Compact Nines

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” March 2007

It’s become trendy in recent years to trash any defensive handgun with a  bore diameter less than .4 inch. Slogans abound, but one of my favorites is, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.”
It would be interesting to find a genu­ine ghost whisperer to interview a few of the people on the receiving end of a prop­erly placed 9 mm. I’d be very surprised if any of those folks would categorize it as a mouse gun.
Admittedly, discussions of defensive handguns and calibers usually focus on their ability to produce one-shot stops. The argument for a defensive handgun with a bore diameter of at least .4 inch stems from the basic premise that big bores are more effective stoppers than small ones. With­out debating this premise, which ignores the excellent one-shot stop record of the .357 Magnum, it only holds true if the defender is able to properly place his or her shots. I would suggest that a miss with a .45-caliber handgun has less chance of stopping an assailant than a torso hit with a 9 mm.

In many cases, a criminal has been stopped by the mere presence of a hand­gun with no shots being fired. I’m not sure whether these occasions involved big- or small-bore handguns, but I do believe a potential victim’s demonstrated confidence when holding a handgun has a big influ­ence on an aggressor’s decision whether to stop or press the attack.

The confidence level of most citizens relates directly to their proficiency. Since 9 mm handguns are usually mastered more quickly than big bores, particularly when training and practice sessions are minimal, confidence begins to show earlier. This is especially true for a person of small stature or with small hands.
Early attempts to popularize the 9 mm for self-defense focused on large handguns with high-capacity magazines—an approach driven by the police market and its use of external-carry pistols. When Florida opened up its concealed-carry policies and started a nationwide trend, smaller guns began receiv­ing more attention. But the double-stack frames of the high-capacity nines, while read­ily available, weren’t the optimum approach.
 
A few companies offered some slimmer, single-stack guns, but these candidates didn’t possess the inherently desirable characteristics of the classic 1911. Now two major American companies, Kimber and Springfield, are making downsized 1911s in 9 mm, and while both guns are distinctly 1911, there are some noteworthy differences. Unlike many of the new hand­guns I have the opportunity to evaluate, both guns had some run time in the hands of a professional trainer and a couple of new shooters.

Above: The EMP magazines had base pads and held one more round than the Aegis II, but the Aegis II had checkering on the frontstrap. While features varied, reliability of both was flawless, and shooters may have a difficult time choosing one over the other

We’ll look at Springfield’s EMP first. EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol, which is a bit of an understatement when you look at the major changes Springfield has made to its regular micro pistols. While the EMPs sport a 3-inch barrel like the company’s .45 ACP Micro model, its slide has been shortened, which required shortening a number of other components like the firing pin, firing pin spring and extractor.
Knowing they were onto a good thing, Springfield’s engineers shortened and nar­rowed the frame—the single most impor­tant component in the interface between shooter and handgun. This required short­ening the trigger bow, the end result being what Springfield refers to as a short-action 1911. While this was a substantial re-engi­neering effort, it made excellent sense when building a gun around a cartridge smaller than the .45 ACP.
Springfield had already successfully built a 1911 around the .45 GAP cartridge, which simplified the 9 mm project. The difference in frame sizes between the EMP and a standard 1911 is obvious when looking at the base of the frames with the magazines removed.
Springfield spared no expense in opti­mizing the EMP for concealed carry. All the sharp edges were radiused and fixed sights with tritium inserts have been dovetailed into the stainless steel slide. The frame is a blackened, anodized alloy with a beavertail grip safety and ambidextrous thumb safe­ties. Thin, cocobolo grips are checkered and have the attractive Springfield logo. The magazine holds nine rounds and has a small bumper pad extension providing plenty of room for the pinky finger on the shooting hand, even for those with larger paws. Overall it’s an extremely handsome, practical concealed-carry pistol.

Springfield includes a molded holster and magazine carrier with every EMP. That makes the package ready to go as a concealed-carry pistol, right off the shelf.

