“Performance on a budget” describes the subject of many of TTAG’s most popular gun reviews. I’ve had some cheapies through my hands thinking there are probably quite a few gems out there that truly outperform their price brackets, and while most have been fun to shoot, they’ve basically all had one or more drawbacks (or outright fatal flaws). They’re often fine as a beater “truck gun” or for plinking, etc., but really not up to snuff in the role as the only pistol one owns or for use as a competition or self-defense gun. Canik’s TP9SA wants to be the exception to the rule; the inexpensive pistol that can hold its own with the big boys across the board. I put a lot of rounds through this one, only to find that . . .
Yeah, it just might be that exception. Or at least one of them. An MSRP of ~$399 and sale prices as low as $299 certainly strike the budget chord. Sure, the TP9SA has a quirk that seems to have caused sufficient mental freak-outs among a few of the big names in YouTube gun reviews, but in my opinion it isn’t more than that — a quirk. Declaring it a total deal breaker is a bit hyperbolic, but, as they say, I’ll report — it’s in the “Technical” section below — and you can decide.
In The Box
Right off the bat Canik tries to hit you with value by packing the plastic pistol case chock full of accessories. Organized in form-fitting foam, you’ll find the TP9SA inside a SERPA-style retention holster with two different belt attachment backing options nestled in the lid above. A bore cleaning brush and a slotted rod for cleaning patches are also found in the lid. Down there with the pistol is a GLOCK-like magazine loading tool, a larger backstrap replacement, a chamber flag, and a magazine. A second magazine is inserted in the pistol. Add the usual owner’s manual, warranty card, and a gun lock and you’re looking at a heck of a lot of kit.
To my surprise and satisfaction, the two 18-round magazines are made by Mec-Gar. This is good news, as Mec-Gar manufactures excellent mags. In fact, they make some, most, or all of the OEM ones for SIG, CZ, Beretta, Ruger, and many other top-tier companies’ pistols. Cheap magazines have proven to be the singular cause of unreliable function in countless firearms, but the TP9 is on solid footing.
On the flip side, the included holster is a really cheap toy that’s just about as bad as you’d expect of something tossed in for free. Low quality plastic with fairly poor finishing (rough edges, etc), and a knock-off SERPA-style-but-worse index finger retention release button that almost forces one’s index finger to slap into the trigger guard on the draw stroke. With the gun’s fairly light, short trigger pull this is definitely less than ideal.
For the purposes of the review, I did like having a holster for it. This thing is fine for plinking and okay to use as long as you’re very careful about that locking mechanism, and the belt attachment options that are adjustable for cant are a nice touch. If I wanted to actually use the included holster for range time or competition, I’d disable the lock, which could be done very easily through a handful of different methods. Most likely, though, I’d scrap it for nearly anything else on the market.
Canik’s TP9SA is nearly identical to its TP9 that has been out for years, but the TP9 is actually a DA/SA, striker-fired gun. This format is pretty darn rare, with the Walther P99 likely being the most notable pistol using that action. In fact, the TP9 is considered a P99 clone. The TP9SA, as you may have guessed from the model designation, is a true single action firearm. The only function that pulling the trigger serves is to release the striker. It doesn’t cock it or even partially cock it, which is why the trigger pull can be so short and crisp.
Due to the fact that the TP9SA is effectively a variant of the TP9, it retains the TP9’s decocker button. This, then, is that “quirk” that has popped to the top of the list for people like The Yankee Marshall. Because it has proven to be the subject of some controversy, I’m going to dwell on it longer than I otherwise would.
On a TP9 used for self defense purposes, the decocker makes plenty of sense. Chamber a round, decock the pistol so the first shot requires a longer, heavier trigger pull, then holster it or put it in that bedside safe.
The decocker on the TP9 can also be used for disassembly in lieu of pulling the trigger, which is the only way to decock the striker on the majority of striker-fired guns a la GLOCK. This, then, is the only valid function of the big decocker button — seen on top of the slide in front of the rear sight in the photo above — on the TP9SA, as depressing it doesn’t leave you with a longer, heavier trigger pull but, rather, a completely dead trigger that can only be made ready again by racking the slide. Actually, just to be specific, retracting the slide about a centimeter (basically a press check) will reset the striker.
The owner’s manual mentions that the decocker renders the trigger dead, and it states that the correct and safe way to disassemble the pistol is through the use of the decocker, not via pulling the trigger. My EDC is a Beretta Nano, and it offers the same functionality through a button on the side of the frame:
Before we jump on the “Who needs that crap?!” bandwagon, I think it’s important to recognize a few things. Yes, we have all accepted violating the #1 safety rule in order to field strip our GLOCKs and similar pistols, and there’s absolutely nothing difficult about ensuring that the gun is clear beforehand. But…and it’s a Kardashian-sized but(t)…negligent discharges do happen as a direct result of requiring a trigger pull for disassembly.
