For this next installment of our mini-series on the Beretta 92, I wanted to address some of the practical issues related to using this pistol for self-defense. I know several shooters who own a Beretta 92FS, but only because it had some novelty appeal when they were fairly new gun owners. As their involvement in the shooting world grew deeper, they became more interested in the latest polymer pistols or custom 1911s, leaving the Beretta in the back of the safe. But the Beretta 92 still has a lot going for it, especially if you’re willing to look beyond what’s offered with the vanilla box-stock 92FS.
Optimizing the Beretta 92 for Self-Defense
Full video transcript below:
I have a theory about the popularity of the Beretta 92 series of pistols. It’s super-popular with novice handgun owners because of its connection to the military and prominence in Hollywood. But it’s not as popular with shooters who have a little more experience and that’s because it’s an old design, but not as pretty as the 1911. It’s a double action, it’s big and heavy, and just not cool anymore. But if you keep moving along that axis of experience and skill, eventually you will start running into some of the most respected shooters and instructors in the industry and a lot of those guys are big fans of the 92. Guys like Ken Hackathorn, Ernest Langdon, Dave Harrington, Mike Pannone, Bill Wilson, and Massad Ayoob. Now, these guys are not necessarily carrying Beretta 92s all the time, but they are quick to point out the merits of the design and the fact that it’s still a viable platform today.
So let’s look at a few of the things Beretta 92 has going for it and what we can do to get the most out of it as a serious self-defense tool.
One of the things that really sets this gun apart is the fact that it is one of the most reliable semi-automatic handguns on the market. This is something that gets overlooked a lot of times, partly because Beretta hasn’t done quite as good a job at exploiting the gun’s reliability for marketing purposes as some other companies have. But it’s not uncommon at all to run into somebody who’s got a Beretta 92 that’s gone thousands of rounds without a single malfunction of any kind.
This has a lot to do with the Beretta’s distinctive open-top slide design. The most common type of stoppage with a semi-auto is a failure to eject — the classic stovepipe. But with the Beretta, when that empty case comes out of the chamber, it really doesn’t have anywhere else to go except out of the way so it’s very uncommon for a case to get stuck where it’s not supposed to be.
When you do hear about problems with the 92, it’s usually because of either poor quality magazines or poor maintenance. This is especially the case with a lot of the military’s M9s that have been chronically abused for the last three decades. But if you take care of these things — if you lube them and use good magazines and replace the springs every few thousand rounds, they should run for a very long time.
The Beretta is also incredibly accurate compared to just about any other non-custom fighting pistol. It soaks up recoil and it’s exceptionally soft-shooting, even compared to other full size 9mms. With a $6 Beretta reduced-power hammer spring, the trigger pull can be smooth and easy to manage without compromising safety or primer ignition.
Now, these are all good things, but they’re not all strictly necessary for a self-defense pistol. If we look at what we actually need in a gun like this, it’s a fairly short list. Reliability is the absolute top priority. The Beretta’s got that. We also need an effective caliber with enough ammo capacity to take care of the kind of threats that we might face. Depending on the mags you’re using, you get 15-20 rounds of 9mm with the Beretta, so we can check that box too. And the gun needs to fit the shooter so they can reach all the controls and the trigger and get a solid firing grip in order to adequately manage recoil.
And that last point, the fit, that is where the Beretta 92 falls short for a lot of people. The standard 92FS like this one does not have great ergonomics. In particular, the slide-mounted safety is not very user-friendly. It’s awkward to use, even if you’re lucky enough to have fingers that can reach it without breaking your grip. Some people like the safety on this gun, and that’s fine, but I think for most people, it ends up being a liability because it’s not very intuitive to disengage.
You can carry this gun with the safety in the fire position and it’s still completely safe because of the long double action trigger pull. But if you do this, you still need to practice sweeping off that safety — you have to make that motion with your finger every time you bring the gun up to target, just in case the safety becomes engaged without you realizing it.
Because of how awkward it is to use the safety and the fact that most people just aren’t going to practice with it as much as they should, I think the Beretta 92G is a better option in most cases. With the G models, this lever acts as a decocker only. It cannot be left in the “safe” position, so you remove that liability completely. The G models aren’t always easy to find so if you get impatient, Wilson Combat will convert your FS model to a G for $150.
The other issue some people have with the fit on this gun is the large grip. This can make the trigger reach too long for a lot of people so they either end up with a bad grip like that, or they just can’t properly manipulate the trigger for that first double action shot. You can get a little help here by trying some slimmer grip panels, or by installing the short reach trigger. Those things can both make a huge difference. There’s also a version of the 92 called the Vertec which has a reduced grip with a straight backstrap — it’s not for everybody, but it can help with trigger reach issues in some cases.
If you can get a Beretta 92 set up so that it fits you, it’s really tough to beat for a full-size self-defense pistol, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive custom job, either. I’ve got a nice Beretta like that — I enjoy shooting it, it’s a great gun. But really, if you just gave me a plain 92G, I would stick a reduced-power hammer spring in it, I would put some bright orange paint on the front sight, and really, I would feel pretty well-equipped for anything I might need to do with that pistol. Of course, Beretta has made a ton of variants of the 92 over the years that add some of those nice-to-have features like a light rail, a removable front sight, and more aggressive grip texture. And if you want to actually carry the 92, there are several compact models that I think are severely underrated. Yesterday on the blog we posted a graphic that charts these different 92 models as a reference to help you figure out what features are on each model.
