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Gun Ranking: Who Makes the Best Centerfire Semiautomatic Pistols on Earth?

Beretta M9A1. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Beretta M9A1. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Time to stir the pot again with my fellow gun enthusiasts amongst our dear, this time by asking this question: Who’s the best gunmaker in the world? 

To simplify the discussion, I’m going to divide it in separate categories to be covered across multiple parts of a series. Moreover, in order to minimize biases as much as possible – and to follow the spirit of journalistic objectivity – instead of making a claim for a single manufacturer, I’m going to list several finalists/contestants/candidates and make a case for each of them. 

I’ll start off with centerfire-caliber semiautomatic pistols. Before I get onto the finalists, let me provide my rationale for why certain famous brands aren’t making the final cut. As unpatriotic as it may seem, I’m excluding the big three American pistolmakers, i.e. Colt, Smith & Wesson (S&W), and Sturm, Ruger. Sure, Colt was the original and famous (in terms of household name status) of the legendary M1911 .45 ACP autopistol, but nowadays Colt simply doesn’t have the market penetration with 1911s or autopistols that they did 100 years ago. As for S&W and Ruger, they make excellent autoloaders – I’m especially partial to the Ruger P97 .45 ACP – but they don’t have that big a following outside of the U.S, whether with military, police, or civilian gun owners. That said… 

Exhibit A: The Case for Beretta

Might as well start with the oldest and most venerable of the bunch. Not just the world’s oldest gunmaker, but the world’s oldest manufacturer of any kind, getting its start in 1526 by manufacturing arquebus barrels, and then having these products “blooded” in combat 45 years later by the Venetian fleet during the Battle of Lepanto. Yep, you can rest assured that the fine folks at Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta – and their American subsidiary Beretta USA – know what the heck they’re doing.  

To American shooters, of course, they’re best known for their Model 92F AKA the M9, which generated a firestorm of controversy when in was selected in 1984 to replace the beloved Colt M1911-A1 Government Model .45 ACP which had faithfully served the U.S. Armed Forces as standard-issue sidearm for over seven decades. But you know what? The Beretta M9 turned out to be a superbly reliable and accurate autopistol its own right, so much so that it was adopted by a spate of American civilian police agencies, including LAPD and L.A. Sheriff’s Department, as well as the armed forces of Beretta’s home country of Italy. As Wiley Clapp and the late Dean A. Grennell – themselves old school 1911 buffs – stated back in 1986, “[T]he M9 is a service pistol on which we can rely for years to come.” The gun proved these authors right, serving for 33 years.

Beretta M9A3. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

But even before the M9, there was the M1951 Brigadier, which then served the armies of Italy, Israel and Egypt for roughly 30 years. Before that, there were the M1934 and M1935 of World War II. And the list goes on.  

Exhibit B: The Case for Glock

Of all the contestants here, Glock is the comparative new kid on the block, arriving on the firearms scene in 1982 via the 9mm Glock 17. But it sure didn’t take long for this then-FNG (******* New Guy [Gun?]) to establish a name for itself [himself?]. First off, it was adopted by the Austrian Army as its standard duty pistol. Then the gun made its way Stateside, and thanks to torture by experts like the late Chuck Taylor and then-Miami (Florida) Police Department aromoer Sgt. Paul Palank, the G17 gained a legendary reputation for near-indestructibility ;soon the pistol would be adopted by Miami PD, Alaska State Troopers, New York State Police, etc. Then came the compact Glock 19, which was authorized for certain detective teams of NYPD, which at that time was still revolver-obsessed. Then Glock released its .40 caliber offerings such as the G22 and G23, with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) being among the first law enforcement agencies to adopt it, thus widening the proverbial floodgates.

Glock 19X. Image Credit: Original Image from 19FortyFive.

Long story short, by the early-to-mid 1990s, uppity, upstart Glock had captured 40 percent of the American police market…and that’s not even counting the incredible popularity that the brand had attained (and still sustains to this day) with the private citizen gun-buying public, an unmatchable level of brand level roughly analogous to Apple’s brand loyalty in the home computer business.  

Exhibit C: The Case for SIG Sauer 

On the one hand, SIG (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft) isn’t as old as Pietro Beretta, but, seeing as how they date back to 1853, is no spring chicken Well, our regular readers know that subjectively speaking, SIG is my least favorite brand amongst the finalists here. But objectively speaking, I have to acknowledge that they dethroned two of my personal faves from a couple of very prestigious U.S. government contracts. First off, in August 2004, their .40 S&W caliber SIG P229 DAK (Double-Action Kellerman, a specialized type of double-action only [DAO] trigger system) replaced the Glock 17 as the official sidearm of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), five years before Yours Truly became a Special Agent with that agency. Then in 2017, their 9mm P320/M17/M18 was chosen to replace the Beretta M9 as the standard issue service pistol of the U.S. Armed Forces, ending Beretta’s aforementioned 33-year reign in that capacity.  

Sig Sauer P322. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Perhaps there was some foreshadowing of the M17’s military market coup back in circa 1989, when the U.S. Navy SEALs chose the P226 to replace the Beretta after several of their sailors got injured by flying malfunctioning Beretta slides, and have stuck with it ever since. But even before that, SIG had already made a name for itself, via top-quality products such as the P220, which debuted in 1975 as the first .45 ACP autoloader with traditional double-action (TDA) trigger lockwork. And going back even further in time, to 1947, then sprang forth the SIG P210, which many experts still consider to be THE most accurate 9mm semiauto pistol ever.

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 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.  

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).