Sootch00 did it. A friend of mine did it in the middle of a defensive pistol course. Lawsuits have been won against firearm manufacturers for less. It’s fair to say that requiring a trigger pull in order to field strip a gun for regular maintenance is less than ideal. At a minimum, offering a safe, alternative method of disassembly reduces the manufacturer’s civil liability.
The argument is that the TP9SA’s decocker is a deal breaker because it renders the pistol useless unless the slide is racked. Certainly we shouldn’t carry a useless gun, so hey, no argument from me there. However, I don’t see that decocker as some sort of overwhelmingly tempting red button with a gravitational pull such that one’s willpower simply cannot prevent one from depressing it when one shouldn’t.
Despite some other reviewers’ opinions to the contrary, I think “don’t use it except for field stripping” is a perfectly valid assertion. After all, we accept the existence of all sorts of other controls that should not be depressed or otherwise activated during either carry or firing, such as the magazine release, takedown lever, safety, trigger, slide lock, etc. Don’t push the brake pedal when you want to go. Don’t push the gas pedal when you want to stop. Don’t decock the gun when you need it to fire a chambered round.
Yeah, it could happen accidently. It takes between 7 and 10 lbs of pressure to decock the TP9SA depending on where on the button you’re pressing (10 on the pads on either side, 7 right in the center). I understand the desire to limit ol’ Murphy, but, again, every pistol has buttons and levers that will break its function should they be manipulated at the wrong time. I’m left unconcerned and just not buying all of the reasons why this decocker theoretically sucks.
Except — and I promise this is the end of the decocker discussion! — for the cheap or lazy aspect. If you design a gun from the ground up with a decocker solely for the purpose of trigger-pull-free takedown, it’s going to look like the decocker on the Nano. If you modify an existing DA/SA gun into SAO and you want to use the same castings for the slide instead of going through the large expense of manufacturing an entirely different slide, you do what Canik did with the TP9SA and just keep it all the same as the TP9. The giant, easily-accessible decocker is inane and unnecessary in this case. But it doesn’t relegate the gun to the trash bin.
Oh! — promise already broken — let’s also not act like every firearm is purchased, intended, and used for self defense. Plenty of us feel like manual safeties have no place on a carry gun, so if this decocker falls into the same category for some folks and therefore puts the TP9SA entirely out of contention for defensive use, then that’s a valid decision. But as the TP9SA can be a budget choice for target shooting, plinking, competition, and any other non-life-and-death use as well, we might do well to avoid tunnel vision.
As seen on quite a few striker-fired pistols, the TP9SA informs the shooter of cocked/not-cocked status via a witness hole in the slide plate. The back of the striker sports a red dot and protrudes from the plate when cocked.
Sights are steel and of a standard 3-dot format. The rear sight is easily adjustable for windage by loosening two set screws, allowing it to slide relatively easily in its dovetail. The front sight is supposed to be removable with via a torx screw, and two replacement sights of varying heights are included with the TP9SA along with a torx wrench, but my front sight is pinned in place. A bit awkward as well as a bit unfortunate, because this pistol prints high for me.
The frame is improved over the TP9’s with a larger trigger guard and better texture and shape. Texturing on the grip frame is pretty decent. The ergos are good as well, with a backstrap shape that fits the hand comfortably and a grip angle that’s fairly natural. A small backstrap comes installed on the TP9SA, with a larger one included in the box. Pushing out a roll pin at the base of the backstrap allows it to click downwards and off the frame. The “window” around the roll pin allows it to be used as an attachment point for a lanyard clip.
An accessory rail adorns the front dust cover, but it can’t be referred to as a MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail as the grooves are awkwardly shallow. In fact, when I tried to mount a LaserMax UNI-MAX for one of the accuracy testing groups, it wouldn’t fit. The cross bolt on many Picatinny-compatible accessories is going to be too tall for this rail. Measuring with a caliper, the grooves are 0.0725″ deep, while the MIL-STD for a Picatinny rail is 0.118″.
Field stripping is easy. Just decock the striker by pulling the trigger (anyone still reading?), pull down on the takedown levers, and slide the slide off the front of the frame. Recoil spring and barrel come out as usual.
The TP9SA’s money maker is its trigger pull. It’s a fairly close runner-up to the HK VP9 and the Walther PPQ for trigger pull and reset quality. Short, crisp, and positive in both directions. Just a millimeter or so of creep followed by a very clean break. Puts a GLOCK trigger to shame. Pull weight is consistent at about 4.5 lbs.
The trigger has a GLOCK-like safety blade on it, which I’d say is really its only fault. In most cases they just don’t feel good on the trigger finger. This one’s far from the worst I’ve come across, but it isn’t the best, either.
