In the interests of being as politically incorrect as possible, and because I am tired of the mainstream media’s fulsome adoration of dubiously motivated high school students and even more dubiously motivated anti-gun organizations, I have decided to post an article originally published in “Gun World” magazine (https://www.gunworld.com). I am also posting it because I know a lot of readers are interested in firearms and because rotary barrel systems seem to suffer from bad press almost as much as, well, gun owners and the NRA.
“Cognitive dissonance” is a ten-dollar psychiatric phrase for the stress experienced by people who believe in two mutually exclusive concepts at the same time. If you do any research about rotary-barrel systems such as Beretta’s PX4 Storm, you will suffer from cognitive dissonance. It is the most inherently accurate system there is. It is the most inherently inaccurate system there is. It is the most inherently reliable system. It is the most inherently unreliable system. It must be run wet. It must not have too much lubrication. It…
You get the picture. Let’s start by dismissing some of the most popular myths about the rotary-barrel system:
Most semi-auto pistols today use some variation of John Browning’s tilting-barrel lock design (think M1911, think all Glocks except their new 46, think Hi-Power, think CZ75, think probably 95% of all semi-autos), and the most common argument against the rotary-barrel design is that it’s not John Browning’s tilt-design. What is ironic is that the earliest rotary-barrel design I have been able to track down is an 1897 patent taken out by, yes, John Browning, albeit never put into production.
The next most common argument against the rotary-barrel system is that it must have clearance between the barrel and the slide, and the requisite clearance will allow the barrel to move, adversely affecting accuracy.
That popular theory is simply nonsense on a variety of levels. Here is a direct quote from an engineer at Beretta: “The barrel cams close [in] much the same way as a bolt action rifle and therefore have a much tighter lockup than any Browning tilt-style handgun.” [Emphasis mine.] “Due to the linear movement of the barrel, the barrel cut in the front of the slide is minimized as well, meaning that the requirement for an ovoid cut as seen in 1911s and other Browning-style tilt-barrel actions is not needed and the slide can act as its own bushing, so to speak. Due to the rotation of the barrel and lack of vertical movement, the accuracy potential is significantly increased as the barrel does not need to deviate from a single angle, merely moving forwards and rearwards during cycling.”
Not only is there increased accuracy from the linear movement of the barrel, the rotary-barrel system is an inherently strong design that leads to longer life of the gun, and enables the gun to tolerate higher pressures. Not surprising in a handgun designed to, “meet the most stringent military standards of durability.” In fact, strength was the reason for that particular choice of that particular action. To quote Beretta’s engineer again, the motivation for Beretta’s original rotary-barrel pistol (the Cougar 8000 series) was “…a need for extreme durability. The rotary lock-up provided the most robust design solution.” Additionally, the rotation of the barrel reduces perceived recoil, and reduces muzzle-jump because of the lower barrel-mount relative to the frame.
Another popular argument is that the rotation of the barrel causes the gun to twist in your hand. I admit I have never fired the PX4 in .40- or .45-caliber, but I have put well over 2000 rounds, probably much closer to 3000, through my full-size 9mm, over 300 (I lost track during a defensive shooting class) through the Compact Carry Beretta sent me for testing, as well as about 400 more through a friend’s 9mm, including some hot, +P loads, and I have never experienced any kind of twist at all. Since I have arthritis in my hands, I am very sensitive to anything that causes any kind of discomfort, and I would have noticed twisting.
It is also worth noting that for a total of somewhere well over 3000 rounds of a wide range of ammunition, fired from three separate guns, I have never experienced a single malfunction.
(For the record, the PX4 Subcompact does not utilize a rotary-barrel system because of its size; from a gunsmithing perspective, barrel length less than three inches precludes that system, so while technically the subcompact, with a three-inch barrel, might be feasible with a rotary system, Beretta opted for a tilt-barrel design.)
There was a golden era of automobiles, from about the early-1930s to the early-1950s, when the lines of every car, from a Bugatti to a Buick, were curved and smooth and almost femininely sensuous. Those are the lines of the PX4, and it is not a coincidence: Beretta hired the Italian design firm of Italdesign, founded and then headed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (one of the most famous car designers in the world, the man responsible for cars as outrageously beautiful as the Ferrari GG50, a slew of Bugatti concept cars, and the Maserati Spyder/Coupé, and as economically practical as the Volkswagen Golf, among many others), to help them make form follow function with style and elegance and great ergonomics. Whoo, boy, did they succeed.
