TACTICAL WEAPONS magazine prides itself on giving handgunners something they can sink their, well, hands onto when it comes down to semi-automatic CQB firepower.
Most of the 9mm and .45 ACP top shots to follow are being fielded by today’s elite military and police units around the world, or there were designed with input from world-renowned trainers.
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Without further ado, check out the best nine handguns below!
By Fred Mastison
Glock’s newest addition is a major departure from its “baby Glocks,” such as the Glock 27. The G42 is truly a compact pistol with concealment as its calling card. Chambered in .380 ACP and holding a six-round, single-stack magazine, the G42 is slender to say the least. While some met the announcement of the gun’s release with skepticism, after getting some quality range time with the G42, I immediately saw it as an answer to a long-standing problem—size. This new Glock is extremely manageable, reliable and accurate.
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While its detractors rallied around the fact that it fires a .380 round, those who look at weapons through the prism of application see more. The cliché is that the .380 is simply a 9mm set on stun. In my opinion, people are blurring the lines of what the pistol is designed for. My longtime motto has always been “better a small gun than no gun.”
The single most profound strength that the G42 brings to the table is familiarity. For all intents and purposes, Glock has made a miniature version of the most widely issued law enforcement sidearm in the world, the Glock 22. Function and manipulation of the G42 is the same as most officers’ standard pistol. More importantly, the trigger of the Glock 42 has the same feel and function as its big brother. Everyone familiar with the compact pistol market is aware that its greatest challenge has been the trigger. Heavy triggers with excessively long resets have made them questionable as an effective backup. But that’s not the case with the Glock 42. With a trigger weight of approximately 5 pounds and a standard Glock reset, it is simply one of the best on the market. It has the same feel as triggers in full-sized Glocks, which helps shooters deliver very accurate shots.
To learn more, visit “Compact Glock G42 Uses .380 Effectively as a Backup Firearm” on Tactical-Life.com.
Salient Arms 9mm
By Roger Stevenson
Salient Arms makes custom-grade weapons for operators who need absolute reliability and performance. The first product that I was able to get my hands on was the advanced prototype of Salient’s own pistol. Not completely happy with the platforms that the company works on, Salient has partnered with some firearms industry manufacturers and has designed its own pistol. The pistol is a polymer-framed platform that uses Glock internal components and Glock slides and slide components. But don’t mistake this for some crude drop-in kit. The frame is the most comfortable polymer frame that I’ve ever held, filling my hand perfectly and allowing for a low bore axis while still using ubiquitous G17 magazines. It has an ingenious backstrap system and will be available with four different-sized brass or polymer inserts to change the balance of the pistol for those who desire that level of performance and customization.
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Adrian Chavez, the co-owner of Salient, was not at liberty to discuss the polymer composition of the frame, but stated that it was even more durable than the Glock OEM material. As an added bonus to an already great-feeling package, Adrian also told me that this pistol would work in most Glock holsters. I un-holstered my everyday-carry G19 from my DeSantis Intruder, and the Salient pistol fit perfectly while disappearing into my waistband.
To learn more, visit “Salient Arms Unleashes New 9mm, AR-15 Models” on Tactical-Life.com.
Smith & Wesson M&P9
By John Fasano
This year the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) awarded the firearms contract for the new duty sidearm to Smith & Wesson’s M&P pistol series. As part of a five-year contract, the LASD will purchase S&W M&P9 pistols to replace the approximately 13,000 currently issued sidearms. Respected throughout the law enforcement community for its objective testing procedures and high standards, the LASD procured samples of the S&W M&P9 for testing and evaluation at its private range east of Los Angeles. The LASD range has a massive stone quarry wall that serves as its backstop, and targets, including paper silhouettes and even abandoned vehicles, are used for training. After wringing out the M&P9, the deputies decided the S&W semi-automatic showed superior quality and reliability. With the capability to mount a tactical light like the SureFire X300 on its Picatinny rail, and three sizes of interchangeable backstraps so the M&P pistol can accommodate individual officer hand sizes, it was a clear winner. The LASD will begin issuing the M&P9 upon completion of the department’s transitional requirements, and S&W will support the agency with armorer classes and transitional training.
