Top 5 9mm Guns as explained by a real-life gun expert: After compiling the 5 Best Self-Defense Handguns, CCW Handguns, and Glock Pistols; a writeup on 5 Best 9mm Pistols seemed like a logical next step. After all, the 9mm Parabellum (Si vis pacem, para bellum, goeth the Latin proverb, i.e. “If you wish for peace, prepare for war”) cartridge, aka 9mm Luger, aka 9x19mm, aka 9mm NATO, is the most widely issued military and police handgun cartridge in the world, much to the chagrin of big-bore aficionados everywhere.
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What Makes the Best 9mm Guns?
However, this is not the time and place to rehash that tired ol’ 9mm vs. .40 S&W vs.10mm vs. .45 debate. As with my previous 5 Best lists, I’m basing my selections on (1) industry-wide, time-honored reputation for respectability and (2) hands-on experience that has enabled me to personally observe the guns’ accuracy, reliability, and handling characteristics.
Top 5 9mm Guns: Browning Hi-Power P-35
Though not as ubiquitous in the 21st century as it was during the previous century, as it has been mostly replaced by either double-action or striker-fired autpoistols, the Browning Hi-Power aka P-35, aka BHP, aka L9A1 (the British Army designation), aka Grande Puissance spent several decades as the most widely used military, police, and counterterrorist pistol in the world.
Arguably the most famous users of the BHP were the elite British Special Air Service (SAS) — whom highly respected combatives expert Leroy Thompson rated as the best counterterrorist unit in the world — and the FBI’s Hostage Response Team (HRT). It was the only pistol widely used by both the Allies and the Axis during WWII. Fast-forward to Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and the P-35 was issued to Coalition allies from Britain and Canada on one side of the proverbial fence, and on the other side of that fence was the personal pistol choice of Saddam Hussein.
The Browning Hi-Power was indeed initially designed by the late great John Moses Browning as a successor to his equally iconic M1911 .45 caliber pistol, but alas Mr. Browning passed away in 1926 before his project came to completion, so the proverbial torch was passed on to Belgian gun designer Monsieur Dieudonné Saive, who saw the pistol project through to its final stage in 1935 (hence the P-35 and Francophone Grande Puissance designations/monikers). The BHP, with its 13 + 1 standard ammo capacity, was arguably the first of the “Wondernines,” i.e. high-capacity double-stack 9mm autoloaders. Though some nitpickers might insist that it’s not a bonafide Wondernine because it’s a single-action and not a double-action.
I bought mine as an early birthday present to myself back in the summer of 2007; a buddy of mine did a serial number look-up for me and determined that it was a genuine Fabrique Nationale Browning (as opposed to one of the many clones produced in Argentina, Hungary, and so forth) made back in 1967. I estimate that I’ve fired roughly 4,000 rounds through her. A very positive experience overall, with the only issue being that the factory original front sight sheared off at some point, so my then-local gunsmith, Mr. T.J. Jimakas of TJ’s Custom Gunworks, installed Smith & Wesson revolver-style sights as replacements.
Top 5 9mm Guns: Glock 17
What else can I say about the G17 that hasn’t been said already? Arguably the most reliable and durable and longest-lasting pistol ever made. The handgun is capable of firing 10,000 jam-free rounds without being cleaned? It survives a 250,000-round service life? Still able to hold 2 – 2.5-inch shot groups at 25 yards and 4-inch groups at 50 yards? Simply epic. My own Gen2 Glock has lasted me 19 years and approximately 20,000 rounds – and Lord only knows how many rounds were fired through it by the previous owner.
Top 5 9mm Guns: Beretta 92FS/M9
Similar to the Glock 17, what can I say about the Beretta 92FS aka M9 that hasn’t been said already? Made by the world’s oldest gun manufacturer and the world’s oldest corporation, period, so they damn well know what they’re doing. Faithfully served as the U.S. Armed Forces standard-issue sidearm for 33 years. Praised by old-school M1911 authorities like Bill Wilson and Ken Hackathorn as the most reliable pistol they’ve ever worked with.
To repeat what I’ve already said ad nauseam, the Beretta was the first firearm I ever (platonically) fell in love with. The gun has enabled me to win numerous on-duty and off-duty marksmanship accolades, and I’ve been a proud M9/92FS owner since 2002, with one standard edition and two collectors’ editions combining for roughly 20,000 rounds of sweet-shooting fun.
Top 5 9mm Guns: Heckler & Koch (HK) P7
Definitely the most unique pistol on the list, thanks to that “squeeze cocker” that functions in lieu of either a traditional hammer-fired or the less traditional but now definitely mainstream striker-fired means of pistol cartridge ignition. The end result is a single-action trigger that is the nicest and crispest of any non-customized semiautomatic pistol that I have ever fired (yes, even more so than the CZ-75), and definitely contributes to the accuracy of the piece.
