Most Popular Handguns Used by the U.S. Military

Beretta M9. Rama/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The military tests and uses a variety of handguns. Handguns are selected based on stopping power and durability as these are essential characteristics when selecting a weapon to possibly save your life. Member of the U.S. military use on three primary types of handguns. These include the following:

  • Colt M1911 .45 caliber
  • Beretta M9 9mm NATO
  • Heckler & Koch Mk 23 Mod 0 .45 caliber

The Beretta M9 is the primary sidearm used by the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The Marine Corp uses the Beretta M9 and the Colt M1911. Special Forces prefer the Heckler & Koch Mk 23 Mod 0.

About the M1911 Pistol

The standard issue sidearm for the US military has been and continues to be the Colt M1911 pistol.

The M1911 pistol is a semi-automatic .45 caliber handgun. The gun weighs 2.4 pounds empty. It comes in three barrel lengths -- 5 inches long (called the Government model), 4.25 inches long (Commander model) and 3.5 inches long (Officer’s ACP model). It has a seven-round magazine and a muzzle velocity of 825 feet per second.

In 1911, John Moses Browning of Colt designed the M1911 for submission to the Army as part of its procurement process for a new handgun. The final test of the proposed handguns was to fire 6,000 rounds from one pistol with coiling by dunking in water when the barrel got hot. The Colt passed with no malfunctions while the Savage failed the test.

The M1911 is a .45 caliber pistol designed for greater stopping power than the .38 caliber pistol the Army was using. This first design was produced until after World War II when it was replaced by a new design with a shorter barrel and aluminum frame. Over 2 million M1911 pistols have been produced.

In the 1980s the M1911 began to be replaced within the military by Beretta 9mm handguns. The M1911 remains the handgun of choice for Special Forces units due to its stopping power. Recently M1911’s are re-entering service beginning with the Marines. The M1911 is a preferred weapon for competition shooting as well as police forces and international militaries.

Baretta 9mm

The Beretta M9 9mm pistol replaced the M1911 .45 caliber handgun in the mid-1980s. The Army led the initiative to standardize with NATO on one handgun. The handguns had to withstand temperatures from -40 to 140 degrees, immersion in salt water, falling on concrete, and exposure to mud and snow. The M9 also was able to fire 35,000 rounds before failing. The Beretta was chosen and Baretta of Italy was awarded a contract for 500,000 pistols. The Beretta is used by the Navy, Army and Air Force with some use by the Marine Corps. The pistol is now being issued to the Afghan military and is used worldwide.

The M9 is a semi-automatic pistol with a 15-round magazine. It uses the standard NATO 9 mm round. It weighs 2.5 pounds loaded and has a barrel almost 5 inches long. With a muzzle velocity of 1200 feet per second, it has a range of over 150 feet.

The laser sight can be attached to the M9 handgun along with a scope.

Heckler & Koch Mk 23 Mod 0

The Heckler & Koch Mk 23 Mod 0 is used by US Special Forces and first entered service in the 1990s. The pistol has a silencer, laser sight and the firing mechanism hides the gun’s recoil and cartridge ejection. The H&K is a .45 caliber handgun with a 12-round magazine. It weighs a little over 2.5 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of 850 feet per second.