Playin’ Favorites: 9mm

9MM Semi-Auto Pistols.

In the 1950s, when I first really became interested in handguns, it did not take me long to notice a reoccurring theme of “9mm vs. .45 ACP.” The debate never seemed to end but my innocent young mind at the time realized this was not really a debate but rather somewhat like arguing over Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Joe Louis. Even I knew a good big man will always beat a good little man. Of course, I realize this analogy dates me. There was no way a 9mm hardball round could beat a .45 hardball round, which is basically all that was available at the time. However, things have changed dramatically over the past 60 years in many ways, and especially with available ammunition. No longer are we restricted to hardball, and there are many very effective 9mm rounds available.

Nevertheless, the “debate” served one purpose — to prejudice my thoughts against the 9mm; something that took a long time to escape. Something else I noticed during the rush to condemn the 9mm as somehow being inadequate — the .38 Special in a 2″ belly gun was totally acceptable. It certainly didn’t make any sense to me.

We can argue all we want about the effect of different cartridges, however one thing I’ve learned over the past 60 years is the three most important ingredients, whether hunting or in self-defense, are bullet placement, bullet placement and bullet placement.

My first 9mm, purchased 45 years ago, was a Colt Commander, which I wasn’t smart enough to hold onto. Fast-forward to the 1980s and I came up with two 9mms I’ve managed to keep and which have become favorites. One of these was the Browning Hi-Power. How could anyone not like the Browning Hi-Power?

Two of Taffin’s long-time favored 9mms are the
Browning Hi-Power and the Ruger P85.

For ease of carrying and concealing, Taffin prefers the Ruger LC9c,
Springfield Armory EMP and Glock 19C.

Original High-Cap

Mention John Browning and handguns and universally the first thought is the .45 ACP Model 1911. However, Browning’s last design was the 9mm Hi-Power. Apparently, Browning sought to improve his 1911. Besides the obvious change from .45 to 9mm (perhaps to encourage European sales?) that allowed the first high-cap magazine, going from the 7-round .45 to 13-round 9mm, Browning also dropped the grip safety. John Browning died in 1926 and the Hi-Power, also known as the P-35 for the year it was introduced, was not totally finished by John Browning himself. By the time the Hi-Power arrived, horses had given way to horsepower. Whatever the case, it’s not hard to make the argument the original Hi-Power is still one of the best, if not the best, 9mms ever offered. Mine wears beautifully checkered stocks by my late friend Dave Wayland and it is one of those handguns to never leave the family.

About the same time I came up with my Browning Hi-Power Ruger offered their first centerfire semi-automatic pistol, the first of the “P”-series pistols, the P85. I got one of the original test guns from Ruger and soon began to hear grumblings from other writers, which I could not understand. Mine was more than adequately accurate, always worked, and fed everything flawlessly. There’s nothing sophisticated about the Ruger P85. It’s big, bulky and not all that good looking, but is still a rather perfect shooting machine. His Editorship told me the early P85s issued in his police department were fondly referred to as “John Deeres” by the rangemaster: hardy, tough and able to work in any conditions.

Shortly after my coming up with these two favored 9mms, Smith & Wesson got into semi-automatics in a big way. They had introduced the 9mm Model 39 back in the 1950s, and this later version was the stainless steel 3913. I sent mine to have it tuned; added Hogue’s exotic wood grips, and it soon spent a lot of time riding in my waist belt. It’s one of those rare handguns which when placed in the belt simply does not move. It stays in that same spot during whatever reasonable activity I perform. Even as I type this it is well within reach. It does not have a high-capacity magazine, however it carries just as easily, actually easier, than a 2″ belly gun in .38 Special and is certainly more effective.

Springfield Armory’s 1911 9mm mates up well with the El Paso Saddlery outfit.

Modern Ideas

All through the 1990s, Ruger worked on downsizing the “P” pistols. Then after the turn of the century, Ruger designers took a different track and the result was the totally new Model 345 chambered in .45 ACP. Gone was the width and girth of the “P” pistols, with the result being a very comfortable-to-carry .45. The next step for Ruger was the SR9 9mm, also very comfortable to carry, with no excess girth and a magazine capacity of 17 rounds.

