a gunshot wound.

The military units carrying Glocks currently are generally elite forces. They have extremely demanding standards of admittance, and an exceptionally high level of accountability for their personnel. They also conduct far more training with their sidearms than other groups in the military. This combination of factors means that the Glocks are currently being issued to individuals who:

  • Are selected for, among other things, how well they can perform under extreme levels of stress
  • Exist in a small-arms centered atmosphere where training is frequent and of extremely high quality
  • Live with exceptionally high levels of accountability for their behavior

In other words, if I was going to issue a weapon with a low margin for error, it would be to those guys because they train often and they do not screw around when it comes to safe handling of firearms. Ideally that description would apply to everyone who is issued a lethal weapon as a part of their job, but unfortunately it’s just not the case.

The general public believes that police and military personnel are trained experts with small arms but in reality a lot of what passes for training for police and military personnel in the United States is really not very good. (It’s often even worse in other countries) The accountability for behavior with lethal weapons is also nowhere near what it needs to be. I know of multiple instances of police officers who unintentionally discharged their sidearm when engaging in unsafe handling practices and receiving absolutely no sanction for doing so because, and I quote, “Well, nobody was hurt!” To my thinking, it would be much better to enforce proper handling practices before somebody catches a bullet…but that’s just me.

It’s worth noting, here, that your average police officer receives more training with a handgun than your average member of the military. The military as a whole does not take handgun training seriously nor do they have top notch accountability for handling mistakes across the board. If the military started issuing Glocks in these circumstances it would lead to a spike in accidents, only on a much larger scale than what the LASD experienced.

The antidote for this, of course, is training and accountability. (This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that, by the way) The LASD attacked their problem by conducting more training with their officers and the fact that they kept careful track of what was happening shows that there’s serious interest in accountability within the department. Kudos for that…but the training and accountability are expensive and resource intensive both in terms of time, man hours, and institutional will. For an institution like the LASD, the handgun is an extremely important piece of equipment. For many in the military, though, it just isn’t…and the resources needed for quality training on the handgun is seen as resources better used for training on other weapon systems and tasks that have a much higher strategic level of importance.

It’s worth noting, though, that in the modern world of green on blue incidents and attacks on military personnel at various military installations it might be time to seriously reconsider estimations of the pistol’s strategic importance.

I don’t think sticking Glocks into the current big military environment would be a great idea. I don’t really think that the MHS dropped into the current big military environment is all that great an idea, either.

A new (or perhaps slightly updated) sidearm that is designed around the inevitable human factor and that comes as a part of a program ensuring that everyone in the military who has access to a handgun is able to use that handgun safely and effectively to defend themselves and their colleagues, on the other hand, sounds like a splendid idea.


Wilson Combat Ultimate Action Tune Kit for the Beretta 92

If you are a regular reader of the site, you may have deduced that I have a certain fondness for the Beretta 92 pistol. I have used the Beretta 92 quite a bit over the years and the specimens I own have always performed extremely well. The 92 fits my hands nicely. The controls of the pistol all seem to be in just the right place. I’ve never had a feed-way stoppage with a 92 pistol, even when firing the gun in tropical storm conditions with a magazine that was packed with thick mud. The only issue I ever really had with the 92 was that the trigger return spring tended to break frequently if you attempted serious dryfire training. I solved that by installing the Wolff Trigger Control Unit for the 92 family of pistols in my guns.

Even though I like the 92 quite a bit, there are things about it I would change. I vastly prefer the decocker-only G model pistols to the standard FS equipped guns because performing immediate action drills with an FS often leads to unintentional activation of the safety. On one rather embarrassing occasion I didn’t fully seat the magazine when I swapped magazines with the weapon still in the holster prior to a drill and when I got the beep I pulled the pistol and got one shot then a click. I tapped, racked, and went to pull the trigger and got nothing…so I performed the same action three more times. The third time I watched a perfectly good round eject out of the pistol it occurred to me that I had accidentally engaged the safety during the first tap/rack/bang.

