A backup gun is a proven life-saver. There are dozens of stories of officers whose lives have been saved because of the timely application of a little "second-gun surprise." When the need arises, with a backup or second gun you'll never be in violation of that first rule of gunfighting: have a gun. If your primary gun goes down, is lost or taken away, or you find yourself on the ground fighting for your life, that little "extra" in an ankle holster or back pocket can spell the difference between a win and a loss.

The same applies in an off-duty situation. Many agencies authorize officers to be armed off-duty and some mandate it. Honestly? I've always been stunned to hear of officers who decide not to carry off-duty. From a personal sense of responsibility to my family, and a just-as-serious secondary responsibility to the public, I feel being armed is more of an obligation than a luxury.

Toward that end, Taurus' newest generation of small-scale auto pistols fits the bill on both counts quite handily. Let's just clear the air right off the bat on one issue, though. Yes, 10 or 15 years ago, Taurus had a reputation for being at the low end of the scale in quality and reliability. Those days are over, primarily due to the administration of Bob Morrison, Taurus' executive vice president. Bob has brought Taurus' quality control and designs into the new millennium, which just may account for the new gun's name.

Today's Taurus delivers the kind of quality you would expect from any mainstream manufacturer. To guild the lily, the company offers a lifetime guarantee on its guns. No problems and no whining. If the weapon breaks, Taurus fixes it. Period. You can't offer that kind of service or guarantee unless you have confidence in your products.

PT 111SS

Our test gun was the PT 111SS, one of several variants on the PT111 design. The test gun features a polymer frame, stainless steel slide and double-action-only function. At 18.7 ounces, the PT111SS qualifies as a true pocket pistol. De-horned, with rounded edges and subtle curves, the little gun rides easily in a lightweight nylon belt holster, shoulder rig, or pocket holster. Yet, small size aside, it still holds 10 plus one rounds of your choice of 9mm ammo.

Fit and finish were up to par with anything we've tested. The Taurus passed the "feels good" test, and while obvious it was a casting, the slide looked well finished. There is an external safety on the left side, right under the thumb. Even though it's double-action-only, the added feature of a safety can often put administrators' minds at ease and might serve to flummox a potential gun-grabber long enough for you to pound him.

Another important safety feature is the Taurus locking device, built right into the right side of the slide. A simple quarter turn of a supplied key locks the slide and trigger. While an often-contentious feature, these kinds of things can prevent misuse by children or unauthorized "guests." Frankly, the jury is still out on the efficacy of a built-in lock on a personal defense gun. Will you remember to turn the lock off? Every time? These decisions are eminently personal ones and need careful consideration. Suffice to say we tested the system and it worked as it was designed.

Details

The gun handled like any mid- to small-sized auto and felt just a tad "fat" in the hand. Not uncomfortable, but not skinny, like a Walther PP series. The test staff felt in control of the gun when they fired it, and the slightly bigger grip helped to tame the sometimes sharp recoil of the full-caliber 9mm loads.

With the magazine out, the little finger gets lost under the grip; however, the supplied magazines come with a finger rest, so unless you shorten the bottom plate, it shouldn't be a problem.

The PT111 series also has a passive firing pin block, only released when the trigger is pulled completely to the rear. It resets when the trigger is let off. This helps prevent inadvertent discharges from dropping or from partial trigger pulls or other abuse or misuse.

The sights are plastic, but robust, and we had no problems with our test gun. They are fixed, but bold and of the three-dot variety. The design is such that they don't catch on clothing or holsters.

Ergonomically speaking, the levers and buttons on the left side are, from front to back: the take-down lever, slide release, and safety. The safety falls naturally under the thumb and "snicks" on and off with a satisfying click. Rear serrations allow easy slide manipulation and the sights, etc., are smooth enough that rapid charging or clearance drills don't deliver bloody fingers and pinched hands.[PAGEBREAK]

The external extractor is a proven, reliable design and has the added feature of a loaded chamber indicator, which shows red if a round is in the chamber. But remember, since it merely indexes on the cartridge case, the "loaded chamber" could just as easily be an empty case.

The now ubiquitous polymer frame design, common on many of today's autos, works nicely on the PT111. It's lightweight with molded-in checkering and the combination works well in the hand. The trigger, also polymer, is smooth-faced, as a double action trigger should be.

If we had any complaint it was the fact a few shooters wished the frame allowed the hand to ride higher in the grip. This would put the recoil axis closer to the hand and, besides being more comfortable, help to tame the snap of the slide somewhat. Recoil isn't bad, but for rapid follow-up shots, every little bit helps.

The magazine release is positive and pops the magazine out briskly. There were no problems with accidental mag releases during shooting or during our short time carrying the gun.

Shooting Impressions

Range time had several shooters handling the PT111. They ranged from advanced, competition-level shooters to raw beginners. The beginners had some difficulty keeping groups under control, mostly due to their inexperience and trigger pull of the PT111, which was slightly gritty and stacked just before let-off. The advanced shooters found the PT111 to be accurate and easy to control. With experience comes the ability to understand the needs of different designs and to adapt to them accordingly.

Reliability was very good with a modest range of ball and hollow-point loads. Groups at seven and 15 yards were easily covered by a saucer, but we felt no need to measure group size in such an obvious, close-range defensive handgun. Suffice to say, a head shot at 15 yards would have been very easy for the experienced shooters. The magazine (one supplied) had sharpish feed lips but that's a common syndrome in many of today's autos.

Take down requires some thought. After locking the slide back and turning the take-down lever, carefully read the manual while it walks you through slipping the slide off the frame. It may require some careful manipulations of the trigger at the same time, but once you get the hang of it, it goes smoothly every time.

When the flying brass settled, we came to a few conclusions. At a full-boat retail price of about $425, the PT111 is affordable. In reality, we'd imagine the street price to be around $375 or so, if you shop around a bit. Reliability was top-notch and the list of features reads like a full-sized gun. The locking feature will either be a powerful drawing card for you or a negative one. Just remember, you can always elect to simply not lock it if it causes you concern.

Accuracy was up to snuff and, in all honesty, for the money, we think it's hard to beat this little gun. If your agency doesn't approve Taurus models yet, give Taurus a call and ask for a test and evaluation gun. We think you'll be surprised at how much cooperation you'll get, not to mention how impressed you'll be by the products.

Taurus PT111SS
Caliber: 9mm (also available in .45 ACP and .380)

Finish: Stainless slide, polymer frame (available with Titanium slide also)
Weight: 18.7 ounces
Action: Double Action Only
Shots: 10 plus one
Sights: Three-dot, fixed
Length: 6-1/8 inches
Safety: Manual, firing pin, slide-lock
Grips: Checkered, integral
Barrel length: 3.25 inches
Price: $425 full retail
www.taurususa.com

Roy Huntington is the former editor of Police, and current editor of American Handgunner.

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