You poor non-military gun owners must be frightfully confused regarding the Beretta M9/92FS handgun. On the one hand law enforcement and many civil gun owners all but love their examples. On the other, it’s the rare vet who echoes those sentiments, as many military members seen to all but run from the M9 and anything associated with Beretta. Stories of malfunctions, accidentally engaging safeties and weak stopping power associated with 9mm FMJ NATO seem to paint a less than flattering picture. Who’s right? Ironically enough, both parties . . .
I write this as just another prior service gun owner who just happened to be in a position to learn a thing or two about the maligned M9. Back when I was active duty I acquired my CCW permit as a bachelor enlisted member. That meant I legally had to store my carry pistol at the Air Force Base MP armory. So,when I left post and returned, I had to store my cased firearm with the Air Force armory staffer with the accompanying paperwork. Imagine handing over the last gun you bought to a complete stranger and not seeing it again for days at a time. That gives you a good idea of what it was like for me to exercise my rights at the time.
As I diligently carried daily despite the legal restrictions, I got to know the armory guys pretty well. In that capacity I gleaned a few tidbits of wisdom regarding the M9.
Problem number one; the M9s are the firearm equivalent to abused biker gang groupies. Twenty years ago, those M9s probably handled and shot like a proper Beretta. Then, Airman Snuffy was issued his. After that duty rotation Sgt. Schmuckatelli drew it, and then Colonel Nolube picked it up next.
After twenty years of strangers shooting, carrying ,clearing, loading, shooting, hammering tent pegs and occasionally cleaning them, the M9s in service today are in bad shape. Once the armory guy cleared an M9 and handed it to me. It was so loose it felt like duct tape and prayer were the only things holding it together. The tolerances were so bad I could send the locked back slide into battery by merely rocking the pistol once from back to front.
By comparison, a Model 92F I bought secondhand as an ex-LE trade-in handles like a dream. Tight tolerances, smooth action and dead-on accurate. It was made in 1987 and it never malfunctioned once. Neither has the purchased-new 2013 model 92FS that I carry now, 2000 rounds later. So when you hear a prior-service vet dog the Beretta, remember that he or she was the latest user of one very abused gun.
That brings me to the stopping power issue. Without setting off another caliber war, it’s safe to say no handgun can stop someone by sheer force of the round regardless of the caliber. While 9mm FMJ may not be the deadliest caliber ever conceived, I wouldn’t stand in front of one. Many insurgent scumbags who did are busy fertilizing soil as I type this.
Why all the complaints, then? I’d say most of them stem from the DoDs criminal lack of handgun training. Any attendee of an NRA basic handgun course has more experience with handguns then the typical non-infantry or military policeman. Remember that for every frontline assaulter there are ten support troops in various job categories, of which I was one. And in those jobs, pistol training is an afterthought. At best, it’s a box to be checked off on a unit deployment form…and sometimes not even then.
I know firsthand of two members of my squadron who deployed downrange with zero handgun time on the M9, and I’m not talking about Guam, either. Pistol training was considered an inconvenience by my unit leadership and I know we weren’t the only support unit with that attitude. But may God and Curtis LeMay’s ghost have mercy on your soul if you deploy without completing your Sexual Assault Deployment Briefing. Even if we did get some trigger time, it was all of 100 rounds total.
So you have people deploying to combat zones with lackluster to non-existent handgun training, issued ammunition which requires precise shot placement to stop a threat and it’s fired out of a metal-framed duty pistol with no or little basic maintenance over the course of two decades. Oh, and let’s use contract parkerized magazines which trap contaminants, too.
And folks wonder why there are problems. That’s why I have to chuckle at the idea that issuing (INSERT FAVORITE BRAND HERE) pistols would be better then the M9. Lend your Glock 17/HK USP/SIG P226 to Cletus for two decades, don’t change the recoil springs, slap in substandard ProMags and use it in the Middle East. I’ll bet it won’t do any better at all. It’s a sad fact that no matter how tough you make a gun, there’s an airman, marine, sailor, and soldier out there who can break it.
So with that background established, don’t write off the M9 – or that 92FS in your local gun store counter – just yet, despite the negative reports you may hear from our service members. I haven’t, and as I type this, my Beretta stands loaded and ready for the defense of myself, my family, and the mini-castle we inhabit.