The Wilson Combat Beretta Action Tune Kit
The Wilson Combat Beretta Action Tune Kit

The second most commonly complained about feature of the 92 has to be the heavy double action trigger pull. The 92 family of pistols are built largely around the design specifications of the M9 military sidearm. One of the requirements for the M9 is for the weapon to bust extremely hard primers reliably. This means putting a pretty stout main spring/hammer spring (the spring that actually propels the hammer) in the pistol to ensure that the hammer will fall with enough force to reliably set off even the hardest primers. The downside of that kind of ultra-reliable ignition is that the trigger pull has to compress that 20 pound (weight of the spring’s tension, not the spring’s actual weight) hammer spring somehow to cock the hammer. Most Beretta 90 series guns ship from the factory with that ultra-reliable, but very heavy trigger arrangement. Shooters with smaller hands struggle with the combination of the Beretta’s grip and the long, heavy trigger pull made necessary by the military primer requirement.

One of the most frequently performed modifications to the 92 family of pistols is installation of the hammer spring from the double-action-only model Beretta 92D. Often referred to simply as the “D spring”, this spring is rated at 16 pounds and with a standard 92 series hammer still provides reliable ignition with most ammunition even if it wouldn’t pass the military’s stringent primer requirements. It is possible to install even lower weight hammer springs in the weapon, but generally anything below the “D spring” specification would result in spotty ignition reliability. As it goes with most double-action semi automatic pistols, the hammer and the trigger of the Beretta 90 series pistols are joined by a trigger bar. Pulling the trigger pulls the trigger bar forward which, in turn, pulls the hammer backwards until it hits a release point.

Ernest Langdon and the folks at Wilson Combat took a hard look at the trigger bar on the Beretta and thought that if they could modify the design of the trigger bar a bit they could get reliable ignition with lighter hammer springs. I heard tales of this new trigger bar and the excellent trigger pull it could yield for the better part of a year. Then one day back in June I happened to be on the Wilson site looking at getting some new grips for one of my 92 pistols and I saw that they had quietly added the “Action Tune Kit” to the store…including the new trigger bar. I ordered two kits immediately.

Wilson states plainly that some minor gunsmithing is necessary to install the Action Tune Kit, and when I installed the kit on my Wilson Beretta 92 Brigadier Tactical I found that to be true. If you look carefully at the photo at the base of the round pin on the front of the trigger bar (that pin actually runs through the top of the trigger) there is a small protrusion pointing toward where the muzzle of the gun will be. This is an over-travel stop. It bumps into the frame and limits how far forward the trigger bar can go, in turn limiting how far backwards the trigger can go.

I have only tested this part on three 92 series pistols to this point, but based on what I’ve learned from others I think it’s safe to say that at a minimum you will have to fit the over-travel stop for the part to work. As it comes from Wilson, the stop stuck out far enough to prevent the trigger bar from moving sufficiently forward to fully release the sear. Fitting the part to the pistol was simple: File on the over-travel stop with a jewler’s file for a bit to remove some metal, then install it back into the pistol and test the function. The goal is to remove as little of the over-travel stop as possible while still allowing the rear of the trigger bar to reliably release the sear. On my Brig Tac this process of repeatedly filing and checking the fit took less than fifteen minutes.

If you’ve never worked on a Beretta before, here’s a very useful video that demonstrates complete disassembly and reassembly of the pistol. You don’t have to completely disassemble the entire pistol to install the kit, but it shows a good breakdown of removing the grips, the trigger bar, and the trigger bar spring. (DO NOT FORGET THE TRIGGER BAR SPRING!) Be warned: There is chanting and pan-flute music in this video. I strongly encourage watching this with the sound muted and something good playing.


The Action Tune Kit comes with three different hammer springs, weighted at 12, 13, and 14 pounds. This allows you to tune the action for reliable ignition. I had already installed a 13 pound hammer spring in my Brig Tac previously so I left it in the gun when installing the new trigger bar. Having used the pistol with just the 13 pound hammer spring and with the addition of the new trigger bar, I can report that the trigger bar on it’s own made a tremendous difference in the felt weight of the trigger pull. It is the lightest Beretta 92 trigger I have ever used and it’s the lightest true double-action trigger I’ve encountered on any semi automatic pistol full stop. In terms of weight and feel it’s more akin to the lightened triggers you get on H&K’s LEM system or the Sig DAK system than what you would expect on a Beretta 90 series gun.