Based on a polymer frame, the lines of the PX4 are unique in today’s boxy-pistol world. The slide has an almost pyramidal shape, with everything softened and curved, while the frame melts down into a Picatinny rail. The grip is ergonomically excellent, allowing for a natural pointing hold the way the M1911 does. It comes with three backstraps to accommodate everyone from Lebron James to, well, me, and the grips both front and back have patterning aggressive enough to provide a firm hold without drawing blood. The safety is ambidextrous, and the magazine release button is reversible and available in three different sizes to match your needs. The trigger guard is undercut, allowing the shooter to take a high grip, and the action is a standard DA/SA. The initial DA pull is long, allowing the shooter to hold the gun safely in low-ready, and start the trigger pull as he comes up onto target, allowing for almost instantaneous target engagement.
I measured the trigger pulls for each of the three guns with my Timney scale and came up with the following:
I had the trigger on my full-size PX4 smoothed and polished many years ago, and it had a three-pull average of 9lbs in double action, 4.5lbs in single action;
My friend’s unmodified gun averaged 9.2lbs DA and 6lbs SA.
The Compact Carry, an upgraded version of Beretta’s Compact model specially customized by them to Ernest Langdon’s specifications, measured 9.6lbs DA (I suspect that will lesson with use) and 4.2lbs SA. All three triggers had very similar “feel:” crisp and positive. Reset was approximately 5/8’s of an inch and very distinct.
Ernest Langdon is a professional shooting instructor, a competitive shooter with a Grand Master Class rating from the USPSA, a Distinguished Master with the IDPA, with ten National Championship Shooting titles and two World Speed Shooting titles, a Marine, a law enforcement officer, author… His bio is longer than my word count for this article, so suffice it to say he knows his stuff. His Compact Carry model differs from the regular PX4 in that it has night sights, a low-profile slide-stop and low-profile safety-levers, Talon grips, and a grey Cerakote slide for a subtle aesthetic effect. Like all PX4 Storms, it field strips with ridiculous ease into a grand total of six components. That’s six (6) components. Counting the magazine. Remember the saying, “The fewer moving parts, the better?”
The defensive shooting class I took was taught by Static Defense Systems of Chino Valley, AZ. Owner and chief instructor Charlie Higgins is a former US Army Special Forces, Military Combat and Tactical Firearms Instructor, Close Quarters Combat Instructor, qualified Master Gunner graduate, NRA Instructor, and martial arts teacher/fanatic. Since the PX4 was originally designed for military and law enforcement use (it is carried by law enforcement agencies in America, and by both law enforcement and military agencies in Canada, Mexico, Italy—natch—and in a slew of South American and African countries), defensive use is its natural habitat. We ran a number of drills designed to simulate a variety of situations: two-handed; single-hand; non-shooting hand; single target; multiple targets; steel plate; paper; stationary; moving forward; moving back; moving laterally; single shot; double-tap; Mozambique; and Charlie’s preferred variation of the Mozambique drill, which I prefer not to describe, in the interests of law enforcement safety.
All of this was done under dubious conditions: high wind, dust, and smoke from a distant fire. All three pistols performed admirably, and none ever malfunctioned.
As befits a firearm designed to be abnormally rugged and durable, the sights on the PX4 are over-built to the max. I had the front sight on my personal gun modified by LRK Mechanical in Prescott, AZ, manufacturers of everything from race pistols to long-distance rifles, and even they were a little stunned by the excessive durability. According to them, my front sight measured .156 millimeters in width, more even than all but the very widest custom high-resolution sights designed for rapid target acquisition, and that means that at 15 yards, a four-inch bullseye is completely obscured. On the other hand, a man-sized silhouette is easily seen at all normal defensive distances, even out well beyond 15-yards, and the bright red Tritium front sight of the Compact Carry puts the eye on instantly. I just wish all PX4 Storms came with that front sight.
With a MSRP of $650, the standard Compact is reasonably priced. At $899, the Compact Carry is not inexpensive, but considering that it is a semi-custom gun, it not unreasonable either. Beauty, brawn, durability, accuracy, truly amazing reliability, and discreet size for concealed carry, from an historic and legendary company. You can’t ask for more.