Law enforcement sidearms are quite simply behavior modification tools. If there were reliable ways to dissuade evildoers in a timely fashion without causing lasting harm that would obviously be preferable to the use of lethal force. However, the prospect of death can indeed be motivational to your more insightful miscreants. Technology, lamentably, cannot offer anything better at present.
A couple of recent events have conspired to flood the market with outstanding law enforcement sidearms.
Advances in bullet design now offer adequate stopping power in a high-capacity 9mm platform, or so we are told. Additionally, 12 different handgun manufacturers pulled out all the stops for the recent U.S. military Modular Handgun System competition. As a result, there are some truly superlative handgun designs available to law enforcement agencies these days, frequently at very reasonable prices.
We limited our study to polymer-framed 9mm handguns with striker-fired triggers. While there is a wide array of frame and trigger options on the market today, polymer-framed striker-fired handguns represent the current state of the art for LE applications. All of these guns offer unquestionable reliability and manufacturing excellence. They all also include a railed dustcover for accessories. The discriminators between them rest firmly in the details.
Beretta is one of the oldest commercial manufacturing entities in the world. These guys were building guns back when North America was an unexplored prairie. With several decades’ worth of experience under its belt producing a successful single action/double action aluminum-framed combat handgun for the U.S. military, Beretta has now branched out to the polymer-framed, striker-fired arena.
Beretta started with a clean piece of paper with the APX and borrowed literally nothing from their previous pistol designs. The APX is built around a serialized trigger box, not conceptually unlike that of the Sig Sauer P320. While the potential exists for this common frame to be adapted to various sized guns, these options are not yet available for commercial sale.
The most striking aesthetic feature of the APX is its deep full-length cocking serrations. These large grooves run the entire length of the slide and offer better slide purchase than any other combat handgun on the market. The APX is a relative newcomer to the polymer pistol game, but Beretta undeniably knows how to make quality handguns. The striker on the APX must be disengaged for disassembly, but there is a recessed striker-drop button that will perform this chore safely without pulling the trigger.
Not every local law enforcement agency has deep pockets. For those departments where money is tight, the Canik-55 TP9, imported by Century International Arms, is arguably the best value in a combat pistol in America. The TP9 has evolved substantially over the past few years into a proven and reliable practical handgun.
The earliest TP9 variants replicated the Walther P99 design. Recent TP9SF and TP9SF Elite pistols sport a more conventional Glock-style striker-fired trigger with a built-in blade safety. All TP9 pistols come with a spare magazine, a decent polymer concealment holster, and a cleaning kit. TP9SF guns are markedly less expensive than their name-brand counterparts.
I own five of these guns and have shot them a lot, finding them to be every bit as reliable as more mainstream weapons. The latest iteration of Canik’s striker-fired trigger also holds its own with the big-name guns in my stable. The TP9SF is a full-sized service pistol, while the TP9SF Elite is a slightly abbreviated medium-framed model. The TP9 offers high-end features like ambidextrous controls at a price that leaves a little left over for essentials like body armor and radios. The TP9 pistols need their triggers pulled for disassembly.
FN has a well-deserved reputation for manufacturing superb combat weapons, and its P35 Hi-Power introduced the world to the tilting lock short recoil system of operation that now drives every major handgun in the world. The FN 509 represents another spinoff from the MHS trials. The features FN built into its 509 for the military also make it a superb LE candidate.
The slide stop lever and magazine release button are perfectly replicated on both sides of the 509. Most modern combat handguns offer a reversible magazine catch, but the FN 509 is truly ambidextrous right out of the box. The gun sports a rough enhanced grip texture and two interchangeable backstraps.
The FN 509 has charging grooves both front and rear and a 17-round magazine capacity. its barrel has a recessed target crown, and there is a loaded chamber indicator. FN burned more than a million rounds perfecting the FN 509, and it is a mature and effective design as a result. The trigger of the FN 509 must be pressed for disassembly.