Because I had the 13 pound spring in the gun before getting the trigger bar, I can also tell you that the new trigger bar improves the reliability of ignition with lighter weight springs. Prior to the installation of the new Wilson trigger bar I experienced multiple failures to fire with just the 13 pound spring in the gun. Since installing the trigger bar I’ve tried multiple types of FMJ and defensive-grade JHP ammunition in the pistol and all have gone bang on the first try.

I’m certain that one of Wilson’s talented gunsmiths could further refine the fit and the overall feel of the trigger, but with minimal skill and minimal time I was able to make a very significant difference in the weight and feel of the trigger by installing one part I’d done a little bit of filing on.

If you like your Beretta, the Action Tune Kit from Wilson is a superb investment. For 80 bucks you can completely transform the trigger in your gun. I’m a very satisfied customer and if you’ve got a 92 that needs some love I think you will be too.



5 reasons the Beretta M9A3 will be the next service pistol

Yesterday, much to the joy of Beretta fanboys (like me) Beretta USA announced the latest update to the venerable M9 pistol line, the M9A3. This pistol represents Beretta’s answer to the requirements for the Army’s proposed Modular Handgun System (or whatever they’re calling it this time around) and I am willing to bet that the Beretta M9A3 will absolutely be our nation’s next service pistol. But first, here’s what Beretta has to say about the new gun:


After delivering over 600,000 M9 pistols to the DOD and on the heels of being awarded a new contract for up to 100,000 M9s, Beretta USA announced today the presentation of the M9A3 to the US Army. The M9A3 introduces major improvements to the M9 that will increase the operational effectiveness and operational suitability of the weapon. The improvements include design and material enhancements resulting in increased modularity, reliability, durability, and ergonomics. They are being submitted via an Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) in accordance with the terms of the current M9 contract.

Made in the U.S.A. by an American workforce since 1987, the M9 has been the sidearm of the U.S. Armed Forces for nearly 30 years; serving with U.S. service men and women in training and combat operations throughout the world. The M9A3 is designed for the next 30 years – delivering 21st century capability and features while increasing usability and reliability.

“The M9A3 represents the next generation military handgun utilizing the best of the legacy M9 combined with proven COTS modifications that increase performance and durability” stated Gabriele de Plano, Vice President of Military Marketing and Sales for Beretta USA. Mr. de Plano added, “After listening closely to the needs of U.S. Army and other Service small arms representatives, we determined the M9, much like its counterpart legacy weapon systems (M4, M16, M240, etc.), was capable of being upgraded through material and design changes. The resulting M9A3 we are offering to the DOD will likely cost less than the current M9 and answer almost all of the Services’ enhanced handgun requirements.”

The M9A3 features a thin grip with a removable, modular wrap-around grip, MIL-STD-1913 accessory rail, removable front and rear tritium sights, extended and threaded barrel for suppressor use, 17-round sand resistant magazine, and numerous improved small components to increase durability and ergonomics, all in an earth tone finish.

“Furthermore, the M9A3 benefits from having a law enforcement and commercial variant that will be launched at S.H.O.T. Show 2015 in Las Vegas, NV” stated Rafe Bennett, Vice President of Product Marketing for Beretta USA. Mr. Bennett added, “The M9A3 offered to the DOD is the exact gun that consumers will be able to purchase in the second quarter of 2015.”

The M9A3 follows on the heels of Beretta and Wilson Combat’s collaboration, and represents a lot of the features that end users have been asking for in their Beretta pistols. The backstrap will allow users to switch from a traditional Beretta profile grip to the smaller and easier to manage Vertec style, the sights are replaceable, and the safety is convertable to a G-style decock only model. With this feature set, here are five reasons why the Beretta M9A3 is going to be the US service pistol for a long time.

