Ruger American 9x19mm Pistol

By Randy Wakeman

Ruger American Predator Rifle.
Many handguns work well for various defensive applications. Clockwise from the upper left: Baikal IJ-70 .380, S&W .357 Mag., Glock 19, Ruger SR-9; in the center, a Ruger American. Photo by Randy Wakeman.

As some shooters are aware, the F.B.I. has made the decision to switch back to the 9x19mm cartridge from the .40 S&W. The 9mm Luger or 9x19mm round usually offers a higher round count per magazine, faster follow-up shots, more accurate follow-up shots, less recoil and very similar physical wounding characteristics to the .40 S&W. Expect to see more new or "improved" 9mm pistols hit the market.

The new Ruger American makes an interesting comparison to the previous Ruger SR-9. Here are the specifications for the previously reviewed Ruger SR-9:

  • Model Number: 3301
  • Caliber: 9mm Luger
  • Capacity: 17+1
  • Slide Material: Stainless Steel
  • Barrel Length: 4.14 in.
  • Grip Frame: Black, High Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
  • Slide Finish: Brushed Stainless
  • Width: 1.27 in.
  • Sights: Adjustable 3-Dot
  • Weight: 26.5 oz.
  • Overall Length: 7.50 in.
  • Height: 5.52 in.
  • Grooves: 6
  • Twist: 1:10 in. RH
  • MSRP: $569.00

Here are the specifications of the new Ruger American:

  • Model Number: 8605
  • Caliber: 9mm Luger
  • Capacity: 17+1
  • Slide Material: Stainless Steel
  • Barrel Length: 4.20 in.
  • Grip Frame: One-Piece, High-Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
  • Grips: Ergonomic Wrap-Around Grip Module
  • Slide Finish: Black Nitride
  • Width: 1.40 in.
  • Sights: Novak LoMount Carry 3-Dot
  • Weight: 30 oz.
  • Overall Length: 7.50 in.
  • Height: 5.60 in.
  • Grooves: 6
  • Twist: 1:10in. RH
  • 2016 MSRP: $579.00

There is good reason to go with a standard capacity (17 round magazine) 9mm handgun. Higher cartridge capacity is beneficial to all shooters under stress and especially to senior citizens, who are perhaps more likely to drop a magazine while attempting to reload. The folks that are the softest, most vulnerable targets to crime are often the ones that can benefit the most by 17 round capacity pistols and 20 round capacity rifles.

A polymer-framed 9mm pistol is part of a crowded market, for in addition to these two Rugers we have the illustrious Glock 17 and 19, Walther PPQ, Springfield XD, H-K USP, FN FNX-9 and many others. In fact, most handgun manufacturers offer such pistols.

More and more, modern pistols are starting to look like variations of the Glock 17, which began production back in 1982. None of them are breathtakingly gorgeous, although some like to waste their time debating this. Highly polished plastic made by Old World Craftsmen does not apply here.

In the Ruger American, instead of using the SR-9 approach of a reversible backstrap insert (the "unique reversible backstrap"), an interchangeable backstrap system is employed. Three backstrap inserts are supplied.

The back of the backstrap and the front of the frame are stippled, more or less, to provide a non-slip, secure hold. I found the trigger of the Ruger American to be better than the SR9: its reset requires less travel and it breaks cleaner.

Although bulkier and heavier than the SR-9, the Ruger American Pistol finally gets rid of the SR-9's worthless safety, loses the magazine disconnect and eliminates the pop-up loaded chamber indicator, substituting a less obnoxious loaded chamber viewport for the latter. The Ruger American feels solid and does not rattle. It is smoother to rack the slide on the American than on the SR-9.

According to Ruger's Brandon Trevino, the Ruger American has done 25,000 rounds of NATO ammunition without breaking anything. This handily exceeds the well known Austrian Ministry of Defense criteria of 1980 that resulted in the big win for Glock:

"After firing 15,000-rounds of standard ammunition, the pistol will be inspected for wear. The pistol will then be used to fire an overpressure test cartridge generating 5,000 bar (500MPa; 73,000 psi). (The normal maximum operating pressure Pmax for the 9x19mm NATO is rated at 2,520 bar (252MPa; 36,500 psi). The critical components must continue to function properly and be up to specifications, otherwise the pistol will be disqualified."

I have no qualms whatsoever about the build quality and durability of the Ruger American. I appreciate the easy dis-assembly, the trigger is excellent and little tidbits, like not having to dry fire the pistol to disassemble it, are niceties.

However, I am left with a less than stellar feeling about the gun. It isn't a matter of accuracy, for the American is essentially a three inch, 25 yard gun with the right ammo, which is a greater distance than most would consider for self-defense. The problem, for me, is the grip. It is just too wide and uncomfortable.

By direct comparison, the Ruger SR-9, which I have been shooting for five years, is about a quarter pound lighter, yet far softer-shooting. While both of these handguns are full-size service pistols, the SR-9 is slimmer, lighter, more comfortable and more fun to shoot.

As a nightstand gun or hidden in a vehicle, full-sized 9mm pistols are excellent. For easy concealed carry, subcompact pistols like the Ruger LC9s Pro make a lot more sense.

I don't like making hard and fast recommendations for self-defense handguns, as a very wide allowance must be given for personal preference. Over the last 25 years, the main self-defense pistols I have relied on have been two very common models: a Glock 19 and a straight blow-back, fixed barrel Baikal IJ-70 Markarov chambered in .380 ACP. The Makarov is the only pistol I've ever been forced to actually use for self-defense.

The fundamentals for a good self-defense piece have not changed. It must be reliable with modern self-defense loads, something my old Walther P-38 never was and neither was my Mauser HSc. In addition to reliability, it has to be sufficiently accurate for your needs.

Beyond that, it is an intensely personal choice. The gun has to fit your hand, not the hands of others, and the trigger, sights and controls have to suit you, not anyone else. For any personal item, try before you buy is (by far) the best advice. Renting and shooting a gun at your local pistol range is going to help determine your personal preferences far more efficiently than anything else.

One good thing about Ruger is when they release a major new handgun, they do it in a big way and a large number of aftermarket accessories quickly appear to make the new gun "your gun." Although Ruger has no written warranty, they have a superb record of standing behind their product. If it ever breaks, Ruger takes care of it.

Although Ruger appears poised to become a larger player in the service pistol market with the Ruger American, whether you find it the right choice for you is going to depend on how you feel about the current three-backstrap system and how well it feels to you when you shoot it. The American does not fit me particularly well with any backstrap and, according to my hands, it is not as comfortable to shoot as the Ruger SR-9.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.