Gun Review: Ruger LC9

I like small guns. I find that that whole James Bond deep concealment thing strangely appealing. “I may be wearing a form-fitting black tux, but I still have this tiny pistol with which to kill you.” The idea of a highly deadly mouse gun may not be pure fantasy, but it’s close. The chances of fending off a bevy of bad guys with a pocket pistol are about the same as the odds of crossing the Atlantic in a Sunfish. It’s doable, but you’d have to be extremely talented and incredibly lucky. No wonder James Bond traded his .25-caliber Beretta 418 for a .32-caliber Walther PPK. Which should make the new Ruger LC9 better still. It’s a small handgun with seven servings of 9mm stopping power. What’s not to like?

Aesthetically, the Ruger LC9 has it going on. Like it’s slightly larger sib (the TTAG reviewed SR9c), the new LC9 is a slim and sophisticated piece. It’s got great taste. Ruger’s toned down the SR9c’s garish graphics. And it’s more chillin’. The Arizona gunmaker dropped the striations on the front of the c’s slide and added a swoopy swage line. Reflecting its beyond-the-call-of-duty (black ops) attention to detail, the SR9’s snout tapers inwards at the end of the barrel. As someone funny used to say, schwing!

Relieved of any obligation to accomodate an under-snout light, the SR9’s got a stylishly sculpted nose. It morphs seamlessly into an elegant, elongated trigger guard—that allows for fast, unfettered access to the fingertip go-pedal. The LC9’s Ruger-standard color-contrasting ode to alcoholics—“loaded when up”—is the design’s only jarring element. Otherwise, the Ruger LC9’s good to stow.

Provided you don’t mind schlepping 17.1 ounces of handgun hither and yon. To put that in perspective, the Ruger LC9 weighs 2.5 ounces more than the Kel-Tec PF9. Or 6.3 ounces less than the Ruger SR9c and 4.4 ounces less than the twice-as-thick Glock 26. More experientially, Ruger’s smallest nine weighs about the same as a can of Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup—and it’s a lot easier to hide on your person. In fact, you can slip a buck naked LC9 into your pocket and your gun-aversive amigos will still be happy to see you.

By the same token, if you’re looking for a featherweight firearm, Ruger’s LC9 weighs 7.7 ounces more than their wee LCP. Of course, you’d have to be tokin’ to compare the LC9 to the LCP. Although they’re both hammer-fired locked-breech single-stack handguns, the former chambers 9mm cartridges while the latter is home to .380 ammo. When it comes to stopping bad guys intent on murder most foul, you want bigger bullets. And you want a gun that can handle the more stout recoil that firing larger caliber projectiles entails. So you want a bit of heft.

Even so, the LC9 is a snappy little thing. Thanks to the base plate’s pinky extension, it’s easy enough to get a proper hold of the gun. But keeping her nose down for follow-up shots requires a steady hand, a proper stance and a death grip; the checkering on the front of the LC9’s frame leaves a lasting impression on your bottom three fingers. After a while, it starts to sting the body electric.

I know: you don’t complain about the ride as you’re falling to earth underneath a parachute. But I’m not a big fan of the “shoot occasionally, carry daily” philosophy espoused by mouse gun makers. I’d rather stake my life on the old adage “practice makes perfect.” If shooting a gun is like shaking hands with a cactus, you ain’t gonna practice often enough to achieve more-than-merely-adequate proficiency, and I reckon you can’t have too much proficiency in the armed self-defense department.

That stat about most gunfights happening at less than 10 feet? It’s an average. Some are closer. Some are farther out. You want to bet your life that your date with destiny will happen at bad breath distance? Me neither. Hitting a target center mass beyond 10 feet with the Ruger LC9 will require some serious range time. Luckily, the LC9 is a highly accurate gun, and the sting is more annoying than off-putting. So there’s no reason why an LC9 owner shouldn’t fire off a hundred rounds at a time, and lots of reasons why he or she should.

Including the fact that you only get eight (seven plus one) chances to stop a threat to life and limb. It’s important not to get carried away by the idea that the LC9’s ammo is clearly superior to .25, .32 or .380 for self-protection. While nine’s a big step up, an LC9 owner still needs to accept the truth about their gun: solid hits are no guarantee of immediate threat cessation. Which is also true for a .40, .45 or .357, only less so. You figure out how much gun you can carry, you pays your money and you takes your chances.