1. Money
Hey, did you know that the military is currently undergoing all kinds of budget cuts? The Air Force (for example) by the end of FY 2015 will be at its smallest size since its creation in 1947, the Army is cutting costs wherever it can (despite getting new uniforms) so when Beretta presents a solution to the DoD’s desire for a new toy that doesn’t involve wholesale replacement of holsters, magazines, and small parts, the odds are that they’re going to go for it. Unless Sig nails the baksheesh.

2. Seriously, the money
Beretta did a smart thing: they submitted the M9A3 to the Army as an ECP, and engineering change proposal. What that means is that the M9A3 is part of the existing M9 contract now, assuming that the DoD accepts the ECP, which they will because follow the money.

In the Modular Handgun System proposal, the Army asked for a certain set of features on the new gun. The M9A3 has all of those features, which means that some bean counter in the Pentagon is going to look at this ECP vs the cost of an entire new handgun and go “well, this is a no-brainer.” Essentially, the M9A3 is presented to the Army as fait accompli by Beretta. “Oh, you want all these features in a gun? No problem Holmes, let’s just make that for you as part of the existing contract.”

3. We are not going away from 9mm any time soon
There are entire graveyards full of dudes that have been killed with 9mm ball ammo. Despite what the Warriors of the Keys will tell you, we don’t really need to switch up to .40 or .45, because in the FMJ form our line troops would be required to use, they still suck. To get serious though, we’re not ditching the NATO standard round any time soon. Everyone uses 9mm, and we are going to keep using 9mm as long as we’re the Big Kid at the North Atlantic Treaty Table.

If anything, the trend in rounds is towards smaller rounds. It wouldn’t surprise me if when I’m getting ready to retire in 30 years for the military to be issuing pistols that fire 5mm tungsten core beads to pierce power armor or something.

4. The M9 is fine
The big problem with the M9 (and the M4) isn’t the gun. It’s the way the military trains people to “maintain” their weapons. But that’s a post for another time. Fastidious attention to cleanliness at the expense of lubrication isn’t good for guns.

5. Logistics
All those mags. All those small parts.

There are circumstances where the M9A3 might not make it. The Army could, for reasons that are unfathomable to me, reject the ECP and force the MHS competition to go forward, and then pick a different gun. Sometimes they do things like that because of reasons, none of which make any kind of sense. But like I said above, I’m willing to make a considerable wager that in 2017, when the Army is supposed to pick its new handgun, the M9A3 will already be riding in frontline holsters, and doing just fine. Then it will be “this gun gives us what we wanted, so let’s just keep it.”

What do you think? Will the M9A3 effectively end-run the MHS competition?

Answering reader mail

Reader mail is a great way to generate content when I don’t really have anything good to write about. Today I’m going to answer three questions I’ve gotten that aren’t really long enough to do posts of their own, but put together will hopefully give you guys some stuff to talk about in the comments. I’m also going to really interact with the comments on this post, so any follow-up questions I’ll be happy to answer.

1. How come you’re not writing as much about shooting and training as you used to/why are you shooting less?
I’ve gotten that question from quite a few readers, so I figured now is as good a time as any to answer. When I started the blog in 2006, it was so I could talk about something I was passionate about, namely guns. It then started to serve as a vehicle to fund my shooting habit, which peaked from 2010-2012 when I was a fully sponsored shooter dropping over 20,000 rounds of ammo each year. Those years also saw me make tremendous strides in my shooting skill.

What also happened during that time is that the business of Gun Nuts Media and GunUp grew tremendously, and became my for real full time job. I am less of a writer and shooter today than I am a full time advertising salesman, and that’s not really a bad thing. What it does mean is there’s less time to get to the range, and in general less free time overall than I used to have. Because my free time is limited and going to the range is just another part of work, I’d rather spend my free time here:


In the gym. To go back to the 2010-2012 period, it was easy to see the gains in my shooting skill. I went from C-class to A-class pretty quickly, because I was spending 4 hours a week at the range shooting free ammo, taking classes from great trainers, etc. It was awesome. Once I hit A-class, I hit a plateau, and while it’s still quite possible to make skill gains, the effort that I have to put in to get there has increased. I still like shooting, but it’s part of my job now. On the flip side, working out is still fun, because I’m basically a C-class fitness bro. I can see regular increases in the weight I’m pushing and see shrinking times on my runs, and that tangible progress is fun to chase.

