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History of the US Military Pistol and its Civilian Counterparts

A Blast from the Past

Throughout the history of the United States, many pistols have been used for protection by our armed forces. Whether it was the flintlocks of the Revolution, the revolvers of the Civil War or the newest and sleekest semi-automatic. Handguns have always had a place in this country, both on the battlefield and on the civilian market. These handguns have all been trusted by our military to protect our veterans lives. While some may assume these handguns are outdated, they all have a strong presence within the modern civilian handgun market. Each of these handguns are trusted, reliable firearms that are still beloved today.

For practicality and simpler reading, we’ve chosen to highlight the handguns of the 20th and 21st century. Handguns prior to these can still be found and are as important, if not more so than the handguns mentioned here, so please do not think we are forgetting them.


colt-1911-gov M1911-Service History

At the turn of the 20th century, the introduction of smokeless powder cartridge’s meant firearms were rapidly evolving. One of the first major American firearm innovations was John Browning’s M1911 handgun. Its hard to find any sidearm more synonymous with the United States military than the M1911.

In service from 1911 until 1985, the M1911 saw combat in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other fields of combat. At the time of its adoption, the M1911 was the first semiautomatic pistol to be adopted by the US Military. Standard M1911s were single action, chambered in .45ACP with a 7+1 capacity. Variations of the standard design could be found throughout the years, most notably the Colt Commander, which featured a 4+14″ barrel and rounded hammer as opposed to the standard 5″ barrel.

The M1911 was so popular thanks to ergonomics, stopping power and relatively low recoil. Although the M1911 was formerly replaced in 1985, many servicemen continued to carry the M1911 as they preferred it over newer handguns in the 9mm cartridge. To this day, the M1911 remains one of the most famous pistols used by the military.

M1911-Civilian Variants

When it comes to the civilian market, M1911’s are actually one of the easiest finds. Many of the current major firearms manufacturers still produce M1911’s that you can buy today. Brands like Colt, Springfield, Sig Sauer, Kimber, Smith & Wesson, Wilson Combat & Cabot are making easily purchasable recreations and variants of M1911’s. Many of these current M1911s have been converted to 9mm, .380 and 10mm, but .45ACP is still one of the easiest to find. These newer civilian M1911s often focus on concealability.

Kimber has made a name for themselves with their Micro 9 series. Which takes the M1911 design and scales it down to a more concealable size. These modern M1911s have made adjustments to benefit the user, different grips, triggers, sights and barrel lengths have all become common place. The M1911 adapted from being a military weapon, to being a handgun fit for defense and sporting purposes. If you’re interested in M1911s, please check our store.

Beretta M9

Beretta M9-92FS

Beretta M9-Service History

As time went on, many countries began to adopt the 9mm cartridge into service. Originally designed by the Austrians, 9x19mm Parabellum was a small round that packed a lot of punch. The main benefit of 9mm was higher magazine capacity. The M1911s only held 7 round, where as newer 9mm pistols could hold around 15. In 1985, the US military formally adopted the Beretta M9 as the new sidearm. The M9 is lighter than the 1911, with more than double the magazine capacity. The M9 also holds the benefit of being Double and Single Action, as opposed to the M1911 which was only single action. Upon the M9s adoption, many troops hated it in comparison to their old M1911s, however as time went on, the M9 became beloved to many servicemen. The M9 has become one of the most famous pistols used by the military.

The M9 continued to innovate and improve over its service history. Later models such as the M9A1 featured a picatinny rail, giving the user the ability to mount lights, lasers and other accessories to the gun. Modifiable grips, sights and red-dot compatible slides became commonplace in models like the M9A3 and M9A4.

Beretta M9- Civilian Variants

Uniquely, the M9 wasn’t originally designed for military use. The Beretta 92 was designed 10 years prior to its adoption by the military. In a lot of ways the Beretta 92 is both a descendant of WWII era sidearms as well as a modern defensive handgun. The 92 features a double stack magazine and an open slide design. Beretta continues to produce the 92 with it still remaining one of the most popular defensive and sporting handguns. Beretta produces tons of 92 variants, such as their many 92FS’ and the 92X. Because the M9 started as a civilian handgun, its one of the most accessible guns on the market. Whether its in the M9 or 92 configuration, one of these Berettas belong in everyone’s collection.

If you’re interested in M9s or firearms within the same family as them, check out our store.

Sig Sauer P320

Sig Sauer M17 P320Sig Sauer M17-Service History

As striker-fires became more and more commonplace, the US military decided it was time to update their 30 year old sidearm. In 2017, the Army decided to switch out their Beretta’s for a Sig Sauer. The Military learned that modularity is key. The easier it is to make simple modifications and adjustments, the longer the firearm can stay in service. The M17 was a modified variant of the P320, which Sig Sauer had developed several years prior. The M17  holds the advantage of how simple modifications on it can be made. Users can easily swap out grips, slides, barrels, triggers and sights; as well as optics, lasers and lights. Shortly after the Army adopted the M17, the M18 would be adopted by the Marine Corps. Going forward, these pistols will be the primary sidearm of the military.

Because of the M17s recent adoption, it has yet to form a long lasting legacy. That being said, admirers can easily get their hands on this innovative firearm as it carves its own place in history. The M17 and M18 bring a new level of capability and adaptability to keep todays soldiers safe. It may be a newcomer, but this gun is already becoming an icon of American firearms.

Sig Sauer M17-Civilian Variants

Unmatched in its modularity, the P320 has become an extremely popular civilian handgun. Finding parts to modify your P320 is extremely easy with Sig Sauer producing many of them themselves. The M17 can be found in many variations, including both the M17 and M18 which are commonly available. The standard P320 along with compacts and P320X, are easy to find as well. Because of their reliability and their modularity, the P320 line is one of the most common handguns for defense or sport. The P320 line not only comes in its standard 9mm caliber, but also .45ACP and 10mm. This pistol is perfect for not only the military, but for the needs of any user.

To find M17 and other P320 Handguns, click here.

Other Military Pistols

There are countless other handguns that have seen service from the United States Military. Many of them were adopted around the same time as the handguns mentioned above. Weapons like the Sig Sauer MK25 and M11 saw service amongst special forces groups, like the Navy Seals. These guns can be easily found in similar and identical forms, such as the P226 and P229. Where as more common civilian handguns see service, such as the Glock 19.

The US Military depends on every weapon to protect the lives of all of their soldiers. They’re weapons are tough and reliable, the best of the best. Whether you’re interested in sporting use or practical use, these service pistols are the best of the best. These handguns protect our brave men and women on the front lines, and they can protect you too. All of these handguns come in multiple variations on our range. Feel free to check our Rentals to see our lineup of pistols used by the military.

This is the best indoor shooting range I’ve ever been to. Great prices, great selection and a knowledgeable staff. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this store was owned and operated by veterans. Highly recommended.

Louis S.

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