August 10, 2020
By Will Dabbs, MD
It took me a quarter century of dabbling in the gun press to get to the point where I could finally call myself a gun writer. Professional relationships take time, and, just as is the case with any other quasi-artistic medium, one is expected to pay one’s dues. Those first few articles were pretty tough, and success required patient toil, but there are some really cool fringe benefits to this gig.
It has been my privilege to roll around in the dirt with some exceptionally nice firearms. Some were curiosities, a few were abject failures, and yet others were prime examples of the gun builder’s art. After three decades of squeezing triggers for fun and money, I have developed a decent gestalt for what works and what doesn’t. With the entire industry as my catalog, here is what guards my family against life’s manifest mischief.
I was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. My first issue handgun back when I wore the uniform was a high-mileage Colt 1911A1. I will admit to looking askance at those first few revolutionary plastic pistols back in the 1980s, when Mr. Glock’s rectilinear contrivance first invaded our shores. Nowadays, however, I think polymer pistols are just the cat’s pajamas.
While the modest weight certainly has its appeal, particularly given that my daily medical uniform is really little more than souped-up jammies, it is that marvelous striker-fired trigger that most enamors me with the species. Despite my very best efforts, I simply seem unable to hit to precisely the same point of aim in both double-action and single-action modes on a DA/SA handgun. I’m sure I should always practice more.
While everybody and their aunt makes polymer-framed combat handguns these days, the Heckler and Koch VP9 is my personal favorite. HK took its sweet time getting into the polymer pistol market. However, when they finally took the plunge, they did it up right.
HK was really the first. Its 1970s-era VP70 predated the Glock 17 by several years and looked cool enough to star otherwise unadorned in several science fiction movies, not the least of which was Aliens. However, the VP70 ran via an unlocked blowback action that made the slide heavy and stiff. Additionally, the trigger was hands-down the worst I have ever squeezed. As a result, the VP70 died a natural death.
The VP9 is everything the VP70 should have been and everything the Glock wants to be. Sleek, svelte, and imminently functional, the VP9 sports a 15-round magazine, a railed dust cover for accessories, and legendary HK reliability. The sights are non-nuclear luminescent, the slide release is bilateral, and there are generous cocking grooves on the slide, both fore and aft. The rear aspect of the slide also incorporates the niftiest little polymer ears that HK calls “charging supports.” They do not interfere with holstering, make the slide much easier to grab when sweaty or rushed, and are removable should you find them offensive.
The bilateral magazine release is a pivoting lever. Some love it, others hate it, I don’t care. You find this appendage on lots of successful combat handguns these days. It runs as well for me as a button.
There is the standard bevy of automatic internal safety devices with a caveat. The firing pin safety built into the slide is a laterally pivoting lever. While that seemed curious to me originally, the ultimate result is that the gun is completely drop-safe. No amount of fore and aft violence should be able to move the firing pin unless the trigger is depressed.
The VP9 is available with a threaded barrel from the factory, but it sports weird 14.5x1 reverse metric threads. All major suppressor manufacturers offer suppressor mounts for this European barrel, but I opted for an aftermarket tube threaded to the American standard ½-28. HKParts.net is the leading supplier of HK parts on this side of the pond, and its quality is superb. All HK accessories are going to be a bit spendier than those for lesser guns, but you get what you pay for.
The frame of the VP9 is the most customizable in the industry. There are three grip panels of varying thickness on each side, as well as three different interchangeable backstraps. If you cannot find a combination that fits your particular mitts, then you are likely not human. I thickened the right, thinned the left, and installed the largest back strap to accommodate my long monkey fingers. I also took the tan components from my VP40 and exchanged them for the black versions of my VP9. Don’t hate. It’s not a sin to look cool while traipsing about in your underwear defending your castle.
Of all our country’s resplendent modern ills, one of the worst is that we have to go through such a nutroll to own a sound suppressor. It’s not a gun. The only villainy in which one might engage with a sound suppressor alone is to whack somebody over the head with it. These delightful devices suppress the sound without silencing it, and you are severalfold more likely to be killed by a shark in America than a sound-suppressed weapon, despite there being just under a million of them in circulation. Arguably the most storied producer of these wonderful devices is Gemtech.
Gemtech first drew breath in 1976. Dr. Phil Dater was a radiologist by training, who had access to a modest machine shop in the basement of the hospital where he worked. Phil began experimenting with sound suppressors way back when and ultimately built the most respected sound suppressor company on the planet. Gemtech cans are in widespread use with American LE and military units, as well as friendly foreign militaries around the world.