2. What’s your favorite gun that you’ve shot/tested this year?
Well isn’t that a loaded question, now. I’ll stick to handguns, because I spent the most amount of time on them. If I had to pick one gun that I really, really loved, it wouldn’t be a new one, it would be the Beretta PX4 Storm Inox I shot at Bianchi Cup. After changing the mainspring to a D-spring from a Cougar, the gun’s trigger is just sick, it pulls at like 6 pounds in DA and 3ish in SA.

px4 storm photo of the day

The gun that I think has the most potential to be a market success is the HK VP9. It’s a great striker fired pistol, and it does everything you need in a gun with none of the silly fru-fru that you’re seeing on other guns. It just works, it’s accurate, it’s easy to shoot well, and the price point is right where it needs to be for HK to sell every single one of them.

My biggest handgun regret? That I didn’t get more trigger time on the Sig P320. That also looks like a great gun with a ton of a potential.

3. You mentioned something about taking most of 2015 off from shooting matches. Why?
I can’t tell you yet. I have some plans for 2015 that are going to be pretty awesome, and generate a ton of great content for the blog. But for right now, they’re still under wraps.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!


Editor’s Note: Rumors of the M9’s demise appear to be untrue. This is my shocked face.

Accokeek, MD (July 28th, 2014) – Beretta Defense Technologies announced today the purchase by the U.S. Army of a quarter million dollars worth of additional M9 pistols from Beretta U.S.A. Corp. The Army acquired the additional pistols by issuing the 6th delivery order to date against a contract for up to 100,000 pistols awarded by the Army to Beretta U.S.A. Corp. in September 2012.


The Beretta M9 is a 9x19mm caliber pistol adopted by the United States Armed Forces in 1985. The M9, which has been in U.S. production since 1987, is manufactured at the Beretta U.S.A. facility located in Accokeek, Maryland. To date, Beretta has delivered over 600,000 M9 pistols, with 18,000 already scheduled for delivery under the new 5 year contract.

In addition to receiving the delivery order for additional M9 9mm pistols, Beretta U.S.A. has been fulfilling U.S. military orders for M9 parts during the past year. “Throughout 2014 Beretta U.S.A. has been performing First Article Testing on new M9 parts and has begun the delivery of thousands of these components to U.S. military depots,” commented Gabriele de Plano, Beretta U.S.A.’s Vice President of Military Marketing & Sales. “We are, as always, honored and pleased to be able to serve our U.S. Armed Forces by providing our service men and women with a reliable and accurate pistol that has been proven in combat time and time again.”

“Beretta has set an unprecedented records for reliability with the M9 pistol,” added de Plano. “The average reliability of all M9 pistols tested at Beretta U.S.A. is 17,500 rounds without a stoppage. During one test of twelve pistols, fired at Beretta U.S.A. under Army supervision, Beretta-made M9 pistols shot 168,000 rounds without a single malfunction. The average durability of Beretta M9 slides is over 35,000 rounds, the point at which U.S. Army testing ceases. The average durability of M9 frames is over 30,000 rounds and the average durability of M9 locking blocks is 22,000 rounds.”

About Beretta Defense Technologies
Beretta Defense Technologies (BDT) is the strategic alliance of five Beretta Holding defense companies (including Beretta, Benelli, Laser Devices, Sako and Steiner) that provide products and services to enable superior performance in the Defense and Law Enforcement communities. State-of-the-art machinery, extensive research and development capabilities, and long-standing worldwide experiences allow BDT products to respond to the ever-changing needs of defense and security personnel. These Beretta companies employ nearly 600 individuals within the United States with locations in California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Virginia.

Good reasons for buying a new military sidearm

In the discussion about the possibility of the military purchasing new sidearms to replace the Beretta M9 there has been much nonsense. Most of the discussions of the virtues of a new pistol has centered around the irrelevant, trivial, or even the completely untrue. Despite this, there are some perfectly sane reasons to look at acquiring a new sidearm.

