If I had a dime for every time someone asked me “What’s the best pistol” I’d never have to work again. Let me let you in on a little secret that you have to promise not to tell anyone….
THERE IS NO “BEST” PISTOL!!!!
Let the gnashing of teeth begin
There I said it. Now I expect this statement to cause all sorts of butt hurt among certain folks. In fact this entire article may be butt hurt inducing so consider your self warned. They’ll get over it. Yeah I’m looking at you Mr. Glock or Springfield Armory or Smith and Wesson fan boi. I can come up with a variety of problems each of those pistols have. Glocks are famous for not having the best ergonomics and smacking the shooter in the forehead with ejected brass. Until the last few months Smith & Wesson M&Ps had horrible triggers and the accuracy of the 9mm barrels sucked. Springfield Armory has that grip safety and most parts are not user repairable. Does it mean they are useless? Not necessarily. Some pistols are indeed better performing than others. The Glocks and M&Ps are in my top three pistols that I recommend. Before we go any further we need to go backwards though.
What type of pistol?
The first question to ask is what is the intended reason behind wanting a pistol? Is it target practice, competition, self-defense? Do you want a semi-automatic or revolver? Single, double, or striker fired action? From there it narrows the choices and makes selecting a pistol much less of an aneurysm inducing process. For the purposes of this discussion say you want a self-defense pistol. The next thing to ask is semi-automatic or revolver. This is my personal opinion, but I’d rather have a semi-automatic with 15 or so rounds available to use rather than be limited to 5 shots in a revolver. We will discuss the pros and cons of this choice another time. Suffice it to say that every argument you’ve heard against semi-automatics and in favor of the “reliability” of a revolver is an old wives tale. So the question is which semi-automatic do you want? First of all for the purposes of this discussion we’ll assume that we want a full sized pistol (4 to 4.5″ barrel). So we wont be discussing something like the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (which I like). Next up we’ll assume that weight is a consideration so you’re going to want one made of polymer to one degree or another. Oh and finally you’d like to spend less than $600. Together or as separate items those last two items knocks out every 1911 type of pistol from evaluation.
Semi-automatic? Great, now which one?
There are many semi-automatics out there. Some can be discounted out of hand. Some may appear to be good to go but looks can be deceiving. The question you need to be asking is “how much is my life worth”. Sure you can pick up pistol X for $350 at your local gun shop. But it is worth it? Is it known for being reliable for hundreds or thousands of rounds? Here is a hint, there is no sub $500 (MSRP) pistol I would ever bet my life or the lives of the people I love or like on. So where does that leave us? Let’s look at the most popular brands out there: Sig, Smith & Wesson M&P, Beretta PX4 Storm, Glock, Sprginfield Army XD or XDm, HK P30, and the Walther PPQ. Sorry Styer fans, you’re not included on the list because I have no experience with them. If I didn’t name a pistol so far it’s because I am unsatisfied with their reliability for the role of self-defense. So of the 8 pistols I named let’s look at their pros and cons.
Sigs had a reputation for being rock solid reliable. I said had because once they started to make them in the US it appears that their quality control went way down and malfunctions became common place. That’s not a problem if you are going to use this pistol for plinking at the range, but it is a huge issue for a defensive firearms. This is not based on postings from random users on the errornet, but based on the observations of many top instructors and armorers.
The Springfield Armory pistols are beloved by some. However I have a problem with grip safeties. By their nature If you are not holding the pistol in the exact manner that the designers intended you run a high risk of having a malfunction. The pistol will either suffer a Failure to Eject (FTE, aka stove pipe) or Failure to Feed (FTF). Either way these malfunctions will turn your pistol into a cool looking paper weight. These are not good things to experience if you are trying to defend your life. However there are those who are able to master the correct hold in high stress situations and this pistol works for them.
The Beretta PX4 with its rotating barrel was interesting to me. However I just couldn’t bring myself to recommend it. Parts availability can be problematic. The trigger is nothing to be impressed with. As for its weight I found it to be found it to be heavy when compared to other offerings. In addition the frame mounted safety was a pain to use. It is in an awkward position. The lever is small and hard to articulate.
As for the HK P30 with the LEM trigger, it is a fantastic pistol. My only complaint is that HK is very proud of their pistols as is evidenced by their $800 to $900 average retail price. For that amount of money it ought to get up in the morning and make me a pot of coffee each and every day. So if you have the money available then I say go for it.
Culling the heard
So where does that leave you? In my world you have three choices between a Glock, Smith and Wesson M&P, and the Walther PPQ. Smiths and Glocks have their plusses and minuses but are rock solid reliable self-defense pistols. As for the Walther PPQ, its been described by some very authoritative individuals such as Larry Vickers as “the best polymer striker fired pistol on the market today”. More on that later. Of these three only the M&P can be had with a manual safety selector switch. That doesn’t mean that the other two don’t have any safeties. They do. In fact in my opinion you don’t need one. After all how many revolvers come with one? If you follow the NRA 3 firearm handling safety or Col. Jeff Cooper’s 4 rules of gun safety you don’t need one. But enough of that, I digress too much and that’s a topic for another discussion.
The final decision
What I would do at this point is find a range that rents guns or a buddy or three who has these and shoot them all. I’m not talking about one or two rounds, but fire multiple magazines worth of ammunition. This process is known as “fitting the gun to the shooter, not the shooter to the gun.” It doesn’t matter if I or your friend, or Bubba at the corner store, or even Zeke behind the counter of your local gun shop thinks that Pistol X is currently the greatest thing since sliced bread. What matters is the opinion of the person who will own it, who may have to one day rely on it to save their life. When you are test firing a pistol, if you don’t like the ergonomics, don’t like the recoil, don’t like the manual of arm, then don’t get it. No matter how pressured you may feel, do not get it. Get something else. Just make sure it is something you can bet your life on.
In the end
In short you are making one heck of an investment. Caveat emptor! Do you research! Don’t rely on just my opinion. I am, despite the rumors to the contrary, not infallible. The internet is a wonderful and dangerous tool for finding out about things, especially firearms. Look for reviews that are objective (fact based) and not subjective (opinions). Narrow your list of prospects. Shoot those prospects and pick the one that fits you the best. Tell everyone else to take a hike.
Some other things to consider
Like I said earlier I did not discuss single stack pistols like the S&W M&P Shield. I also did not cover the 1911 type of pistols. I actually like both pistols but didn’t want to muddy the waters. While I am not a fan of revolvers that doesn’t mean they aren’t appropriate for self defense. That is a decision that you will have to make on your own based on the thorough research I know you are going to do, right?
What do I carry and shoot?
Now what do I personally feel is THE best pistol out there? For me that would be the Walther PPQ M2 in 9mm. As I said, it’s been described as “the best polymer striker fired pistol on the market today”. I happen to agree with this statement. The trigger is the best of any striker fired pistol. Accuracy is fantastic. You won’t get hit in the forehead by flying brass. It is extremely reliable. It doesn’t need much support from aftermarket suppliers. No need for a custom fitted barrel to improve accuracy or a new trigger package to smooth things out or even a plug that says “Molon Labe” on it so that you look cool. All you might need to do with the PPQ is change out the sights and with offerings from Trijicon, 10-8, Dawson Precision and others that isn’t a problem. There are no shortage of holsters either. Blade Tech, Raven Concealment, Comp-TAC, and many other makers of quality holsters produce models for the PPQ. The only downside I can think of is the availability of spare parts from Walther and the one year warranty. The former is getting better. As for the latter they are under continuing pressure to change that policy. Thankfully the pistols are so well built that it isnt much of an issue. But remember, your mileage may vary.