Today’s crowded duty gun market offers numerous high-capacity 9mm pistol choices from which officers or departments can select. The top brand names seldom jam when their triggers are pulled, and their rounds hit center mass with predictable accuracy. While the Browning Hi-Power of 1935 was the first pistol to feature a double stack 9mm magazine, it still featured a single-action trigger design.
The “Wondernines” of the mid-1980s created the trend of 15+ round 9mm magazines in double-action pistols. The Wondernines were wide framed versions of original single stack bottom feeders, modified to accommodate the need for more firepower.
Lightweight, aluminum alloy frames were introduced to help counter the weight of those 15 lead bullets in an officer’s hand. Soon, even lighter polymer frames came along that had the added benefit of being less expensive to produce. Glock brought striker-fired pistols to economic success with its 17-shot Model 17.
Now, it seems most gun makers field their own evolution of the polymer framed, striker-fired, high-capacity, 9mm duty gun. Any firearms company that tries to muscle in on this niche in an attempt to grab the attention of modern police officers better bring some serious game if it wishes to take a slice of the pie. Sturm, Ruger & Company
has returned to this arena brandishing its new SR9. It boasts several key features that are innovative, unique, and practical for the modern day police duty gun. The Fairfield, CT firearms manufacturer has earned market respect by applying these positive qualities to its products since 1949.
Ruger has a history of carving out a large piece of the pie in every section of the firearms market. Its single-action revolvers boast the traditional classic lines of the Colt Single Action Army, and its Vaquero revolver dominates Cowboy Action Shooting® competition.
The Ruger Mark I, II, and III .22 target pistols evoke the eye-pleasing outline of the German Luger and are extremely accurate target pistols. Ruger’s double-action revolvers are similar in appearance to the time honored wheelguns made by both Smith & Wesson and Colt, and the Rugers are used by police and hunters alike.
I’ve owned and fired many different Ruger firearms over the years. The company’s hunting rifles are accurate, durable, and showcase beautiful lines. Its 10/22 rifle is one of the most accurate and fun .22 plinkers ever made. But while Ruger’s previous police market semi-automatics of the 1980s and 1990s were known for durability and ruggedness, those guns (the P85, P89, P90, and others) were not revered for their aesthetic beauty.
While appearances may be subjective, most agree that the new SR9 looks much different than the older Ruger semi-auto duty guns. The SR9 is made at Ruger’s Prescott, AZ plant, and it looks much better than the previous P-series guns, which is to say that the SR9 is sleek, handsome, and attractively finished. It looks good, and it shoots even better. Starting at the Top
To keep track of the numerous features found on this new semi-automatic, let’s describe it like we would a suspect—from the top down—that way we won’t miss anything.
Not many duty pistols feature fully adjustable sights. Many departments spend serious money on costly sight-adjustment tools. These intricately machined, miniature vices clamp onto a pistol’s slide and utilize rotating knobs that push either the front or rear sight in its dovetail to make changes in windage.
Moving a pistol’s point of impact for elevation usually requires replacement of the front sight with one of a different height. Sight changes such as these are best left to trained and experienced department armorers or even an outside gunsmith.
The SR9’s three-dot sights boast a fully adjustable, but still low-profile, wedge design rear sight. The solid base protects the spring-loaded rear notch from squad car seat belts and other objects that may whack or ding a holstered sidearm. A simple screwdriver is all that is needed to raise or lower the rear sight for elevation.
Windage can be accomplished by loosening a 5/64-inch Allen head screw and then using a brass punch and a small hammer to gently knock the rear sight over a smidgen. The hex head is then re-tightened to lock the rear sight back in place. The SR9 is so new that it doesn’t offer factory night sights just yet, but Ruger assures me that they will be available soon.
Also on the top of the slide, just behind the barrel, is a very obvious loaded chamber indicator. When a round is loaded from the magazine, this indicator rises on a pivot and displays the bright red images of a cartridge on both sides. Just a glance is all you need to immediately confirm that the chamber is loaded.
During a low-light encounter, a quick, tactile touch with your finger will also tell you that you’re still in the fight. The loaded chamber indicator also makes it easy for range masters to discern at a distance if an officer’s Ruger SR9 is “ready on the firing line.”
The slide’s flat surfaces are polished and provide an attractive contrast to the matte, non-glare sighting surface and rear cocking serrations. The model name and company address is strikingly cut into the through-hardened stainless steel slide. A blackened stainless slide is also available as an option.
The 4.14-inch barrel allows the gun’s overall length to be just 7.55-inch. This keeps the pistol short enough so the muzzle doesn’t poke into the seat of your cruiser while holstered on your duty belt. This short barrel length means a duty holster design can ride lower on your belt for a quicker, easier draw.
