Our Favorite 9mm Pistols of 2023: The Best 9mms for Any Scenario
Licensed Concealed Carry Holder
Products are selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases from a link. How we select gear.
The 9mm pistol is the staple handgun for many Americans. These weapons are versatile, affordable, and easy to learn to use, but sifting through the mountain of 9mm pistol models, sizes, configurations, actions, brands, etc. has led more than one aspiring handgun owner to abandon their search altogether.
No need to stress. Below, you’ll find a quick overview of what you should look for when you need a new 9mm pistol (or if you’re buying your first one). Plus, we’ve collected the top 9mm pistols currently on the market. Let’s dive in!
In This Article
Compare Side By Side
Our Top Picks
Displaying 1 - 1 of 9
Fit & Finish
Best Full Size 9mm Pistols
1. Best Full Size: Glock 17
- Weight: 24.97 oz
- Capacity: 17
- Length: 7.95 in
- Barrel Length: 4.49″
- Width: 1.18 in
- Classic style
- Beginner friendly
- Easy to shoot
- Fantastic capacity
- Looks like every other Glock
- Limited slide serrations
The G17, one of the most legendary striker-fired 9mm Glock pistols, launched the Glock empire when it arrived on the market in the early 1980s. The first successful polymer-framed pistol, it overcame an initial uphill fight because nobody likes change and has encouraged a crop of imitators.
Boasting a 17+1 shot capacity, this full-sized combat handgun has gone on to be the most adopted in Western military service worldwide, with countries ranging from Britain and France to South Korea and Singapore trusting it.
The latest variant, the Gen 5 model, includes upgrades such as the Glock Marksman Barrel, which is extremely accurate and easy to shoot. If you want all the details on the G17 check out our hands-on review.
2. Beretta 92X
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel Length: 4.25 inches
- Overall Length: 7.75 inches
- Weight: 27.2 ounces, unloaded
- Magazine Capacity: 13+1
- Incredibly proven performer
- Many variants to choose from
- Solid magazine capacity
- Tons of used 92s floating around
- Large, heavy pistol
- Tough to determine country of manufacture
- Compact models only have a 13+1 round magazine capacity
- Double-action/single-action hammer-fired layout with a decocker seems dated
The steel-framed Beretta 92, one of the most venerble double-stack 9mm pistols on the market, has been around for almost 50 years.”
There is a reason for that: it just plain works, and as I detailed in our historical look at the Beretta 9mm pistols, the 92 really was a watershed moment in handgun design. I went way deep on the 92 if you’re interested. Beretta introduced the new “X” series of the Model 92 a few years ago and has since upgraded them to an optics-ready standard.
While they’re certainly one of the most recognizable handguns anywhere, they’re not the lightest, easiest to operate, nor do they offer the most firepower, but the 92 is a true classic that delivers on performance and looks.
Adopted by dozens of militaries worldwide, including the Pentagon who has used it for the past four decades, this “Back to Back Gulf War Champ” is a great pistol and still very relevant today in its third generation, the Vertec 92X series. While originally a full-sized pistol with low recoil, the 92 is also produced in shorter Centurion and Compact variants.
Introduced in 2019, the 92X line included a full-sized model with a 4.7-inch barrel, a Centurion with a 4.3-inch barrel, and a Compact variant with both a 4.3-inch barrel and a shorter grip frame. This has since morphed into an RDO (Red Dot Optic) 92X standard, which includes an optics-ready slide.
The introductory version of the 92X Compact, as shown in this review, was available with or without a 3-slot Picatinny accessory rail on the dustcover in front of the trigger guard. Mine is the “smooth” variety that does not have the rail. All other variants are rail guns.
The 92X series, except the more bespoke Performance and 92XI models, all share the same basic features, including a slim Vertec frame, anti-friction coated magazines and internals, a beveled magwell, skeletonized hammer, front and rear slide serrations, and a black Bruniton finish on the slide.
