By Dan Kidder
As a firearms instructor, I get to see how the average Joe and Jane handle firearms when they are not all that familiar with gun manipulations. Additionally, I get to see how those with weaker hands or disabilities caused by conditions like arthritis effect their ability to manipulate the gun. For some, just the action of cycling the slide can be difficult, if not impossible, depending on the strength of the recoil spring. And before you say “they should just shoot a revolver” keep in mind that there are guns on the market that still afford the increased capacity and ability to rapidly reload of a semiautomatic. A great subset of these guns are striker fired pistols.
Since the hammer is not present internally or externally, the cam-over action of cocking the hammer with the slide is removed, making them easier to cycle. They are also designed to be carried ready for use, making them a great choice for concealed carry.
Each of these five pistols are chambered in 9×19 mm and were tested with a variety of 115 grain Doubletap ammunition including their FMJ Match ammo at 1,200 FPS, their +P Controlled Expansion, +P Barnes TAC-XP, and +P Bonded Defense.
Glock has dominated the striker fired pistol market since the 1980s and are the choice for many competitors, law enforcement agencies, and concealed carriers. The main complaint about Glock handguns is that they are blocky and aren’t a great fit for those with smaller hands. In the Gen 4 models, Glock incorporated interchangeable backstraps in three different sizes to quickly allow the shooter to adjust the size of the grip, but many still found the double stack magazine too large for their hands. In 2015, Glock introduced a single stack version that is essentially the same size as their popular Glock 26, with a thinner profile.
The Glock 43 reliably handled everything we fed it. My problem with the gun was that I have large hands and the slim grip was difficult for me to hold steady during firing and it was the hardest gun for me to hit a target with consistently. Those with much smaller hands shouldn’t have this problem. The Glock 43 comes standard with three 7-round magazines, two of which have an extended pinky rest on the baseplate, and one that is a flush-fit magazine for improved concealability. On the rack test, a female shooter with small hands rated it the easiest to cycle the slide and lock it back. It also had the easiest magazine to load. The 6+1 capacity was a little light for defensive carry, but it made it very easy to slip into a pocket holster or slip it into an inside the waistband holster and wear it comfortably all day.
While the Glock 43 definitely wouldn’t work for me because the grip is just too small, it is an ideal fit for those with less grip strength and more diminutive digits and is comparable to the Glock 26 I typically carry during the summer months.
The largest gun of the bunch, the Beretta APX is more of a full-sized duty gun than a small concealed carry gun. As someone who concealed a full-sized 1911 for years, I can tell you that a gun this sized can be concealed, but it will take some work.
The trigger on the APX is one of the best on the market. It is exceptionally crisp and even though it is a little heavier than some of the others we tested, the short reset and very little overtravel, combined with an exceptionally smooth pull make the trigger on this gun a dream. It was also the most inherently accurate of the guns we tested, but with a longer sight radius and a longer barrel, that is to be expected. It easily ate fed, fired, and extracted every round of ammo we put through it without a single hiccup.
The frame of the APX can be swapped out with either an olive drab green or a tan earth, and all three frames have swappable matching grip panels to adjust grip size. One feature of the APX that is unusual among striker fired pistols is the ability to press a recessed button to decock the pistol for disassembly without having to pull the trigger. This is unique among all of the striker fired pistols we tested, but you need a ball point pen, a punch, or some other small pointy tool to engage the decocker. The double lock pin on a handcuff key works perfectly.
The ergonomics on this gun are extremely comfortable, but as I mentioned, I have larger hands, so the beefy grip swell and the finger contouring on the front of the grip made it very comfortable to hold for me. Those with smaller hands may have some difficulty, even with the smallest backstrap installed. It was one of the easier to cycle pistols in our collection, but the magazines were extremely stiff to fully load. Fortunately, it comes with two 17-round magazines and a speed loader, which will be necessary for those who plan to put a lot of rounds through this gun. A 20-round magazine with an extended base plate is also available. An accessory rail on the front of the gun allows the use of a light or laser.
Smith & Wesson M&P 9c
Many reading this will wonder at why I chose the M&P 9c instead of the Shield. I have a Shield and carry it from time to time. I also make it available in classes and can tell you that is the one single pistol that is the hardest to cycle for the majority of students. The small grip surface, combined with a very powerful recoil spring makes the Shield a bear to lock the slide back on.
That problem isn’t present in the M&P compact. When I present students with the compact, they have no difficulty racking or locking open the slide. I am not sure if it has a lighter recoil spring because of the greater mass of the gun, or it is just the difference of more surface area for the hand to grip, but it is just easier.
All told, the compact is not much larger in footprint than the Shield, and at only 1.18 inches thick, the double stack Compact is just ever so slightly thicker than the .98 inches of the single stack Shield.
