The M9 Beretta earned the nickname of “world defender” because of its back-to-back contracts that kept it in circulation from 1995 to 2017. Then, in 2017, SIG Sauer won the Department of Defense modular handgun contract with their proposed P320-M17, which is akin to declaring it the best combat pistol — at least right now, or at least better than the M9. 

However, a previously submitted P226-MK25 that lost to Beretta’s M9 in 2009 eventually became the preferred sidearm for U.S. Navy SEALs. So maybe the P226 is the better choice for combat? 

It’s complicated. 

The P226 and the P320 have some significant differences. Like any firearm, any soldier who trains with their pistol regularly and in good practice will likely master it. But, you put a different pistol in the hands of that soldier, and they may not work as well with it for lack of familiarity. So, it boils down to a person’s previous experience and the basic mechanics of the pistol itself. 

P320 vs. P226

Retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb has fought in numerous theatres of operation, including Operation Gothic Serpent — better known as Black Hawk Down, Iraq during both the War on Terror and Operation Desert Storm, and did time in Bosnia as well.

Lamb is the Founder and President of Viking Tactics, Inc., and contracts with SIG Sauer as a firearms instructor. He doesn’t believe there’s necessarily a clear answer. 

“As far as pistols go, I don’t know if one is better than the other,” Lamb said. “I would say that the 320 has a lot of new improvements to make it one of the better striker-fired guns out there.”

The P226 has a two-stage trigger, meaning the first round requires a stronger squeeze because it’s cocking the hammer back before it drops and fires the round. The increased poundage can lead to the shooter contorting their wrist to accommodate the strain, which throws off accuracy. 

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Subsequent rounds have a lighter trigger squeeze because the blowback of firing the first round cocks the hammer for subsequent rounds. For the P320-M17, every trigger squeeze will be the same poundage, leading to consistency with shot groups when appropriately trained. 

Lamb’s go-to is the P320. He said the top three reasons he likes it are ergonomics, ease of shooting via every trigger squeeze being the same, and how “notoriously accurate” it is. 

“The U.S. military chose, or at least the U.S. Army chose, the M17,” Lamb said. “I mean, they didn’t just do that lightly. They went up against all those other guns, and the M17 won. So there’s your answer right there.”

SIG Sauer P320-M17

The P320-M17 became the U.S. Army’s service pistol, replacing the M9 Beretta, after SIG Sauer was awarded the Modular Handgun System contract, and is now widely used throughout the U.S. military. The M17 is a P320-based pistol that is highly modular and is a great option for those who ‘cut their teeth’ on a 1911 pistol like Lamb did. 

“With the x-grip that they do, the P320 is just a very, very easy gun to shoot. It’s a very easy gun to reload,” Lamb said. “I know that sounds crazy, but the gun’s easier to reload than a Glock because it doesn’t have the plastic-coated magazines — like the Glock does. The grip angle is more friendly to a guy that’s a 1911-type shooter, too.”

Each 6.5 lb. trigger squeeze will be the same. Many in the gun community contest it’s closer to a 7 to 7.5 lb trigger squeeze out of the box. A lighter trigger squeeze of 3 to 4 lbs. can be achieved by installing a SIG Sauer P320 Flat Trigger, which contributes to consistently smooth shots when properly trained. 

The P320 comes with a manual safety but can be modified to a non-manual safety. It can be easily swapped from 9mm to .357 SIG, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, or 10mm Auto. The grip modules are just as easily switched out. 

During testing, the P320 was found to fire during the drop test in a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions. Though rare, SIG offers a no-cost solution for P320 owners if they send in the pistol for improvement. This upgrade installs a physically lighter trigger, sear, and striker assembly and a mechanical disconnector.

SIG Sauer P226-MK25

The P226 is the civilian version of the MK25, which is what Navy SEALs have adopted as their go-to sidearm. The MK25 has been combat-tested several times and remains a favorite in certain circles. At 34oz., the MK25 is heavier than the M17, but that weight helps reduce kick, allowing for sight picture to be maintained. 

But, for beginners, the P226 is a tricky pistol to start with — especially if you are used to striker-fired pistols. The first round requires a 10 lb. trigger squeeze; subsequent rounds have a trigger squeeze of 4.4 lbs.

“If you take somebody that’s never shot or doesn’t shoot much, they bring the 226 up, and they’re like, ‘squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze,’ and finally the gun goes off,” Lamb said. “Then, the next round surprises ’em because the trigger weight is a 1/4 of the weight for the second trigger squeeze versus the first trigger squeeze.”

But it’s not impossible. Training the basics will help you master the P226. Lamb said he commonly corrects people for re-holstering the P226 with the hammer cocked: a major safety hazard. Even though it’s not supposed to accidentally discharge, the wrong bump has the potential to fire off a round.

But, there is a de-cocking lever at the rear, upper left, just under the slide. It’s easy to clack before you holster, which deactivates the hammer without striking the cartridge primer. 

Lamb likes the de-cocking lever placement and design on the P226 better than the M9 Beretta that was serviced by the U.S. military for years. But, by the same token, the placement of the de-cocking lever for untrained or casual shooters can be difficult. 

Some earlier models have been accused of the slide release not locking to the rear after firing the last round in the magazine. It’s not a recognized issue, but several gun forums detail slide malfunctions. While some blame the gun design or a bad magazine, Lamb says it’s a common user error he sees while training people. 

Most people are trained to use a dual grip, thumbs-forward hold with a pistol. With that grip, it’s easy to bump into the slide release with their thumb after the last round, and the slide racks forward instead of staying locked to the rear. Doing so can lead to a shooter amplifying a malfunction if they try to re-rack the slide with a jam in place. 

A simple and quick fix is the tap and rack drill, where you tap the magazine base to ensure it’s properly seated and rack the slide to feed in a fresh round. 

Like any tool, training will decrease a shooter’s error rate. Lamb says he has a much easier time training a beginner on a P320, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the 226. 

“I don’t want to say there’s anything bad about the 226 because there’s really not if you’re trained on it,” Lamb said. “But for me personally, I do like the 320 better.”

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