Observant police firearms enthusiasts may notice that the intertwined “SR” letters (for the company’s founders, Alexander Sturm and William Ruger) in the middle of the traditional hawk logo on the grip area now consist of just the letter “R.” I inquired if the SR9 model name stood for Sturm Ruger 9mm or Striker Ruger 9mm; a Ruger official assured me that it still stands for the initials of the company’s founders.
Trigger Cocking Striker
This is the company’s first striker-fired pistol. Previous Rugers were traditional double-action (DA) pistols. DA triggers require officers to transition from the first shot’s heavier trigger pull (which both cocks the hammer and releases it) to a lighter, single-action pull (which only releases the hammer) for subsequent rounds. The new SR9’s trigger pull is factory rated at 6 ½ pounds (my test gun measured a bit better at 6 pounds, 2 ½ ounces on a Lyman digital trigger scale).
The gun’s action is fairly standard with its recoil operation, locked breech, and modified Browning type locking barrel. This common, barrel tipping design uses the cam under the chamber area to lock the rear barrel lug into the slide’s ejection port for accuracy.
The trigger has a built-in lever that acts as a trigger safety. It is very similar to the Glock, Walther PPS, and Springfield XD triggers. The gun cannot be fired unless your finger purposefully presses the trigger. As the trigger is pressed, it moves the striker from the partially to fully cocked position before releasing it. In its holster, the SR9 is not fully cocked and therefore, cannot go off.
There was a recall for the initial SR9’s built during the first six months of production that used a standard style trigger. With the safety off, it was possible (but not common) that the gun could fire if dropped in just the right manner. Ruger has since modified the design to include the current pivoting trigger lever.
Any SR9 equipped with this trigger lever (either newly minted or retrofitted) is perfectly safe. When returned to the factory and modified under warranty, Ruger went so far as to include a free extra magazine when the recall was completed.
An additional safety feature is incorporated into the SR9’s disassembly procedure to prevent a negligent discharge. Other pistol designs either require the trigger to be pulled before disassembly or their trigger can accidentally release their hammer during disassembly. Occasionally a live round has found its way into the chamber of these other handguns. This has resulted in police department lockers, desks, and cabinets to have incurred unintended perforations.
To avoid this potentially catastrophic mistake, once the slide is locked back with the magazine removed, the SR9’s ejector, inside the chamber area, must be pushed downward and forward to allow the slide to move forward off the frame. The instruction manual cautions against using metallic objects (like a screwdriver) to achieve this objective. Your index finger works well, as does a pencil’s eraser or a plastic pen’s tip.
Once the ejector is moved to its takedown position, the takedown pin can be pushed from right to left and pulled out. The slide then moves forward and off the frame. The recoil spring is captive on a full-length guide so it won’t go flying across the room when removed. The barrel simply lifts out from inside the slide. This process is safe, straightforward, and easily accomplished. The trigger on the Ruger SR9 does not need to be pulled for disassembly, which is a very safe idea.
A manual, 1911 style, ambidextrous thumb safety shows red when ready to fire and white when engaged. Although the safety may visually appear small, it worked well for several officers who manipulated it. Despite various hand sizes, everyone found that the safety snicked on and off in a very positive manner. While the gun is completely safe against discharge when holstered or dropped with the manual safety in the off position, it’s added security for those officers or departments that desire it.
Lightweight and Tough Frame
The Ruger’s glass-filled nylon frame is available in black, olive drab or dark earth. Its light weight contributes to the gun’s rather light overall unloaded weight of 26.5 ounces. It touts a tactical rail for mounting lights and lasers and a large trigger guard to accommodate gloved trigger fingers. The sharp, non-slip, fine molded checkering and contrasting smooth areas are both attractive and functional. The usually ugly disclaimer “Before using gun, etc.” is covertly molded into the right side, where it’s not as visible as when it’s engraved on the slide.
The magazine release is located in the common frame location, but it sports two buttons, one on either side. This feature, along with the ambidextrous slide safety, makes the Ruger SR9 one of the most user-friendly duty guns available for the 10% of police officers who are left handed. Armorers don’t need to spend valuable time swapping the magazine release button over to the other side, because it’s already there.
I handed the Ruger SR9 to a patrol shift supervisor and asked her opinion of the grip frame and the overall feel of the gun. She carries a Sig/Sauer P226 9mm on her hip. The first words out of her mouth were that the gun felt thin in her smaller hands. She said it felt really good. She was amazed to hear that the magazine held 17 rounds of 9mm ammunition, 2 rounds more than her Sig. The Ruger’s grip frame is very thin for a high-capacity 9mm pistol. It measures 1.27 inches at its widest point, which is the ambidextrous thumb safety.
