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Top Guns: 5 Best Semiautomatic Pistols on the Planet

Sig Sauer M17 or Sig Sauer P320
Sig Sauer M17. Image Credit - Creative Commons.

We asked a firearms expert with over thirty years of experience to pick the top five semiautomatic pistols. Yes, here we go again with another Top 5 gun list. Having previously done one on the Top 5 9mm Pistols, 5 Best Sig Sauer Guns, 5 Best CCW Guns, and plenty more.

Top Five Semiautomatic Pistols on the Planet

Now it’s time to get to one of the most popular gun debates out there. We’re going to talk about what I consider to be the five best Semiautomatic Pistols regardless of size, brand, or specific caliber.

M1911/M1911-A1 .45 ACP

Okay, y’all know this one had to make the list. Besides belonging on this Top 5 List, it’s also one of the three most enduring inventions of the legendary gunmaker John Moses Browning. After passing a 6,000 round torture test, it became the first semiautomatic pistol to be adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces as well as the most powerful sidearm to ever become standard issue to a nation’s military.

Colt M1911

Colt M1911 mockup. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

It served faithfully in that role for nearly 75 years, and even though the M1911 was officially replaced in that role by the next gun on the list, it remains wildly popular with gun enthusiasts to this day, more than 100 years since its invention. And it’s one of my sentimental favorites as well; my very first firearms purchase was a Springfield Armory M1911-A1, and I’m quite fond of both my Springfield Mil-Spec and my genuine WWI-vintage Colt.

Beretta 92FS/M9 9mm

As previously indicated, this was the gun that had the daunting task that of succeeding the M1911 as the official sidearm of the U.S. military, and in 1984 the Beretta 92F/M9 did precisely that, in turn fulfilling the role for 33 years — saw combat in Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan along the way — before giving way to the SIG M17. This pistol gained further credibility after being adopted by LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department as well as numerous other domestic law enforcement agencies. In retrospect, that’s not surprising in light of the fact that Beretta is the world’s oldest industrial firm of any kind, dating back to 1526, so you gotta figure they know what they’re doing.

Beretta 92FS

Beretta 92FS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What’s more, two renowned firearms industry experts who are both known as hardcore M1911 aficionados, Ken Hackathorn and gunsmith Bill Wilson, have gone on record lavishing praise on the Beretta, with the former deeming it “the most reliable handgun I ever used” and the latter stating that “I shoot it just as well as the 1911.”

From a personal standpoint, as I’ve written several times before, the Beretta 92 was the very first pistol I fell in love with – strictly platonically speaking of course – back at the tender age of 14.

Browning Hi-Power P-35 9mm 

 Another one of John Browning’s top three most enduring inventions (the third being the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine gun). Though alas, Mr. Browning passed away in 1926 before this particular project was perfected, so the proverbial torch was passed on to Belgian gun designer Monsieur Dieudonné Saive, who saw the pistol through to completion in 1935, hence the P-35 designation. With its 13 + 1 standard ammo capacity, the BHP was the first of the “Wondernines,” i.e. high-capacity double-stack 9mm autoloaders; indeed, the “Hi-Power” designation refers to the ammunition capacity and not the ballistic power of the caliber in which the pistol was chambered.

Browning Hi-Power

Browning Hi-Power. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Browning Hi-Power

Browning Hi-Power. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Browning Hi-Power

Browning Hi-Power. Image: Creative Commons.

The “Grande Puissance” spent several decades as the most widely used military, police, and counterterrorist pistol in the world, with its list of users including the elite British Special Air Service (SAS) and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). That’s credentials!

I purchased my own 1967 vintage BHP as a birthday present to myself back in 2007. With roughly 4,000 rounds through it, it’s been a fine shooter. 

Glock 17 9mm 

Here we go again. The most reliable and durable handgun ever made: a service life in excess of 250,000 rounds; going 10,000 jam-free rounds without a cleaning; Tenifer finish that’s more rust-resistant than stainless steel; continuing to function after being dropped out of a helicopter at an altitude of 400 feet; working after being frozen in a solid block of ice, etc. The pistol that, upon its debut in 1982, established the credibility of polymer-framed and striker-fired pistols and paved the way for their eventual dominance of the U.S. private citizen and law enforcement market.

Glock 17 with ammo.

Glock 17 with ammo. Image: Creative Commons.

Glock 17

Glock 17 (Generation 1). Image: Creative Commons.

My own Glock 17 has given me superb performance over the course of 19 years and 20,000 rounds. ‘Nuff said.

Ruger Standard .22 LR 

Hey, I had to include at least one rimfire pistol on the list for the sake of “equal time,” right?

The Ruger Standard is to .22 Long Rifle (LR) rimfire semiauto pistols what the M1911 and Browning Hi-Power 9mm are to centerfire semiautomatic combat handguns, i.e. the gold standard against which all competing makes & models must be judged. Back in 1949, this pistol launched the careers of the late great Bill Ruger (1916-2002) and Alex Sturm (1923-1951) and their eponymous Sturm, Ruger & Co, which is now one of the giants of the American firearms industry.

Like the 1911 and BHP, M1911 and the BHP, the Ruger .22 autopistol has proven itself highly adaptable through the decades, spawning many variants and lending itself to a myriad of customizations.

And this gun hasn’t served as a mere plinker and paper-puncher either: suppressed (“silenced”) editions of the pistol were actually used by U.S. Army Special Forces AKA “Green Berets” for stealthy kills against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sentries during the Vietnam War.

Shockingly, this is the only pistol on the list which I don’t own! That said, I recently did a live-fire range review of the current and most refined variant, the Ruger Mk IV, and found it to be a very pleasant experience.

Hit Or Miss?

Okay, agree or disagree? For any fans of SIG Sauer pistols, Smith & Wesson auto pistols, the CZ-75 (that one just barely missed the cut, to be honest), Heckler & Koch (HK), Walther, etc. go ahead and unleash your rage at us in the Comments section.

Bonus: Glock Gun Photo Essay

Glock G29

Glock G29. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 44

Glock 44. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 26

Glock 26. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 42

Glock 42. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 19

Glock 19. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 19X

Glock 19X. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock 43X Black

Glock 43X Black. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock G27

Glock G27. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Glock22 or Glock G22

Glock G22. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Expert Author Biography: Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Tomb

    December 5, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    Consider heizer defense pko45.

  2. Kingofthenet

    December 5, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    For shear takedown capability? FN Five-Seven

  3. jeff

    December 5, 2022 at 7:10 pm

    Gotta give him some credit on the 1911 photo, he calls it a mockup. I would drop the 92FS for S&W military and police though.

  4. phil stacy

    December 5, 2022 at 8:49 pm

    There is pandemic of fake experts.

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