Mechanical systems evolve over time. The earliest German Messerschmitt Bf 109 A fighter plane first flew in 1937. That remarkable aircraft sported a Jumo 210A 600-horsepower engine driving a fixed-pitch two-bladed propeller. Seven years later the Bf 109 G-6 carried a Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 powerplant producing 1,455 hp turning a constant-speed variable-pitch paddle-geometry three-bladed prop. The G-6 was easily twice as capable as the earlier A model. The Nazis ultimately produced 33, 984 copies of the plane. Operational pressures exerted by full-bore combat on three fronts drove the Bf 109 to evolve over time.
Several years ago Century International Arms began importation of the Canik TP9 handgun. Built in Turkey at an ISO 9001-certified weapons production facility, that original TP9 represented an amalgam of proven handgun designs. Canik produces rocket launchers and sniper rifles as well as parts for the aviation industry. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Airbus all use their components. While their weapons have not exactly been staples on this side of the pond in years past, the Turks know how to make good stuff.
That original TP9 was most closely related to the Walther P99. The gun ran off of the expected short recoil tilting lock operating system pioneered by the Browning Hi-Power. This basic system of operation drives every major handgun on the planet including models by Glock, SIG Sauer, Smith and Wesson, FN, and HK. Like the P99, the TP9 sported a striker-fired single action/double action trigger and a manual slide-mounted decocker button. The TP9 trigger offered the option of a pre-loaded striker for accuracy or an unloaded state with a longer, heavier trigger pull for safety. Unlike the P99, the decocker on the TP9 was ambidextrous. The striker protruded slightly out the back of the slide to indicate its status.
The gun’s 4-inch cold hammer-forged barrel was formed from 32CrMoV12-10 steel rated for +P loads. The gun came with a pair of superb Mec-Gar 18-round magazines along with a nice polymer holster that included two mounting attachments. There were interchangeable backstraps to suit various-sized shooters. On top of all that was a proper array of cleaning equipment all shipped in a tidy lockable polymer case. That TP9 cost just over half what a comparable name-brand handgun might.
Evolution Through Natural Selection
That original TP9 was indeed a superb combat handgun at a remarkable price point. However, the gun’s lines were a bit blocky, and the side of the grip sported a cavorting dolphin. The next generation TP9 SA was a response to the vagaries of the American shooting public.
The TP9 SA added a slightly longer frame and slide along with a blade safety in the trigger face. The SA could be had in both black and tan finishes and sported a more streamlined aesthetic. The TP9 SA included more aggressive grip stippling and a shape that better suited the human hand. The SA still retained the slide-mounted decocker. While this provided a safe way to drop the striker for disassembly, the slide had to be partially drawn to recock the striker after it had been disengaged. This made for a slightly awkward manual of arms. The TP9 SA added a mechanical loaded chamber indicator atop the slide.
The subsequent TP9 SF retained the elongated slide and barrel of the SA along with everything else that was good and wholesome about the design. It did, however, delete the slide-mounted decocker. In this configuration, the mechanism fully transformed into a Glock-style striker-fired trigger. While there was the standard bevy of internal safety mechanisms, the sole external safety was a blade in the trigger face. Keep your finger off the trigger, and the gun is on safe. Put your finger inside the trigger guard, and the gun goes hot.
Speeding Things Up a Bit
The TP9 SFx is the race gun version of the TP9 series. The slide and barrel are stretched out yet a little bit farther, and the elongated slide is slotted at its nose for lighter weight and faster lockup. The front sight now includes a fiber optic insert, and the rear of the slide is cut to accept a variety of common micro red dot electronic sights.
The slide release is extended for faster, easier purchase, and the magazine release has a little extra button that can be attached to poke it out a bit as well. The magazine capacity is expanded to twenty. Also, the gun is available in a cool gunmetal grey bake on finish. There is also an extended cocking rod that can be affixed to the side of the slide for lightning fast operation. The included polymer holster is upgraded to accommodate all these advanced features.
Up until this point the slide release has been mounted solely on the left side of the frame, while the magazine button remained easily reversible. Where the earliest TP9 looked a bit blocky and awkward, the latest TP9 SFx looks like it fell off of the set of the latest Star Wars movie.
The Apex Predator
Each of the TP9 variants discussed thus far has been a full-sized combat handgun. They would all render superb service on a nightstand or in the glove box of your car. However, I have packed all four concealed and found that you have to want that pretty hard to pull it off. These guns run great on the range, but they eat into you rather badly on a long car trip or while wearing minimalist Southern attire like shorts and a t-shirt. The TP9 SF Elite-S is the answer to the concealed carry conundrum.
The TP9 SF Elite-S is chopped back to be stubbier than even the original TP9 before it had its snout elongated. Magazine capacity is pruned back to fifteen, but the grip is shrunken commensurately. The TP9 SF Elite-S retains all the evolved good stuff of its forebears to include the fiber optic front sight (with included replaceable inserts) and trigger-mounted safety. The striker-fired trigger can hold its own with name brand guns costing hundreds more. In addition, the slide release is now replicated on the right side of the gun.
There is an additional lever located on the bottom of the trigger guard that looks at first brush to be a magazine release lever in the manner of the Walther P99 or HK VP-series guns. However, the magazine release on the TP9 SF Elite-S remains the reversible pushbutton in the expected spot. This incongruous little lever is actually an inspired manual external safety.
Benefits of the Safety
Glock handguns occupy the holsters of fully 65% of American Law Enforcement officers, and they have only a trigger face blade safety that is externally accessible. However, I know of five episodes wherein sworn LE officers had accidental discharges with their GLOCK handguns. Four of which resulted in significant officer injuries. Each resulted from a training failure, but a discrete external manual safety would have prevented most of them. The manual safety on the TP9 SF Elite-S is easily engaged and easily disengaged. If you don’t want it then don’t use it. If you really don’t want it the gun is available without it. However, I like having the option of a little extra safety, particularly when I am carrying around kids. The TP9 SF Elite-S occupies the same mid-sized envelope in the handgun spectrum as does the GLOCK 19.
These guns run. I own all five of these heaters and have put countless rounds through them of all geometries without a failure. The extractors are grossly over-designed, and the grip geometry, particularly in the latest versions, is comfortable, firm, and attractive. I find that I shoot about as well with the stubby TP9 SF Elite-S as I do with the longer service pistol models. The TP9 SFx race gun is pure ballistic joy on the range.
Magazines drop free on all five weapons, and the controls run fast and well. Muzzle flip and recoil are indistinguishable from higher end weapons. The latest striker-fired triggers are easily the equals of the big name pistols. I like the overall layout, and the various color options make them look just super cool. Anything designed to ride on a Picatinny rail will run on these guns. Nowadays a manly European eagle emblem has replaced the original’s cavorting dolphin, for those who might be concerned with such stuff as this.
I have been shooting for fun and money for more than a quarter century now, and it is rare a gun really impresses me these days. The TP9-series pistols, however, are simply superb pieces of kit. The features are clearly contrived by gun guys who really know pistol shooting, and the latest TP9 SF Elite-S offers a few things like the discreet extra safety not available in other guns at any price.
Regardless of your budget, the TP9-series pistols are now competitive with the best HK, GLOCK, FN, and Ruger have to offer. Considering that they are markedly cheaper than their competition just sweetens the deal. The extended family of Canik TP9 pistols is a perfect example of the elegance of mechanical evolution in action.
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