1. It’s now possible to buy an auto pistol that will fit almost anyone.

In the early 1980’s when the military went shopping for a double-stack 9mm pistol the world was considerably different. The Glock had not yet had the impact on the market that would make polymer frames an expected design feature in a handgun. Polymer isn’t simply cheaper, proper use of it also allows for more efficient packaging. This gives you the ability to make the grip of the pistol smaller overall and as we’ve seen with the Smith & Wesson M&P, H&K P30 or VP9 (and a host of other pistols) it also makes it easy to have an adjustable grip to fit a wider array of hands. The M9 is a good sidearm, but the size of the grip and reach to the double-action trigger are a struggle for many smaller-statured shooters. Beretta could modify the M9 to make it better in that respect with different grip profiles such as the one found on the Vertec or Elite pistols (or even the Beretta 90-two) and it would help enormously…but it would require revisiting the contract. People often don’t understand that a contract is frozen in time. Once you contract to deliver a pistol with certain specifications you have to deliver to exactly those specifications even if you’ve come up with a better idea since.

Beretta has made improved versions of the M9 like the M9A1 for the Army's Special Forces and the USMC already...and seem willing to make more changes to keep the military contract.
Beretta has made improved versions of the M9 like the M9A1 for the Army’s Special Forces and the USMC already…and seem willing to make more changes to keep the military contract.

Police and military agencies need a handgun that’s going to work with the physiology of very different individuals. During a range trip a while back I ran into a police officer from a few miles away who had just been hired on to a police force while she finished her master’s degree. She was an exceptionally bright, and exceptionally small human being. She was issued a S&W M&P chambered in .40 S&W, which was a good thing because she was able to use the smallest grip panel so she had a shot at reaching the trigger. With a little work on how she approached gripping the pistol she was hitting bull’s-eyes on small targets in no time. Getting a new sidearm to better accommodate the physical differences in the personnel who need sidearms would be a perfectly rational motive for at least revisiting the current M9 contract.

2. It’s now possible to buy sidearms that require much lower levels of maintenance.

Maintenance and upkeep for issued weapons is often cited as one of the strikes against the current Beretta M9. While much of that is overblown, there are some annoying maintenance issues like the trigger return spring on the M9 that are a pain to keep up with. Thanks to revolutions in manufacturing and design, there are now options on the market that are much easier to work on or that require maintenance far less frequently than in the past. The H&K P30 is an excellent example. The pistol was designed to need armorer level attention only after 25,000 rounds…which is a hell of a lot of shooting. Granted there are some units in the military who can put that many rounds through a sidearm in a couple of weeks, but with the shooting schedule of  most of the sidearms the military would be replacing the armorers working on the guns more frequently than the armorers would be replacing parts in the guns. Given the neglect that military sidearms often see, buying a new sidearm that thrives despite neglect would be perfectly reasonable.

3. A new sidearm would make new training programs necessary…which might be an opportunity to fix the training problem. 

This, I admit, is an exceptionally unlikely outcome. The lack of solid training with handguns is an institutional problem and even though a new weapon would require a new training program to go along with it, but I don’t expect buying something new and shiny to fix the institutional culture that doesn’t take handgun training seriously now. Still, if the argument is going to be made a new pistol and training program is when the organization is most vulnerable to new thinking about it.

So, Mr. Smarty Pants, what would you do?

Good question. Since the power to completely overhaul how the military approaches training with sidearms likely will not come along with the power to select a new sidearm, I think we’re doodling around the margins. Given the expense and logistical headache involved in buying an entirely new sidearm, I’d seek to make improvements to the current M9. The USMC’s M9A1 program is a good example of how that could work. I would add on top of that a revised grip such as the one found on the Vertec pistols or the 90-Two, dovetailed sights instead of the integral front sight on the current M9, and perhaps moving all the pistols to the “G” configuration which makes the levers on the slide function as a de-cocker only. This could probably be accomplished with the lowest overall cost when you figure in logistics, training, support equipment, etc. Perhaps even a low enough cost to allow the purchase of some additional equipment (like visible lasers) that would make putting bullets where they need to go easier under stress.

