Beretta 96 Series .40 Caliber Pistol

Since 1985 when the Army selected the Beretta M9--otherwise known as the Beretta 92F--pistol as the new duty sidearm, police agencies nationwide have looked at the pistol as a possibility for duty use. Since, at that time, I lived and worked in Prince George's County, Maryland--where Accokeek and Beretta's U.S. factory are located--I watched agencies all around me switch over to the 92F in 9mm. Some years later when the .40S&W became popular, and thanks to the Clinton Gun Ban that restricted "high capacity" magazines manufactured after a specific date, Beretta offered many agencies the option to trade a used 92F for a new 96F. Many agencies took the offer and are still carrying those guns today. One of the agencies I am responsible for training carries this weapon and I've had more than my fair share of experience with it on the range and in my duty holster.

Shown at right, the Beretta 96F looks, and in fact is, externally identical to the Beretta 92F or "M9." This .40 caliber variant of the military M9 pistol reduced the magazine capacity to eleven rounds for law enforcement weapons, or ten for the capped civilian magazines. What that meant was that police agencies who switched from the 92F to the 96F reduced their in-weapon total from 16 to 12, and their "on the belt" total (including the weapon's load) from 46 to 34. While I'm not one to argue the value of a single bullet if I'm debating a seven round magazine or an eight round magazine, I think that a reduction of 12 rounds or approximately 25% of an officer's ammo load, is significant.

To make matters worse, the Beretta 96s experienced some malfunctions that range officers had a hard time explaining. One agency in my area had a small number of malfunctions (less than 10 out of over 10,000 rounds fired) that they simply couldn't explain. They were unable to identify the malfunctions as the result of mechanical failure, shooter error, magazine damage or damaged ammo. Even as insignificant as that number was, the range master and his staff agreed that they weren't comfortable fielding the weapons with unknown reasons for malfunctions. They hadn't had that problem with the 9mm Beretta 92F model and they weren't prepared to take it on simply so they could switch to the .40.

While some agencies switched to the .40, the officers complained about giving up round count. To resolve the issue, some agencies issued a third spare magazine while others authorized officers to purchase and carry one at their own expense. Adding that 11 round mag meant that the officers were only experiencing a one round reduction in total load as they switched from the 9mm to the .40.

So there we were with police agencies carrying (some of them) the Beretta 96F: a double-action/single-action pistol with identical external dimensions to the 92F--same height, width, length, sight radius, open top slide, etc. The Safety Lever decocked the weapon just like the 92F. Well, just like with the 92F, other variants of the 96F were made:

  • The 96D double-action only model which was popular at one point in my home state of Maryland. Many agencies still are carrying it.
  • The 96G on which the safety lever isn't: it's merely a decocking lever and springs back up to it's firing position upon pull down and release by the shooter. (I referred to this as the 96Sig).

Of course, with the whirlwind entry of every pistol in the world needing a Picatinny rail system on the dust cover, another modification had to be made. While Beretta was modifying the frame, they decided it was also time to adjust the size of the grips. Many police folks had complained about the grip size on the 92s and 96s.

Enter the Beretta Model 96 Vertec. Shown here to the right, you can see the integrated Picatinny rail system and the straight backstrap on the grip.

Has anyone else besides me wondered just how fast holster manufacturers can tool up for a new pistol model? I've never been inside the industry, so for all I know, the pistol manufacturers give the holster manufacturers plenty of notice about new models or design changes.

To the best of my knowledge and in my limited experience, the Vertec never has really caught on. Beretta realized that the limited round counts--compared to other major manufacturers who were using polymer frames--was keeping them out of the competition. Along came the PX series in 9mm and .40, and it seems like Beretta is still struggling to keep up with the pack.

As I type this, there are a number of reports publicly available about several different military units who are either already carrying something other than the Beretta M9, or who are actively looking to replace it. I don't think the .40 caliber weapons are being seen as viable for the military, as the .40S&W is largely an American cartridge. The .45ACP has seen a following around the world, and most military organizations who have drifted away from the 9mm have gone back to the .45ACP.

As to performance: I've not been impressed with the Beretta 96F. That's not to say that it's performed poorly, but it just hasn't jumped out and screamed, "I am the gun for you!" I know one officer whose 96D malfunctioned on the street while he was trying to fire at a car that was driving toward him. He managed to dive out of the way, and to this day no one at Beretta has been able to explain why the gun didn't fire. The ammo that was ejected when the officer did a malfunction drill was later recovered and appeared to be in fine condition. The weapon was properly maintained. At the range I've seen few malfunctions, but shooters who are competent with the 9mm Model 92F seem to have issues with the .40 caliber Model 96F. After enough time on the range and proper coaching, they can get their scores back to what they were with the 9mm. But by and large, the officers I know who are carrying a .40 caliber Beretta 96 variant would prefer to have either the 9mm back or a different pistol in .40. The Beretta 96 pistol is the one pistol I know of that is of quality manufacture from a major player in the industry, that simply isn't liked by a great many shooters.

I'd certainly take one in a gunfight if that was what I had... but given a choice, the 96 wouldn't be at the top of my list of .40s. Just off hand I can tell you that it would be at least fifth...