The standard controls include ambidextrous oversized G-style “competition” style slide-mounted thumb decocker levers instead of the more traditional F-style safety/decocker found on most other Beretta 92 variants. The push-button magazine release, which drops the mags free for me every time, is mounted on the left side of the frame but can be swapped to the right.
Between the thin Vertec frame and very aggressively textured thin grips, the 92X series feels svelte in the hand and lends to easy controllability.
We ran the 92X through our standard 500-round test and evaluation drill with a mix of range and defensive ammo to include both steel and brass cases. We had zero malfunctions on the range. These Tennessee-built Berettas run.
The 92X series as a rule ships with high visibility orange/black combat sights that are easy to pick out in day and low-light conditions. Newer RDO models include an optics cut for micro red dots, although Beretta doesn’t ship the guns with a full kit of plates– you have to order the one you want. The sights are compatible with M9A3 models.
The 92X has a thin short-reset trigger made of billet steel, which feels very similar to Berettas of old but has a much more shallow trip on reset. I found mine to break cleanly at 6 pounds in double action and 3 pounds in single.
The 92X is easy to control but the DA/SA nature of the first shot means that you often have a “flyer” that spoils the group’s overall size. To check that, I ran the pistol from the bench at 15 yards in SA mode only and were rewarded with 2-inch five-shot strings on average. In short, it is extremely accurate so long as you put in the time to master the trigger.
The basic Beretta 92 series has been around since the 1970s and has been extensively replicated by folks like Girsan and Taurus. Going past that, guys like Ernest Langdon and Bill Wilson have taken to offering just about every custom option, part, and service for these guns one could desire.
Odds are, if you want something something modified or added to a 92X, it is just a click away.
3. Competition Pick: Canik SFx Rival
- Weight: 29 oz.
- Capacity: 18+1
- Length: 8.1 in
- Barrel Length: 5″
- IDPA, IPSC, and USPSA compliant
- Amazing value
- Adjustable fiber optic sights and optics-ready
- Superb 90-degree diamond-cut aluminum flat trigger
- Removable external mag-well
- Not for new shooters
- Trigger can be too light for some
Our favorite competition nine, the Canik SFx Rival offers an unbelievable value & is legal to use in IDPA, IPSC, and USPSA competitions without restrictions — but also makes for a great plinking gun and gives you room for every home defense accessory you could want. It’s also large enough that it’s very comfortable to shoot, especially with 147gr ammo.
My favorite upgrade is the trigger, which is a lightened 90-degree diamond-cut aluminum flat trigger — and it’s a joy to use. The trigger shoe texture gives you a nice contact patch that provides consistent trigger pull that helps me get on target. Additionally, the SFx Rival is fully ambidextrous, enabling you to swap both the magazine and slide releases.
The full-size Picatinny rail allows you to attach your preferred laser or light, and the double undercut trigger guard adds more to the mix by helping me get as high on the grip as possible and suppress recoil. The external mag-well is removable, making it both division compliant and easily customizable.
The SFx Rival pistol comes with two 18-round magazines, two magazine case plates, three different size back straps, and three different size magazine release extensions, so you can start customizing the gun the moment you open the box. Overall, it’s an excellent choice for shooting competitions and one of my personal favorites.
Want more on Canik’s Rival? Read our hands-on review.
4. Modular Pick: Sig Sauer P320 M17
- Weight: 29.6 oz
- Capacity: (1) 17rd / (2) 21rd Steel Mags
- Length: 8″
- Sights: Front and rear (night)
- Finish: CoyotePVD
- Durable & proven
- Excellent sights
- Good size and weight
- Smooth, consistent trigger pull
- Good magazine capacity
- Grip could be a bit more comfortable
- 1.4″ width is too large for some
- No trigger safety
The Sig P320 9mm pistol, particularly known for its great factory sights, has both front and rear sights. The rear sights offer contrasting illumination, making the pistol usable in low light or nighttime shooting situations.
