Yesterday afternoon Wilson Combat, purveyor of some of the most desirable custom 1911’s on the market, announced that they had paired up with Ernie Langdon to begin offering parts and custom work on the Beretta 92. Mr. Langdon worked for Beretta a while ago and from what I understand was largely responsible for some of the most interesting and desirable variants of the Beretta 92 that the company ever produced. He took guns like the 1st and 2nd generation 92 Elite pistols to multiple championships in IDPA and USPSA. After leaving Beretta Mr. Langdon put his expertise on the Beretta 92 to work (all too) briefly offering gunsmith services on Berettas. My first handgun was a somewhat beat-up looking 92FS that needed some competent attention, so I sent her off to Mr. Langdon to have the full armorer treatment including fitting and installing a new locking block and a trigger job. I was quite pleased with the result…so pleased that I had the gun refinished. I’m almost certain that I have the only hard-chromed, Langdon customized Beretta 92 on the planet. Take that, Tam.
The Beretta 92 has always been one of my favorite handguns. My formative impressions of the Beretta were probably set by watching Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson waste machinegun toting baddies by the truckload using the 92. Yes, I have a Miami Classic holster for my Beretta 92 as a direct result of the airport scene in Die Hard 2. No, I’m not the least bit ashamed of that fact. Of course, the Beretta 92 was featured prominently in the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon movies precisely because at the time it was the standard issue sidearm of the most famous local police agency in the world: The LAPD. There’s no doubt that Hollywood blockbusters sold a lot of Berettas, but the pistol was doing fairly well in its own right prior to the gratuitous gun porn of 80’s and 90’s action movies.
The Beretta’s adoption by the US Military happened to coincide with the rise of drug-related gang warfare in cities like Los Angeles. Police departments looking to give officers on the street an edge often turned to the Beretta 92, and often with good results. When properly maintained the pistol proves to be a pretty reliable and durable sidearm. It was a rather large pistol even by the standards of the day, and smaller shooters often found reaching the trigger in double action mode to be somewhat difficult. The most universally disliked feature of the Beretta 92 has to be the slide mounted safety. Despite the “extra wide ejection port, no feed jams” the Beretta did occasionally have a malfunction and it’s very easy to accidentally engage the safety while manipulating the slide to clear a malfunction. At the request of some counterterrorism professionals who were using the pistols, Beretta came up with a “G” model 92 where the safety was replaced by a lever that only functioned as a decocker, but for reasons that mystify me (and some others I might add) they have been reluctant to sell “G” model 92’s to the general public. From what Mr. Langdon told me in a class some time ago, even getting the Elite models to be sold in the “G” configuration took quite a bit of effort behind the scenes. Perhaps Wilson Combat will join a couple of smaller shops out there in offering a “G” conversion for the FS pistols.
If you ask guys who served in the military about their experience with the M9, the reviews are often mixed. Some poor decisions by the military contributed to problems with the pistol. The military had a bad habit of taking parts from a gun that had to be deadlined for some reason and using them in other guns. The most notorious of these was the locking block, a wear item that was supposed to be new and fitted to the pistol it was being installed in. The military often took locking blocks off of a worn pistol and threw them into a pile where they were slapped into other guns without proper fitting, which went against Beretta’s own recommendations for the gun. And now, as I channel my best Paul Harvey impression, you know the rest of the story behind the legend of the fragile locking block. The military made another mistake in requiring a rough parkerized finish on some magazines they purchased for the M9 which turned out to be sub-optimal when exposed to the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Generally speaking, police departments like the LAPD didn’t mimic those practices and that’s probably a good explanation for why there are such divergent bases of experience with the Beretta 92.
I learned to shoot a handgun with the Beretta 92. It was the handgun I used in the first serious training I attended and I’ve used it in a number of classes with great success since. When used with the factory magazines (I’m particularly fond of those with the metal followers) even with pretty weak springs the 92 has always worked well for me. They’ve proven to be accurate and reliable even under sub-optimal conditions for me. On one 5 day course I took some years ago at the (then) fairly new Blackwater facility in Moyock NC a tropical storm was in the area turning the ranges we were using into mud and wet sand. Pouring rain chased out almost all the lube on the pistol and retreiving magazines from the deck led to shoving muddy/sandy magazines into the pistol repeatedly. My 92 kept running while lots of other guns went down hard. I took a little bit of ribbing for showing up to a class taught by a former NSWG guy in a Beretta hat and t-shirt, but by the end of the week even he had to admit my gun performed splendidly.
I’ve always found the Beretta 92 to be very pleasant to shoot, and when I’ve taught new shooters I always make it a point to have my Langdon-customized 92FS with me because the smooth trigger and soft recoil of the pistol seems to get even the most gun-shy newbie interested in pulling the trigger some more. I’ve also found that the gun fits my hand better than most similar weapons on the market like the Sig P22x family. Admittedly I have large-ish hands, but the controls fit me very nicely and I find it very intuitive to use.
There might just be a reason why Bill Wilson is getting into the business of customizing the Beretta 92. If you’ve never looked into the Beretta 92, maybe now is a good time to give one a try…