The original European market version of the P7, which debuted in 1976 and quickly caught on with German police units, is known as the PSP (Polizei-Selbstlade-Pistole; “police self-loading pistol”); it has the European-style butt-heel magazine release —which encourages magazine retention but is an anathema to speed reloading — and a single-stack 8-round magazine.
For the U.S. market, HK released: (1) the P7M8, which maintains the 8-round single stack capacity of the PSP but has the added benefits of an ambidextrous magazine release behind the trigger guard (the mag release that’s preferred by most American shooters for speed purposes) as well a synthetic heat shield on the trigger guard; and (2) the P7M13, a double-stack 13 + 1 shooter (hence the “M13” bit) that retains the American-friendly features of the M8. The M8 was adopted by the New Jersey State Police whilst the M13 became standard issue for Utah State Patrol. In Die Hard Hans Gruber — R.I.P. Alan Rickman — indeed uses a P7.
As far as reliability goes, though not quite as impressive as the Glock 17’s record, Massad F. Ayoob did document —within the pages of his book The Semi-Automatic Pistol in Police Service and Self-Defense — a P7 that went 4,500 jam-free rounds without being cleaned.
Before the Euro replaced nearly all the individual countries’ currencies in Western Europe, P7s were extremely expensive for U.S. private citizens thanks to the exchange rate of the Deutschmark to the U.S. dollar. Which frustrated the hell out of me, as I was absolutely enamored of the P7M8s and P7M13s alike that I’d fired at rental ranges. Fast-forward to 2007, and I was finally able to purchase one for a very reasonable price of $600, thanks to a batch of West German police surplus guns that arrived upon American shores at that time. The only downside was that it turned out to be the PSP version, sans the heat shield, so the damn thing gets hot to the touch after a measly 100 rounds. Still a prized possession though, and I’ve put roughly 2,500 rounds through her.
Top 5 9mm Guns: CZ-75
Having been invented and produced in then-Communist Czechoslovakia in 1975, the CZ-75 had a mythical Holy Grail or Unobtainium-like status whilst it was being made behind the Iron Curtain. Along the way, it received the high praise of both Jeff Cooper and Chuck Taylor — both known for their anathemas to the 9mm cartridge and double-action auto pistols alike. One of the reasons Jeff and Chuck liked it so much was that even though it was a double-action pistol, the design also allowed for cocked-and-locked carry like their preferred single-action M1911-A1.
Then, for the good of humanity, the Soviet Bloc and Warsaw Pact collapsed in 1991, and a year later I was able to try one of these enigmatic pistols at a rental range and was immediately impressed by its accuracy, ergonomics, slickness, and smoothness, I finally purchased a CZ-75B as a Christmas present to myself in 2017, and approximately 1,500 rounds later, she’s still going strong.
Honorable Mention: SIG 210, HK P9S, Walther P-88
For the sake of consistency and intellectual honesty, I can’t include any of these three pistols in my Top 5, as I’ve never fired the SIG P210 and HK P9S at all, whilst I only got to put a few rounds — not enough to do a truly thorough evaluation — through a range rental P-88 at Los Angeles Gun Club many years ago.
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To make matters worse, the P9S and P-88 are long discontinued, while a brand-new P210 commands an MSRP of $1,449.99 – though actually, that’s about a $500.00 drop from the going rates back in the 1990s. Nonetheless, they all get an Honorable Mention as they’re known for being the three most accurate 9mm pistols in the world, though which one is actually #1 depends on which gun critic you ask. The SIG P210 in particular has an aura about it of being the Cadillac or Rolls-Royce of 9mm pistols.
Okay, folks, which of my list do you agree or disagree with? Which of my grating omissions arouse your collective ire the most? Let us know in the comments.
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.
December 24, 2022 at 10:15 pm
Calling this a Air Force officer and blue-uniformed customs officer aka stool sitter and passport puncher a “firearms expert” is hilarious.
His recommendations, straight from the early 80s for the most part, bears this out.
I could find a better expert at any average VFW and they probably didn’t “familiarize” with the M16 in the Air Force with a .22 adapter. Almost any average person at a gun range also would likely be more qualified.
December 25, 2022 at 9:21 am
Mr. Orr states verifiable info on the pistols mentioned, whether one agrees with his opinions or not. Mr. Orr apparently gained his personal knowledge of firearms over several decades. His ability to safely and accurately use firearms has been verified by different US Gov. agencies and reputable private organizations. He also gives honorable mention to several other pistols while honestly acknowledging his lack of personal experience with them. I do not personaly know Mr. Orr or his circumstance, however, my earliest firearm training and experience (shotgun, pistol, rifle) dates back to 1962 while my most recent extended live fire ‘range session’ was last Friday, 23 Dec. That said, I still enjoyed reading his remarks. It was a consise and easy read, I believe many younger and/or new shooters may also have curiosity awakened, and gain some historical perspective along the way. . . Thank-you Mr. Orr ! & ‘Merry Christmas’ to all.