There’s a link to that in the video description, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already. And then, if you want to support our video channel, buy some ammo from LuckyGunner.com.
15 thoughts on “Optimizing the Beretta 92 for Self-Defense”
The BP/INS 96Ds had two special versions to help alleviate the grip-size problem. The first was a “short” trigger whose face was set further back. I never knew anyone who liked it, because of the way you had to contort your finger at the end of the trigger stroke. (These were DAO pistols.)
The second was a “relieved” backstrap. The backstrap was relieved right below the tang, in a straight line back from the trigger, if you can picture it. It was so slight you almost had to set an altered and an unaltered gun side by side to see it, but it made a big difference in the trigger reach. (It looks like the gun in the second picture, on the grey background, may have it.)
I mention these because I don’t know if they were ever offered to the public, or if they are now. If they are, they’re worth looking into.
The 96D is the only full-sized Beretta I have any experience with, and I like it a lot.
One thing you didn’t mention is, the Beretta is one of the best guns around for followup shots. It seems to automatically bring itself back into alignment without any help from the shooter. It’s like a 6-inch Python that way, and probably for the same reason.
A beretta 92 is the ONLY semi-automatic handgun I’ve ever shot that the sights naturally came back into alignment after the gun recoiled. My 1911 is a distant second. I have big hands and stupid long fingers, so the grip works well for me
If you’re looking for a superbly reliable and accurate handgun at a real bargain price you might want to consider a Stoeger Cougar. Not sure if Beretta owns all or part of Stoeger but several years ago Beretta shipped all their machinery for making what was the Beretta 8000 to Stoeger’s factory in Turkey. (Stoeger also makes a line of fine shotguns) Earlier this year I purchased a new-in-box Cougar L Type P 9mm with 2 mags for just $299 at my local gun store. Identical to the discontinued Beretta 8000 F and forerunner of the PX-4 It’s a 15 + 1 DA/SA compact version of the 92 but has the same reliable low-recoil design. My Stoeger even came with a Beretta handbook. Produced on the same machinery in Turkey instead of Italy IMHO the quality is as good if not better at 1/2 the price. I like everything about it except the same drawbacks Chris has mentioned: The grip is a bit fat for my medium-sized hands and the decocking lever also has a redundant and perhaps awkward manual safety. If your hands are larger, it’s a fine handgun and as Chris mentioned you can get parts to change to a decocker-only without manual safety.
The Cougar is a great pistol. Minor correction: the rotating barrel recoil action is shared with the PX4, not the 92, which has a falling-block action.
You mention the added reliability that the frame cutout offers. It also cuts down on weight of course, which is essential with this heavy beast. One drawback of this feature that you didn’t mention is that it eliminates the modern web-of-the-thumb press check technique (you’d be gripping the barrel directly), which I find is very underrated given the significant benefit it provides.
That is an odd reason to decide to not like a pistol.
yeah, i can get that. It doesn’t make me not like it, but it does mean I sold it because I don’t like going back to the old press check and I won’t ever carry it.
no offense–the 92 is a great duty weapon, but not for EDC, way too heavy, just my opinion…
Can’t argue with that. I would never suggest the full size 92 as an ideal option for concealed carry.
My fat ass can conceal IWB my 92FS in an Alien Gear holster. Does get heavy after a while and pants keep drooping.
I have big hands, so initially I liked the Beretta. I shot on the Army Combat team with it, and grew to dislike it. The DA trigger pull was too long, with a break that made me almost curl my finger to get the bang. Another member of the team had put a few thousand rounds through his, and the ears on the barrel broke off mid match. Seems that was a known issue, and so barrels were being replaced after a specified number of rounds. The 9mm didn’t do so well in Iraq, same as the 5.56 NATO round. Had to put numerous rounds in the bad guys to get the same effect as a .45 or .308 round. We needed all the heavier bullets we could get. So, while it may be a fair range practice gun, I wouldn’t want to carry it again.
Great article , I have owned several Beretta’s over the years . Back in the late 90’s I fell in live with 40 cal and bought my first Mod 96 , never looked at another 92 again. I now carry EDC my Police trade in, 96 and have never had an issue with it. a couple years ago I won the bid at an estate auction and now have a new 96 back up when and if I choose. another side note to this story is , back in the mid 80’s when you could not find a 92 , I hade to buy a Taurus Mod 99 in 9mm , carried it for five years everywhere in one of those popular at the time belt bag , ran over 2,500 rounds through it and never a hiccup , I would have put it up against Any Beretta and impressed the hell out of the other guy , Hope my 96 holds up that well.. God Bless , shoot safe.. Eldon in AZ.
I would agree it’s not the optimum choice for EDC if your trying to truly conceal it 100%. It’s a big gun ! It’s metal, its heavy, it’s bulky & has a flamboyant mechanical (external) design….. I freakin love it !!!
Hi Chris, would you dare to say which is better between the two Wilson Beretta 92 G: the Centurion or the Compact Carry ? Thanks