The Sig Sauer P320 M17 has both front and rear sights, with the rear sights offering contrasting illumination so you can use the pistol even in low light or nighttime shooting situations.
Developed to both compete for the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract and offer a more forward-looking alternative to their P-200 series pistols, Sig Sauer introduced the P320 in 2014.
We recently had the opportunity to pick up a surplus SIG Sauer P320 M17 from the West Point Military Academy’s competition pistol team. The P320 M17 is the civilian version of the military and law enforcement P320, so it shares a lot of the same characteristics.
Ditching the common frame and slide format that almost every other semi-auto pistol used, the P320 instead uses a fire control unit that can be swapped out between different grip modules to quickly allow the user to move between full, carry, compact, and subcompact sizes.
The modularity of the design made it a shoo-in for the MHS program, and the military is currently fielding the gun as the M17 and M18 pistols, respectively. This is truly a 21st-century combat pistol.
We’re very impressed with the P320 M17 so far. It’s a full-sized, striker-fired, fully modular handgun chambered in 9mm. It’s accurate, reliable, and easy to shoot. We especially like the ambidextrous safety and slide lock/slide release.
The grip is a little thick for some, but it’s still comfortable to shoot. And because it’s modular, you can swap out the grip for a different size if needed. Get the rest of our take in our hands-on P320 M17 review.
Best Compact 9mm Pistols
5. Best Compact 9mm: Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact
- Weight: 18.3 oz
- 7+1, 8+1 capacity
- Length: 6.1”
- Sights: front and rear white dot
- Finish: stainless steel and armornite
- Very affordable with two magazines
- Good finish for most major parts
- Comfortable polymer grip
- Has good sights
- Stock trigger safety makes for a mushy feel
In 2012, Smith & Wesson introduced the new Military & Police series, moving away from their Reservoir Dogs-era metal-framed “wonder nines” to the now-famous polymer pistol.
It’s no surprise that Smith & Wesson tops this chart with a relatively new member of their M&P series: the M&P Shield 2.0 Compact. I have always found the pistol light, reliable, and easy to use, and the pistol has both a steel frame and stainless steel Armornite finish for both the barrel and the slide, making it duty-level durable.
In a nutshell, the coating provides the weapon with a durable finish that has protected mine from corrosion and damage – and despite hundreds of range trips, countless cleanings, and thousands of rounds, my M&P looks practically new.
Moving on from hammer-fired DA/SA pistols to striker-fired guns, the new M&Ps had to slog it out against Glock, which had already carved out a big part of the LE market, but the fact the M&P line has better triggers and sights while sporting the same level of reliability and a “made in USA” cache bought the Smiths lots of room to maneuver.
Today, the second generation M2.0 variants, particularly the Compact version, is about the closest thing to a “Glock killer” as one gets. Plus, the M&Ps of all generations have a take-down lever and sear deactivation system that allows for disassembly without pulling the trigger– something most other polymer guns lack.
For those looking for something in the M&P2.0 neighborhood, there’s also a single-stack subcompact companion to the M&P, the Shield, beating Glock’s 43 series gun by several years.
Today, the Shield M2.0 has a better trigger than the first-gen models, as well as aggressive grip texture and an optimal 18-degree grip angle for a natural point of aim.
Thin and lightweight, the Shield boasts a 7+1 and 8+1 capacity depending on what magazine you use and the new Shield Plus aims to take on the Sig 365 in the Micro 9 game.
Designed with performance and safety in mind
The M&P, with its full-size frame, features an easy-to-access external safety. I find it more user-friendly than some compact 9mms that position their safeties too close to the slide.
I find the factory front and rear white dot sights easy to use and plenty visible in a variety of lighting conditions, even brighter environments, or when the sun is overhead.
You get a lot of value out of this striker-fired pistol as well, as it comes with two magazines out of the box. Ultimately, it’s a durable and serviceable metal-framed pistol that fires the reliable 9mm luger at works well for training, self-defense, and concealed carry.
