20 Years With The M9 Beretta

With the upcoming planned replacement of the M9 handgun with the as-yet-undetermined XM17 MHS, Rifleshooter reminisces about his 20 years serving with the military Beretta, a story that takes the reader through everything from the bad rap the pistol has gotten for reliability, through its advanced age and obsolescence:

Security forces and military police were provided additional training.  Individual units would also provide additional training opportunities.  For instance, at one point we were scheduled to deploy with 15 MEU(SOC) and we received a comprehensive package of tactical pistol shooting.  It was similar to what you’d consider best practice for a fighting handgun today.

During the entire time I was in the service, I don’t recall seeing an M9 malfunction.  I did see one bend in a 6″ radius when a tank mechanic had his pistol get sucked into and over the winch on an M88 tank retriever (sorry, no pics, pre-digital camera days- but it looked awesome).  Nothing else noteworthy, they just shot.

Until 1998, the biggest concern the Marines I knew had with the M9 was someone pushing the muzzle back and taking the gun out of battery so it wouldn’t fire.  It happened in a movie so the older guys would tell lots of stories to the boots.  Occasionally some burnt out Lance Corporal would chamber a round, press the pistol against his hand and pull the trigger to demonstrate the flaw.  Incredibly stupid- but Marines aren’t known for being the most reflective bunch.  The floor of one of our company’s barracks rooms had an odd colored tile where a Marine had done this, but the M9 fired, landing him in the hospital.  When he recovered he received nonjudicial punishment.  This all changed in 1998 when Lethal Weapon 4 came out and Jet Li showed the world you could easily disassemble an M9 in a gun fight (see video below), that became the biggest concern amongst the guys(that’s how the desert works, when you have nothing to do, this is the stuff you think about)

The civilian Beretta 92FS on the market at the time looked nearly identical to the M9s we were issued.  The problem was our guns had a two dot sight system (only one white dot in the rear) and different markings.  In the late 90s, Beretta started releasing civilian M9s with the correct sights and markings, I immediately bought one.

m9 left side redacted

My personally owned Beretta was a thing of beauty.  Unlike my work gun, it was pretty and refined. Magazines were everywhere and reasonably priced.  Recoil was minimal.  While the double action trigger was heavy, it was something I had become accustomed too.  The only time the M9 didn’t seem great was when you held it next to a Glock 19, it just looked big for what it was.

That’s the thing about the M9.  They shoot great, feel great when you rack them, they are reliable and have a wonderful single action trigger.  They are just really big for what they are.

The M9 is certainly a fine handgun, but its 30 years of service are now showing. Against more modern handguns that are smaller, lighter, and easier to shoot, the Beretta can come across as a bit of a dinosaur, but though it’s creeping into obsolescence, it’s still an effective, reliable weapon.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Giolli Joker

    “the biggest concern the Marines I knew had with the M9 was someone
    pushing the muzzle back and taking the gun out of battery so it wouldn’t
    Well, it happens to basically all short recoil operated pistols, the difference is that in the M9 the barrel is more exposed than the slide, in most modern handguns you’d be pushing back barrel and slide at the same time, with the same result.
    Get a .380 Beretta 86 with tip up barrel and you can shoot through your hand all day long.
    Cool way of getting stigmata, though.

    • MPWS

      For this reason the properly designed pistol has frame flush with slide, in front. Btw, I did not shoot M9, just handled. I did not impress me; way too much running slap and excessive width, The mighty cut on top aka dirt ingress gives it crown. So thanks but not for me.

      • Giolli Joker

        “the properly designed pistol”
        A bit of an unfair approach towards Berettas, their grandpa Walther P38, the Luger and a bunch of older designs… maybe outdated but hardly “improperly designed” (Nambu aside, that one is clearly crap).
        Besides, I’m repeating myself, if you push hard muzzle and slide against your target, chances are that you’ll get a misfire with basically all modern service pistols… even if your pistol is “properly designed”.
        On another note, Beretta M9’s cut on top might surely let dirt in, but even out very easily.
        I’m not saying that the 92 is the best handgun out there, but I believe that the approach of the article sounds much more objective.

        • Armchair-Warrior

          Disregard the opinions of a weapon’s critic who has not even fired it.

        • MPWS

          Actually, I do not have hang-up against Berettas. Actually I like those with rotary action, to name some of newer models. Shame they are walking away from it.

      • Joshua

        I take it you have never seen a handgun with a threaded barrel for a suppressor.

