The Army's adoption of the Beretta M9 is responsible for gun violence, if you're willing to make up an alternate reality.
The Army’s adoption of the Beretta M9 is responsible for gun violence, if you’re willing to make up an alternate reality.

An article published in The Atlantic today asserts that the Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS)* will result in “blood on the streets” in the near future because the Army’s adoption of the Beretta M9 9mm pistol lead to the popularization of high-capacity pistols among civilian criminals in the 1980s. Those who actually know a little bit about firearms find that conclusion to be nothing short of deranged.

The writer—an under-educated photography and writing instructor named Matt Valentine at the University of Texas at (where else?) Austin—asserts:

This week, the U.S. Army will brief arms manufacturers on the design requirements for a new standard-issue handgun. Several gun makers will compete for the lucrative contract, developing weapons that are more reliable and more powerful than those currently in service. Officials say the upgrade is overdue—it’s been nearly 30 years since the Army adopted the Beretta M9. But the last time the military challenged the industry to make a better handgun, all the innovations intended for the battlefield also ended up in the consumer market, and the severity of civilian shootings soared.

Studying gunshot injuries in the D.C. area in the 1980s, Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University noticed an alarming trend—as time went on, more and more patients were arriving at the emergency room with multiple bullet wounds. In 1983, at the beginning of the study period, only about a quarter of gunshot patients had multiple injuries, but in the last two years of the study, that proportion had risen to 43 percent. Over the same period, semiautomatic pistols with a capacity of 15-rounds (or more) were replacing six-shot revolvers as the most popular firearms in the country. It’s not difficult to see the correlation—more bullets in the guns, more bullets in the victims. But why had guns changed so radically in such a short period of time?

In 1980 the Joint Services Small Arms Program invited the firearms industry to develop a new military handgun, with more than double the capacity of the sidearm American troops had been issued previously. At the time, soldiers were still using essentially the same handgun their grandfathers had carried into the trenches of World War I, a pistol John Browning had designed at the turn of the century. Its standard magazine held just seven rounds. The U.S. Army had a long wish list for a replacement, with 72 mandatory design requirements and 13 additional “desirable” features. According to Leroy Thompson, author of The Beretta M9 Pistol, “many of these mandatory requirements were very military-specific, which made it difficult for an off-the-shelf commercial pistol to fulfill them without alteration.”

Valentine then goes on to cherry-pick sources that confuse correlation with causation in support of his failed premise that the military’s selection of pistol’s is the driving force behind the adoption of firearms by civilians.

The reality is that civilians were already beginning to transition to semi-automatic pistols by the late 1970s and early 1980s, and that there was an entirely different incident, which did not involve the military at all, that changed both law enforcement and regular civilian handgun purchasing trends forever.

The infamous 1986 “FBI Miami shootout” was a gun battle that erupted between serial bank robbers Michael Platt and William Matix and eight FBI agents. The agents were armed with then-standard revolvers, two pump-action shotguns, and Smith & Wesson 459s, high-capacity 9mm pistols  agents had already been adopted quite independently of the U.S. military.

Bank robber Matix was knocked unconscious after firing just one ineffectual round, but Platt went on to kill two agents and wound four more with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle before succumbing to multiple wounds.

A wound that eventually would have killed Platt was fired early in the firefight, at a point when he had only injured two FBI agents and had killed none. In the aftermath of the battle, the FBI blamed the stopping power of the 9mm pistols and the .38 special and .357 revolvers for Platt’s ability to keep pushing forward after suffering a wound (one of twelve) that should have been more immediately fatal if the bullet that stopped in his lung had penetrated more deeply to his heart.

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