Back before I knew anything about guns, I was mugged in downtown Atlanta. I’d left work one afternoon and (long story made painfully short) I ended up driving around Atlanta with a snub-nosed revolver pressed against my head. As I’m sitting here with you, typing away, I obviously survived. You may also make the connection that my love of guns has grown directly from my belief that everyone is entitled to self defense.
Within 24 hours of being mugged, I had my concealed carry permit and a Kel-Tec. I carried the polymer 9mm for two weeks, and I hated every minute of it. I was in no way ready. After spending a week with it on the range, I made a practical decision and traded it in for a decommissioned 92FS–a gun that had seen service with a police department in North Carolina. It was beat to shit, missing a good bit of its bluing, and it was so much easier to shoot than the Kel-Tec that I actually enjoyed taking it to the range.
Why would I buy a Beretta? At that time (1997), the guns were plentiful. I think I may have paid $300 for the gun–and that was before I understood pricing and what I should have paid for it. That was one element of its appeal. The other was its prominent role in pop-culture. I knew enough about the 1911 to know that single-action was intimidating. And then there was Baz Lurhmann.
If you haven’t seen the 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, I bite my thumb at you. It is epic. Lurhmann takes all of the sword play from the original play and updates it (in imagery only) with pistols. So a dagger is a subcompact, a long sword is a rifle, etc. The guns used in the film–the ones that look like Berettas, at least–were made by Taurus. Tybalt’s Rapier 9mm is stunning.
So this is where I’m coming from. My love of the 92 is both practical and cinematic. I’ve never carried one into combat. I’ve never emptied my last AR mag and turned to the M9 to continue the fight. I do know the gun inside and out, and I respect it. But sometimes I feel like I’m all alone in my love of the old Italian pistol.
So why do all the haters hate on the Beretta?
1. The Trials to replace the 1911. We’re all aware that the Beretta replaced the 1911. Here’s the metaphor. Your best friend of 70 some-odd-years is a fine upstanding gentleman. He’s a war hero. He’s been through hell and holds his head high, and his dutiful wife is right there by his side. She’s been there through everything. She’s a good woman. And he divorces her and marries an 18 year old Italian. That never ends well.
The Army held trials for the 1911’s replacement, and they were contentious. There have long been bid-rigging allegations against Beretta. I’m not qualified to speak on that matter. I was too busy playing with Legos at the time. The rumor is that the 92 and the SIG P226 were neck and neck going into the end, and it came down to bidding. Fans of the P226 contend that Beretta had unfair access to SIG’s bid, and was able to revise their bid downward.
Fans of the 1911 were just plain bitter. The gun didn’t even come close to meeting the base line performance expectations.
2. CheckMate Magazines. Regardless of those allegations, the Army (and a lot of others, too) fielded a really fine pistol. The M9 has served well, though not without its issues. The most persistent complaint has to do with the magazines. M9 magazines, especially those made by one subcontractor, didn’t handle sand well. Followers would get jammed, and rounds would rattle around in the mags. This is a criticism that should be aimed at the magazine manufacturer, and not at the M9 itself, but this is the real world. Beretta has since made numerous changes to the magazines to prevent these problems. The new M9A3 mags may be the most exhaustively engineered mags on the market.
3. M882 Ammo. The M9 also suffers because of its ammo. I don’t know a single rational human being who would choose to field 9mm ball ammo. The slower speeds of the .45 ACP ball ammo meant the rounds dumped more energy in their targets. They were not as prone to over-penetrate. The faster, more conically shaped 9mm ball can punch through a bad guy, and he can continue to fight–at least for a time. Still–those looking to demonize the pistol blame the pistol for the performance of shitty ammo.
4. The problem with the slides. The open slide of the Beretta is also a point of contention. It lets all kinds of sand and junk into the gun, critics say. It also lets all kinds of sand and junk out of the gun, Beretta replies. I’m not opposed to the open slide. I like the way it looks, and have never had any problem with the functionality. And I’ve run some ragged 92s.
There were also structural problems with the initial batch of slides. The early contract guns had slides that were produced in Italy. Of those, 14 developed cracks in the frame. 3 separated and injured the shooters. Later tests determined that the steel used in the slides wasn’t strong enough to withstand the constant abuse of recoil. After Beretta began making the slides in Maryland, the problem stopped. Completely. Yet rumors persist that the slides crack and cause catastrophic damage.
5. That slide mounted safety. There is one concern that I’d like to address I still can’t wrap my head around. The position of the slide mounted safety was a bad idea. If you grab the slide and rack, you can inadvertently engage the safety. In a mag change, when you need to get back in the fight, or during a tap-rack-bang drill, you may end up pulling the trigger all the way back with no result. This is where I’m going to defer to the judgement of those who do serve. This could get someone killed.
Beretta has heard the concern, and changed the angle on the new M9A3. That is a step in the right direction. And those of us who aren’t issued M9s can get a 92G. The G model uses the safety lever as a decocker only. If you hit it accidentally, the hammer will fall, but the trigger will reset to double-action and will still fire. Problem solved.
I’m safe to sit here and pontificate. There’s very little consequence to my loyalty to the M9. I can carry anything I want. I own a couple of 1911s. I own a P226. I often carry a GLOCK.
I owned my original Beretta 92FS for a couple of years. And I was sometimes an idiot about safety, too. After I’d decided I wasn’t going to carry the gun, I kept it in a gun rug under the seat of my truck. Once, someone pulled a smash and grab. They took an entire bag of art supplies, and some photographs I’ve never been able to replace, but left the pistol under the seat. All night.
I eventually sold the first 92 to buy a plane ticket to go visit the woman who is now my wife. I didn’t have a gun for a long time after that. Later, a friend bought me another, almost identical 92. I kept that for years and shot the hell out of it. I eventually traded it for a revolver that I could carry concealed. I was without a 92 for a long time, until this M9A1 came in. This one isn’t the one for me, either, though–I have a stainless one in at my FFL, and that one isn’t going anywhere.