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Video: On the Range with Beretta's New M9A3

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ACCOKEEK, Md. — Military.com's Brendan McGarry and I got a chance to shoot Beretta's newest version of the M9 9mm pistol Monday during our visit to Beretta USA.

In December, the company submitted the new M9A3 as an engineering change proposal to the U.S. Army's existing M9 contract. The move was intended as an alternative to the service's Modular Handgun System program -- an effort that could result in a the selection of a new service pistol for the Army and potentially the entire U.S. Military.

Beretta USA also plans to offer the new pistol to the civilian market.

The M9A3 is a new attempt to address the alleged complaints from the field that have surfaced over the years against the M9 design, company officials maintain.

Whether you love the M9 design or despise it, you have to acknowledge that the M9A3 sports plenty of new features.

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Besides its new earth-tone colors, one of the most obvious improvements is a MIL-STD-1913 accessory rail for mounting weapon lights.It also has a much-thinner, Vertec grip for smaller hands and an optional wrap-around grip for those with larger hands.

The M9A3 will also feature a redesigned, over-center safety lever that cants slightly upward to help eliminate accidental safety activation when the slide is racked during malfunction drills. This feature was not yet on the prototype we shot or on many of the photos circulating the Web.

The new pistol has improved, removable front and rear sights and a threaded barrel for suppressor use. Beretta USA has also increased the magazine capacity from 15 to 17 rounds. The pistol will come with a sand-resistant magazine.

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It has a beveled magazine well, an over-sized magazine release button and improved internal parts to increase durability, Beretta USA officials maintain.

I shot a few magazines through the M9A3, but I didn't really chance to play with some of the new features such as the accessory rail or the redesigned safety lever.

For perspective, I shot a civilian version of the M9 first. Then I shot the M9A3. The M9A3 grip felt noticeably thinner. Magazine insertion is very smooth and the new sights line up quickly.

Beyond that, it felt like shooting a brand new Beretta. It still has the double-action trigger on the first pull -- a feature I have never preferred. But it functioned well, and for the most part, my groups were very tight.

If you like the Beretta M9 design, you will probably love the new M9A3. The company has not set a price for the civilian version, but said it would be somewhere between the $600 retail price of the civilian M9 and somewhere south of $1,000. The civilian version will be available with Beretta's D-hammer spring that lightens the double-action trigger pull by about two pounds, company officials maintain.

Here are two videos we made from our trip to the company's headers, one on the general features of the M9A3 and another on the pistol's redesigned safety lever. (Smart-phone users can see the clips by clicking here and here.)

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