Kimber took a slightly different approach, perhaps because it had not downsized a 1911 frame for the .45 GAP. Rather than changing the basic frame and slide dimen­sions, the company took a 3-inch barrel/ slide and shorter frame, like those used on its Ultra Carry models, and installed the minimum-size components that would still make a fully reliable gun.
The result is Kimber’s 9 mm Aegis II, a two-tone gun like the EMP but with some slightly different touches. First, the Aegis II has reversed colors, a blackened stainless steel slide and an anodized alu­minum-alloy frame with a brushed finish. Unlike the EMP’s rounded hammer, the Aegis II has a bobbed hammer that does not extend beyond the back of the slide in the down position.
While both guns have serrations on their backstraps, only the Aegis II has a check­ered frontstrap for better grip control. At the rear of the slide, there are four, wide vertical cuts on the Aegis II and nine thin serrations slanted rearward on the EMP. The Aegis II has a single thumb safety for right-handed shooters and has been de­horned for concealed-carry market.
I’ve always liked the extra purchase provided by checkering on the frontstrap of 1911s, but given the minimum recoil of the 9 mm, it would not be a necessity for me on either of these guns. I also like the wider slide serrations on the Aegis II but can’t personally justify a need for a bobbed hammer. I believe in having ambidextrous safeties for “just in case” scenarios, but I wouldn’t get into any serious arguments regarding their necessity on a concealed-carry pistol.
The wood grips on the Aegis II are remarkably thin, and when combined with the slightly longer grip frame, they feel a bit narrower and slightly longer than those on the EMP. The bases of the Kimber magazines have been drilled for bumper pads, although they are not provided, so the magazines fit flush with the bottom of the frame. With the 9 mm’s minimal recoil, the lack of a definitive home for the pinky finger does not pose a control problem. The Aegis II magazine holds eight rounds.

The difference in frame sizes may not be great, but the grip frame circumference of the Springfield EMP (left) has been shortened. On the other hand, the Aegis II has slightly thinner grip panels, allowing both pistols to handle and feel very similar.

Like the compact .45 ACPs, the mini 9 mms utilize double recoil springs and a guide rod. For someone as clumsy as I am, disassembling and cleaning these guns is akin to learning to juggle sharp objects, but these features are regarded as neces­sary on compact 1911s, and I am getting more proficient.The reliability summary for both guns is simple: no failures in either gun with any ammo. I was helping a friend who had invited some family and friends for a day at the range. Attendees included a mother and two sons who had never fired hand­guns before. In loading one of the compact nines, the oldest boy did not release the slide but rather eased it forward, resulting in the slide not going fully into battery. A light push on the back of the slide resolved the problem, and when the correct load­ing technique was demonstrated, it never happened again. This was the only problem encountered during any of the range ses­sions with both guns. Interestingly, the hand sizes of the mother and sons varied from small on the youngest boy to medium on the mother to rather large on the teen­ager. All were quite comfortable shooting the small-frame nines, and while their com­bined experience was quite limited, their shooting was much better than I expected and their verbal inputs were honest and reflected no personal agendas.

As a Gunsite instructor, II Ling New spends i | a lot of time on the range. Although she usually uses full-size, double-stack handguns In her classes, she found the 9 mm Springfield EMP to her liking.

At the other end of the expertise spec­trum was Gunsite Academy instructor II Ling New. At something over 5 feet tall, New does not have large hands, and while she regularly utilizes full-size, double-stack pistols in her classes, she liked both compact nines and the enhanced controlla­bility the smaller caliber provided in rapid fire. She preferred the smoother, shallow slide serrations of the EMP. Recognizing the enhanced control offered by the check­ering on the frontstrap of the Kimber, she felt it was more than needed on the lower recoiling 9 mm, particularly in an extended practice or training scenario.

I did get some personal time with the compacts and was quite impressed. The usual snappy recoil of mini .45s is absent with the nines, and recovery time is much improved. Ammo fired included lots of Black Hills full metal jacket along with some Winchester and Federal jacketed hol­low points.
Perhaps the best summary I can give is to say that I rate these guns so highly both have become candidates for the final gun on my concealed-carry license when it’s issued. Deciding which one will require more range time with both guns before making such an important decision. But that’s another story.
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2 responses to “Compact Nines

  1. Dave Bates-Alpha Omega Shooting Solutions

    Picked up an EMP 9mm as a 50th birthday present to myself. I have always been a .45 acp guy but after shooting, carrying and cleaning my EMP, it has become my go to gun. (Sorry Col. Cooper) It is by far, the most comfortable carry gun of intermediate to small size that I have worked with. Follow up shots are quicker with reduced recoil and I almost forget it is on my hip when carrying it in my newest Josh Bossart Custom IWB. I am all in on the EMP.

    • Dave, The EMP 9 is one of the 3 guns on my CCW permit and the most comfortable to carry. I’ll be writing a review of Springfield’s new EMP 4 as soon as I get the gun. Wouldn’t be surprised to see one of my other two carry guns replaced by the slightly longer EMP 4.

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