I have no idea what the military will eventually decide on. I honestly expect this latest lust for a new pistol to die in the cutthroat budget process within the DOD…but stranger things have happened. The military has a bureaucracy and whenever reason and circumstance seem to make a particular decision to be exceptionally unlikely bureaucracies have a tendency to make precisely that decision. So I wouldn’t count it out, either…

“Harder hitting” nonsense…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve doubtless encountered this gem of a story from Fox News which covers the U.S. Army’s desire for a new handgun. The discussions about this tidbit of information online have generally been dominated by ignorance and soul-crushing idiocy. Let’s boil away all the nonsense and get a few facts straight on this.

1. The Beretta M9 has actually been a pretty good sidearm.

We’ve talked a bit about the Beretta 92/M9’s track record as an issued sidearm for the military and law enforcement before, but it’s worth reemphasizing here that the biggest problem the Beretta has had in military service is bad maintenance practices by the military itself. Springs don’t get replaced, parts that aren’t supposed to be reused get reused, and the military went out and bought a bunch of cheap magazines for them that didn’t work well. Remember that this is the same organization which preached minimal or no lube on carbines like Jimmy Swaggart on cocaine and then seemed somewhat stunned by the fact that guns shut down when used in combat. When you talk to people from units who took maintaining their issued M9 sidearms seriously, and who bothered to actually lubricate them properly, you hear that they were pretty darn reliable. The most annoying issue is probably breakage of the trigger return spring, but for some reason the military never followed the lead of the U.S. Border Patrol by buying the Wolff TCU to fix that.

The M9's service in the military has been better than many would have you believe.
The M9’s service in the military has been better than many would have you believe.

When the GWOT kicked off there were a ton of news stories about how bad the M4 was too, if you’ll remember. Turns out the M4 was just fine provided you lubricated the darn thing, kept up with maintenance, and used decent magazines rather than handing down worn beat to hell magazines like they were the frickin’ family silver. When you read these articles and the statements by somebody who knows somebody who was in unit X who said that the M9 sucked horribly, remember that not too long ago the same sort of doofuses (doofi? What’s the proper plural of that word?) were saying the M4 sucked and were pushing the need for a new rifle like the XM-8. The XM-8 which was based on the spectacularly awesome G36 which has never had any problems ever.

2. .40 S&W ball ammo, .45 ACP ball ammo, or .357 sig ball ammo is going to suck about the same as 9mm ball ammo.

One of the stated reasons for pursuing a new handgun is to get one that’s in a chambering with better terminal ballistics. That’s really a non-starter unless the military is willing to start using ammunition with expanding bullets. It’s particularly amusing to see the .357 sig in the list of considerations because the .357 sig is a .40 S&W case necked down to take a 9mm bullet…as if a .355 FMJ from a .357 sig is going to perform better than a .355 FMJ from a 9mm. If the Army wants better terminal ballistics, start issuing Gold Dots. No, dear reader, we’re not prohibited from using JHP ammunition by the Hague convention…and to paraphrase an exceptionally astute comment from a forum discussion on the topic, it’s patently absurd to issue hand grenades and shoulder-launched missiles and then wring our hands and fret over whether hollowpoints for handguns are “humane”. It’s ridiculous that in our society a police officer can shoot another American citizen with JHP ammo without any human rights concerns but somehow there’s a big problem if a Marine shoots some foreign dirtbag with the exact same ammo. You know, shooting him with a handgun rather than calling in an airstrike or blowing the whole structure the dude is hiding in to kingdom come with an Abrams tank. Derp.

The .40 S&W and .45 ACP hardball loads do bring some advantages to the table, but those advantages aren’t free. They bring with them costs in packaging, capacity, ease of use, and reliability that tend to negate any marginal terminal ballistics advantage you get from an extra .10″ of bullet diameter. These are not insignificant considerations when you’re issuing sidearms to small-statured males and females, and it’s one of the reasons why large organizations like the FBI have been issuing 9mm handguns pretty freely to those who struggle with the standard issue .40 caliber weapons.