    • Zebra Dun

      The revolver can e taken out of action the same way, grab the cylinder and keep it from revolving or stick your thumb in front of the hammer or on top of it.
      Hell, even the bayonet can be grabbed by the blade and disabled or so they say.

      • Hyok Kim

        That’s why I no longer believe in traditional trench knife. Not only the knife can be twisted out of hands, but also brake all the fingers trapped inside the holes, and even dislocate the elbow and shoulder.

  • BattleshipGrey

    Great read. I like hearing from vets that actually received handgun training. I’m not sure of the current training soldiers, sailors and Marines receive, but for a while when I’d ask out of curiosity if they got to train on handguns, they’d look at me strangely as if to say “tell me more of this thing you call a handgun.” before they answered “no.”

    The 92FS was my first handgun and I bought it after getting to play with one in college for Police Science. I love the look, reliability and smoothness of the action. My Glocks probably receives more attention since it’s my current duty pistol, but my Beretta is always accessible in its hidden spot when my gun belt is locked up.

    • Airborne

      Handgun training is very minimal in the Army. Generally it’s reserved for Officers, MPs, and Medics- guys that have to carry it (and gals!). Even then, there isn’t much training as you’re expected to show up on qual day, shoot a couple familiarization targets, and then qualify. Probably 50 rounds total, once a year. Overall, the Army’s marksmanship training is crap.

      Luckily I was in dismounted infantry reconnaissance and got more range time with the M9 than most enlisted grunts normally would (which is about zero). It’s actually a pretty nice pistol IMO, albeit heavy. The biggest problem I have with it is that most of the M9s in inventory are all old, beat to hell, and not maintained properly and thus prone to malfunction. Think it gets a bad rap because of that.

      • Agitator

        Even among Medics it’s highly dependent on your unit. I was able to ask to qualify on the M9 just because my unit happened to have spare ammunition for it at the range and I happened to do well simply because I owned one. As far as I know, though, I’m the only Medic in my unit who’s qualified on it.

      • Canadian Vet

        The Canadian Armed Forces have the same problem with our Brownings; we barely train with them and they are worn down to the point of being dangerous. As an example, one spontaneously disassembled in my hands when the takedown pin fell out of the frame while firing and I’m considering myself incredibly lucky the slide went for a short fligh forward and the round did not fire otherwise my day would have been irremediably ruined.

        But when I went to Afghanistan, my Browning was better than 60 years old but it had only been in service for a year and a half or so as it was never issued when it came off the assembly line and got packed in grease and put in war storage instead. The mags were after-market, mind you but it functioned flawlessly.

        • El Duderino

          Never saw that with an M9, but saw USMC Remington 870s have their barrels fly off when fired. I believe those are all gone (Benellis now).

    • Zebra Dun

      The course example for the Navy boot camp at Great Lakes Navy boot camp lists the M-9 Familiarization course as a part of the training.
      Direct Deposit System (DDS) brief

      Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB)

      Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

      U.S. Navy Ships and Aircraft

      First Aid

      Rank/Rate Recognition

      Uniforms and Grooming

      Conduct during Armed Conflict

      Military Customs and Courtesies

      Equal Opportunity

      Rape and Sexual Assault Awareness

      Check Issue (Financial Information)

      Naval History

      Anti-Terrorism / Force Protection

      Thrift Savings Plan

      Navy Knowledge Online (NKO – Mypay – 5VM)

      Conduct and Precautions Ashore

      Weapons Familiarization (M9 Service Pistol)
      (Taken from the Recruit training command Great Lakes web site)

    • Zebra Dun

      I would imagine a fam fire course is given for any Army troops at the same level of training command, if not with the rifle for sure.
      New world, terror means everyone needs to be at minimum Fam Fired on personal defense weapons.
      I know the Air Force does.

      • Phillip Cooper

        What are you referring to as “fam fire”?

        • Steve

          familiarization i’d say.

          • Joe

            Wow, thought it was Foot A$$ Mouth, at least according to a Drill in Benning. “It smells like FAM in here, Privates. You are living foul.” From a 5’3 Jamaica; the accent with the loathing and disdain was awesome.

        • Zebra Dun

          Firing various weapons not assigned to the individual Marine for familiarization.
          Different from Combat training or rifle range scores.
          As an example: A Marine of my time went through what was called ITR (Infantry Training Regiment), he first went through ICT (Individual Combat Training) where he was taught the basics of and the implementing of all the weapons organic to the Marine Infantry Battalion up to the rocket launchers.
          The Marine would attend various lectures and then fire every weapon on a range with live ammo, to familiarize him with these weapons should he be called on to replace another man as that weapons crew.
          We fired everything from the M-1911A1 to the 3.5 Rocket launchers, M-79, LAAW (though at the time no LAAWS were available to shoot all being sent to Vietnam) the 60 mm and 81 mm mortars and the various light and medium Machine guns.

