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LET Magazine Reviews the Firestorm .380

( We are currently living in a time where the danger of the badge has increased, despite the fact that the profession itself, and the professionals who practice it, are the best we have ever been. In this era only an irrational officer would fail to carry a firearm 24/7. And for this, the Bersa Firestorm is a viable option. I tested the Bersa Firestorm (FS380M), a compact 380 auto handgun manufactured by Bersa of Argentina and imported by Eagle Imports; we were pleasantly surprised. It was one of the least expensive handguns we have ever tested for this column and it exceeded the quality of many guns twice the price.

Let’s start with specs. The Bersa Firestorm is an alloy frame 7+1 semi auto with a steel slide and wrap around rubber grips. It is has a 6.6-inch overall length, 4.9-inch height and is 1.3 inches at its widest point. The Firestorm and the Bersa Thunder, their top seller, are almost identical…except the Thunder doesn’t have the wraparound grips (which our testers preferred) or white outline sights (also preferred). Both guns closely resemble the Walther PPK in many respects but they are definitely different handguns. There is a bright finish version of the Bersa Thunder, but we liked the matte black Firestorm.

The Firestorm has a 3.5-inch fixed barrel with a micro polished bore. If the reader has seen some of the recent reviews of .380 auto ammunition I have done, you will recognize that this is the ideal length and design for the more powerful and accurate ammunition available in 380 auto. Using Winchester Train & Defend ammo for this particular test, we were able to spit out accurate rapid fire with this combination—and often exceeded our duty gun specs for accuracy.
Luckily we had plenty of ammunition on our range sessions and our Bersa Firestorm consumed it smoothly. As a reloader, I pick up every piece of brass that falls on a range floor. This gun threw the brass behind me and into the next shooting position. It was patently reliable, accurately sending bullets into the 10X and brass into neat piles. It would have been comical had anyone been standing behind me to my right.

Now let’s talk use. Before I will carry an “everyday” gun, it must answer the question, “Would I make a hostage shot with this gun and ammunition?” That is, if I were at the mall (fat chance, for those who know me) could I consistently make a 10-yard, sub 4-inch shot? With the Bersa Firestorm and Winchester Defend (95 grain, 950 fps) ammunition, many groups were sub three inches offhand. The Firestorm has blocky, large, square sights. They encourage quick sight alignment. Most shooters who end up carrying pocket sized .380s actually spend a bit customizing their guns so they will accommodate these kinds of sights. They come standard here.

Bersa is a company well known for making quality firearms at bargain prices. Their manufacturing experience includes the Argentine Armed Forces and Argentine Federal Police. This has probably contributed to their reputable consistency in manufacture and affordability.

In terms of design, my Bersa Firestorm had a smooth even finish, even in areas one can’t see. It was polished and fitted well. There are details like a textured sighting plane, which did not go unnoticed by shooters using it with the sun overhead. This is a fixed barrel/ blowback design. The recoil spring is wrapped around the barrel, which created a smooth slide contact and consistent spring compression. The design is simple and very easy to maintain.

We are in an era where .380 Auto handguns are micro sized and weigh 5 to 6 ounces less than the Firestorm. Why would anyone want a larger, slightly heavier gun? Well, it is still pocket-sized. It will fit in a Sticky MD-3 holster, which is definitely the way to go. Even with the finger rest magazine, it stays well concealed in a jeans pocket. The magazines are so flat that a couple of them can be stashed in the back pocket. At $320, it is half the MSRP of most models and about 1/3 the price of several of them.

However, the most noticeable feature is its ergonomics. It fits the hand so well and softens recoil so efficiently that our testing team could double tap before some micro guns were on target. It is remarkably simple to maintain and inherently safe for pocket carry. Have I mentioned the price?

Having rebuilt a couple similar firearms in my past, I can assure everyone that this is one of the best designs for challenging environments. It is inherently reliable and very easy to service. For armorers, the Firestorm uses an easily replaced pinned extractor. It has a solid recoil area and quality pins in wear areas. The sights are dovetailed, allowing for easy replacement and drifting.

When we first opened the box, we had a concern right away. The magazine latch was a little stiff. Once unlatched, it dropped easily from the well. After about five minutes of use, it was fine. I guess it just took a little “break in.”
The Firestorm has a DA/SA (double action/single action) with a hammer drop type of decocker. The control was fairly easy to reach with the side of the right thumb. One rotates it down to drop the hammer and place the gun on safe. The safety is only on the left side, making it a right-handed gun.

A DA/SA gun is carried in double action. When the first round is fired, the brass is ejected and another round is stripped from the magazine. When the slide goes forward, the hammer stays in a fully cocked position, making subsequent shots in single action mode. In an exposed hammer gun like this one, the hammer can be cocked manually.

The Firestorm has three safeties, magazine disconnect, firing pin and a manual safety. I can do without a magazine safety, but many prefer them. Several officers in my agency carried a gun in a BUG Pocket. The Firestorm and an extra magazine can be carried here.

The trigger on our Firestorm was much smoother than similar compact guns. The double action trigger had a long take up, typical for combat pistols. The single action was crisper than we anticipated. This gun was superior in drills like the el Presidente.

The Firestorm is field stripped by pointing the gun in a safe direction and locking the slide all the way to the rear. Check to see that the chamber is empty, take a deep breath, and check again. There is a disassembly lever on the right side of the frame—rotates this downward. This allows the slide to go back even further so the user can raise the rear of the slide clear of the grooves in the frame. The barrel stays fixed, the slide and recoil spring are removed. A field stripped Firestorm has three parts; frame with the attached barrel, slide, and recoil spring.

The gun is easy to clean and lubricate. It is easy to brush out a fixed barrel and inspect under the extractor for any accumulation. There are fewer moving parts on a Bersa than many other combat handguns and therefore fewer potential wear points. In my experience, I use gun grease, rather than light oil to lubricate the barrel, and slide contact areas.

The Bersa Firestorm turned out to be an accurate, reliable and ergonomic firearm ideal for back up or off duty use. All the members of our testing team looked at purchasing this gun after the test. This is one of those guns that is on the “have to have” list.

There are a couple of observations that we should share with our law enforcement friends. We know that .380 Auto is a “marginal” caliber, but we cannot argue with the ability to deliver accurate fire from the pocket and the lack of sticker shock of any kind. For agencies that do fleet purchases for their officers, why not provide this gun as an option?

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