50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)
BERETTA 92FS/ M9
The only real drawback to the M9 is the fact that its 9mm ammunition, as issued to our troops, is not the most effective battle round. Far better self-defense ammo is available to civilians.
Beretta is not only one of the most recognized and respected firearms manufacturers in the world, it is also the oldest, having started in Brescia, Italy in 1526. But Beretta has another claim to fame, having created one of today’s most popular yet disputatious pistols, the M-9, the U.S. military version of the civilian Beretta 92FS.
The M-9 first emerged in 1975 as the Beretta 92, the result of a five-year collaboration between Beretta designers Carlo Beretta, Giuseppe Mazzetti, and Vittorio Valle. Through a long and complex lineage, the 92 had its roots in the Model 1915, Beretta’s first semi-automatic handgun, and the vastly improved Beretta Model of l951 (more popularly known as the M951), which, in one variation, was capable of both full and semi-automatic firepower.
Although the Model 92 was semi-automatic only, it was unique. For one thing, it sported an aircraft-spec aluminum alloy frame, a high-capacity staggered 15-round magazine, a loaded chamber indicator, a decocking lever, and an ambidextrous safety. It could also be fired both single- and double-action. In addition, the press-turn disassembly latch made takedown simple.
Chambered for the 9mm Parabellum (9x19mm) NATO round, the gun was immediately adopted by the Brazilian armed forces, with other military and police organizations quickly following suit. In 1976, the Italian police requested a hammer drop safety, and the 92S was the result. The 92G came about when the Gendarmerie Nationale French military wanted a decocking lever, but one without a manual safety. In 1980, with the Joint Service Small Arms Program (JSSAP) already exploring a new U.S. service pistol chambered for the 9mm NATO round, the 92SB was developed, which featured an automatic block that prevented the firing pin from being released until the trigger was in its most rearward position. In 1983, further JSSAP tests resulted in the 92F, which sported the now familiar curved combat trigger guard. This gun was also given a non-glare black matte Bruniton finish.
The author found that the Beretta 92FS/M9 was accurate enough for close range self-defense, which is what this pistol was designed for.
With its checkered front- and backstraps, reversible magazine release for right- and left-handed shooters, quickly aligned three-dot sights, and weighing a scant 35 ounces, it seemed as if the Beretta 92SB-F, as it was now called, had evolved into the ideal combat handgun. At least the United States Army certainly thought so, because on January 14, 1985, it announced that this version of the Model 92 (which the Army renamed the M-9), had successfully beaten out seven other candidates (including Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, and Heckler & Koch), to become the new, official U.S. military sidearm, replacing the venerable Colt Government Model 1911A1.
And that’s when the M-9’s troubles began. There was an immediate uproar over the loss of the slab-sided warhorse that had defended our shores in two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and countless other conflicts. Moreover, insult was added by the fact that the new service pistol was made by an Italian firm. It was nothing short of degrading to have to exchange the .45 ACP for the 9mm NATO round,just so our troops could be “logistically compatible” with our allies’ ammunition. There was also the stigma of the aluminum frame, in spite of the fact that, during one test, the M-9 fired 17,500 rounds—far in excess of the U.S. government’s mandate that it withstand 5,000 rounds—without a single malfunction. To overcome the “Italian situation,” it was agreed the guns would be manufactured in the new Beretta USA factory in Accokeek, Maryland.
The author found the Beretta M9 to be fast firing and reliable under simulated combat conditions.
The Beretta M9 replaced the Model 1911 in 1985. In its civilian guise, it is known as the 92FS—basically the same gun.
This Beretta 92FS has been enhanced with the addition of Crimson Trace laser grips.
Philosophical prejudices aside, there were some very real problems with the initial M-9s. Due to a rush to get the pistols into production, some of the very first slides were not made in the U.S. Soon, tales of cracked slides and frames were being reported. The barrel mounting block, which absorbs most of the energy during recoil, was the culprit. In actuality, only four such incidences were confirmed, three of which were traced to Navy S.E.A.L.S., who were putting 3,00 to 5,000 rounds a week through their M-9s in extensive testing. The fourth failure was from a similar situation in the Army.
Although four frame-slide failures are miniscule when taking into account the original order for 321,260 M-9s, a design change was immediately made and all production was quickly moved to Beretta USA, where the guns have been made since 1988. There have been no reports of cracked frames or slides since then.
Far more realistic complaints against the M-9 concern its over-penetration and lack of stopping power, but this is obviously the fault of the M882 NATO cartridge, a 124-grain full metal jacket 9mm round our troops are required to use. Obviously, civilians have far more effective alternatives, such as Hornady’s 115-grain Critical Defense FTX (Flex Tip Extreme) loading. Likewise, failure-to-feed complaints can be traced back to inferior aftermarket magazines rather than the original factory mags. On a personal note, I have fired hundreds of rounds of factory ammunition, both full metal jacket and hollowpoint, through an M-9 with nary a malfunction.
There are also reoccurring tales of the M-9 not being a “tack-driver.” One must take into consideration that its official designation is a “close personal defense weapon,” for supplemental use with the M4 rifle and for members of crew served weapons. In that light, firing military ammunition at close combat distances, I can easily keep a five-shot string within 13⁄4 inches. And using highly tuned M-9s, the U.S. Army’s Marksmanship Unit at Ft. Benning, Georgia, regularly shoot 10-shot groups under 11⁄2 inches at 50 yards.
So far, there have been 50 variations of the Beretta 92, with the current 92FS being the exact civilian counterpart of the M-9, the only differences being slide stampings and serial numbering. In addition, the M9A1 is one of the latest military variants, featuring a U.S. Marine-mandated Picatinny rail. On January 29, 2009, the U.S. Army ordered an additional 450,000 M-9s from Beretta, the largest firearms contract since World War II.
As much as I admire the 1911A1, I think the Beretta 92FS belongs on my bucket list not only as a representative of our official military sidearm, but one that even with its controversy is a versatile although gun that, like the company that makes it, is nonetheless going to be around for a long time.