          Those Infantry MOS Marines would then move on to BST ( basic specialty training) to fire for score their fields weapons and the 0351 would go to the Flame throwers and Recoilless rifles as well as refresher and more intense training with the 3.5 and LAAWS.
          Through the career of the Marine as an infantry field he could possible be Fam Fired on shotguns, .50 BMG, Revolvers and submachine guns.
          At this time I believe the training schedules of every branch teaches some basic weapons handling for at minimum the M-9 or the M-16 rifles and while they don’t shoot for score or for combat training they are allowed to shoot to familiarize them with the weapon.

    • Hyok Kim

      Actually Walther P5 uses more positive locking version of 92F system.

  • Will

    When the military decided to go with a different pistol they sent out questionnaires to military firearms instructors. At the time I was a working police and Air National Guard firearms instructor.
    The questionnaire seemed slanted toward belittling the 1911 and .45ACP round. As it turned out there were politics involved and the change was a forgone conclusion. It WAS going to happen!!!
    So, we lovers and admirers of the 1911 sucked it up and accepted the M9. It’s not a bad design or a bad pistol. We all questioned the cartridge. Yet another kowtow to NATO. The pistol was too large for service members “with small hands”. (Read your own definition into that.) I gave my assistant instructors the option of being armed, when required, with a 1911 ( we all shot on the pistol team which used 1911s) or an M9. To a man we all opted for the 1911.
    Do I own an M9? Yes. Do I shoot it a lot? No.
    I have nothing against the pistol. I do think the round is mediocre, at best, as a combat pistol round. Yeah, I too preach “Projectile Placement”.
    I detest the fact that politics dictated what pistol our troops were armed with.

    • Zebra Dun

      The Book “The Executioner” with Mack Bolan who used a Beretta Brigadier and swore by it may have made this pistol more famous for the military than not.

      • Nashvone

        Wow! That’s a series of books I haven’t thought of in decades.

        • Zebra Dun

          I recall it was popular reading for the Grunts of my era, introduced the Auto Mag as well as the Beretta.

  • Zebra Dun

    The son owns one a civilian model. I advised him to get a Browning High Power if he wanted a 9 mm or even a Colt 1911A1 in the same caliber.
    He grew up shooting my Series 70 Gov model in .45 acp
    He told me having trained extensively with the M-9 he felt more able to handle it due to familiarity than the other pistols I mentioned, plus he wanted one like he used in the Marines.
    I found I liked the pistol, enough so if some kind soul GAVE me one I’d take it and enjoy shooting it for business or pleasure.
    My first love though are revolvers, .357 mag S&W’s and even Colts.

  • Sianmink

    That’s my main complaint about the M9. There’s really nothing wrong with it except… It’s just so big for a 15rd 9mm. Like clown-shoe large.
    My hands aren’t that big.

    • Joshua

      It’s actually nearly identical in size to a Glock 17, and the magazines can fit 17 rounds if they did not have the limiter dimples in them.

      • Sianmink

        I can wrap my hand around a G17 grip decently well (especially gen4, gen2 to a lesser extent. the 3’s are just wrong for me) but gripping a M9 makes me feel like I’m trying to hold onto a 2×4.

        • Giolli Joker

          Well, probably that’s why there’s the Vertec/M9A3 grip now.

    • USMC03Vet

      Everything about it is awkward.

      • Zebra Dun

        My comment exactly for the 3.5 Rocket Launcher!

    • Canadian Vet

      That’s weird, because that pistol fit my hand out of the box as if it was custom-made for me and I can’t get a comfortable hold on a Glock, and I couldn’t get a good grip on the old-style grip on the Sig P226.

      And I have small hands, yet all the controls were easy for me to manipulate and I found it pointed very naturally.

      • Sianmink

        different hands, I guess. Glock gen4 grips feel great to me, M9’s and older P226’s feel too fat.

  • Lance

    Old yes but Obsolete NO. I know author and some seem to have a bias against the Beretta M-9 but in most cases it still can hold its own against the vaunted Glock and M&P. It holds a normal ammo load of 15 and newer mags hold 17 rounds. It can shoot both HP and standard FMJ ammo. Its not plastic like newer pistols but its tougher to with stand abuse of military service. Most people Ive talked too didn’t have a grudge against the M-9. Most problems where not due to the M-9 but poor Army training and low maintenance of there pistols in the mid point of the Iraq war. Any pistol w/o oil and cleaning would fail even the vaunted Glock would give after a while in the hot sand and w/o oil.