The worst aspect of this gun is the trigger. You can pull on that 8+ pound trigger for a month of Sundays and still feel like it will never break. The entire time you are pulling it, it feels like you are dragging it across a gravel road. The long reset also has a false reset in the travel that is present on all M&P triggers. This is caused by a part rolling over the connector and is noticeable enough that someone asked me to examine their M&P recently to see if there was damage to their connector or if it could be polished out. But even with the terrible trigger, the low bore axis and minimal muzzle flip compensate and let you get very accurate strings on target quickly, once you get used to the trigger.
The magazines on this gun have an issue. The follower is profiled so steeply that it causes a round being pressed into it to push the follower slightly to the lateral, which prevents the follower from receding into the magazine. You have to be very deliberate in aligning the force downward without putting any lateral force on the round as you insert it into the magazine. Of all of the guns that needed a magazine speed loader, this one did, and it doesn’t include one. If you choose this gun, I highly suggest an UpLULA magazine feeding device.
The M&P Compact is a very comfortable gun in the hand and comes with three different grip inserts to customize the grip size. It comes with two 12-round magazines, one flush fit and one with an extended pinky rest.
The little brother to the larger Ruger LC9, this compact has all of the features and reliability of a full sized 9 millimeter over the anemic .380 Ruger LCP. Despite being around the same dimensions as the Glock 43, the ergonomics of the LC9s seem to fit in my hand better. The contours on the grip fill the swell of my palm, giving a more positive grip on the little gun than does the Glock.
In our testing, this was the only gun we managed to break. Well, disable temporarily because of the power of the ammo we shot through it. All of the ammo we fired met SAMII specifications for chamber pressure, but were on the top end of the spectrum. It had no issues feeding the +P ammos, with the exception of the Bonded Defense at 1,415 FPS. On one round the slide locked back and wouldn’t disengage until I rapped it rather smartly on the wood shooting bench. After that, it worked just fine on every other round fired.
The trigger on the LC9s is on the heavy side of the striker fired pistols at 7 pounds, 2 ounces, but it is smooth and steady, with a bit of a springy feel to it rather than a spongy feel. There is no reset point that I could find, so the trigger must be returned to start before you can mash the go peddle again.
The small size makes this an ideal jacket pocket gun or great in a cargo shorts pocket in the summer months. The Ruger was the only striker fired pistol in our test that included an external thumb safety, which is a bit of a silly feature in a gun with as many internal safeties as a striker fired has. But on the upside, it is there if you want it, and you just forget about it if you don’t desire it.
The LC9s is a great shooting little pistol and the slide lock was rated a 4 out 5 for difficulty for those with weaker hands. The single 7 round magazine gives it an extra shot in the butt over the Glock, but Glock saw fit to include three magazines. In this regard, I am a bit disappointed in what is usually one of my favorite gun companies for going on the cheap in the magazine department. Especially since additional magazines are nearly $40 apiece on the Ruger website.
Where the Ruger beats the Glock hands down is their sights. Steel sight frames with fiber optic inserts make the sights jump to focus, even with the short sight radius. It is no secret that Glock sights suck, and most Glock owners immediately replace them with something better, but if you don’t like the colors of the sights on the Ruger, you simply choose another LitePipe from the included HiViz container and use the protrusion on the holder to pop out the LitePipes that are currently installed. So for cheaping out on the magazines, Ruger more than made up for it with excellent sights.
Of all of the striker fired pistols we tested, the Heckler & Koch VP9SK really shined; literally. It comes with sights, that while not containing tritium tubes, are painted with a fluorescing substance that makes them glow in the dark. The sights themselves are steel, so strong enough to be used for one handed cocking of the pistol in an emergency.
The real area where this gun performs is in ergonomics. It is contoured in such a way that it is supremely comfortable to shoot for long periods of time. Additionally, not only does it have interchangeable backstraps to increase the grip size, it also has three different sets of swappable palm swell inserts to go on the sides of the grip to increase or decrease its thickness in the hand. This gives you ultimate customization options for various shooters.
The recoil spring was pretty stiff, which gave it the ability to reliably feed all sorts of ammo, but did put it a bit higher in the slide racking department, though not unmanageable. The oversized slide lock was easy to engage and disengage, which helped overcome the stiff spring. On the rear of the slide are two small wings that help you get a positive grip over just the standard serrations.
The two included magazines, one flush fit and one with an extended finger groove, are marked for 10 rounds and both accepted and fed 11 rounds flawlessly. I am unsure if this is a mistake on HK’s part or intentional, but if it is a mistake, it is a welcome one. The magazines on the VP9SK were some of the easiest magazines to load out of all of the guns we tested. Even so, it also includes a speed loader.
The trigger is awesome. It has a nice steady prep and then hits the wall with almost no overtravel. The reset is very short and crisp, allowing rapid strings of shots.
One feature that may throw users who are new to the gun and to H&Ks in general is the placement of the magazine release on the edge of the trigger guard. It is accessible from both sides of the gun, making the magazine release truly ambidextrous without modifying the gun or swapping the release to the other side.
The size, balance, contour, and reliability of this gun make it the editor’s choice for our test and this one will be joining several others in my gun safe and in the hands of students on the range.