We break the Shield 2.0 down even further in our hands-on review.
6. Glock 19
- Weight: 23.63 oz
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 7.28 in
- Barrel Length: 4.02 in
- Width: 1.26 in
- Lengendary reliability
- Larger mag release button
- Ambidextrous slide stop
- Reversible magazine catch
- No finger grooves
- Only includes 2 backstraps
A more compact version of Gaston Glock’s G17 design, the Glock 19 for many, is the perfect multipurpose handgun.
With a standard 15+1 round capacity, the G19 stands ready for use in home defense, is enjoyable to shoot on the range (there are documented specimens still ticking with well over 100,000 rounds fired), has more aftermarket support than just about any other firearm ever produced shy of the AR-15, and, when using the right holster for the right person, is a great gun for concealed carry.
The simplicity and safety of the Glock platform also make the G19 an approachable option for novice shooters looking for a first gun that will be simple to maintain and easy to use.
There is a reason the G19 consistently tops the best-selling pistols list. Go for the Gen 5 model for the most current set of features — and for a deep dive, take a look at our review of the G19.
On the fence between the G19 and G17? I break down the differences in our comparison guide.
7. FN 509
- Weight: 25.5 oz.
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 6.8″
- Barrel Length: 3.7″
- Width: 1.35″
- Optics ready
- FN quality
- Adjustable palm swell
- Limited aftermarket support
Designed to compete for the Army’s Modular Handgun System program, more than a million rounds were put into the development and testing of the pistol series that was introduced in 2017 as the FN 509.
A versatile polymer-framed striker-fired 9mm, it is available in a long slide (LS) Edge variant for practical/competition shooters (which we reviewed and really liked), standard-length models, Tactical variants with extended magazines and threaded barrels, and Compact options ideal for concealed carry.
Don’t let the fact that it is kind of a sleeper on the market, those who know, know.
Best Sub-Compact 9mm Pistols
8. Best Sub-Compact: Sig Sauer P365XL
- Weight: 17.8 oz
- Capacity: 12+1
- Length: 6.59 in
- Barrel Length: 3.7 in
- Width: 1.0 in
- Fantastically small
- Super concealable
- Decent capacity for a pistol this size
- Intermittent failure to return to battery
- Small grip a challenge for support hand
Sig kind of broke the carry gun market with their P365. The lead entry into what are now commonly referred to as “Micro 9s”, these are very small pistols, rivaling single-stack subcompacts such as the FN 503 or Glock 43, but have a modified double-stack magazine giving them a 10+1 or 12+1 capacity. The P365 is generally the first recommendation we’d make for someone looking at the Micro 9 category of sub-compacts.
Since its initial introduction, Sig has expanded the P365 series with larger XL and XL Spectre models as well as a melted SAS model and the largest of the bunch, the XMacro.
They have also sparked a whole line of imitators that are trying to keep up; however, most of those other Micro 9s, for now at least, should probably still be in the beta-test first-generation stage. I’ve been carrying a Sig P365XL with a RomeoZero Elite 3 MOA red dot for about a year. As one of my carry guns, I like the 12+1 rounds of capacity packed into a small compact gun.
The Romeo Zero is not my favorite red dot, but it is an easy option when it comes already outfitted on the gun. This pistol is striker fired with an XSeries straight trigger, and if you’re familiar with Sig’s triggers, it feels similar to those on the P320 and Legion model pistols.
Even with the red dot optic, it is set up with a front sight in case anything fails on the red dot optic.
What I love most about this pistol is the grip texture of the 365 XSeries grip module. Its subtle texture doesn’t rub your skin poorly when carrying but gives you a comfortable purchase of the gun to hold on to during recoil.
The magazine release button is shaped like a triangle and sits almost flush with the grip to ensure you don’t accidentally bump it and release your magazine unintentionally. The slide serrations are easy to grab onto and rack the slide, and depending on the light model, you can still mount a light to the pistol.
