“Cognitive dissonance” is a 10-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.
“Because the PX4 was originally designed for military and law enforcement use … Defensive use is its natural habitat.”
The Rotary-Barrel System
Most semiauto pistols today use some variation of John Browning’s tilting-barrel lock design (think M1911, Glock, FN/Browning Hi-Power, CZ-75—think probably 95 percent of all semiautos), and the most common argument against the rotary-barrel design is that it’s not John Browning’s tiltdesign. 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 has a much tighter lockup than any Browning tiltstyle handgun” (The emphasis is mine).
He went on to say, “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, [because] the barrel does not need to deviate from a single angle, merely moving forward and rearward 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 more than 2,000 rounds—probably much closer to 3,000—through
my full-sized 9mm. I’ve put more than 300 (I lost track during a defensive shooting class) through the Compact Carry that Beretta sent to me for testing. And I’ve put about 400 more through a friend’s 9mm, including some hot +P loads. I have never experienced any kind of twist at all. Because 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 mentioning that for a total of somewhere more than 3,000 rounds of a wide range of ammunition fired from three separate PX4 handguns, I have never experienced a single malfunction.
(For the record, the PX4 Subcompact model does not utilize a rotary-barrel system because of its size. From a gunsmithing perspective, a barrel length under 3 inches precludes that system. So, while technically the subcompact, with a 3-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. He was the man responsible for cars as outrageously beautiful as the Ferrari GG50, a slew of Bugatti concept cars and the Maserati Spyder/Coupé, as well as cars as economically practical as the Volkswagen Golf, among many others) to help the company make form follow function with style, elegance and great ergonomics. Whoo, boy, did they succeed!
“… 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 …”
PX4 Storm Family
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-sized PX4 smoothed and polished many years ago, and it had a three-pull average of 9 pounds in double action and 4.5 pounds in single action. (My friend’s unmodified gun averaged 9.2 pounds DA and 6 pounds SA.)
The Compact Carry, an upgraded version of Beretta’s Compact model specially customized by them to Ernest Langdon’s specifications, measured 9.6 pounds DA (I suspect that will lessen with use) and 4.2 pounds SA. All three triggers had a very similar “feel”: crisp and positive. Reset was approximately 5/8 inch and very distinct.
For those who are wondering who Ernest Langdon is, he’s a professional shooting instructor, a competitive shooter with a Grand Master Class rating from the USPSA and a Distinguished Master with the IDPA. He holds 10 National Championship Shooting titles and two World Speed Shooting titles. He’s a former Marine, a law enforcement officer, an author … . His bio is longer than my word count for this article, so suffice it to say he knows his stuff.
“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.”
Storm Compact Carry
Beretta collaborated with Ernest Langdon on the Compact Carry model, developing a lightweight, hammer-fired, concealed-carry gun with custom features.
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 gray Cerakote slide for a subtle aesthetic effect. Like all PX4 Storms, it field strips with ridiculous ease into a grand total of six components.
The defensive shooting class I took was taught by Static Defense Systems of Chino Valley, Arizona. Owner and chief instructor Charlie Higgins is former U.S. Army Special Forces, Military Combat and Tactical Firearms instructor, Close Quarters Combat instructor, qualified Master Gunner graduate, NRA instructor and martial arts teacher/fanatic.
Because 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—naturally—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-hand; single-hand; non-shooting hand; single target; multiple targets; steel plate; paper; stationary; moving forward; moving back; moving laterally; single shot; doubletap; 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 malfunctioned.
As befits a firearm designed to be abnormally rugged and durable, the sights on the PX4 are overbuilt to the max. I had the front sight on my personal gun modified by LRK Mechanical in Prescott, Arizona. This company manufactures everything from race pistols to long-distance rifles. Even they were a little stunned by the excessive durability. According to them, my front sight post measured .156 millimeter in width—wider than all but the very widest custom high-resolution sights designed for rapid target acquisition. That means that at 15 yards, a 4-inch bullseye is completely obscured. On the other hand, a man-sized silhouette is easily seen at all normal defensive distances, even well beyond 15 yards, and the bright-red tritium front sight of the Compact Carry puts the eye on target instantly. I just wish all PX4 Storms came with that front sight.
With an MSRP of $650, the standard Compact is reasonably priced. At $899, the Compact Carry is not inexpensive; but considering that it has semi-custom features, it not unreasonable either. Beauty, brawn, durability, accuracy, truly amazing reliability and discreet size for concealed carry—all from a historic and legendary company. You can’t ask for more.
Group Average (inches)
|Colt Defense (DoubleTap Ammunition) 124-grain JHP||
|DoubleTap 124-grain +P Bonded Defense JHP||
|Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection GDHP||
|Federal American Eagle Syntech 115-grain TSJ||
|Federal Premium Law Enforcement 147-grain HST||
|Federal Premium Train and Protect 115-grain Versatile HP||
|SIG Sauer Elite V-Crown 124-grain JHP||
|SIG Sauer Elite V-Crown 115-grain JHP||
Notes: The velocity was measured with a chronograph set at 10 feet. Accuracy was tested by firing four groups of five shots at 15 yards.The elevation was 5,000 feet, and the temperature ranged between 80 and 85 degrees (F).
Action Type: Single/double; external hammer
Operation: Semiauto; short recoil
Locking System: Locked breech with rotating barrel
Slide: Steel, sandblasted, phosphatized and Bruniton coated
Frame: Reinforced fiberglass technopolymer BARREL: Steel, sandblasted and blued; chromeplated bore; RH six-groove
Magazine Capacity: 17
Trigger: 9.6 pounds DA; 4.2 pounds SA
Sights: Night sights
Barrel Length: 4.02 inches
Overall Length: 7.55 inches
Width: 1.42 inches
Height: 5.51 inches
Weight: 27.69 ounces with empty mag
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.