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca praised the results of the decision: “It is the goal of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide our personnel with the highest-quality law enforcement equipment available…Smith & Wesson and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have provided a duty handgun with modern attributes and capabilities critical to enhancing the safety of our sworn personnel and the communities we serve.”
By the time you read this, the deputies of the LASD will be hitting the streets with the S&W M&P9 9mm pistols in their Safariland Model 6280 holsters. With a jurisdiction that includes 40-plus cities, dozens of college campuses, Universal Studios, every jail in the county and 700,000 acres of wilderness, they’ll face some of the greatest challenges in law enforcement, but with superb training and the latest in technology and weapons, they are up to the task!
Sphinx SDP Compact
By Robert Jordan
I picked up my SDP Compact from my local FFL dealer on the way to the range. It came in a customized case with two magazines, a cleaning kit, a magazine loader and two extra backstraps for resizing the grip. The rear of the grip has a rubber inlay, and it felt pretty good in my hand right out of the box. The controls were easy to use—firm, but not overly stiff.
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Currently available only in 9mm, the SDP Compact is a classic double-action/ single-action (DA/SA) pistol. It has a bobbed hammer to prevent snagging on clothing, but the top of the hammer is serrated, which allows you to thumb it back for an easier trigger pull on the first shot if you so desire. Three backstraps were provided, but I liked the medium-sized one that was already installed. No one has ever accused me of being a big guy, and I tend to like smaller pistol grips. However, the overall grip size of the SDP Compact was smaller than average. An oversized beavertail on the back prevents any slide bite for shooters with large hands.
Breaking the pistol down for a quick cleaning and lubing before shooting it was a little tricky. The slide has to be pulled back about a quarter-inch, and then the slide stop lever is pushed out from the right side to the left. I recommend using a plastic punch to get it started because it is tight. Then the slide comes off the front of the pistol. Like the CZ 75, there are long frame rails on each side that lock the slide within the frame. This is the opposite of most pistols that we see in the U.S. On the SDP, the rails run from the very front to the very back of the slide and frame. The tolerances between the slide and frame are noticeably tight, and this helps to improve accuracy. Having rails this long also means more metal in the gun, increasing the overall weight. Of course, the SDP Compact is not heavy at all; it weighs a mere 28.18 ounces unloaded. To maintain durability but decrease weight, Sphinx took a truly novel approach: The slide is steel, the top of the frame is aluminum, and the grip and triggerguard are polymer. Although you can see the seams, the finish is so good that you’d swear the gun is made from a single material until you picked it up. Sphinx minimized the size of the steel slide, and it sits up a mere 0.6 inches above the frame, not counting the sights.
Springfield Custom Shop TRP Compact
By Rob Garrett
The U.S. Marshals Service was the first agency to approve the TRP Compact for personal purchase/official use. Since that approval, the Springfield Custom Shop has been working to fill a number of orders for individual marshals and other law enforcement agents. In doing so, the little gun has taken on a life of its own. I was fortunate to obtain a sample pistol that was completed but had not been delivered to the owner. As such, I was extremely careful during the testing and evaluation.
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In a conversation with Dave Williams, who runs the Springfield Custom Shop, I asked him what the difference, other than size, was between the TRP Compact and the standard TRP. The TPR pistol is produced on the standard production line at Springfield Armory’s plant in Geneseo, Illinois. The TRP Compact is completely assembled in the Custom Shop, where it receives a lot more “TLC” than the production-line guns. The first place this care is found is in the pairing of an alloy, National Match frame and the Champion-length steel slide. The gunsmiths may go through several pairings to get an improved slide-to-frame fit. Other areas of care include the fitting, blending and checkering of the special Smith & Alexander magazine well/mainspring housing. The Custom Shop uses a one-piece Smith & Alexander mag well that is checkered and drilled for the retaining pin during assembly. The gunsmiths also perfectly blend the rear of the extractor and the rear edges of the slide to the frame. The frontstrap and mainspring housing are cleanly checkered at 20 lines per inch (lpi).
