Originally posted May 22, 2016
OK, it's not a laser gun, but it kind of looks like one. Here is a Beretta U22 Neos.
The U22 is part of a new generation of .22 LR semiauto pistols that all seem to be coming onto the market at around the same time, and for my money, the most interesting one. According to Beretta USA's website, it's meant to be an easy-to-use introductory pistol for novices (hence "Neos"), but be capable and customizable enough to be useful for competition shooters. I can't speak to the second point, but I think they've accomplished it with the former.
And isn't it a handsome beast, as these things go? It was designed in consultation with Italdesign Giugiaro, the studio behind many of the best-known European cars of the last four or five decades—including the Lotus Esprit, the DeLorean DMC-12, and the original Volkswagen Golf and Scirocco. (There's a great story about Italdesign's founder, Giorgetto Giugiaro, standing for a long time looking at the infamously wedge-shaped profile of the Triumph TR7 at whatever early-'70s car show it debuted at, then walking around it and exclaiming in horror, "My God! They've done the same thing over here!" This is amusing, but also a bit ironic, since most of Giugiaro's iconic car designs can readily be summarized as "wedge-shaped". :)
It's also rather clever, which becomes more obvious when you disassemble it. Before we do that, though, let's take a closer look at some of the details.
The U22 is manufactured in the US, at the same plant where my Px4 Storm was made. On the Px4, the place of manufacture is amusingly abbreviated as "ACCKK, MD", but here it gets its full and proper spelling. I'm told the Accokeek plant was originally set up to manufacture the M9 pistol for the US armed forces, partially answering the objections of those (and there were many) who were upset that the contract to replace the M1911A1 went to a foreign manufacturer.
Meanwhile, on the right side, Beretta have taken a page from Ruger's book and put on some helpfully detailed safety instructions. This is, after all, a pistol meant for novices. I particularly like the explicit mention that it doesn't have a magazine safety.
Also visible in this shot are the magazine release (in the lower left) and the disassembly knob (bottom center). The U22 is disassembled by holding down the button on the right of the knob, which disengages a ratchet, and then turning the knob until the screw it's part of disengages from the underside of the barrel. At that point, the whole barrel/chamber assembly can be lifted off, and the slide will then come off the front.
Once you have it apart, some of the cleverer features become more readily apparent. For instance, the barrel, chamber, top strap, and sights are all one solidly fixed assembly. On a lot of conventional auto pistols, the sights are on top of the slide, which moves around a lot at each shot, both relative to the shooter and to the barrel—which might itself also be moving. On the U22, they're all one non-moving part, which makes the package more inherently accurate.
Also, the barrel having no parts that interact directly with the operating mechanism means it can be changed out easily and quickly. The U22 is available with 4.5", 6", or 7" barrels (I have the 6" one), and the way they're constructed, there's no reason to suppose that it would be difficult in any way to have all three for a single pistol. US law specifies that the serialized part—the part actually identified as the firearm—is the frame or receiver, so even though the barrel in the U22's case constitutes the great bulk of the weapon's mass, it's not a regulated part. And actually, there are six barrel options available, because the three sizes are available in black ceramic-coated steel (as seen here) or stainless steel.
Mechanically, the U22 is pretty simple. It's a straight, non-locking, blowback action, held shut by that large recoil spring, and it's very easy to operate. There's no ejection port; instead, the action is completely open on both sides when the slide is back.
I particularly like the way they've made it so that it's easy to open it a half-inch or so without engaging any of the other mechanisms, so that checking to see if the chamber is loaded is very simple.
In this close-up you can see the firing pin and striker spring nested inside the recoil spring. The striker catch is inside that cylindrical structure the pin extends back into. I can actually give you a better look at how that works, because...
... if you accidentally disengage said catch and cause the striker spring to launch the firing pin across the room, this is what it looks like after you've corraled all the parts. Notice the big ol' notch on the underside of the firing pin, which engages with the catch inside that cylindrical part on the frame. Also obvious in this shot is the lug on the back of the barrel/top strap assembly; this locks into the non-sliding upper part of the slide assembly when the pistol is together to hold everything in alignment.
Stock sights on the U22 are pretty good, with a big, adjustable outlined rear notch and prominent front post in a textured, glare-resistant "gutter" on top. The whole top of the pistol is also a Weaver rail, for attaching optics, red dot sights, or whatever other advanced sighting systems take your fancy.
The grip frame is made from fiberglass-reinforced polymer, which is supposed to make it stronger than regular polymer pistol frames, and is nicely textured. It was kind of them to make that little thumb ridge so that it can be mirrored on both sides of the grip without hindering either-handed shooters. Interestingly, the magazine release is on the right side of the gun, meant to be operated by the shooter's trigger finger; this is a bit odd for a pistol, though I believe many competition rifles are set up that way. The ergo is generally quite good.
This is basically what advancements in firearms design are these days. We've got pretty much all the operating systems we're going to get, until such time as the metallic cartridge is superseded by something else (which will probably involve the "bullet plus chemical propellant" thing being superseded by something else, since it's the most efficient way of packaging them for delivery); what developments we get now are incremental improvements in ergonomics, usability, and/or configurability (peripheral rails and the like). With that in mind, the U22 Neos is a pretty spiffy rig. I'd be interested in seeing whether novices find it as accessible as it seems like it should be.