One of the biggest equipment challenges faced by police agencies is finding a handgun that will accommodate all of their officers and conform to agency firearms policies. Beretta believes it has such a weapon in its soon to be released Px4 Storm duty pistol.
“We're in the solutions business,” says Scott Blackwell, Beretta's vice president of law enforcement. “The new Beretta Px4 Storm provides departments with the ability to tailor their handguns to fit a petite 90-pound officer or a strapping 300-pound SWAT operator.”
Can one pistol really meet the needs of every officer in a police agency? In search of the answer to that question, I attended a writers' seminar hosted by Beretta at its Maryland manufacturing facility. The seminar marked the introduction of the Px4 Storm and Beretta officials wanted to solicit feedback from the assembled writers. So we spent a lot of time at the nearby Prince George's County Police range, putting the new pistol through its paces.
Pistol Times Four
According to Blackwell, the Px4 is a direct result of Beretta not only listening to shooters' criticisms of the company's ubiquitous M9/M92 duty weapons but also studying the needs of its customers and devising solutions to meet those needs.
Beretta then developed demanding criteria for what it hopes will be a hugely successful law enforcement handgun. For example, one of the standards was that the pistol must have a long service life-a minimum of 30,000 rounds-and that it be able to fire 5,000 rounds between failures.
Another specification that Beretta's management set for the Px4 is that the new pistol had to offer users and police agencies a lot of choice. So, while the initial Px4 Storms will be offered only in .40 S&W and 9mm, Beretta intends to quickly add .45 ACP and .357 SIG guns in the lineup. Hence the name Px4, or pistol times four. Get it?
The 9mm Px4 will have a magazine capacity of 17 rounds, 20 rounds with an optional extended floorplate. The .40 S&W model's capacity is 14 rounds, 17 rounds with the extended floorplate. Both calibers use steel magazines that drop freely when the magazine release is hit.
There are a few things that you'll notice immediately when you see the Px4. For corrosion resistance, economy, and weight savings Beretta molds the pistol from a “technopolymer” reinforced fiberglass. To allow easy mounting of lights and lasers, the frame includes an integral Picatinny rail on the bottom of the dust cover. And unlike the M9 pistol the Px4 Storm has an internal trigger bar.
Three different backstraps are available for the Px4, and this allows the user to customize the weapon for different hand sizes. There are also three different sizes of completely ambidextrous magazine releases that the owner can use to customize the gun. The Px4 Storm even has two different slide release widths. All of these options permit you to tailor each gun for each individual officer. This is what Beretta calls “Optimized Individual Performance.”
OK. A lot of pistols now allow you to tailor the grips and other elements of their frames to suit your needs. So what's the big deal with the Px4?
The big deal is that the Px4 lets the shooter or the agency that issues the weapon make a lot more choices than just the size of the grip. Beretta engineers designed the Px4 so that armorers could change the pistol's fire-control system. You heard that right. A gunsmith can easily change the action to meet the agency's or shooter's preference.
The guns that were provided for us during the writer's seminar possessed conventional double-action/single-action (DA/SA) lockwork with an ambidextrous safety/decocker. Guns can also be configured to DA/SA with a decocker and no manual safety. In addition, there are two double-action-only configurations for the Px4. Both have slick side slides without a manual safety, decocker, or hammer spur.
The slide of the Px4 Storm is a massive steel part machined from a solid forging. Unlike the M9 pistol the slide is closed at its top and has a conventional ejection port.
Px4 samples shot at the Beretta seminar wore the ambidextrous thumb safeties/decockers. With the safety lever down the pistol is on “safe.” To make it ready to fire, all you have to do is thumb the safety into the up position. Beretta's design team developed a wedge-shaped safety, which aids the shooter in racking the slide to chamber a round. Its shape also prevents the shooter from inadvertently engaging the safety.
Standard sights on the Px4 are coated with a phosphorescent material called Super-Luminova for some night-fighting capability. Arranged in a conventional three-dot pattern (two dots on the rear sight and a single dot on the front sight), the sights can be “charged” with any flashlight. During the seminar, a Surefire light was passed around. Holding the light to the rear sight for just a second, left it glowing bright even under the room's florescent lights. Beretta claims that a single charge will last for up to 30 minutes. Trijicon night sights are also offered as an option for the Px4 Storm.