The TRP Compact uses all of the internal parts of its TRP big brother and features Springfield’s ambidextrous safety and extended beavertail grip safety. The lightweight, three-hole trigger has an adjustable overtravel stop and breaks cleanly at 4 pounds. The rear sight is a Springfield/Novak model that is equipped with tritium inserts from Trijicon.
Since this is a Custom Shop build, each pistol can be built to the customer’s specifications. My pistol was finished in flat black Armory Kote, but other finishes are available. The finished 1911 pistol has a 4-inch barrel, an overall length of 7.5 inches, a height of 5 inches and an unloaded weight of 27.5 ounces. Two 6-round, stainless steel magazines are included with the package. All in all, the TRP Compact is a no-frills, all-business pistol for the serious shooter.
To learn more, visit “Gun Review: Springfield Armory’s TRP Compact” on Tactical-Life.com.
Springfield Armory EMP
By Doug Larson
Many consider the 1911 the best pistol ever designed for self-defense, but it is most often chambered for the .45 ACP. It was adopted by the U.S. military in 1911 as a .45, but manufacturers soon chambered the gun for other calibers. Chambering the 1911 for the shorter 9mm round requires modification to the magazine and feed ramps and still leaves one with a full-size 1911. So instead of modifying a larger gun for a smaller cartridge, Springfield Armory decided to shrink the 1911 design and make it fit the 9mm round. That is no minor undertaking. What came out of this was the Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP).
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Holding nine rounds in its single-stack magazine and one in the chamber, the EMP has a higher capacity than the single-stack .45 ACP 1911. The EMP is just as slim, too, but it’s lighter and just smaller enough than its big brother to make it more comfortable to carry and easier to do so discreetly. And it is still chambered in a serious self-defense round that is finding more acceptance among people who carry a gun for a living.
Built on an aluminum frame, the EMP retains the features of the 1911 that make it so popular. It still has the single-action trigger that encourages accurate shooting compared to double-action or striker-fired guns. It also retains the thumb and grip safeties, which help to reduce accidental discharges during holstering. To take advantage of these features, the shooter engages the thumb safety and then moves his or her firing-hand thumb from its normal grip around the stocks and places it on the back of the slide. This allows the grip safety to engage. Then if the trigger catches on clothing or some other object during the holstering process, it will not move to the rear and cause the hammer to drop. Get professional training before trying this technique, though.
To learn more, visit “Springfield EMP 9mm: Duty-Ready 1911 Pistol” on Tactical-Life.com.
Walther P99 AS
By Leroy Thompson
Although generally a weapon designated “P99” would indicate that 1999 was the year in which it began production, this is not true of the P99, which began development in 1994 and was in full production by 1997. Presumably, the “99” was to indicate that it was a weapon for the dawn of the new century. As the latest service pistol design of Carl Walther GmbH, the P99 had a distinguished heritage dating back to the P.38, the standard German sidearm during World War II. Between the two pistols, Walther produced the P5, which was basically an updated P.38 designed to meet German police specifications, and the P88. The P88 retained many characteristics of the P.38 and P5 but incorporated a double-stack 15-roundmagazine. I owned a P88 and, like most owners, was very impressed with its accuracy. However, the P88 was only in production for a few years before being replaced by the P99, which is a substantially different design.
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I bought one of the first P99s that came into the U.S. However, since this was while the Clinton magazine ban was still in effect, I almost didn’t buy it because I was offended that I would only be able to obtain 10-round magazines rather than the standard 15-round magazines. I learned, however, that a small number of 15-round magazines had been imported legally just before the ban went into effect and bought two at $150 each. I planned to use the 10-rounders for practice and the 15-rounders for carry. Of course, after the ban expired, I bought a half-dozen 15-round magazines.