We took the P365 XMacro out for a spin, and while it’s a newer, larger take on the P365 series, it shares the same DNA as the previous models but still makes for a sweet concealed carry handgun.
9. Glock 43
- Absolutely dependable
- So small and slim that it can be easily concealed
- Available in G43 and G43x (higher capacity) variants
- Tough to get back on target rapidly
- Kind of snappy
- Iddy Biddy Grip
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel Length: 3.41 inches
- Overall Length: 6.26 inches
- Weight: 16.3 ounces, unloaded
- Magazine Capacity: 6+1
The smallest 9mm handgun that Glock makes, the “slimline” Glock 43 was introduced in 2015 and was an instant hit. Probably the best single-stack 9mm carry pistol on the market, the Glock 43 deserves consideration if you’re in the market for a reliable handgun that scores high on concealment.
Providing a 6+1 capacity pistol that was smaller than some of the most compact .380s and .32s on the market, the G43 soon became the choice of many for concealed carry, be they the average CCW holder or off-duty police.
Hitting the scales at just 20 ounces when fully loaded, the gun is one of the few 9mm pistols that can be ankle carried comfortably. I dove deep into the G43 in our review of Glock’s concealed carry masterpiece.
The Glock 43 Vickers 9mm was first announced as a caliber upgrade from Glock’s successful .380 ACP chambered Glock 42. This new 43 series gun offers users a 6+1 round capacity of 9mm in a slim, pint-sized package.
Exceedingly slim at just 1 inch over the widest part of the grip, the G43 hits the scales with a loaded weight of just 20 ounces while keeping a respectable 3.41-inch barrel length that allows the pistol to deliver when it comes to performance.
Like most other standard Gen 4 Glocks, the G43 has left-side controls including a push-button magazine release and slide lock.
The mag always drops free in my testing or range days, but the slide lock, being small and recessed, is often hard to operate, which may force you to just fall back to the “slingshot” method of racking the slide.
The G43 uses Glock’s standard 360-degree RTF texture on the grip. As the pistol is short, at just 4.25 inches tall with a standard flush-fit magazine, the grip is abbreviated and folks with even normal sized hands will have at least the bottom two fingers left hanging.
This can be fixed using extended magazine base plates.
It is a Glock. I have had zero malfunctions or funny range stories to pass on — after 500 rounds in dedicated testing and with all the range time I have behind me outside of tests.
Glock’s standard plastic sights are functional and easily replaced, although many folks aren’t fans of the U-shaped rear sight. I find it perfectly usable, but if you don’t, there’s a load of aftermarket options out there — we are talking about a Glock here.
The front sight is, again, totally functional, but I swapped the front out for a night sight because they’re just so much more usable in dim and dark lighting.
At practical distances, being 15 yards or less, the G43 performs well, and landing 2-3 inch groups is a breeze. It is only after stretching back 25 yards or more than the short sight radius started to make it hard for me to keep inside an eight-inch circle without serious concentration.
Magazines, sights, and internals are widely available both in Glock’s own factory standard and by third-party companies. There are lots of options to replace Glock triggers with literally dozens of firms making them.
Glock bills the G43 as having a 5.4-pound trigger, which I can vouch for in testing and direct measurement with my trigger scape. There is a significant level of “creep” in the trigger, but the trigger is nonetheless functional.
For those who would prefer a few more rounds, the Glock 43X still has a slim profile but offers a 10+1 capacity and is just three ounces heavier, making for an effective concealed carry weapon with a little more on tap.
10. Taurus GX4
- Caliber: 9mm
- Barrel Length: 3.06 inches
- Overall Length: 6.05 inches
- Weight: 18.7 ounces, unloaded
- Magazine Capacity: 10+1 flush fit, 11+1 or 13+1 round extended.