    Overall this is the pistol ICC so many tacti coolers say the M-4 sucked and was too old and we wasted billions for a competition that wasn’t needed. Unless we DO goto .45 or .40 caliber it make no sense to goto another 9mm pistol. The M-9 still wide spread world use and its a good pistol.

    • When have I ever expressed a bias against the M9?

      This coming from the guy who thinks I am an FAL fanboy who likes only European guns…

      • Hyok Kim

        That’s from Lance. You know what he is.

  • jay

    Let it go. There are a ton of much better handguns out there this days and with most of the guns in service being old and worn out, you are better off getting a new modern gun, than buy a few hundred thousands of this old dogs.
    It’s just not worth it anymore.

  • El Duderino

    Funny “bored Marines in the field talking about pistols” story. I was a Sergeant with a tank company. Had a tank crewman say, “Man I wish I could bring my .40 to war instead of this 9mm.” I told him, “Look ***hole, you’re on a tank with a 120mm gun, a Ma Deuce, and two M240s. The only reason you have a pistol is so you’re armed when you get out to take a leak or check track. Not to engage with and destroy the enemy. Get a grip!”

    • Zebra Dun

      I recall there was an M3 Grease gun assigned to each tank for Tank security at the time I was in.
      I also saw the Thunder runs on TV where Tank crews would do vulture runs and collect AK- weapons to use.
      Hell that’s in case you see a poisonous reptile.

  • Joe

    I refurbed them as a contractor for a year and the most common fault was the front sight being worn off. Having to replace the slide and moving over all the pieces from the old one was not my favorite task. Finish wear is also common but not often addressed. Recoil springs, shot out barrels, missing grip screws are the others I can remember, although I don’t remember any cracked slides/frames. For what they were put through, they held up pretty well.

    • Cymond

      Any thoughts/opinions on the newer (civilian) M92A1 with the dovetailed front sight?

  • USMC03Vet

    Couple of days on the range with the M9 and I saw all sorts of malfunctions. In fact during qualification my trigger broke and I had to use another M9. Still shot expert.

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    Lethal Weapon 4 came out in 1997. Good story, though.

  • Bill

    20 years old and obsolete? I didn’t get that memo. How have the guys who’ve carried them for so long, 20 whole years, survived?

    I have never seen a 92 break or malfunction when properly maintained. It’s not particularly size efficient, but the same could be said of the SIG P226 and GLOCK 17 when compared to 229s and 19s. If it has a major problem, its that people are required to carry it, and any equipment that is mandated is automatically bad.

    Beretta’s biggest mistake was doing away with their single-stack midsize version, the 92SomethingICant remember.

    • Hyok Kim

      92F is a compromise design for accomodating double stack mag and easier manufacturing vs. more positive lock up and easier field stripping of Walther.

  • Kivaari

    The M9 works. The new M9A3 with better grips and textured front and rear straps mskes it a fighting machine. Better yet give them Gl0co 17

  • Tierlieb

    “They […] have a wonderful single action trigger”

    That they do. And a truly horrible double action trigger. Which makes me wonder: How does the US Army carry these? Cocked and locked? Or do they teach to thumb-cock the gun on the draw?

    • Hyok Kim

      I don’t think 92F has a horrible DA trigger. For that honor belongs HK VP70.

      92F DA is long, and heavy, but smooth.

  • Donald Darr

    I have an Italian 92F and enjoy shooting it. Never gives me any problem.

  • Bal256

    Every time the pistol competition comes up, people give their opinion on why one pistol is amazing and another is absolutely terrible. I have my tastes, but I fail to see much difference in the capabilities in what one 9mm pistol can do that another can’t.

  • Hyok Kim

    He hit a lady.

  • Hyok Kim

    “Until 1998, the biggest concern the Marines I knew had with the M9 was someone pushing the muzzle back and taking the gun out of battery so it wouldn’t fire. It happened in a movie so the older guys would tell lots of stories to the boots”

    So much for “I learned to shoot at USMC (20 years ago, 4 years) so I don’t need to learn anything from the civilians on guns.”

  • ghost

    I can not tell you how many times I wished I had a pistol instead of a rifle, (that original M-16 being loosely described as a rifle), in Vietnam, because I never did have that wish, even tho the .45s were more reliable.