From the time I first unpacked my P99, I was impressed with many of its features. I found its grip quite ergonomic, especially since it came with three interchangeable backstraps—a very innovative feature at the time. I found the smallest one the most comfortable for me and installed it by pushing out a pin at the base of the grip, removing the medium-sized grip that had come installed on the pistol and replacing it with the smaller one. Another ergonomic feature that I found I liked was the ambidextrous magazine release located along the bottom of the triggerguard. I soon learned to operate it with my trigger finger, which allowed me to keep my shooting grip on the pistol.
To learn more, visit “Gun Review: Walther P99 AS 9mm Pistol” on Tactical-Life.com.
Wilson Combat CQB
By David Bahde
I recently prepared myself to attend a three-day pistol/carbine course taught by one of the most experienced instructors on the market, Ken Hackathorn, at Bill Wilson’s Circle WC Ranch in Texas. There simply is no one better at wringing out a 1911 pistol than Hackathorn, and considering Bill Wilson would also be attending, this was sure to be a great experience. Wilson Combat is back-ordered for months, so a new pistol was out of the question. But luckily Bill Wilson allowed me to use one of his 9mm CQB pistols.
The Wilson Combat CQB is one of the best-selling pistols in the company’s lineup. It is a no-nonsense combat pistol with a minimalist approach. Chambered in 9mm, this pistol is a 5-inch-barreled, full-sized, all-steel version of the CQB. The pistol features a high-cut frame with 30-lpi checkering on the frontstrap and mainspring housing. A combat mag well was added to facilitate magazine changes under pressure.
My test CQB also had a crisp and predictable 4-pound trigger and Wilson Combat’s Bullet-Proof internal parts. A single-sided safety was installed as well as a slightly oversized magazine release. The slide was simple and housed a match-grade, fully supported barrel. The match-grade barrel was held in place with a matching bushing and a standard guide rod and spring. For targeting, the pistol used a green fiber-optic front sight and a Wilson Combat’s Ultimate Speed Sight at the rear. The pistol was coated in a grayish, flat Armor-Tuff finish and given black G10 Starburst grips. I was also provided six Wilson Combat 10-round magazines.
The class was set up as an intermediate/advanced class with two days of pistol training and one day with carbines. Along with the 9mm CQB, I used my Primary Weapons Systems (PWS) MK110 with a few additions, including a Triad flash suppressor and a Wilson/Rogers Super-Stoc.
To learn more, visit “Training at Wilson Combat’s Circle WC Ranch with Ken Hackathorn” on Tactical-Life.com.
Wilson Combat Hackathorn Special
By David Bahde
Ken Hackathorn’s no-nonsense style and focus on practicality makes him a favorite among military operators, officers and serious civilian shooters. So it’s no wonder that he has partnered with Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat to put together a 1911 pistol with the features Hackathorn feels are best suited to a combat pistol.
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The Hackathorn Special is billed as having “Everything you need, and nothing you don’t,” using only the best, 100-percent Wilson Combat Bullet-Proof parts. My most recent trip to Bill Wilson’s range provided the opportunity to take a close look at this limited-production pistol. Starting with a carbon-steel slide and frame, it comes with a Concealment Bullet Proof grip safety and hammer, a flush-cut reverse crown, ball end mill cuts and a medium solid trigger. Serrations are expertly built into the top and rear of the slide as well as the high-cut frontstrap.
Each pistol carries Hackathorn’s hand signature and logo on the slide. Customers can also order the 1911 with an ambidextrous safety, front sights in several styles (fiber optic, gold bead, tritium, etc.), and a deluxe, hand-finished bluing.
The pistol provided at the ranch had a gorgeous, deep-blue finish and a gold bead front sight. Built to the high standards of Wilson Combat, the pistol was expertly hand fitted and smooth to the touch. Wilson’s Bullet-Proof mag well was nicely blended into the frame, making for a professional look. Everything about the Hackathorn Special screamed combat pistol, and it was built with some great attention to detail. It melted into my hands and provided all I could possibly need in a 1911 without some of the useless additions that come with today’s fighting pistols. Ryan Wilson indicated that this series will see limited production—maybe five or 10 pistols a month. If you are looking for a fantastic pistol specified by a masterful trainer, then get your order in quickly!