However, Ruger did not stop there and the next step was the SR9c, the compact version of the SR9. Ruger basically shortened the barrel of the SR9 to 3.5″ while the grip frame itself was also shortened by at least one finger. Although it comes standard with a 10-round magazine, which fits flush with the bottom of the grip frame, the extended backup magazine holds 17 rounds. In spite of its small size, the SR9c is very easy to shoot and has worked flawlessly with everything I have put through it, making it an excellent 9mm concealment pistol.

A couple years ago found me looking through the Glock Annual, where I discovered the 15-shot Model 19C, C for compensated, 9mm. To me this looked like a perfect answer for a high-capacity, easy-to-carry 9mm with a compensator making it even easier to control in rapid fire. It came with excellent sights, with the rear sight in a dovetail and adjustable for windage. It shoots extremely well, with very little recoil, making follow-up shots, very easy — it was just about perfect.

A close companion for several decades has been the easy
to carry Smith & Wesson 3913. This one has been
worked over by Teddy Jacobson and fitted with Hogue grips.

9mm 1911

Today it’s very difficult to find a 9mm Colt in either the Commander or 1911 configuration, and when they are found they are very pricey. I have wanted a 9mm-chambered 1911 for quite some time and while I was recuperating from major surgery in the closing months of 2010 I contacted Springfield Armory and soon had what I feel is the perfect 1911 9mm. It’s their stainless steel 1911-A1 Target Model with black sights, consisting of a square notch rear sight matched up with a sloping post front sight, and the rear sight — set very low in the top of the slide — is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The grip safety is a beavertail, while the flat mainspring housing is as found on the original 1911. With the relatively light recoil of 9mm loads the checkered backstrap, combined with the checkered grips, works just fine. It’s my perfect 9mm 1911.

The Ruger LC9, left, compared
to the SR9, SR9c and LCP .380.

Tiny Guns

Today the main reason for the 9mm’s existence is being chambered in small pocket pistols. Most of these are double action with polymer frames, but the Springfield Armory EMP (Enhanced Micro Pistol) is different. With the EMP, Springfield Armory took a different approach than simply cutting down full-sized 1911s, and actually downsized the entire 1911 by making smaller parts, engineering things to work together in a smaller scale. The result is a smallish 1911, and one of the neatest, slickest, fastest-handling, easy-shooting 9mms in existence. The EMP features a 3″ stainless steel match-grade heavy bull barrel with a fully supported feed ramp. Sights are low-profile 3-dot tritium with a combat rear sight matched up with a slanted post front sight, both of which are set in dovetails. Although this is a very small pistol, the grip frame allows a full, secure grip with no fingers dangling off the bottom. Weight with an empty magazine is only 26 ounces, and this little pistol tucks easily into the waistband, or the Springfield Armory supplied plastic holster. Felt recoil is relatively mild, even with +P loads.

My smallest 9mm designed for deep-pocket use is the Ruger LC9. It’s smaller than the Ruger SR9c and much easier to handle than the .380 LCP. The recoil of the latter is quite nasty, however I find the LC9 relatively pleasant to shoot even with its more powerful loads. This very smallish semi-auto pistol has a 3″ barrel and weighs in at only 17 ounces with its steel slide and polymer/glass-filled nylon frame with integral grip panels. Sights are excellent, black with a square-notch rear mated up with a post front and are of the 3-dot configuration and quite easy to see. Although it’s larger than the LCP .380, the LC9 easily fits in to the front pocket of my jeans. Due to its lack of sharp edges it’s very easy to draw and to control.

It is no longer the 1950s, and it’s been a long time since I have seen the so-called 9mm vs. .45 ACP debate. We have so much great 9mm ammunition available today making the 9mm a perfectly viable self-defense cartridge; no one needs to feel under-gunned with one. The gun to be carried is the biggest gun we can shoot well. For many shooters that gun is the 9mm — not the .45 ACP.
By John Taffin

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