- Offers similar concealability and performance to the more expensive P365
- Affordable price
- Uses Glock-pattern sights
- Surface controls could be better
- Takedown pin feels outdated
For those in search of a great EDC pistol that might have been overlooked, the GX4 is an excellent option. Taurus, with its long history of producing polymer-framed 9mm pistols, introduced the PT-111 back in 1997.
They continued to improve and evolve their designs with the G2 and G3 series, but it wasn’t until May 2021 that they introduced their first “micro-compact” concealed carry defensive pistol: the GX4. In response to popular options like the Sig Sauer P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat, the GX4 was Taurus answer to the demand for a wallet-friendly, high-performing, concealable pistol.
The standout feature of the GX4 is its compact design and excellent concealability. Every component of the gun feels meticulously crafted to be as slim and lightweight as possible, all while maintaining a budget-friendly price point.
The GX4 features simple controls, with a focus on a “melted” and snag-free design. The slide catch is small and recessed on the left side only, making it difficult to use. The reversible push-button magazine release functions well, and the magazines drop free. Takedown requires a tool, as there is no onboard disassembly lever.
Despite feeling smaller in the hand compared to other micro-compact 9mm pistols, the GX4 offers good 360-degree texture in the grip and other nice ergonomics, such as thumb tabs on the frame. It carries comfortably, even in appendix positions.
After putting 500 rounds of various factory loads through the GX4, I found it to be highly reliable (and fun) on the range, with no malfunctions logged.
While the GX4 features the wise choice of Glock-pattern dovetail/mounts, Taurus chose steel sights over the often-criticized Glock plastic sights.
The front sight is a fixed dot, while the rear is a blacked-out drift adjustable sight. They are easy to use with no frills. Taurus also offers the GX4 in a TORO package, which includes a factory optics-cut slide for use with micro red dots.
The GX4 is equipped with a flat-faced, serrated single-action only trigger that feels noticeably better than previous Taurus models. It features a short take-up and a defined wall, breaking at approximately 5.5 pounds. These characteristics are impressive for a factory-standard pack in a striker-fired pistol.
During practical shooting at self-defense distances up to 25 yards, I found the Taurus GX4 to be quite capable on the range. As a small pistol with a 3-inch barrel, it doesn’t offer a lot of sight radius, but it was easy to keep on target without experiencing flyaways.
While holsters for the GX4 seem to be widely available from several makers, there is little support for the gun outside of Taurus’s webstores. However, since the sights are Glock-pattern, you’ll likely find a ton of replacement options available.
Our 9mm Pistol Buyers Guide
Few handgun categories have the diversity and sheer number of options as the 9mm pistol. Focus on the following factors and you’ll be able to narrow down your search to a great 9mm handgun that works for you.
- Name Recognition
- Mature Design
- Aftermarket Support
- Fit with Your Purpose
- Grip Quality
- Size & Weight
1. Name recognition
While the caliber started slow, typically just seen in German-made Lugers and Mauser C96 pistols across the first 30 years of the cartridge’s career, the 9mm today is the most popular chambering for modern semi-automatic pistols.
In 2018 alone, some 2 million 9mm pistols were made in the U.S., more than any other caliber– a figure that doesn’t include pallets of guns coming from overseas.
With so many horses in the race, it is always a better idea to bet on an experienced thoroughbred who knows the course instead of an untried newcomer or unsteady nag.
Dropping the horse metaphor for plain talk, the odds you will get a quality pistol from a company like Glock, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, or FN– who have made thousands of them over the course of decades to near-universal acclaim– are much better than grabbing some oddball from who knows where.
There’s a reason why Glock Fanboys and HK Diehards exist — those brands have created some of the best firearms in the history of mankind.
Sure, the price difference between, say a Glock and a “Fly by Night 9” may be just $150 or $200, and they may look and feel mostly the same, but when it counts, is your life worth that extra cash?