Judging from my experiences at the range, the LC9’s reliability isn’t an issue. Our T&E LC9 feasted on 500 rounds of a variety of ammo, including Independence, Fiocchi, Hornaday, Wilson Combat and Blazer. Thanks to proper three-dot sights, target acquisition was similarly stress-free. Despite a sight radius shorter than Tom Cruise, lining-up a target with the LC9 quickly becomes instinctive. Crimson Trace makes a handy nose-mounted laser and there’s always point shooting for close quarters combat.

Although I’m a regular shooter (all hail Activia), I’m better at making love than war. Still, I know a valuable tool when I see one (so to speak). The video below was taken after about an hour of gettin’ to know you time, from just over 10 feet. That’ll do, pig.

Unless you need to reload, ’cause the LC9 only comes with one magazine. Ruger’s website offers Italian-made spare mags for $32 and $37 (flat butt plate or extended). Given that the LC9 that clocks in at four bills, Ruger should have pushed the proverbial boat out and thrown-in an extra metaphorical life preserver. Or bit the bullet, upped the price and included two spare magazines. At the same time, LC9 owners with spare mags are hereby warned that this genre of gun guarantees that you’ll leave a large DNA sample in the mag well at some point in your shooting adventures.

As you’d expect for a pistol that may spend most of its life lingering in pocket lint of owners who see their dentist more often than a range safety officer, the Ruger semi’s got a looooong double-action-only trigger pull. How long? It makes War and Peace seem like a graffiti tag. The point at which the LC9’s trigger breaks is so close to the frame that there’s no point trying to get a feel for it. It’s best to simply pull the LC9’s 6.3 lbs. trigger revolver-style, in one smooth movement. There’s no stacking or sticking, so mastery is yours for the taking.

Provided you’ve got a mag in the gun (there’s a magazine disconnect safety) and switched off the frame-mounted safety. The latter design “feature” is the most compelling reason not to add a Ruger LC9 to your arsenal. If you’re left-handed, say no more. If you’re right-handed, let me put it this way: a self-defense pistol with an under-slide safety is like a condom with a tiny hole. The cost of failure is too high to take the chance.

Setting aside this issue (for the benefit of 1911 owners with frame safeties the size of small airplane wings), it’s practically impossible to re-engage the LC9’s safety with your right thumb. And that’s without an adrenalin dump turning your fingers to flippers. Ruger probably added an extra degree of difficulty to prevent an unintentional “safety on” situation knowing that the vast majority of LC9 owners will switch it off, period. Thanks for the thought, but not having a frame-mounted safety would be the ideal solution.

Of course, James Bond doesn’t have that problem (or the spare tire). Civilians are well advised to choose a self-defense gun that doesn’t require a lot of thought, encourages daily carry, enables accurate shooting and provides the most and greatest stopping power you can handle.

For me that’s a 13-round Springfield XD-M 45 with a spare magazine that weighs as much as the Ruger LC9. For you, a Ruger LC9 with a lightweight spare mini-mag or two may be a better choice. The LC9 doesn’t hit like a brick through a stain glass window, but it will penetrate windshield glass and pass the FBI’s penetration test. The LC9’s cheaper to fire than a .380 and a whole lot better than nothing.

Come to think of it, the LC9 would also make a mighty fine backup gun. If it didn’t have a frame-mounted safety. Finding the perfect carry piece. Not so easy, eh Mr. Bond?


Caliber: 9mm Luger
Capacity: 7+1
Sights: Adjustable 3-Dot
Barrel Material: Alloy Steel
Barrel Finish: Blued
Slide Material: Through-Hardened Alloy Steel
Slide Finish: Blued
Grip Frame: Black, High Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
Price: $443

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * * * *
Black goes with everything; Ruger’s house style gets even more suave and sophisticated.

Ergonomics * * * *
Slim fits, and the pinkie extension makes all the difference. Star withheld for overly aggressive checkering on the front of the grip.

Ergonomics Firing * * *
This is not the range toy you’re looking for. Still, not too punishing to practice. Highest quality ammo (e.g. Wilson Combat) helps reduce felt recoil.

Reliability * * * * *
Fired everything fed without complaint.

Customize this * * * * *
Crimson Trace makes a clever snout-mounted laser. What else do you need?

Overall Rating * * * * 1/2
Make the frame-mounted safety an option and we’re there.