Military Handguns

Beretta M9. Rama/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

There are three primary handguns in use by the U.S. military:

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

The Beretta M9 is the primary side arm 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.

M1911 Pistol

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


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 1980’s 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.


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.

Baretta 9mm

The Beretta M9 9mm pistol replaced the M1911 .45 caliber handgun in the mid 1980’s. The Army led the initiative to standardize with NATO on one handgun. The handguns had to survive temperatures from -40 to 140 degrees, being dropped in salt water, dropped on concrete, subject 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 world-wide.


The M9 is a semi-automatic pistol with a 15 round magazine. It uses the standard NATO 9mm 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. 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 1990’s. 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 12 round magazine, weighs a little over 2.5 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of 850 feet per second.

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.