Military and police firearms carry a weight that few other guns can match. This is due in part to the fact that these firearms have actually been tested in the field, which not only strengthens their reputation but also forms an unique bond between user and firearm. When you are forced to trust a gun with your life, it is hard not to grow fond of it.

Unless, of course, its shoddy quality is what puts your life at risk in the first place.

In this list, we recount the top five most popular military and police service handguns in US history. Despite being commonly referred to as service pistols, we specifically phrased it as handguns because surprise, there’s a few revolvers on this list. What other guns do you want to see on this list if it was expanded to a top 10? Let us know in the comments below.

1. Beretta M9

US Navy sailors practicing with the M9.
US Navy sailors practicing with the M9.

When it comes to the Beretta M9, you either love it or hate it. Narrowly defeating the SIG P226 in the late 1980s in a competition to become the new primary sidearm of the US Armed Forces, the M9 has seen a fair amount of criticism but also some support. At the time, it replaced the venerable and much beloved Colt M1911A1, which contributed in part to the controversy surrounding the new pistol. Many soldiers felt that the M9 was underpowered (it shoots 9×19 Parabellum compared to the M1911A1’s .45 ACP), was unreliable, and not very durable.

However, as the Army has recently announced plans to replace the M9, many veterans can’t help but feel some nostalgia for the sidearm. The commercial version of the pistol, the Beretta 92, is widely popular among returning veterans for this reason. The pistol is also a popular choice for home defense and recreational shooting due to its large size and robust weight—which were also common complaints from soldiers. In addition, the M9’s 15-round magazine also provided a distinct advantage over handguns with smaller capacities.

2. Smith & Wesson Model 10

A S&W Military & Police with a six-inch barrel.
A S&W Military & Police with a six-inch barrel.

With more than 6 million sold during its 115-year production run, the Model 10 is arguably the most popular centerfire revolver of the twentieth century. While newer revolvers may have stolen the spotlight, this old workhorse has served US Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies for well over a century. Despite being designed in 1899, the Model 10 stayed in service with select military units—such as Army helicopter and Coast Guard crews—until the 1990s.

The revolver is still being used abroad in both military and police service.

3. Glock 22 and variants

Glock 22 in Olive Drab. Image from Francis Flinch on the Wikimedia Commons.
Glock 22 in Olive Drab. Image from Francis Flinch on the Wikimedia Commons.

Glock is still one of the most common choices among police-issued firearms, and that does not appear to be changing anytime soon. High on that list is the Glock 22, a .40 S&W pistol with a 15- to 22-round magazine capacity. Despite early fears of using so-called “plastic guns,” Glocks have come to be a dominating force in the handgun industry thanks to their reliability, high capacity, and affordability. For the same reasons, Glocks have also become massively popular with gun owners as well.

4. Colt Single-Action Army

A second generation Colt SAA.
A second generation Colt SAA.

How could we leave out the “The Gun That Won the West?” One of the more legendary firearms on this list, the Colt Single Action Army remained in service with the US government from 1873 to 1892. While that duration may seem short, the power and accuracy of the revolver set the standard for US service handguns for years to come. The Colt Single Action Army is also one of the most desired and collectible firearms in the twentieth century. Perhaps most notably, General George Patton famously carried a custom-made Single Action Army from 1916 until his death shortly after World War II in 1945.

General Patton with his ivory-gripped SAA visible.
General Patton with his ivory-gripped SAA visible.

5. Colt M1911

The original M1911 and the M1911A1.
The original M1911 and the M1911A1.

Arguably the longest serving sidearm on this list, this .45 ACP pistol first entered service in 1911 and can still be commonly seen among military and police forces. These days, however, you are just as likely to see 1911 in the hands of competitive shooters, as concealed carry handguns, or just simply at the range

 

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  • John kicinski

    My only comment would be the M 9 when first introduced it was indeed plagued with problems with recycling rounds but is very trust worthy in both the 9/40 caliber version, after much tuning. You can’t go wrong with buying one now. As glocks I’ve the 9-40-357 dig- 45 gap, in my personal opinion the 357 sig was most accurate,(but cost more to shoot). The 45 it needs no explains. I never shot one I did not like, where as the 44 mag while powerful and expensive, I could barely manage the recoil I.E. Reaquiering target would take would take much longer. I’m 5’10 200 lb and work out frequently, I have the strength and experience , to me it’s only suited for bigger people with size and weight to manage recoil. You won’t see it in the military despite it’s power and reliability. Every one has a favorite, so stick with what works best for and body type.

  • Chuck Wagon

    Although I love the Colt 1911, the Beretta M9 and the Colt SAA (I have numerous models of all three types), I’d have to say that the Glocks just work and work well indeed. I used to hate “tactical tuperware,” until I started shooting a G17. Now I own several Glockenspiel models and calibers and love them all. One can’t buy two Glocks for the price of one 1911.

