Ruger 9mm - cover

The Best Ruger 9mm Pistols

Michael Crites
Michael Crites

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The Best Ruger 9mm Pistols

In a world filled with imported 9mm pistol designs, Ruger has risen to the top of the American handgun market over the past four decades to produce some of the most rugged, reliable firearms available.

However, with a dizzying variety of Rugers on the shelf, picking out the best one can sometimes be overwhelming — luckily we’re here to guide you through Ruger’s array of nines.

Ruger LC9s 9mm Subcompact

In 2011, Ruger in effect upsized their LCP, a popular .380-caliber single-stack pocket pistol, to produce what is effectively a 9mm version of the same gun, the LC9. One of the most compact 9mm pistols on the market, it weighed just 17-ounces while still having a 7+1 capacity.

The size is hard to beat for the caliber, coming in noticeably smaller than Glock’s vaunted G43, which has the same magazine capacity. 

Slightly larger than the original LCP

The original LC9 was subsequently updated to become today’s LC9s which is only an inch longer and an inch taller than the .380 mouse gun from which it took its cue. Rugged and ideal for concealed carry in non-permissive environments, it uses a 3.12-inch alloy steel barrel while featuring a trigger pull that is short, light, and crisp for a factory gun. The sights are drift adjustable to suit the user. 

Like many Ruger pistol designs, the LC9s comes standard with a frame-mounted manual safety which is deleted in Pro models of the same handgun. For a simplified version of the same pistol that comes in a bit cheaper, check out Ruger’s EC9s.

Ruger EC9s

Using Ruger’s LC9 series pistol as a starting point, the EC9s is the same size exact sub-compact size but shaves down on the features to produce a more affordable 9mm handgun that is still very capable.

Just 6-inches long, it is easily mistaken for a .380ACP in profile but make no mistake; this little guy is a 7+1 9mm. 

Pocket carry capable

Standing 4.5-inches high, it can still clock in for pocket carry in a pinch, provided the user has decent-sized pockets and isn’t a fan of skinny jeans.

For users with oversized mitts, a finger grip extension floorplate is included from the factory to provide just a bit more grip surface with added recoil control that comes along as a bonus. 

Shortcomings woth noting

The only downside, when compared to the more polished LC9s, is that the EC9s uses sights machined directly into the slide rather than dovetailed (and therefore replaceable) drift-adjustable sights. However, when used in close-combat scenarios at under 25 yards, which fits the gun’s concept of use, fixed sights are typically adequate.

Ruger American Pistol

Born of Military trials

In a near-repeat of the 1980s Army pistols trials that gave birth to the Ruger P-85 and its legion of offshoots, in 2015 the military launched the ambitious Joint Combat Pistol Specification and Modular Handgun System program. 

The goal was to replace not only the Beretta M9 (92F) but also a curious mix of other combat pistols such as the Sig Sauer-made M11 (P228), Sig MK25 (P226), and Glock MK27/M007 (G19, Gen 4). Essentially a grab bag of pistols that had been acquired in smaller numbers to fill niche roles. 

Adjustable on the fly

The idea behind the “Modular” part of the MHS program would be that a single platform could be adjusted on the fly without the intervention of an armorer to fit warfighters of different statures.

Similarly, the MHS was to be delivered in multiple variants for use in roles ranging from sidearms for machine gunners to concealed carry pistols for CID agents and personal security details.

Ruger developed the American pistol with the MHS program in mind. However, they did not submit it formally to compete in the competition that ultimately saw the Sig Sauer P320 adopted over Glock’s protests.

Built with service in mind

Introduced in 2016 in a standard version with a 4.2-inch (17+1 shot 9mm) or 4.5-inch (10+1 shot .45ACP) barrel, the American came standard with small, medium, and large-sized modular wrap-around grips to accommodate the palm swell and trigger reach across a wide range of hand sizes. 

With a corrosion-resistant black Nitrided stainless steel slide, nickel-Teflon plated steel magazines, and a stainless-steel chassis rated for prolonged use with +P ammo, the gun was built with hard service in mind. 

Using Novak LoMount 3-dot sights, a Picatinny accessory rail, ambidextrous surface controls to include a manual safety– an Army requirement– and enhanced frame texturing, the Ruger American was designed as a combat handgun and, while it hasn’t seen military service just yet, has been tapped for police use.

More options than ever

Today, the Ruger American line has expanded to include not only the original Duty-sized gun that was introduced in 2016 but also the Compact– featuring a 3.5-inch barrel and 12+1 flush fit magazine– and a longslide Competition model which has a 5-inch match barrel and a slide top that is drilled and tapped for direct mounting of red dot reflex optics.

Ruger Security 9 Compact

Home and personal defense at its core

Whereas the Ruger American was developed as a duty gun for military and police use, the subsequent Security-9 model debuted in 2018 has home and personal defense at its core. 

Using a 4 inch 1:10 twist barrel and weight-saving alloy slide, the standard-sized Security-9 has a 15+1 capacity and utilizes a high-performance glass-filled nylon grip frame with an aluminum chassis to produce a reliable handgun that hits the scales at just 23.8-ounces, giving the Glock 19 a run for its money.

A budget-friendly pistol

The good news is that the Security-9 also runs a couple hundo less than the G19!  Standard features include a bladed trigger safety, external manual safety, alloy steel magazines, and front cocking serrations. Those who are against manual safety levers can opt for the Pro model for the same price.

For those wanting something more catered to concealed carry, Ruger expanded the Security-9 line last year to include a 10-1 shot Compact variant with a 3.42-inch barrel that weighs just 21-ounces, placing it just a tad larger than the LC9s/EC9s single stack.

