Para USA PDA 9mm | Personal Defense 1911 Pistol Review

Known as the Personal Defense Assistant, the Para USA PDA 9mm handgun is the ultimate 1911!

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When it comes to personal defense, few handguns can equal the 1911. This dependable warhorse has proven itself in combat for more than a century, and today it is more popular than ever.

Two things prevent the 1911 from being a perfect choice for concealed carry, a basic requirement for personal self-defense. First, standard .45ACP 1911s are too bulky for easy concealment, and too heavy for comfortable all-day carrying. Second, while I know the 1911 was designed to be safely carried cocked and locked, I’ve never fully trusted any mechanical safety. Having a loaded and cocked pistol pointing at my nether regions makes me nervous. I’ll carry one in an exposed holster on my belt, but not stuffed inside my pants.

para2.gifGun Details
Para USA addressed these concerns with its new PDA (Personal Defense Assistant) pistol. This 9mm handgun is considerably more compact than its .45ACP counterparts. Measured from the rear of the snubbed-off beavertail to the muzzle, the gun is just 6.25 inches long. From the top of the rear sight to the base of the magazine, the gun stands an even 5 inches tall. Not counting the ambidextrous safety, the slide, which is the only part of the gun you tuck under your belt, is a slim 0.92 of an inch wide. The grip is just 5 inches in circumference, allowing even smallish hands a firm and steady grasp.

The new compact pistol gets high marks in aesthetics. The wooden grip panels exhibit a ladder-style texturing that provide a no-slip grip while adding to the gun’s distinctive appearance. The initials “PDA” also appear on the grip. A 0.75-of-an-inch-wide strip running down each side of the stainless steel slide has an attractive bright, stainless finish, while the remainder of the slide, including the deeply ridged slots your fingers grip when cycling the action, has a contrasting matte black finish. Instead of being slotted, the grip panel screws accept an Allen-head wrench.

This gun was obviously designed with concealed carry in mind. The twin, trimmed-down safety levers project just far enough for easy operation, while the spurless hammer rides flush against the rear of the slide. Trijicon sights front and rear are smoothly streamlined and feature three tritium-powered dots for fast target acquisition even in dim light. There are no projections to snag clothing or impede a smooth draw.

At 24 ounces, the 9mm PDA is considerably lighter than full-sized 1911 pistols. A fully loaded magazine increases heft to 30 ounces, a weight you’ll notice if you wear this gun awkwardly holstered. Don Hume’s JIT Slide No. 10 distributes the PDA’s weight unobtrusively on the outside of your belt. Several manufacturers offer behind-the-waistband holsters. If concealability is more important than a fast draw, the Galco SkyOps is the only holster I’m aware of that completely hides the gun under a tucked-in shirt. The gun is undetectable in the SkyOps holster, but you have to pull your shirttail out with one hand while drawing the gun with the other. It takes a second longer to put the gun in play, but it remains unobtrusively and completely out of sight.

para3.gifThe thing I like best about the PDA is its ground-breaking Para Light Double Action (LDA) trigger. A few years ago, Para USA trumped other pistol makers by figuring out how to convert the 1911’s single-action mechanism into a DAO (double-action-only) gun that can’t be carried cocked and locked. The action features an internal drawbar linking the trigger to the hammer. Cycling the slide partially cocks the action, but allows the hammer to return to its downward position, where it rests against the rear of the slide. Once you de-activate the thumb safety and squeeze the grip, pulling the trigger moves the drawbar rearward. This cams the hammer to the rear, tripping the sear then releasing the mainspring to drive the hammer forward and fire the pistol.

Because the mainspring is already cocked, there’s little resistance for your trigger finger to overcome. After a long, light pull takes up the slack, the trigger breaks crisply at 6.5 pounds. Without my trigger gauge, I’d swear even less pressure was required. The long, two-stage trigger is inherently safer than the single-action hair trigger sometimes found on customized 1911s. The half-inch take-up required before the triggers’ second stage kicks in could prevent accidental firing in a high-stress confrontation. When it’s time to shoot, the trigger offers excellent control. There’s no magazine safety so the gun can be fired without one.