I gathered several common handguns and wrapped strips of paper around their grips and through their triggers. I wanted to compare the distances of trigger reach, including the entire circumference of each gun’s girth. The SR9’s short trigger reach is the same as that of a 1911’s. These two pistols tied for the shortest distance, which explains why they both feel so good in your hand. The Ruger’s trigger reach is shorter than a Glock 17, and it’s much shorter than the Smith &Wesson K-Frame revolver, the Sig P226 and the Sig P220.
The Ruger also features a reversible, rubberized backstrap. A paperclip is used to push out a crosspin at the bottom rear of the grip. The backstrap can then slide down and out of the frame. The backstrap is arched on one side for larger hands and flat on the other for smaller hands. It can be quickly flipped without the need of an armorer’s assistance. Other firearms have interchangeable backstraps, but they’re usually in a box somewhere in your locker and not part of the actual gun. The crosspin on the bottom of the grip also serves as an attachment point for a lanyard.
The SR9 has a magazine disconnect, which prevents the weapon from firing when its magazine is removed. The instruction manual states that dry fire practice will not damage the pistol as long as it is done with the magazine inserted. I’m not a fan of magazine disconnects that render the pistol unable to fire with the magazine removed. In the middle of a tactical reload, the weapon cannot be fired, leaving an officer at a severe disadvantage. However, I understand why some police departments require this feature for safety, and, therefore, I understand why Ruger has incorporated it in the SR9.
Firing the SR9
Shooting the new Ruger duty gun was an absolute pleasure. The grip is angled at 17 degrees and feels similar to a 1911. The relatively thin grip girth and short trigger reach combine to provide superior ergonomics. This gun just plain feels good in your hand. It also points naturally and instinctively. The sights are excellent, and the trigger pull, while not a super light, target trigger, is fine for law enforcement work.
I quickly became used to the trigger cocking the striker and then releasing it. It’s obviously different than a 1911’s single-action pull or a standard double-action pull. There is a bit more trigger movement prior to a shot going off. This is due to the magazine disconnect and the cocking of the striker.
Realistically, the SR9’s trigger is performing two functions. It’s cocking the striker, and then it’s releasing it. Both of these actions take place during a relatively short movement compared to a traditional double-action only trigger’s longer pull. Once the striker was released, there was no overtravel, and while trigger reset was long, it was barely noticeable.
About 600 rounds of various 9mm ammunition were fired through the SR9 with no failures of any kind. The gun just ate up all the ammo I could feed it. Winchester Silvertips, Ranger STX, Federal Hydra-Shok, Speer Gold Dot and Lawman 9mm’s fed, fired, and ejected like clockwork. Even some old hand loads went through the Ruger without a hitch.
I never had to move the adjustable rear sight because the semi-auto shot directly to point of aim at 7, 15, and 25 yards. The 9mm round is not known for punishing recoil, and this handgun displayed only mild muzzle flip with its 26.5-ounce unloaded weight. Accuracy was very good, and it was easy to keep quickly fired rounds touching each other in a target’s center mass area.
Ready for Duty
The ambidextrous thumb safety and magazine release, thin grip frame, short trigger reach, and user-adjustable grip length make the Ruger SR9 a very “officer friendly” pistol. A police department could order a hundred of these American-made guns and issue one to each officer, regardless of whether they’re left- or right-handed or have small or large hands.
The sights can be user adjusted without the need for an expensive sight adjustment tool or a trained armorer. These are practical design advantages that the Ruger has on its side. The Ruger is safe to carry, unload, fieldstrip, and clean. It looks great doing all of this, and it shoots as good as it looks.
The MSRP is $525, but a nationwide retail store advertised the SR9 at $439. Law enforcement-oriented gun stores may even offer a “police price” that would make the new Ruger a very fiscally responsible sidearm.
Duty holsters are already available from Bianchi International for the new SR9. Ruger’s website also has a list of compatible holsters, with more added as their makers modify cataloged designs to accommodate the new Ruger.
If the marketing of duty guns continues as it has in the past, we can expect shortened, compact versions of the excellent Ruger SR9 in the near future. Its thin profile would make a compact model very desirable as an off-duty or undercover concealed carry sidearm. For those who prefer a round more powerful than the 9mm, perhaps an SR40 will arrive someday soon, chambered in .40 S&W caliber.
Individual officers or entire a law enforcement agencies looking to obtain a high-capacity, 9mm pistol should give serious consideration to Ruger’s new SR9. It fits the duty gun needs of patrol officers, and it fits each individual officer’s hands.
Steve Tracy is a 20-year police veteran with 18 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He also is an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force less-than-lethal force and scenario based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.