2. Mature design
Everyone loves the newest thing. When a customer is offered a choice between a solid design with a good reputation that has been on the market for years, or the just-released gee-whiz carry gun that is an ounce lighter, has a cooler finish, and carries two extra rounds for the same price, it isn’t hard to forecast what will likely sell.
However, there has been a nasty trend among new handgun models to come out with issues that are only discovered after they have been in circulation for a few months.
Even top-notch companies are not immune to such problems in beta models. For instance, take the primer/striker drag issues with the early Sig P365 or the more recent recall on S&W Shield EZ, a gun that reportedly tended to go full-auto.
When evaluating choices for a 9mm handgun, or any firearms for that matter, it may be a wise idea to select something that has already gone through its teething problems.
3. Aftermarket support
One of the worst thorns an owner of a new (or at least new to them) handgun can run into is to find out that their new 9mm has very few holsters available to fit them, extra magazines cost $75, and there are no options to replace the kind of creepy trigger or sometimes hard-to-see sights.
To skirt problems such as these, either go with an established design that has been in production for several years or double-check to make sure the new model under consideration is supportable.
If possible, quickly search for replacement magazines, triggers, extended mag and holster options to get an idea of life cycle costs before committing to a pistol.
Adjustable sights will allow you to compensate for different variables, while and day/night sights which ensure the pistol will remain usable in a variety of lighting conditions.
If these aren’t part of the factory package, knowing you can replace them to optimize your sight picture is a really helpful feature.
Consider whether you’ll need a 9mm pistol with a mounting rail. Some pistols allow you to slot attachments, like lights or laser/light combos to beneath the barrel on an abbreviated Picatinny rail — a perfect home for a pistol light — while others eschew this feature in exchange for affordability.
4. Pistol Type & Purpose Fit
While there’s no hard line between the main types of pistols and their fit with a given use case, getting the most out of your gun involves aligning its strengths with how you plan to use it. These generally fall into 3 categories: concealed carry, home defense, and range guns.
As the name implies, the goal of a concealed carry pistol is to be concealable. This means shorter (under 4 inch) barrels, smaller frames and lighter weight.
These shorter pistols, with their truncated barrel length, give up sight radius, making them inherently less accurate at distance, and can be less comfortable to shoot due to their tendency to have a snappier recoil and more pronounced muzzle rise as they have less mass to eat up that impulse.
You’ll also often take a hit on capacity — many of these pistols use single-stack magazines to reduce overall size — but given that most self-defense encounters are over in a matter of seconds and happen well under 10 yards, capacity, and sight radius are secondary considerations to ease of carry.
You’ll find descriptions such as compact, subcompact, and micro-compact in this category, and these pistols often make for some of the best concealed carry pistols available.
Duty/home defense guns are generally full-sized with a barrel length of 4 inches or longer — often with a double-stack magazine offering a capacity of 13 rounds or more. Their primary purpose is to support home defense, which often means simple systems with few extras, mostly focusing on optics support, under-barrel rails for lights, and big mags with lots of capacity.
These are larger pistols, which are heavier than CCW options, but that added weight offers more recoil control than smaller pistols.
These kinds of pistols can vary considerably and can include everything from basic plinkers to super-modded competition pistols which big, extended magazines, built-in compensators, and very long barrels for as much sight radius as possible.
Many of the best 9mm pistols will have modular components that allow the user to customize various aspects of the grip and frame to their preference.
Some pistols have fantastic grips with textured surfaces or ergonomic shapes and multiple grip palm swells that help adjust the natural point of a pistol or make it more comfortable for those with different hand sizes to control.
These textured surfaces are great since they make the pistol easier to hold, even if your palm is sweaty, but given the diversity of hand shapes and sizes, not every grip is perfect for every hand.
A modular pistol enables almost anyone to get their fit right, which is critical for effective shooting.
How did 9mm get so popular?
Introduced by Georg Luger around 1900 for use in the toggle-action semi-automatic military pistol that carries his name, the 9mm Parabellum– also seen as 9×19, 9mm Luger, and 9mm Para– became popular initially in Central Europe.
