Our retailer friends tell us that the most popular carry gun in America is the compact 9mm self-loading pistol with a single-column magazine. These handguns are handy, concealable, and powerful enough for personal defense. They deliver acceptable ballistics without harsh recoil and are affordable. Most are based on service-size handguns. The engineering in downsizing the pistols has been faultless in many, but not all, renditions, so everyone wants to know if Compact Pistol "A" is as reliable for practical use as any full-size pistol. And if Compact Pistol "A" is that reliable, it makes it easier to narrow down the many choices to the best choice for you. We get a lot of questions about such handguns, and this lineup includes four handguns readers have asked us to test.
The Smith & Wesson and the Glock are based on service guns, while the Honor Defense Honor Guard and Walther PPS are purpose-designed compacts with no service-sized big brother.
When we first tested the Glock 43 Subcompact Slimline G43 two years ago (August 2015), it earned a B+ in our evaluation when it was paired with the Walther CCP head to head. In that evaluation, we noticed that the slide was narrow and nicely beveled. Glock did not simply stick a Glock 19 slide on a slim frame. The locked-breech operating system and trigger action are preserved. Anyone owning a Glock of any size or frame will be able to use this handgun in the same manner because the action is identical to all other Glock pistols. The sights were standard Glock, with a white outline rear and white dot forward, the same as the test gun this round. They proved adequate for combat firing and were reasonably good for accuracy work at 15 yards. We also noted then that there is a shelf under the slide on the frame that protects the slide lock from a finger contacting the slide lock during recoil. It is common for the support-hand thumb to bump the slide lock and lock the slide to the rear when firing a hard-kicking compact. The shelf seems to eliminate this problem, then and now. Also, the Glock frame does not incorporate a light rail for a combat light.
In both guns, the Glocks featured a spring-within-a-spring guide rod that we feel does an excellent job of containing recoil. Once on target, however, the Glock was handicapped by a 6.75-pound trigger pull. This time around, the G43's pull was more than a pound lighter. Two years ago, we also noted that due to its polygonal rifling, you should rule out lead-bullet handloads.
In November 2016, we looked at a specialized version of the gun, a Glock G43 Limited Edition ProGlo TALO Edition UI4350501. TALO is a wholesale buying cooperative that creates special edition firearms, which have to be ordered from a local dealer. On this Glock 43, the pistol's slide was standard save for the sights, which were made by AmeriGlo and featured a brilliant orange post around a white-insert tritium front. The rear sight featured a U-notch for rapid target engagement, and the rear face of the rear sight was serrated to reduce glare. Even with these upgrades, we gave the Glock a B grade.
Our only time to have tested an S&W M&P9 Shield 9mm Luger was in the March 2013 issue, so this update is overdue for a handgun that so many people seem to like. Four years ago, we called it a pleasant, compact, slim, nicely made handgun. Then, as now, we said it was easy enough to get it into a pocket of reasonable dimensions. There was nothing sticking out of the Shield to get caught on clothing. The magazines were easy to get out and back into the gun. They had a somewhat staggered design that made them more compact for their capacity. The gun was matte black with semi-slick pebbly inserts on front and rear of the grip straps.
The Shield had an external safety on its left side. The sights were excellent, dovetailed into the slide, and tritium is an option. The rear was secured with a screw so you could adjust the windage. The front was held solely by friction in the dovetail. The trigger pull was heavy and consistent at about 7.5 pounds, and the trigger rebound was short.
Takedown required locking the slide back and applying manly force to the takedown lever to rotate it 90 degrees. Then the slide could be let down to its normal position, the trigger pulled, and the slide comes off the front. Removing the captive double recoil spring was extremely easy. There's no danger of parts flying across the room, or losing an eye when you put it all back together. We noted a significant fillet on the hook of the S&W's extractor. It also had a slight pocket to help catch the incoming rounds as they feed from mag to chamber. The striker-locking safety plunger inside the slide is cammed upward by the trigger arm, which actively forces the plunger out of the way.