  • Greg

    My only comment, everything is bottom dollar in the “services” the price is always the cheapest except when it comes to high technology where ‘lobbyists’ “spread” the profit around. Simply put another way, “ordinary” ‘little’ people get junk to do their jobs instead of Sig Sauer’s…

  • noel p.

    I’ve used and fired all the handguns on this list. I knew there would not be a BHP there and for a time I carried one of those but against smaller statue enemies, and still like it. I wish they had made it in .45acp. As the Bren Ten was based on the BHP why not ? Of the five listed, as they were the top five, The 1911AI and the Glocks are my favorites. the M&P .38sp is a classic and sure looked better in its more modern guise instead of the early production. The only one that I have absolutely no warm feelings about is the Beretta M9. One reason for getting rid of it is that its stopping power is moderate at best with FMJ. As when 007 was asked about what handgun he carried (PPK .32acp) and the reply was “A real Stopper that one” says it all about the M9. I’ve seen a slide rupture on one. I do not know if SMG velocity ammunition had been used but it came apart. That convinced me to sell the M96 I had, quickly. I also notice that the Army has more or less told Beretta to butt out with that pistol for the new service handgun. Beretta should stick to shotguns, they do them quite well.

  • John Hawk

    Have fired just about all items listed. I love my S/W MP 40!
    Whate very the military goes with, I hope they are American Made! Being prior military, I would like to see the Colt 1911 come back!

  • Greyguy

    Marine daughter hated the Beretta and when she got out had her choice of several of my Glocks, and wandered off with one of my Glock 23’s lamenting that it wasn’t a model 22, tough life.

  • Jim S.

    The Beretta finished last in the tests and still got the contract, so we can dismiss any objective testing criteria. The Glock is the smartest choice for a replacement sidearm. Of course the selection will probably come down to which general gets the most kickback cash.

  • David DeFevers

    If you were doing a top ten, I would like to see the Colt and Smith & Wesson versions of the Model 1917 service revolver occupy one of the slots. They were fine large frame revolvers chambered in .45 ACP. They were built when we entered WW I in order to supplement 1911 supply.

  • George

    9mm without hollow points is not a good stopper. 5.56 isn’t adequate for barrier penetration or one shot stops. The military should go back to WW2 calibers when they were serious.

  • teeleef

    Some goofball tried killing a cop a couple days ago in Omaha the news said his Glock didn’t cycle… Hard to say what happened. The story explained that the gun went off and jammed and that they were wrestling around with it. I heard he tried shooting the officer in the head, but I can’t confirm that..Backup was only 18 seconds behind, and the arriving deputy popped the criminal 3 times. He’s was in critical last I knew, and thankfully our cops were fine. One of the officers was fire arms instructor. Picked the wrong cops to mess with hahahhahaahah!!

  • Chris Fitzgerald

    This is why I ALWAYS question the use of Internet Journalist! Obviously, not a gun enthusiast. You left out the soon to be KING of them all, H&K MK 23 MOD 0 aka. MK23 USSOCOM! It’s one thing to read an article, it’s another to know the subject…

  • CAPT Ken

    As a 30-year Navy vet and former captain of the All-Navy Pistol Team, I’d bet my life on my 1911 variants…and do, in several calibers from 9mmP, thru .38 Super Auto and 10mm, to .45ACP. My vote for second place has to go to the SIG Sauer P226s our Navy SEALs have relied upon since they totally rejected the Beretta M9, and wisely so. Mr. Fitzgerald, the MK23 pistol was developed as an offensive weapon for the SEALs, and it proved to be too big and clumsy; most of them are now in storage at NSWC Crane because none of the teams want them. I share Noel P’s fondness for the Browning High Power and would vote for that as my number 3. But for the 9mm’s, they need to be loaded with either a high-performance hollow point [and many now match the terminal performance of .40 and .45 hollow points] or an extremely high velocity full-metal jacket flat point bullet if you’re bound by the Hague Conventions as our military is in conventional warfare.

  • Brian (Mike) Hargreaves

    Reference picking a pistol for the military. It should be more or less foolproof, be not expensive, operate in vastly different weather conditions/heat/cold.
    The Glock 17 & G19 come to mind. The 9mm 124g NATO round, can be used in sub guns, and the Glock pistols.

    The “Knock down” power of a handgun is a myth. But put a couple or more rounds in the upper chest area, tends to cause cease and desist.

    The comment that basically said who could be paid off, I.E. some General, burns my butt! to influence the selection of the handgun for the military, is disgusting.
    The most expensive part to produce in the Glock pistol, is the slide, but one C&C machine can produce 24 every 6 hours (I saw these machines in the 90s in Austria) no idea how they produce them now, but knowing they were made to fire Mil Spec Ammo, would be on their side?
    The only modification, the Glock factory Night sights.

  • Ive

    When I was a Gunners Mate in charge of the armory aboard ship, I used to shoot on the ships pistol team. I never made 2nd place, but fired consistently in 3rd place. But I could never fault that 1911 Colt .45 acp. It was a great shooter. !!!!