Top 10 Challenge

posted on December 15, 2009

When American Rifleman published its feature on the “Top 10” handguns (September 2009, p. 60), the editors knew they’d raise the ire of many readers who would feel that their own pet sidearms had received short shrift. Those who have come to appreciate the Beretta 92FS, a.k.a. the U.S. military M9 service pistol, were among the first in line to express such sentiments.

The Beretta 92 traces its genesis to 1970, when Giusseppe Mazzetti and Vittorio Valle—reporting directly to CEO Carlo Beretta—led a design team of up to 15 engineers tasked with creating the ideal high-capacity, double-action 9 mm service pistol. The new gun incorporated Beretta’s own open-slide design of the Model 1934, a locking block system inspired by the Walther P.38 and, at first, a double-action mechanism with similarities to both the Walther and the contemporary Czech CZ-75. The first prototypes, with frame-mounted thumb safeties, were complete by 1975.

When the House Appropriations Committee gave the nod for a new U.S. military service handgun that would comply with NATO specs, the Beretta 92 was in the right place at the right time. Beretta unstintingly sent engineers back and forth across the Atlantic to ensure that the family gunmaker’s entry would absolutely conform with what the Joint Services Small Arms Project (JSSAP) mandated. The safety lever was moved to the slide to double as a de-cocker, an M1911-style magazine release button was placed in the “American position” behind the trigger guard, and an internal firing pin lock was incorporated. The original 92 morphed into what we now know as the 92F, which the U.S. military adopted as the M9.

That adoption in the mid-1980s created a firestorm of complaints from M1911 fans, .45-cal. fans and, especially, rival gun manufacturers and their congressional delegations. A commotion was raised, and ultimately a second exhaustive comparison test was undertaken, circa 1989. This one also resulted in the Beretta being selected and, ever since, it has been the primary standard U.S. military pistol.

All the other classics in American Rifleman’s original Top 10 had their detractors, then and now, and certainly the Beretta 92 is no exception. Its shortcomings have just been more thoroughly and publicly addressed and, usually, more decisively set aside. Did some guns exhibit separated slides? Yes, as few as 14 cases were documented, out of more than 3 million such pistols, and generally they were attributed to overly hot ammunition. There seems to have been none since the 92FS design change. Did some locking blocks crack? Yes, until a design change dramatically improved their durability.

Questions about the 92FS/M9’s shootability have gone by the wayside. Through the years at Camp Perry, Berettas accurized in the style of David Sams and the military marksmanship training units have surpassed the best accurized M1911s in the winners’ circles in Distinguished and President’s Hundred events. IDPA and IPSC national championships have been won with Beretta 92s “street-tuned” by such ’smiths as Ernest Langdon.

A batch of Check-Mate low-bid magazines with rough interiors caused Beretta jams in “the sandbox.” Check-Mate apologized and changed its design; the Marines bought Beretta magazines; and Beretta itself came out with a special “sand magazine.” These improvements seem to have fixed the problems, but the rumors continue. The facts contradict the rumors. Circa 1984, Beretta beat all comers in the military reliability contest, with a rate of one malfunction per 1,750 rounds. The most recent government test shows a malfunction rate of only one in every 20,500 rounds, Beretta executive Jeff Reh has proudly announced.

Yes, 9 mm NATO ball is not the best choice as a man-stopper, but this can’t be construed as a Beretta defect. Police officers in DeKalb County, Ga., laid waste to bad guys with the tremendously effective Federal 115-gr. +P+ hollow points out of their Beretta 92s … Los Angeles County and LAPD stopped worrying about the 9 mm stopping power of their Beretta 92s when they were issued high-tech Winchester Ranger hollow points … and FMJ-LP (low penetration) loads have improved the effectiveness of U.S. military units who’ve been issued this Federal 9 mm round, which is a modification of the company’s Expanding Full Metal Jacket design by Tom Burczynski.

Despite annual rumors of change, the U.S. military buys thousands—some years, tens of thousands—more M9 pistols, manufactured in Maryland by Beretta USA. Ironically, the Beretta 92’s vocal critics were the ones who forced the intensive testing that made the 92FS/M9 perhaps the most thoroughly evaluated—and thoroughly combat proven—fighting handgun of our time. “With enemies like these,” fans of the Beretta 92 might well ask, “who needs friends?”


Creedmoor Sports Multi-Caliber Bullet Comparator
Creedmoor Sports Multi-Caliber Bullet Comparator

Preview: Creedmoor Sports Multi-Caliber Bullet Comparator

When loading rounds tailored for a precision rifle, ensuring the bullet is loaded until it sits just off the lands is a crucial component of accuracy. Measuring this distance involves the use of a bullet comparator tool.

Mike Fuljenz Wins Highest Numismatic Honor

Prominent rare-coin and precious-metals dealer Michael Fuljenz of Beaumont, Texas, an NRA Golden Ring of Freedom member, is the 2023 recipient of the Chester L. Krause Distinguished Service Award—the highest honor bestowed by the congressionally chartered American Numismatic Ass’n, the largest organization of coin-collecting enthusiasts in the United States.

Colt's Rarest Clandestine Pistol?

According to advanced Colt collectors, only about 35 or so of the original 400 factory Colt 1911s chambered for .38 Super have surfaced in the United States postwar, with only about a dozen of those remaining in their issued condition with their original finish, and given that the war officially ended on August 14, 1945, and since the OSS was dissolved on October 1, 1945, it isn’t likely any of them were issued before the Armistice. 

New For 2023: Taurus 917C

Taurus is re-introducing a Beretta 92 clone in the form of its 917C, and this compact variant provides a "Commander-sized" option for fans of the DA/SA semi-automatic pistol.

Preview: Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro 17-Round Magazine

Springfield Armory’s Hellcat Pro is a slightly larger, yet still easily carried, version of its micro-compact Hellcat for personal defense, and the gun’s flush-fit magazine capacity was also increased to 15 rounds.

Gun Of The Week: Browning X-Bolt Target Max

Watch American Rifleman staff on the range this week to get a close look at an improved X-Bolt rifle from Browning. The Target Max is the latest iteration of the famed X-Bolt action, and it’s designed for long-range work, thanks to its Target Max customizable stock, adjustable trigger, bull barrel and more.


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.