I acquired a single-stack .45ACP Para LDA several years ago, and it sports the same delightful trigger action. This, and the fact I can carry this pistol ready for use without having the hammer visibly cocked, has made this my favorite 1911. The 9mm PDA is smaller, lighter and handier. It’s a mild-mannered little gun that’s a lot of fun to shoot.

While the .45ACP is a better manstopper, the 9mm is a perfectly adequate defensive round, particularly with jacketed hollowpoints. Lower recoil should make this 9mm easier to control than the .45ACP version that’s sure to come along. Also, its 8 + 1 round capacity puts two more shots on tap compared to a like-sized .45.

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  • Right Coast

    No, I’m not offended — we’re all entitled to our opinions! It makes the world go ’round.

  • William Gibson

    Mr Right Coast: Sorry if I offended you but we all have our experiences and opinions don’t we?

  • Right Coast

    Wialliam…I guess your only experience with Cadillacs are from the 1980s and ’90s. New Caddys are pretty damn sweet.

  • William Gibson

    I crown the Para PDA the “Cadillac” of handguns.
    Why? Like the Cadillac, it is an expensive, overpriced, piece of junk that is totally unreliable with anything except FMJ. This is totally unacceptable for someone whose job requires them to stake their life on a handgun. Consider an infinitely reliable Sig 229 and pocket $200.00!

  • Scott

    Calm down Robert. – I’m sure you have being that your response was written a year and a half ago from my reply today. Obviously, you are a big 1911 .45ACP fan who carries cocked and locked. Good for you! Carry well, sir. Just don’t jump all over someone with a different viewpoint or level of comfort. C’mon…you know what opinions are like. Everyone has them and every single one stinks. Moreover, most should be kept to oneself – even the one I write at this very moment…..

  • Robert Marshall

    I am appalled! How can you allow a writer to get away with some of the comments within this article. I was looking forward to reading about this pistol until I got to the 2nd paragraph.

    The author states, “Two things prevent the 1911 from being a perfect choice for concealed carry, a basic requirement for personal self-defense. First, standard .45ACP 1911s are too bulky for easy concealment, and too heavy for comfortable all-day carrying. Second, while I know the 1911 was designed to be safely carried cocked and locked, I’ve never fully trusted any mechanical safety. Having a loaded and cocked pistol pointing at my nether regions makes me nervous. I’ll carry one in an exposed holster on my belt, but not stuffed inside my pants.”

    I have carried a full sized 1911 pistol concealed for over a decade. I find that “bulky” does not describe the pistol as the author mentions. The 1911 is very flat compared to today’s polymer wonder guns. It does not print under clothing and Galco’s IWB Summer Comfort or Royal Guard assist in concealing the full length barrel while maintaining a comfortable carry all day long. Furthermore, there are several 1911 manufacturers that produce a lighter alloy framed gun if the author finds the feel of steel “too heavy.”

    The second part of the paragraph gets more irritating than the first. The author basically feeds fuel to the anti-gunners fire about guns (especially the 1911) being unsafe because of the cocked and locked carry mode. It apparently makes him “nervous” to carry the gun the way it was intended to be carried.

    Also, in attempting to illustrate how wonderful the LDA trigger is on the Para, the author goes on to say that “The long, two-stage trigger is inherently safer than the single-action hair trigger sometimes found on customized 1911s.” This is another slap at our 1911 being unsafe. And using the term “hair trigger” is downright disgraceful.

    Clair may own and carry several kinds of guns but this irresponsibility is unforgiveable in today’s anti-gun environment. 1911 pistols are not unsafe. Articles like this are unsafe. It is too bad Jeff Cooper is not still alive so we can get a true “Retrospective” of this downright disappointing article by Clair Rees.