I’ve spent the last week at the gun industry SHOT Show convention in Las Vegas, and I’m pretty sure I need a hip replacement after walking mile after mile of exhibits of guns, guns, more guns, related gun stuff, and guns.

Perhaps the biggest gun-related news event of the week, however, wasn’t anything on display at the SHOT Show. Rather it was the US Army’s announcement that they had finally–FINALLY!–chosen the pistol to replace the Beretta M9 handgun adopted back in the 1980s, which in turn had replaced the 1911 “Government model” 45 first designed by gun genius John Moses Browning way back in–wait for it–1911.

The newly chosen pistol is to be the Sig Sauer P320, a semiautomatic striker-fired 15+ round 9mm handgun (seen in featured picture above).

The Army’s pistol evaluation program had already taken a ridiculous amount of time and expense by the time it came up as a subject in the Senate hearings on just-confirmed-today Secretary of Defense James “Chaos” Mattis. Frankly, the program was as illustrative an example of government ineptitude as could be imagined.

Was it coincidence that a day or two before Donald Trump was sworn in as our 45th President that the Army finally got off its butt and made a decision? Hmmmm.

What about the choice on the merits?I’ll use Glocks for comparative purposes because I’m most personally familiar with them among the guns that were also in the running for the Army program.

In the interests of full disclosure, I personally carry a Sig 320 Compact every day for personal protection, so obviously I think quite highly of the gun. That said, I’ve also carried Glocks for the same purpose, own several firearms from both companies, and think highly of both their products.

As Sigs go the 320 is relatively inexpensive. Note that caveat, however: as Sigs go. A more typical Sig pistol can easily cost well in excess of $1,000 per pistol. In contrast, the Sig 320 runs closer to $700 per pistol.  This is nevertheless still quite a bit more expensive than a similar Glock pistol, which might retail for perhaps $550 per pistol. Naturally the Army would not be paying anything close to retail pricing for either gun, but I would expect the price differential between the two handguns to be of that magnitude.

In terms of overall function and capability, there would appear to be little to choose from between the 320 and a Glock. They’re both semiautomatic striker-fired 9mm pistols with a magazine capacity of 15+ rounds, give or take a couple of rounds depending on specific configuration.  They’re both about the same size, and have various options for modification of the size/shape of the grip to fit different hand sizes.

The triggers feel quite different from each other to the experienced hand, and I personally much prefer the Sig trigger, but most military people will never have much training or experience on a handgun, so I doubt any subtleties in trigger matter in the military context.

Either gun would have come with open sights rather than any kind of fancier optic (my own carry gun now carries an RMR optic, as my old eyes can’t see the front sight any longer). But again, this shouldn’t matter in a military context. A good optic on a rifle is a game changer; on a pistol, for soldiers with young eyes, very few of whom will ever be tasked to make use of a handgun, probably not so much.

Both guns use a rather traditional Browning-style lock-up, so there’s nothing to choose between them there.

Glocks left in factory configuration are famously reliable, and have been since they were introduced to the market in the 1980s. The Sig 320 has only been on the market something like 18 months (that’s months, not years), so we don’t have a similarly lengthy history, but I expect the military will have tested reliability extensively in its trials process.

Also, I believe both handguns are built in the United States, so there would have been no issues either way with any kind of foreign manufacture.

There are a couple of differences between the Sig 320 and the Glock that could have led the Army to favoring the Sig, however. Both are arguably safety related.

First, the Glock requires that the trigger be depressed in order to take the slide off the gun (field stripped) for cleaning and other purposes–that is, the trigger must be pressed in the exact same manner as when one intends to fire the gun. If a round is in the chamber when this is done the gun will, obviously, fire that round. Of course the user should have confirmed that the gun was unloaded before depressing the trigger for this purpose, but accidental discharges have been known to occur under these circumstances. I’ve personally been present at one of these accidental discharges, and I can tell you that’s a very, very loud bang in that unexpected context. In contrast to the Glock, however, the Sig 320 does not require that the trigger be depressed in order for the gun to be taken apart for cleaning. Safer? Your call.

Second, although the “normal” Sig 320 that’s been on the market since introduction does not come with any external safety mechanisms or levers, and the Glock is similarly designed, the version of the 320 being procured by the Army in fact has a frame-mounted thumb safety. With the thumb safety in the upper “on” (“safe”) position, even depressing the trigger will not discharge the gun. The safety must be swept down to the “off” (“fire”) position in order for the gun to discharge. Given how little actual training soldiers typically get with handguns, such an additional safety mechanism is almost certainly a good thing. (Indeed, the moment I discovered that the thumb safety was an option on the 320 I immediately contacted Sig to order a 320 with this feature for myself. I’m a fan of frame-mounted thumb safeties.)

In general when people ask me what kind of handgun to purchase for self-defense purposes I tell them that it’s hard to go wrong with a Glock. Of course, as noted I carry a Sig 320 myself, and the cost differential between the two guns is not really that great when one throws in such additional expenses as ammo, holsters, instruction, etc.

Frankly, I’m just pleased that a choice has been made.

Postscript: Two gun industry sources whom I consider to be reliable, but whom I would not be free to identify, saw my post on Legal Insurrection and told me that the Army is paying a mere $207 for each Sig 320 handgun. That’s a ridiculously low price, and would alone entirely explain the Army’s choice. I have not independently confirmed this pricing information directly with the Army or Sig.

–-Andrew


Andrew F. Branca is an attorney and the author of The Law of Self Defense, 3rd Edition, and a host on The Outdoor Channel’s TV show, The Best Defense.

[Featured photo is a Sig-released media photo.]