As mentioned, this TP9SA prints a bit high for me — about three inches. More of a target-style sight alignment than a combat-style one. “Pumpkin-on-a-post” rather than point of impact on top of or behind the front dot. That’s a matter of training and becoming used to a given firearm (and can be adjusted with sight replacement or modification), but mechanical accuracy is harder to fix.
Thankfully, the Canik gets a passing grade. Not exemplary by any means, but more than sufficient for pistol sorts of activities. The following targets were shot from a sandbag rest at 25 feet, and I aligned the sights with the bottom-most ring sitting on top of the front sight post in order to hit near the bull:
On The Range
On the range is where the TP9SA outperforms its price category. It feels good in the hand, points fairly naturally, and is quick and easy to shoot. There’s a bit more muzzle flip for me than with a GLOCK, but it’s still soft-shooting and extremely controllable. The reach to the trigger is just right and that clean, crisp break with a positive reset allows it to be run rapidly and accurately.
I took the Canik out of the box at the indoor range, ran two mags through it to see where it was printing and to get a feel for it, then I did the accuracy testing above. After that, straight into an IPSC-style stage:
With fewer than 60 total rounds through the gun — half of which were slow-fired from a sandbag — it served me well right out of the gate. I haven’t had time to do these weekday “fun shoots” at the range here for over a year, so I was definitely rusty. It may feel just a bit nose-heavy in its balance but, nevertheless, that’s a TP9SA in 3rd place for Minor Limited:
Reliability has been unfaltering. I’m borrowing this gun and it came into my hands used and dirty. Naturally, it’s not my gun so I left it used and dirty and proceeded to make it used-er and dirtier.
The desert tan Cerakote — it honestly looks more like normal paint to me rather than actual Cerakote, but Century Arms, the U.S. Importer, does state that it’s Cerakote — has worn through in some places. But this gun has a lot of rounds through it. How many, I’m not actually sure, but the wear and dirtiness indicate a solid round count in addition to the few hundred rounds I’ve put through it thus far.
That beveled magwell, beat up as it is, makes for reliably rapid reloads and the large magazine release button, which can be swapped to either side of the frame, is easy to operate, dropping empty mags free. Despite my extremely high opinion of Mec-Gar, I should note that getting 18 rounds into these “18-round” magazines is effectively impossible. They hold 17.
Again, despite the lack of cleaning or lubrication the TP9SA kept chugging along, feeding, firing, and ejecting everything with consistency and authority. Not so much as a hint of a thought of a hiccup. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a reliable gun, which is in keeping with my own experience obviously as well as with all of the 3rd party reports I’ve seen or heard. Likely one of the reasons it comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The decocker button was a total non-issue while using the gun. In and out of the holster many dozens of times over the course of putting around 400 rounds downrange, and it was never in the way. I understand why it’s weird, but in practice it’s just not at risk of accidental activation or snagging on a holster or anything else of that nature.
From where I’m sitting, this is the current budget winner for a serviceable 9mm pistol. It’s quick and accurate enough to use in competition and reliable enough to use for self defense. Personally, I find triggers like the TP9SA’s to be too short and light for most self-defense use, at least on a pistol with no safety, but that’s a matter of preference. Same, then, with the large decocker for disassembly. It really doesn’t bother me at all, but clearly some folks consider it a self defense dealbreaker.
The TP9SA fits very well in the hand and it shoots softly. Mag changes are fast and easy and that light, crisp trigger makes it an excellent target, range, or even competition gun. At a fairly normal online retail price of ~$340 shipped — even if the holster and mag loader are only really worth their “freebie” price — it’s a heck of a lot of pistol for the money.
Specifications: Canik TP9SA
Capacity: 18+1 (on paper. 17+1 in actuality)
Barrel Length: 4.47″
Overall Length: 7.5″
Height: ~5.69″ (as measured, with magazine inserted)
Width: ~1.26″ (as measured)
Weight: 1.8 lbs
MSRP: $399 (less on Brownells)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * *
Combat accurate. A GLOCK will put up tighter groups for me.
Ergonomics: * * * *
Really good. Better than average for sure. Not quite at a 5-star rating like the VP9, PPQ, most CZs for me, etc.
Reliability: * * * * *
Solid. I can’t say if it’s as long-term durable as a GLOCK, but it’s definitely reliable.
Trigger: * * * *
Really good for a striker-fired gun. Well above average. The PPQ holds the 5-star spot for me, though.
Customize This: * * *
Nice to have a larger backstrap, but then customization options start to come up short. The Pic rail isn’t really a Pic rail, the front sight didn’t actually swap out like it’s supposed to (I hear Walther P99 sights fit on the TP9 series but can’t verify) and, while holster makers have responded to the TP9SA in a larger way than I would have expected, it can still be comparatively difficult to find holsters and other accessories.
Overall: * * * *
Factor in 5 stars for value and strong aesthetics in addition to the ratings above, and I think the TP9SA is a solid, 4-star pistol.