Then, by the early 1940s when handguns like the Astra 600, Browning Hi-Power, Poland’s Radom VIS, and the Finnish/Swedish Lahti were in circulation, it started to become a more worldwide cartridge.
Shortly after World War II, it was the staple cartridge in use with Western military combat as well as law enforcement duty pistols, spreading to America by 1954 with the Smith & Wesson Model 39.
Within a few decades, the light-recoiling 9mm, which still provided effective ballistic performance with appropriate bullets, had largely replaced both lighter rounds such as the .380 and .32 ACP, as well as toppling the vaunted .45ACP in popularity.
In 2017, the FBI tapped it as its standard duty caliber for handguns, a move that cut the legs out from under the .40S&W which had long been billed as splitting the middle ground between 9mm and .45ACP.
In short, today’s 9mm now stands atop the mountain when it comes to modern pistol calibers as it is controllable for both novice and experienced shooters, is typically available in a diverse range of loadings — from target to defensive ammunition to hunting uses — and its short overall length allows it to performs as advertised in a full-sized or compact pistol.
Why the 9mm?
First and foremost, the 9mm is a widely available cartridge. While availability might fluctuate due to political situations in the U.S., it remains one of the most accessible cartridges.
You can likely get up from your desk and find 9mm for sale on a shelf within a 20-minute drive of your current location.
Since it is so easy to get when compared with, for example, .32 ACP, it stands to reason that people will keep using firearms in ammunition types that they can get access to quickly.
Secondly, 9mm is relatively affordable. Again, this will change with the times and ammunition has been creeping up in cost overall through the past several decades.
Companies have been producing 9mm for a century, and they compete with one another. Thus, it is still feasible for most people who want to get into the hobby of shooting to pick up a 9mm handgun and some ammunition for a cost that is at least somewhat palatable.
Ideally, prices will come down in the future, but 9mm is still one of the more budget-friendly rounds.
These days, the most reliably handguns that you are likely to find are in 9mm.
Take Glocks, for example. With millions of units sold, military contracts, police use, and so on, the company has a lot of incentive to make their guns run well and a lot of user data to back up their research.
That’s why so many 9mm platforms have been iterated over several generations, and they tend to get more reliable over time. For us, that means guns that tend to go bang when you want them to and not to go bang when you drop them by accident.
Firearms in 9mm also tend to have more modern designs that allow for a lot of customization from the perspective of a relative handy user.
Today, it’s not awfully difficult to take a stock handgun from several manufacturers and make it exactly how you want it in terms of lights, magazine size, slide length, optics, and so forth.
The ability to tailor a firearm to a specific user, in our view, is a great thing that will keep people shooting firearms in that caliber. Older designs are a lot harder to work on, and so new 9mms are likely to stay popular for the time being.
Finally, the 9mm has proven itself to be exceptionally adaptable in terms of its usage. You can fire them out of rifles, submachine guns, and several flavors of pistols. No matter what, they seem to work well, maintain decent accuracy, and can be loaded for everything from long-range to use with a suppressor.
This adaptability in terms of usage, format, and bullet type gives us, as shooters, many reasons to stick with the caliber, even if it would be possible to make others good at one or two things.
The 9mm handguns of today represent the cutting edge of firearms development, with over a century of lessons learned guiding that evolutionary process to its current pinnacle.
With so many designs offered, there is something to fit every need and personal preference for those looking for a quality pistol that can last a lifetime. Do your research and choose wisely, and the odds of being disappointed are slim.
July 7, 2023 — After taking the P320 M17 out for a spin we’ve replaced the compact P320 with the larger M17 and replaced the Taurus G3C with the smaller, newer GX4. We’re testing the Walther PDP F and Sig P320 AXG Legion to see if they can make the cut for this guide.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get discounts from top brands and our latest reviews!