Gaston Glock precipitated a seismic shift in handgun design when he sold the Glock 17 to the Austrian Army back in 1983. The Glock 17 coincidentally packed 17 rounds in its magazine (the name is actually derived from the fact that this was Glock’s 17th patent), and was built around a revolutionary polymer frame. This component was easy to reproduce en masse and nigh indestructible.
While we corn-fed American shooters were a bit slow to embrace the plastic pistol craze early on, we are fully committed these days. Approximately 65 percent of the law enforcement officers in America pack their holsters with Glock handguns, according to the company. Glock pistols have been used by a variety of U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the FBI adopted Glocks recently as well. The gun incorporates a mere 34 parts and will even cycle underwater.
The G17 is a full-size service pistol that weighs 25 ounces empty and sports Glock’s consistent 5.5-pound “Safe Action” trigger. The primary manual safety consists of a thin blade built into the trigger face. The trigger of the Glock 17 must be pulled for disassembly.
The VP9 Volkspistole is HK’s entry into the striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol market. Like everything HK does, the gun is polished just a little bit brighter than everybody else’s. HK guns are typically somewhat more expensive, but it is not by random chance that the arms rooms of most of the world’s premiere counter-terrorist teams are filled with Heckler & Koch products.
The VP9 offers the most customizable grip panels on the market today. Each gun comes with three different backstraps and six different side panels. If you cannot find some combination that fits your hands, well, you are quite likely not human. The gun’s primary manual safety is built into the trigger, and the back of the slide incorporates the most delightful little ears that aid in charging the gun. HK calls these patented appendages “charging supports,” and they work like a champ without interfering in holstering. The VP9 sports an ambidextrous paddle-style magazine release, as well as a bilateral slide release.
VP9 barrels are polygonally rifled, and these barrels have been shown to remain serviceable and accurate with total round counts in excess of 90,000. The VP9 striker-fired trigger is simply divine. The VP9 is available in both full-size and SK (Sub-Compact) versions. You need not pull the VP9 trigger for disassembly.
Sig’s cred skyrocketed earlier this year when a variation of their P320 9mm handgun triumphed in the new U.S. Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition. This represents only the third time in American history that a pistol has won a competitive contract for a general-issue military handgun. Everything else being equal, this fact has recently made the P320 the fair-haired wonder among LE handguns.
The P320 is a genuinely modular design. The stainless steel trigger assembly is the serialized component, so it is easy to swap between full-size, carry, compact, and sub-compact grip assemblies. The same beating heart allows the user to readily change barrel lengths as well.
The Sig P320 allows an LE agency to use a common chassis for service, undercover, and backup use. The striker-fired trigger on the P320 remains the same across all configurations. This simple fact streamlines training and maintenance while ensuring familiarity with the system regardless of its configuration. The Sig P320 is also unique in that it offers multiple caliber options on a common frame. The trigger on the Sig Sauer P320 need not be pressed for disassembly.
The Smith & Wesson “Military and Police” line of LE handguns goes back generations. The current M&P 2.0 represents the classic M&P service handgun updated and upgraded for the Modular Combat Handgun trials. The M&P line also includes the compact Shield, one of the most popular concealed carry handguns in the nation.
The M&P 2.0 offers an 18-degree grip-to-frame angle that nicely approximates that of the familiar 1911 pistol on which many to most American shooters cut their teeth. The gun comes with four different palm swell inserts for any particular shooter anatomy. The grips offer an aggressive stippled texture that helps maintain control when sweaty or terrified. The new 2.0 striker-fired trigger is designed to maximize crispness while offering a light pull with an audible and tactile reset.
Smith and Wesson has been building combat handguns for the better part of two centuries. Its weapons are well reasoned and superbly executed. Particularly in the new 2.0 guise, the M&P is a reliably solid performer. You need not press the trigger to disassemble the S&W M&P 2.0.