By Duke “Mike” Venturino, American Handgunner
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
Lately I’ve turned my attention to full-size 9mm pistols. Don’t start cussing me yet. I know state of the art now is the lightweight, compact autoloading pistol with lots of polymer in its construction. Petite, nearly palm-sized 9mms get even more attention. Like I said, I’m playing catch-up. Most of my 9mm shooting experience in the last decade has been with ones made before or during World War II. In 2014 I even bought a 1917 vintage German Artillery Luger with 8″ barrel.
Before continuing let’s settle this question I know some readers have on the tip of your tongue. You’re thinking, “If you’re going to deal with full-size pistols why not just go on to the .45 instead of bothering with puny 9mms.” I’m not about to enter the 9mm vs .45 Auto debate for it will never be settled anyway. But the truth is full-size 9mms have existed since 1906, they have not fallen by the wayside and new ones are introduced most years.
My interest on such started when I realized 2016 is the 40th anniversary of buying my first 9mm. After becoming a Montana resident my dad urged me to start establishing credit in the area. He spent most of his life working in the credit business so he knew what he was talking about. His advice was to go to the local bank where I had a checking account and apply for a 90-day loan for say about $300. Then he said I should hang onto the money, pay it back when due and thus begin establishing a credit rating.
Duke’s been shooting these four big 9mms of late. Note three of the four are double action.
Most of Duke’s 9mm shooting has been with historical ones such as the 1917 vintage Artillery Luger, but for several months in 2015 he worked
with this brand new Browning Hi-Power 9mm.
These two 9mms come from Brazil (top) and Italy (bottom) and are a Taurus PT99 AF and a Beretta Model 92 SB respectively. Each has 15-round, double stack magazines.
It was a good idea and I took it, except for one small part. Instead of hanging onto the $300 I hotfooted it to a gun store and bought a Smith & Wesson Model 39 9mm. There were enough bucks left to buy a Lyman #356242 mould for a 120-gr. roundnose 9mm bullet and RCBS dies. I shot that Model 39 to the tune of several hundred rounds without a single jacketed bullet or factory load going through it. I couldn’t hit with it at 25 yards on paper as with my revolvers so it was eventually sold or traded, I can’t recall.
However there was one more factor in letting it go. In buying dies I didn’t know a taper crimp die was needed to lock bullets into cases. Otherwise the passage from magazine to chamber might cause bullet setback which could raise pressures dramatically. Finally one day it did. A case wall blew out splitting both grip panels right down their middles but otherwise not harming the pistol. A bit of reloading wisdom was learned there.
Through the decades of my gun-writing career I used other 9mms in articles, usually borrowing them from friends or from various manufacturers on a consignment basis. Last year I pitted a new Browning Hi-Power against my 1917 Artillery Luger. I figured the long Luger would kick butt. It didn’t. The Browning outshot it with every load tried.
Of the full-size 9mms Duke has been shooting, the S&W Model 39 is the lightest. It weighs almost exactly 2 pounds with a fully loaded magazine.
Of the full-size 9mms Duke has been shooting, the Beretta Model 92 SB is the heaviest. It weighs 3 pounds with a fully loaded magazine.
A nice feature of the Springfield Armory Model 1911 Range Officer is the white dot rear sight with red dot front.
The Big Think
On my desk right now are four full sized steel or steel slide/aluminum alloy frame 9mms. They are a Taurus PT99 AF, a Beretta Model 92 SB, a Springfield Armory Model 1911 Range Officer and out of nostalgia, I recently bought another Smith & Wesson Model 39.
Here are some interesting details about them. The Beretta and Springfield are all steel while the Taurus and S&W have aluminum alloy frames. Fully loaded with a 15-round magazine, my Beretta weighs a full 3 pounds but my S&W is only 2 pounds with a loaded 8-round magazine. Beretta and S&W samples have hammer drop safeties. The other two don’t. Only the Springfield has a single action trigger. The other three are double action — of course only for the first shot.
Likewise only the Springfield has a grip safety. Only the S&W has a magazine disconnect feature. Without a magazine inserted the pistol won’t fire. The Taurus and Beretta have ambidextrous safety levers. S&W and Springfield have only a left side safety. And finally, the new Springfield has a rail in front of the trigger guard and white dot rear with red dot front for sights.
Another question which must arise is, “What would be the purpose of full sized 9mms in today’s world?” That’s meant as opposed to just shooting/plinking with them for the pleasure of firing a quality handgun. A reasonably knowledgeable civilian firearms guy or gal might see where the all steel Beretta and Springfield would have value in competitions. Their weight might be objectionable as an everyday concealed carry pistol but would make the 9mm cartridge’s already mild recoil even less of a problem for fast follow-up shots.
Two of the four full-size 9mms have hammer drop safeties as shown with the Beretta Model 92 SB. Here the safety is off.
When the safety is engaged the hammer automatically drops.
To get something you must give something. With full-size 9mm pistols, to gain magazine capacity you get a much thicker grip. At left is the
S&W Model 39 which has an 8-round single column magazine. At right is the Beretta Model 92 SB which has a 15-round double stack magazine.
Just Us Regulars
Keep in mind we’re talking civilians here; not troops or cops. If carrying on my person I know myself well enough to realize a pistol weighing more than two pounds would get left home a lot. In fact the S&W Model 39 is the only 9mm of the several present I’d consider as a hideaway pistol.
High capacity magazines are a factor to be considered. Are you giving up necessary firepower by having an eight-round magazine instead of one holding 15? To get something you must always give up something. With these 9mms you trade a thicker grip for the high capacity magazine. This could be a disadvantage — when? Again I know squat about tactics but I know much about comfort and I find the thicker grips of high capacity pistols uncomfortable.
Hand size is also a factor in regard to high capacity magazines. By no means do I have small hands but none of the pistols with double stack magazines fit me. The single stack magazines of the Springfield Range Officer and S&W Model 39 are much more comfortable.
Then there is the double-action trigger factor. Ever since I’ve been reading gun magazines (beginning in 1962) there’ve been debates about the advantages and disadvantages from double- and single- action trigger pulls on autoloading pistols. Again I prefer not to get involved in the debate, thinking it’s a matter of training and muscle memory than of advantages and disadvantages.
Side-by-side comparison of a 9mm double-stack magazine (left) and single- stack magazine (right).
Duke learned early on as a 9mm handloader to be careful about raising pressures because case walls would expand (center) or completely blow out (right) possibly doing damage to the pistol.
These two pistols represent one of the earliest and one of the latest made in America 9mms. They are a Springfield Armory Model 1911 Range Officer (top) and Smith & Wesson Model 39.
From my vantage point the best use for full size 9mm pistols in regards to personal defense would be as “stash” pistols — as in stationary home defense handguns. Placed in strategic spots in case of home invaders and kept safely as regards unwanted attention from children or invited visitors, any of these full size 9’s would suffice. They would make good car guns too in locales where doing such a thing won’t get you arrested. Most places issuing concealed weapons permits also allow guns to reside in automobiles.
And with a final thought consider this bit of logic. Full size 9mm pistols wouldn’t still be made now 110 years after the first one appeared if there hadn’t been sufficient market for them. And there still is.