The G-Core is its standby pistol can. Designed using such rarefied stuff as finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics, the GM9 is a monocore design. This means that the guts of the can are cut from a single cylinder of 7075 aluminum. As a result, the GM9 is easily maintained and nigh indestructible. The can is rated for all manner of 9mm rounds as well as subsonic .300BLK.
The G-Core suppressors all incorporate a Nielsen device. Also known as a Linear Inertial Decoupler, or LID, the Nielsen device consists of a little piston that gives the nose of your pistol a modest tap with each round fired. This ensures reliable operation on Browning short-recoil handguns. The LID is the most innovative invention since Thomas Crapper perfected the flush toilet.
Big cans are quiet. Small cans are maneuverable. The GM9 strikes a balance. The GM9 is only 7.8 inches long and weighs a mere six ounces. When dangling off the end of your handgun, the GM9 doesn’t slow you down a bit.
Surefire is a plank holder in the field of weapon-mounted illuminators. Its robust laser designators and weaponlights hang off of the guns of some of the world’s most high-speed operators. While it makes holsters, headlamps, flashlights, magazines, and sound suppressors of its own, its reputation for gun-mounted illuminators is unsurpassed. The X400 Ultra is its apex predator.
The X400 Ultra puts out 600 lumens of brilliant white light as well as a five mW green laser beam. Civilian green and red lasers both produce the same amount of power, but the human eye detects green more readily. This makes green lasers appear a bit brighter than their red counterparts.
The X400 Ultra is 3.6 inches long and will yield 1.75 hours of total runtime on a brace of CR123 batteries. The rotating activation switch in the tail of the unit is easily accessible by either finger, and the handy selector lever lets you instantly choose between the light, laser, or both. Tapping the switch gives you momentary illumination. Pressing it fully yields a constant-on state. The T-Lock mounting system lets you place the unit on any standard rail, and the hard-anodized aerospace aluminum chassis is tougher than you are. The mechanism is sealed with an O-ring against moisture and grime.
The holy combination of the HK VP9, the Gemtech GM9, and the Surefire X400 Ultra is lightweight, compact, and lethal. I have, on a couple of occasions, had to snatch up this gun in the wee hours to investigate why our farm dog, Dog (both her name and her species), wouldn’t shut up in the middle of the night. The versatile nature of the light/laser allows me to instantly switch between the two on the fly, based upon whether I want to see or be seen. The laser can be easily zeroed using a small Allen wrench.
I feed my home defense gun Winchester Defender loads. These diabolical defensive rounds expand reliably in anything soft and gooey. They also deploy the most vile-looking little razor-sharp petals in the process.
Having seen my share of gunshot wounds in the Real World, I am convinced that these high-tech Information Age hollowpoints should reliably do the deed.
The final package gives me 15+1 onboard and moves comfortably around both the house and farm. I find that I can run the gun as quickly and well with the can and light installed as I might a lesser pistol unencumbered. The end result dispels the darkness and allows me to communicate, should I be forced to discharge my weapon indoors. As the cops are always at least fifteen minutes away from my rural farm, I need to be able to hold down the fort unsupported for at least half an hour, come what may. The GM9 can ensures that I can differentiate between my wife’s melodious voice and that of my cop buddies, even after I have used my gun inside.
The VP9 so outfitted shoots straight and true. I simply adjusted the laser until the dot filled my sights at about 10 meters. With the can and light in place, the soft-shooting 9mm is a dream on the range. Recoil is not worthy of mention, and follow-up shots are instantaneous. I’ve shot them all, and I think the striker-fired trigger of the HK VP9 is the top of the tactical heap.
The 9mm is innately supersonic, so you’ll have to run heavy 147-grain subsonic loads for best results. Otherwise, the annoying sonic crack will persist, independent of whatever you hang on the snout of your pistol. The GM9 is a small can designed for high performance in tight spaces. It will still ring your bell a bit without muffs, regardless of the fodder.
The solution to that quandary is a bit of dBFoam from Inland Manufacturing. This stuff is water-based and comes in a small shaving-cream can. Spritz a bit of that into the end of your can before running the gun on the range, and it keeps the whole rig pleasantly ear-safe. Lots of innocuous stuff can be used as an ablative material in a sound suppressor, but dBFoam is designed specifically for this purpose. You wouldn’t want to be farting around with it when you hear glass breaking downstairs, but it does keep the range work in times of peace pleasant and comfortable.
Ain’t none of this stuff cheap. My personal collection includes piles of inexpensive bargain-basement guns that I landed as gunshow trades or via similar barter. However, the stuff that defends my family and me is the best I can buy. You can easily get into a semblance of this rig at a fraction of the price. However, I wouldn’t cut corners on a cardiac pacemaker, medicine for my kids, or a parachute. My personal home defense gun falls into this same rarefied category.