Letter from “Doug Carlton” Re: Beretta 9mm Model 92/Centurion Owners — .40 S&W Kits Now on the Market

Here’s some of my views on some of the questions you’ve had in your letters about the Beretta M92/96 series. My experience with the gun, after use in the Army and use and ownership in the civilian world is they work as well as any gun out there. People get entirely too territorial about handguns, similar to the way people used to put some mystical significance to their sword they would be carrying in feudal times. The fact is that you really aren’t any less or better armed with nearly any of the current crop of service pistols from any of the makers. FOR THE ARMY the M9 is fine, but notice I said FOR THE ARMY. Too many people put too much significance on what the Big Army uses instead of looking at what they themselves need. Just because the Army uses the M9 or M11 (SIG P228), or some police department uses Glocks, or some instructor uses a M1911A1 doesn’t make it THE BEST FOR YOU in your individual situation. What matters is buying a quality gun that fits your needs. Too many people go nuts over the latest gadget, kit, or weapon they see on an internet picture of troops in combat and instantly want that item because that must be what’s needed. But even in Iraq the situation is different than what we’d experience here in the USA, even if the same type of war was going on. People need to take a long hard look at what they need, and gear up for those needs, not someone else’s. That covers everything from guns, calibers, ammo, to uniforms and radios and even food. Survival is all about your personal needs.

On the 92/96 conversions–The 92/96 conversions were originally sold by Beretta as a set on a common frame. The factory would actually fit both top halves to the one frame, and insure that they worked. The CDNN offering is worth buying IMO, but there is a very small chance it might not be reliable on a standard 9mm frame. There’s no drama in getting it to work right either, but no one should buy one and store it “just in case they need a .40” and not first test it out extensively to wring out any problems before it is needed. The low cost, and the flexibility it adds is worth the price, and 99% of the time these will work fine out of the box. Just make sure that the people with the 1% get them running before they need them.

On ball versus JHP ammo–ANY handgun is marginal at best for stopping power compared to a rifle. The only virtue of a sidearm is it’s portability. So when it’s possible, JHPs should be used regardless of caliber. The “one box method” is a good one for weeding out early ammo purchases, but in general no gun should be relied upon unless the user has shot at least 500 rounds out of it without failure of any kind. 500 rounds is not much of anything in real terms, just ten boxes of ammo. Most of today’s quality pistols will easily shoot several thousands without any problem, and most will digest tens of thousands easily. While I understand that you meant that one box just to weed out incompatible ammo, someone might think one box is all you need to shoot to test for serious use. Once you find one box that does run through the gun, they need to run another 9 boxes at least through it to make sure it works before really having confidence in that gun/ammo combination. FMJ is attractive from a price standpoint, and that IS and important consideration. We’ve all been in a position where we had more needs than money, and just can’t run down to the store and buy 2500 rounds of JHPs or a new P220 for them to go in. So again you have to use your own judgment. If your only handgun will only feed FMJ and you can’t afford one that will, or mods to yours to make it feed different bull;et shapes, then buying FMJ as an interim plan isn’t a bad way to go. It’s far less effective than JHP, but a jammed gun is far less effective than one that’s spitting out ball every time. Ammo is never a waste, since you can use it for barter later, or practice now. It will buy you time to find out what JHP works and time to buy it. It’s NOT the optimum solution by any stretch. Any time you take the “cheap way” over the “best way”, then you’re losing something and cutting corners, but the reality of life in the real world is you sometimes have to do that. Just view it like driving your car on an emergency “doughnut” spare. You can still move, but it’s not the best solution to needing the right tire.

Speaking of tires, on bullets bouncing off of tires–This is a well known phenomena. So well known that many PD’s won’t shoot at truck tires. The U.S. Army first used stacks of tires in the early MOUT training days (i.e. “tire houses”) and found out that bullets and grenade fragments bouncing off of them were a serious danger. Serious enough that the Army does not use them any longer , and neither does anyone else that has any sense for that matter. They were used for only a couple years, and quickly dropped because too many people actually got shot by rounds that were bouncing around. Shooting at tires of any kind is a dangerous thing to do!

On U.S.G.I. Beretta magazines not working–The problem with them is the government went cheap and bought essentially aftermarket mags. Gee, any lesson there? All the bad mags are marked Checkmate Industries, or CMI. Since they’ve been recalled, they may start popping up on the surplus market. Again, just because it’s “U.S.G.I.” doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go. Sometimes it is surplus for a reason. OBTW, the later Checkmate mags actually have different tolerances and supposedly work. Also BTW, “MDS” marked mags are actually a Beretta factory product. Beretta owns MDS and that’s the factory that they use to make all their mags. Buy what you want, but this is a good case of where “U.S.G.I.” might not always be the best route to take. – Doug Carlton

[JWR’s note: Some of the readers of my novel Patriots will remember the Doug Carlton character. It is the pseudonym of a real life individual that I have known since college. He is a former U.S. Army aviator.]