Disassembly of the Px4 is simple and straightforward. On both sides of the frame, just above the trigger guard, you will find egg-shaped recesses with disassembly tabs. Pressing down on these projections allows the slide to be pushed forward off of the frame's rails. The recoil spring is held captive on a polymer guide rod and makes disassembly a snap. The barrel block and recoil spring guide are easily removed and the chamber end of the barrel will drop out of the slide for removal.
That's all of the disassembly required for routine maintenance and cleaning. Beretta officials stressed that the Px4 does not require the trigger to be pulled for disassembly. Another safety feature is that there is no possible way that the gun can be reassembled incorrectly.
As I mentioned earlier, our test guns possessed the traditional DA/SA triggers. Since I didn't have my trigger pull gauge with me, I'm guessing that the double-action pull was in the 10-pound neighborhood, while the single-action trigger broke with about six pounds of pressure. My conclusion is that, for a duty gun, the Px4's trigger is plenty serviceable.
With a supply of Federal 185-grain Hollow Point ammunition and a couple dozen magazines we were turned loose on the well-manicured bays of the Prince George's County Police range and allowed to fire as much as we liked.
The first thing that I noticed was that the recoil of the Px4 was less than what I've come to expect from a polymer frame .40 S&W. Beretta credits its rotary barrel lock-up and low bore axis for the reduced felt recoil.
I found the Px4 to be very controllable and had no problems double-tapping the silhouette target and then following up with a quick head shot. I think that the 9mm version of this weapon must be amazingly easy to shoot.
As part of its presentation, Beretta had firearms trainer Massad Ayoob demonstrate the accuracy of the Px4 by placing three magazines of rounds through the “X” ring of a target at 10 yards. Ayoob fired very fast, pressing the trigger as quickly as he obtained a sight picture, and doing tactical reloads when the gun ran dry. While I didn't have an opportunity to bench rest the pistol for accuracy, I think Ayoob's offhand group demonstrates that the Px4 possesses all of the accuracy needed for service use.
Beretta also showed us how easy it is to teach an inexperienced shooter to use the Px4. Laurel Smith, a Beretta marketing manager but novice shooter, joined us on the line to put a few rounds downrange. Although Smith is petite with small hands, she fired an entire magazine through the “X” ring of her target. The distance was only five yards, but she was able to maintain her focus and concentrate on sight alignment and trigger press with precision.
Impressions and Suggestions
I don't recall anyone on the range having any type of jam or stoppage. I did note, however, that my slide failed to lock open on the last shot the majority of time. This phenomenon was also noted by most of the other writers. The consensus of opinion was that we were all shooting with our thumbs resting on top of the slide lock preventing it from locking the slide open on the last shot.
Beretta's people rushed to put a slide stop of less width on a test gun, but the results did not change. Most of the writers who attended were experienced 1911 shooters, and it seems as though our thumbs fell naturally on top of the slide stops.
The sides of the Px4's grips are relatively slick and offer no landmarks for the thumb to quickly index. I think the new pistol could benefit from some type of dimple like the one Glock added to the sides of its guns. Any type of reference point would aid greatly in achieving a more consistent grip.
One concern that I have about this weapon is that even though Beretta has gone to lengths to make this gun adjustable for the multitudes of folks that it may be issued to, I doubt that smaller stature officers will be able to easily disengage the safety, as it is on the side of the slide. It is certainly a long reach for those with small thumbs.
Other criticisms that were voiced at the seminar were relatively minor. Some writers noted that the thumb safeties were a bit on the sharp side. Even though Beretta rounds the edges and tumbles the parts, they were still too sharp for duty use. There was another sharp edge at the top rear of the ejection port. Beretta officials made notes about these, and the problems should be corrected by the time the gun goes into full production.
It should be noted that our test guns were from a very limited run produced in Italy for test and evaluation purposes. Beretta officials say that the full-fledged production guns should be shipping sometime this fall. American-made Px4's should be shipping next year.
In the afternoon I spent with the Px4 I managed to fire about 200 rounds-far too few to make any sweeping predictions as to its ability to capture the law enforcement market. But what I saw impressed me. The Beretta Px4 Storm possesses accuracy, reliability, and good handling characteristics, and its ability to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual officer makes it particularly appealing.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.