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Okay, Boomer: Is the Beretta 92 Still Relevant?



Double action/single action all-metal pistols are no longer in vogue. Once the Beretta M9 pistol lost the U.S. military contract to a polymer single-action striker-fired pistol, the Tackleberry types moved on to the next high-speed, low-drag gear. I wonder if this is how the hardcore 1911 fanatics felt back in the 1980’s when they were sent out to pasture and replaced with modern hardware fresh from Italy.

The Beretta 92 was first introduced in 1975, based on earlier Beretta designs like the M1923 and M1951 pistols. Ten years later it won a U.S. military contract, becoming the standard-issue sidearm for the United States Armed Forces as the M9 pistol. The Beretta 92 is known for its reliability, accuracy, and durability … but how does it hold up today?

When we talk about the Beretta 92 as a historical firearm, you should understand that the history in question spans just about 500 years. No joke; Beretta is the oldest gun manufacturer in the world, dating back to 1526. Initially known for producing blackpowder barrels, Beretta expanded its offerings over the centuries and reached to every corner of the world right along with Western expansion.

Now let’s go back to the future (sort of) to the 1970’s, when revolvers were king. Semi-auto pistols had a reputation for unreliability and pickiness about ammo. Revolvers were seen as (if you’ll forgive the expression) bulletproof—that is, until criminals started outgunning law enforcement. The good guys suddenly needed more firepower than even a 1911 could provide.

If you really look at a Beretta 92 style pistol, you can see the Italian influence. The 92 has sexy lines and curves for days, stuff that would not be allowed in today’s politically correct world. But underneath those aesthetics lie the secrets to the pistol’s success. The rock-solid reliability was due to the fact that the 92 series is direct feed, meaning that instead of the barrel tilting down and using a feed ramp for the bullet to come up to the chamber, the 92’s barrel essentially does not move. Instead, the open top slide allows the bullet to be damn near in line with the chamber. The second thing it had going for it was a double-stack magazine—15 rounds plus one in the chamber was seen as quite the arsenal. All modern fighting pistols that we have access to today all hearken back to the original “wonder-nine” (high capacity 9mm pistols) pistols like the Beretta 92.

In the 1980’s the U.S. Military decided to retire its 1911 pistols. The stated reason was that the issued models were too worn out to repair, but it probably actually had more to do with getting in line with NATO. All other NATO member countries had gone to 9mm. In 1985 Beretta won the competition, narrowly beating Sig Sauer’s p226 pistol. During these trials the design was tested to the extreme with endurance of over 35,000 rounds before parts breakage.

The Beretta 92 was equally popular outside the armed forces, especially in law enforcement. By 1986 the LAPD had approved the Beretta 92 for duty use of its officers—and it was so desirable that almost half of LAPD’s officers made the switch on their own, using their own money, for the first two years. It was not until 1989 when the Los Angeles Police commissioners offered the Beretta 92 as issued gear.

This leads right into the Beretta 92 in pop culture, and one of the few times 1980s Hollywood got guns right. That pop classic, Lethal Weapon, had two main characters: Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), the family man ready to retire; and the young hotshot Detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). The old hand uses a department-issue .357 Mag. Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver he calls a “Four-inch Smith.” The young renegade touts and totes his “Nine millimeter Beretta, takes 15 in the mag, one up the pipe, wide ejection port, no feed jams.”

In real life the “Four-inch Smith” would have been the “bureaucratically correct” choice for Murtaugh, whereas Riggs’ choice put him on the bleeding edge of technology and firepower. Riggs puts that extra firepower capacity to the test multiple times throughout the movie, unloading for what seemed forever into bad guys. The cherry on top for Beretta’s reputation had to be the “Have a nice day scene,” in which Riggs totally outclasses Murtaugh at the range by shooting a smiley face on the target at 25 yards.

Then there was the fan-favorite 1988 hit Die Hard. From the first scene, John McClane’s Beretta basically never leaves his side … well except when he tapes it to his back to save the day. Yippee-ki-yay! Remember John McClane running out of ammo under a conference table, having to tactically reload with ease under fire? Interestingly, both movies used the same prop pistols, and one of them is on display at the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. Given how much screen time it’s had in both movies, I’m shocked it didn’t show up in the end credits as a character.

The Beretta 92 spent a long time in the sun, but how does it hold up today? In my Unpewfessional opinion, the 92 is a fine pistol for certain people, but for others it is terrible.

The size of the Beretta 92 means that it is comfortable to shoot and soft recoiling if you have normal to large hands. Not everyone has the same stature, and the large grip can be a detriment for smaller handed shooters. For example, the LAPD found that many female recruits had a harder time qualifying with the Beretta.

The slide-mounted safety was another area of contention. Even for an experienced shooter like myself, the slide mounted safety is too high for my thumb to disengage naturally. You can train around this until it becomes second nature, but you need to adjust your grip during the draw. (Interestingly I can work the frame-mounted safety versions with no problems, but these were never released in any volume.)

In fairness, the safety can also be a godsend. There have been multiple instances where a police officer had their Beretta 92 removed from them. On more than one occasion the offender pointed the officer’s weapon at them point blank and pulled the trigger without realizing that the sort of unnaturally mounted safety was still engaged, buying the officer enough time to get the upper hand.

Double Action/Single Action … what can I say, but you either love it or hate it. There are 92 series pistols that are single action only, but 99.9% of them are DA/SA. This means that the trigger is a long, heavy trigger pull like a revolver for the first shot. Then after the pistol fires and the slide cycles, the trigger pull is shorter and lighter. I have shot many 92 series pistols and quite a few of them can have 10-pound heavy DA trigger pulls that become much lighter and easier in SA mode. With a revolver when you train with the same heavy trigger you can learn how to use it. With a DA/SA gun normally you get one heavy trigger pull, just enough to be annoying, never enough repetition to master it.

These three drawbacks are what ultimately led the military, then law enforcement, to replace the Beretta 92. Now 100 percent you can train to overcome all of these deficiencies. But especially for military and law enforcement, it is all about the numbers and how quickly you can get recruits up to minimum spec. There is just no to time, especially with the newer polymer striker fired pistols. The same recruits that struggle with a DA/SA pistol can meet the minimum proficiency in half the time or faster with a striker-fired pistol.

Is the Beretta 92 series still relevant today? You betcha, and not just to collectors. New models have addressed issues with trigger pulls, and grip circumference. Plus newer pistols match current teachings and include features like Picatinny rails for weaponlights and even optics mounting options. Langdon Tactical has a great shop that specializes in the Beretta platform, and they do some amazing things with the trigger. A good shooting Beretta 92 is like a finely tuned machine—think of it as the shooting version of driving a sports car. With half a millennium behind it, I’m pretty sure that Beretta’s next-generation pistol will take its place in history, too.

James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ed.

    March 11, 2024 at 10:11 am

    Truth be told, although the 92 has a few CQC drawbacks for everyday carry, it remains one of the most accurate handguns out of the box. It’s a sweet shooter. Langdon Tactical has raised the bar with sensible mods for fighting. And please, No red dots on CQC fighting guns.

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