3. The military does not take handgun training seriously.

Those who have never been in the military often make the mistake of assuming that everyone within the organization is extensively trained in the use of small arms. This is not true. The unpleasant reality is that a large chunk of the people in uniform (be that a police or military uniform) are extremely poorly trained with small arms. I know a number of people who did multiple tours in the military without ever once touching a weapon. The handgun training that does happen is very rudimentary, happens infrequently, isn’t sustained by any ongoing practice, and generally results in somebody who it is hoped will be at least intelligent enough to know which end of the tube the bullet comes out of. That’s it. Even infantrymen who are supposed to be the warfighters get minimal handgun training that doesn’t leave them remotely prepared to use the weapon under combat conditions. Some units within the military do take training seriously, and guys like “Super” Dave Harrington and Ernie Langdon spent a chunk of their career working on programs designed to teach necessary weapons skills to people going into harm’s way, but places like Range 37 and program’s like the USMC’s High Risk Personnel program are the exceptions rather than the rule.

If you’re fielding troops that are poorly trained with a handgun, it doesn’t bloody matter what size bullet you give them because they’re not going to put the bullet where it counts in the first place. The Fox News reporter who wrote the original story probably knows how to use Google and so he managed to stumble on Ernie Langdon who summed up the terminal ballistics situation nicely in the article by saying “…handgun bullets suck. You have to shoot people a lot with a handgun.” That’s an accurate summation of the many years of law enforcement shooting data that’s been collected here in the US.

The military doesn’t need to buy a bigger bullet and bet on magic, they need to actually take handgun training seriously. Even if a soldier is stuck with 9mm FMJ ammunition, if he/she is able to put a few of those FMJs in an Al Quaeda aorta it’s going to work. Handing a poorly trained troop a larger, heavier, lower capacity handgun with more recoil and hoping that the bigger bullet will make up for training shortfalls is lunacy. Police departments blessed with solid personnel have figured that stuff out and have made efforts to up their training game with excellent results on the street. Tools aren’t unimportant, but the military’s biggest handgun problem isn’t the quality of the tool, it’s the dearth of proper training on how to use the tool. Until that’s fixed the results won’t change no matter what shiny new thing they buy.

You might get the impression that I’m dead-set against the Army adopting a new handgun, but I’m not. I’m against making purchase decisions based on faulty assumptions and belief in the ballistic equivalent of voodoo. I’m especially against spending a bunch of money on equipment that doesn’t matter instead of channeling those resources to the training which does.

I’ll talk about where I think a new handgun makes sense next time…


HK VP9 sight radius comparison


Top Left: VP9 and Px4 Storm
Top Right: VP9 and M&P Fullsize
Bottom Left: VP9 and FNS-9
Bottom Right: VP9 and 5906

No, we don’t have any Glock 17s laying around.

Continue reading “HK VP9 sight radius comparison”

Beretta USA Announces “Faces of the M9” Campaign

Accokeek, MD (June 3rd, 2014) – Beretta U.S.A. launches a new campaign for the M9 handgun in conjunction with the upcoming 30th anniversary of the adoption of the firearm by the U.S. Armed Services. The “Faces of the M9” campaign will feature stories from active duty military and veterans who tell how the Beretta M9 has been a part of their service to the country.


The Beretta M9 has been the official sidearm of the United States Military for nearly 30 years,” stated Mr. Jeff Cooper, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of Beretta USA. “Every day we are cognizant of the critical role our handguns play in the life of a solider. We know that what we build here ar Beretta can make a difference while serving”.

Called the “World’s Defender”, the kickoff of this M9 celebration begins with the privilege of being able to share the stories of men and women of the U.S. Military and their Beretta sidearm. “The real life experiences of our service men and women tell the M9 story best”, said Gabriele de Plano, VP of Military Marketing and Sales. “we want to know how the M9 helped get the job done, delivered as required, changed lives or got them through their mission.”

The Story of the Beretta M9 is the story of the men and women of the U.S. Military – stories of countless acts of heroism and selflessness.

Beretta USA is actively seeking inspirational stories on how the M9 has been a part of your life, saved your life, and or helped you complete the mission. Military service men and women can share their stories by logging onto

For more information on the ‘Faces of the M9’ campaign please visit: