Sturm, Ruger and Co. is popularly known for producing American-made quality, typically overbuilt guns at modest prices. One thing they were not known for at least until the late aughts was small, lightweight pistols. The LCP, introduced in 2008, was happily received by a market hungry for ultra-light pocket pistols, and became a best seller.
The trending popularity of pocket and deep carry guns continues today, but in the past several years we have seen shooters back away from the .380 ACP and other diminutive cartridges in favor of single stack 9mms, a class of pistol that has not exactly been the talk of the shooting sphere since the 1980’s.
This shift in consumer desire was quickly capitalized on by Ruger, and showcased another trait they are known for: quickly adapting to what consumers want and need. In 2011, Ruger debuted the LC9, a gun that resembled the tiny LCP, only scaled up somewhat and chambered in 9mm.
The LC9 today is available in a variety of smart variants to cover most shooter’s desires, and is an economical choice for a full-power deep concealment or backup pistol. In this article, we will examine the pistols pertinent design characteristics as well as its strengths and flaws.
The LC9 is a polymer framed, hammer fired, double action-only pistol utilizing conventional short recoil action. Caliber is 9mm Para., and is fed from 7 round magazines that fit flush or use an optional extension for a pinky hold, or 9 round extended magazines.
The pistol is packed with safety features, including a manual safety, magazine disconnect safety, integral locking system and loaded chamber indicator that is tactile and visually observable. The magazine disconnect safety prevents the gun from being fired when the magazine is removed from the magazine well, and is a love it or leave it feature among most users.
The trigger pull is consistent, though long, and has no second strike capability; the pistol must be cocked to arm the trigger, and so any failure to fire must be treated with remedial action.
The grip is textured on front and backstraps as well as about ¾ of the way up each side for better purchase. A slide release is on the left side of the frame. The magazine release button is typically placed for easy activation by a right handed shooter. The manual safety placed at the rear on the left side of the gun is smartly designed with up being on safe and down for fire.
Sights are a big improvement over the diminutive speedbumps on its LCP cousin, being replaceable, and drift adjustable 3-dot in configuration. Slide serrations are only at the rear and are well executed, allowing decent grip while not being too aggressive, facilitating the intended use of this pistol for pocket or deep carry.
Disassembly is a minor trick compared to larger guns, requiring a takedown pin to be lined up with a relief cut on the left side of the slide for the purpose. Once this is done, the pin is pushed out using a small tool or the included key for the locking system.
The greatest strength of the LC9 series guns are its compactness and leanness: weighing in at only a hair over 17 ounces, measuring approximately 6 inches long, 4 ½ inches tall and less than a inch wide at its widest point, the LC9 will handily carry in a pocket or on the ankle.
The LC9 is regarded as a generally good pistol mechanically, though one with snappy recoil common to all such handguns in this category. Of more concern is the trigger and magazine follower. The trigger, while mechanically adequate, is very long, even for a DA gun, and is not too nice. The long pull combined with a mushy stacking and uncertain break on such a small, lightweight gun does not contribute to shooter confidence and makes wringing all the accuracy from the pistol that it might deliver challenging.
The other point of concern is the magazine follower. The mags are decent, and reliable with the exception of the plastic follower commonly deforming under the load of a tough slide lock spring. This deformation will keep the slide lock from interacting with the follower and thus locking the slide open on the last round fired. Often this deformation is substantial enough to introduce enough friction to keep the magazine from dropping free when the mag release is pressed, necessitating the stripping of the mag from the well. This author has personally encountered the issue on two LC9 pistols, one of them the new striker fired variant.
Neither issue is a showstopper, but one should carefully inspect their followers for signs of deformation and contact Ruger should it occur. Regarding the trigger, only regimen of deliberate practice will see you attain consistent accuracy with this little gun.
Another point of concern for some is the presence of a keyed locking system, ala S&W guns with the dreaded “Hillary Hole.” This keyed apparatus allows one to render the entire gun inoperable with one turn. The elephant in the room of course is the susceptibility of the system to inadvertent activation from recoil, breakage, neglect or wear.
I have not been able to find any instance where this has occurred on an LC9, but that exact event has occurred on more than a few S&W revolvers and other guns with similar systems.
Variants and Upgrades
Once again quick to respond to user complaints, Ruger released the LC9 in a few new variants after the initial reception of the original. The LC9s, “s” for striker, sees the hammer fired action replaced with the common striker fired action. The trigger, while still long in travel, is significantly improved, with a lighter pull and more defined break.