Ruger MAX-9

As direct competition to the Sig Sauer P365 and Springfield Armory Hellcat micro compacts, Ruger introduced the MAX-9 pistol in early 2021.

The exciting new pistol is slim (0.95-inches wide), lightweight (18.4 ounces), and compact (3.2-inch barrel), rivaling the smallest 9mm handguns that Ruger has ever made in size while having an impressive 12+1 shot magazine capacity. 

Best yet and keeping with the current move towards optics-ready pistols, the MAX-9 has a slide cut for J-Point and Shield-pattern MRDs while still boasting Tritium Fiber Optic front sights as standard. Importantly, the MAX-9 beats both the P365 and Hellcat in price all day, making it the people’s champ when it comes to micro 9s.

Who is Ruger?

William Batterman Ruger was born during a war, World War I to be exact. After graduating from a vocational high school in Brooklyn Heights, he went to work designing his own firearms from a converted workshop in North Carolina, patenting a light machine gun in his early 20s that caught Uncle Sam’s interest and led to a $32.50 a week job at the U.S. Army’s storied Springfield Armory in Massachusetts.

Ruger 9mm - T23 Machine Gun
The T23 light machine gun

There, Ruger worked during WWII on the T10 and T23 light machine guns and other designs while continuing to study in the Armory’s extensive firearm museum and file a flurry of patents for new ideas. Ultimately, he would hold over 90 patents before his death in 2002.

Breaking off on his own after the war, he formed Sturm, Ruger and Co. Inc. with friend Alex Sturm just before he hit age 30 and entered the commercial firearms market with a neat little blowback rimfire pistol design that utilized a frame made efficiently of two stamped sheet metal halves welded together. 

Ruger 9mm - Standard 22lr pistols
The evolution of Ruger’s original Standard Model .22LR pistol over the years

That humble no-frills gun, his Standard Model .22LR, launched an empire that today is the largest publicly traded firearms company in America. According to the latest data released by federal regulators, in 2019 Ruger produced no less than 1,261,503 firearms including 551,129 rifles, 551,129 semi-auto pistols, and 184,136 revolvers. 

Of the pistols, nearly half—a whopping 240,375– were chambered in 9mm, making the company the 800-pound gorilla of the handgun world. However, Ruger came kind of late to the “wonder nine” game.

Bill Ruger's P-series

In the late 1970s, the U.S. Army embarked on a sweeping and still controversial series of pistol trials that stretched into the mid-1980s to replace the famous M1911 Government Issue .45ACP— which had been adopted when William Howard Taft was president and movie cameras were still hand-cranked. 

Contenders for the Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) included the Italian-made Beretta 92, the German-Swiss Sig-Sauer P226, as well as designs from FN and Heckler & Koch, likewise all European companies. With that, Bill Ruger decided to make a firearm that was a first for his shop– a centerfire autoloading handgun. 

Almost in the running

Using an alloy frame with a steel slide and barrel, the resulting P-85, chambered in 9mm, had a 15-shot double-stack magazine, which made it immediately comparable to the M92 and P226 and came in at a price point lower than anything else at the time. 

The bad news is that the P-85 was not fully fleshed out from its beta testing stage until after the Army made its final choice, going Beretta for better or worse.

ruger 9mm -- 80s Ruger Ads
The Ruger P-85 gave birth to series that spanned over three decades and expanded from 9mm to other popular calibers.

With a good 9mm handgun finally on tap, Ruger released the double-action/single-action P-85 to the market in 1987 and updated the design with the P-85 Mark II in 1990. Successive improvements and reaction to customer feedback brought the P-89 in 1992, the stainless steel KP-93 in 1994, and the P/K-94 in 1995. 

Moving to a more lightweight and affordable model that ditched the alloy frame for one of injection-molded polymer– akin to the Glock— while moving to a new and ultra-reliable camblock system, Bill Ruger patented what became the P-95 series 9mm and delivered it to the market in 1996.

Ruger 9mm - r-p89 Schematic
Schematic for the Ruger P-89 series centerfire pistol

As it was the final P-series 9mm pistols to be introduced, it was also the last phased out in 2013, by which time Ruger had moved on as a company to the whole new generation of more advanced 9mm handguns that we know today.

Are Ruger pistols any good?

The original Ruger P-series guns were met with some skepticism at first, as the company had never made a centerfire semi-auto. However, they soon proved their mettle, and gun writers and researchers from Clay Harvey to Wiley Clapp and Massad Ayoob praised them for their accuracy. Many were soon adopted for law enforcement use including by the San Diego Police Department and the Wisconsin State Patrol. 

Used by some of the best

In the late 1990s, the Chicago Police Department– second in size at the time only to the NYPD and with one of the toughest jurisdictions on earth– ordered a special batch of P-89M series pistols for use by their agency. 

Overseas contracts were filled for users across Europe and Asia. While Ruger has been mum on just exactly how many P-series pistols were produced, published serial number ranges place the totals about 3 million guns, pointing to the inevitable fact they were a hit with the public. 

Available today and in the future

Odds are, well-used but still serviceable P-85s and their brothers will continue to circulate on the secondary market for much of the next century and likewise continue to work without issue. That is just what they do.

When it comes to the current generation of Ruger’s polymer-framed semi-autos, including the EC9s/LC9s, American, Security, and now the MAX-9, these guns were built with the lessons learned from the company’s 30-year run with the P-series.

Conclusion

While Ruger has only embraced more modern polymer/”wonder nine” style pistols within the past decade, they hit the ground running with evolutionarily mature designs; branches of a family tree that has been carefully maintained and developed for more than 70 years.

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