The LC9s also omits the mechanical loaded chamber indicator on top of the pistol and replaces it with a small port to allow visual inspection of the chamber for a loaded round without retracting the slide. Considering any merit of the hammer fired semi-auto is squandered on a double action-only mechanism, the improved and still consistent pull of the striker upgrade makes a lot of sense on this gun. Overall, the additional simplifications on the LC9s like removal of the internal locking system are changes that work out for the better in this author’s opinion.
In a sort of backwards or lateral “upgrade” Ruger released the LC380, an LC9 in all essential features and identical size only chambered in .380 ACP for those who want a cartridge with a little less bite in the same size class. The LC380 utilizes the same Browning-type short recoil action as the LC9, which is a perk among .380’s in this size class: many are blowback operated, which is known for producing a sharp recoil impulse. The LC380 recoils mildly compared to both its competition and bigger brother.
The .380 is a mildly contentious choice of caliber, but is overall an adequate round for self-defense. It makes more sense if viewed as the upper-end of performance among smaller cartridges, especially when mated to a smaller gun. The LC380 is a great choice for folks that want a pistol in this class that recoils less and is easier to operate. Note that the LC380 is not a striker fired variant and is DAO like its progenitor, complete with long, middling trigger and internal locking system. As of this writing, the LC380 has no other variant.
The EC9s is a budget model of the LC9s, featuring wider slide serrations to reduce machining time as well as integral, read non-replaceable, plain sights. The gun retains all of the other positive characteristics of the LC9s and helps drive down the price of this already affordable pistol even more. As a no frills concealment or backup piece, this version is hard to beat in its price range.
All of the LC9 variants have factory models on offer with the current (and hopefully faddish) array of eyeball-melting colorful “camo” and solid finishes. If you positively, absolutely must have your LC9 be a reflection of your special inner truth, Ruger can likely accommodate.
I am a fan of Ruger firearms all around and especially in their price point, and believe them superior to most others in their market category. The LC9 will though obviously be compared to several more expensive competitor’s guns; the Smith and Wesson Shield, Glock 43 and Walther PPS and CCP. For raw shootability, the other guns have inarguably superior triggers, and the quality of the trigger is even more important on these small, light, defensive guns.
However, for its intended role and considering the likely scenario the LC9 will be used in, it will make little difference. If the shooter has practiced with the LC9, the trigger is manageable for close range work, and the LC9s is all around much closer to parity with its competitors. Single-stack subcompact 9mm’s are currently back in vogue, but there are not too many quality options in the mid-tier price point.
The LC9s is a significant bump over the standard LC9 thanks to the striker fired action. This action as mentioned above seriously improves the trigger, which is what I perceive as the LCP’s biggest flaw aside from the intermittent reports of bad magazine followers.
The LC9 manages something of a coup here by being favorably comparable to other offerings and doing so at a lower price point. If you are on a budget, the Ruger comes equipped with good, useable sights, intelligently placed controls and is about as slick and snag free as you can make a pistol of this type while retaining decent sights.
Aside from trigger woes, shooting the LC9 and variants is surprisingly manageable. Recoil is on the sharp side, especially with heavier loads, but nothing to waste ink on. It is not a pistol you probably want to shoot all day, but an average practice session won’t chew your hands up too bad. Reloads are easily accomplished despite the slight form factor of both the guns and magazines.
I am not a fan of internal locking systems in the least, for reasons I detailed above. Suffering a frozen or inoperable action because of a vital part breaking is one thing. Suffering it because a completely unnecessary feel-good locking system has been shoe-horned into a pistol action for the dubious benefit of the uninitiated is quite another.
Sure, either instance will leave you completely screwed in a fight, but the locking system is added risk for no appreciable benefit as far as I am concerned. Safe storage of a pistol with the intent of keeping unauthorized users from using the gun is better accomplished through use of a secure locking container. A loose gun can be handily and simply rendered unusable through use of a cable lock. Both methods do not introduce another internal failure point.
The LC9 series is a solid pistol and the best contender at its price on the market presently.
The renaissance of light, slim single stack 9mm’s is showing no signs of slowing down, especially as appendix and pocket carry are currently the paradigm among carry advocates. Possessing desirable traits in abundance, Ruger’s LC9 series stands out as a solid performer and excellent value in a market with only a handful of modern choices.
If you are looking to get your EDC rig as lean as possible, give the Ruger a chance.