Review: Rock Island Armory Tactical 1911 9mm

Rock Island 9mm 1911 pistol left profile

I have used Rock Island Armory handguns for many years—since the Rock was first introduced. From my first experience, I found a credible handgun well worth the money. The pistol has improved considerably since.

Pinned slide lock safety
The slide lock safety is pinned for security. Much more expensive pistols should do this!

The Rock Island Armory handgun is manufactured in the Philippines. Armscor is the parent company—remember Squires Bingham? That’s a lot of history. Rock Island, by the way, is a huge island and tourist attraction in the Philippines. My best research indicates more Rock Island pistols were sold the past few years than any other single make of 1911. I am not surprised.

The Rock, as we affectionately call the modern gun, is a good buy. Less expensive guns do not perform with the Rock, and more expensive handguns, well, are more expensive.

The Rock 1911 fills a spot we may call entry level. Yet many experienced shooters like myself, who own many 1911 handguns, keep a Rock or two or three on hand just because we can. The pistol featured in this review is a RIA Tactical.

This is a version with improved sights and controls compared with the GI piece. This example is chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. The 9mm is a soft-recoiling alternative to the .45 ACP. It is well suited for beginners based on economy and low recoil. This is one enjoyable 1911 for anyone to fire.

Rock Island 9mm 1911 pistol left profile
When all is said and done, the Rock 9mm is a fun gun well worth the money.

Modern 9mm +P and +P+ ammunition offers good wound ballistics, and the Rock is plenty strong to handle these loads. About 99 percent of the ammunition fired in this piece has been handloads or burner-grade loads, and the pistol has delivered faultless reliability and good accuracy.

The 9mm 1911 handguns have not always run well, but in this case we have a good match-up. The major makers have gotten spring rates and magazine design right. The pistol is delivered in a padded lockable hard plastic box with a spare magazine. The finish is a form of Parkerizing.

The Tactical Model features Novak-type sights. These are still the best overall design for general use with the 1911. The rear sight offers a wide notch for fast work. There is also real precision in slow fire. The front post offers a good aiming point. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation.

Rock Island 9mm 1911 pistol right profile
This is a no-frills working man’s 1911.

There is a modern grip safety. This safety funnels the hand to the grip. The grip safety properly releases its hold on the trigger about halfway into its travel. Those who use the thumb’s forward grip often form a cup in the palm and do not adequately depress the grip safety. This safety neatly solves that problem.

The grips are just slabs of wood. I replaced mine with pebbly Magpul grips. They work well and offer a cutout for quickly actuating the magazine release. The ambidextrous slide-lock safety is an excellent design. It is firmly anchored on the right side. Some ambi safety levers work loose; this one isn’t going to.

The single most important feature of the 1911 is a straight-to-the-rear single-action trigger. This one breaks smoothly at 5.5 pounds—a little heavier than some but lighter than the GI 1911A1 on average. It isn’t a light trigger, but it is smooth and should become smoother with use. There is no firing-pin block.

Rock Island 9mm 1911 pistol left profile
The pistol is well finished and has good features for such an inexpensive handgun.

The pistol is supplied with Metalform magazines. It doesn’t get any better than these nine-round magazines. I added two more I had on hand and also added a Colt 9mm magazine—five magazines, total 45 loaded rounds. That is just the beginning of the fun to be had with a 9mm 1911.

Initial rangework was undertaken with the Federal 124-grain Syntech and CCI Blazer 115-grain FMJ. These are affordable practice loads that offer real economy and useful accuracy. I fired 100 rounds of each load during the break in cruise. There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The piece shoots a little low.

With 135- to 147-grain loads, it may be dead on. As it is, only a sliver of metal needs be filed from the front sight to raise the point of impact to match the point of aim. Firing at man-size targets at 7, 10, and 15 yards, the Rock 9mm is fast on target and offers excellent control.

Front sight post on a pistol
The post front sight has been painted for better visibility.

While well suited to personal defense, the pistol is fun to shoot. This means it will be fired a lot, and that means something in personal defense. It would be difficult to find a 1911 9mm delivering this performance for the price.


Proofing the Rock

I also fired a number of quality defense loads. First up was the Speer Gold Dot 115-grain load. This one breaks 1,188 feet per second. Firing from a standing barricade rest at 25 yards, I fired a five-shot four-inch group. The Speer Gold Dot 147-grain load at 1,001 fps struck to the point of aim in this pistol with excellent results, with five-shot groups of under 4 inches. This isn’t from a benchrest but a standing barricade.

I also fired the Federal Cartridge Company 135-grain Deep Penetrating 9mm with good results. While this isn’t an extensive test, the Rock 9mm proved reliable and accurate enough for IDPA and personal defense. You must proof your own pistol and reach your own conclusions. The Rock Island Armory 9mm is affordable and seems reliable, which is all we can ask.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (17)

  1. Just bought a RIA M1911A1-FS in 9mm at the gunshow. Have been a proud owner of the Baby Rock 380 and decided to take the leap up. I am not disappointed! The finish is a little thin but for the money (440) I suppose I can live with it. Burned through a half box as soon as I came home and hit 9 out of 10 steel plates at 15 yards. It can only get better from here. Mellow recoil and good trigger. A keeper!

  2. I bought the same model in .45 ACP about 4 years ago for my son on his return from his last deployment. We took it to the range a few weeks ago and it performs excellently. It put my series 70 gold cup .45 to shame, so I sold it and bought another RIA for myself.

  3. Perhaps my computer is screwy. At any rate, it was several paragraphs long, and I don’t want to try and recall it. For the price, it ain’t bad.

    1. I am not sure what you are talking about Lance. I keep a record of all comments that break the rules and require moderation or deletion. I do not see anything from you. Please try again or point me to what you are talking about. ~Dave Dolbee

  4. For HERB

    The pistol is listed at CTD for 431.28 so no worries. Dunno why Armscor doesn’t list it, it may be a special order for CTD, but they seem plentiful.

    Function problem on .38 Super– some Super ammo is really no hotter than the 9mm and sometimes fails to function properly. Betting SIG .38 Super ammo will run like a top.

  5. This gun is not shown on the RIA website (in 9mm, only in 45ACP). Is it new or no longer manyfactured?

  6. I have four RIA pistols, one .45 commander-size tactical and two 22TCM ones – a full-size original and a commander-size, both convertible to 9mm. The latter I have shot mostly in 9mm, including competition with the big one. I find them all to be super serviceable and sturdy. When I had troubles with my early-issue TCM, RIA worked with me and we sorted out the issue (a combo of out-of-spec Philippine-made TCM ammo and a need for a redesigned ejector spring) and the have worked perfectly since. The .45 has had zero faults, ever. These folks make strong firearms and back them up with top-notch service. I’m a loyal customer.

  7. I have 4 RIA’s. Love them all. 3 are .45 acp and 1 is a 9 mm.
    All very accurate out of the box. Amazed me. I thought
    someone else was shooting my targets.

  8. I LOVE my Rock in .45. Its accurate enough for me (3-4″ grouping at 20 yards standing) firing UMC and white box 230gr fmj, is very controllable, easier recoil and smoother trigger than just about any other sidearm I’ve ever shot. It’s my humble opinion that Rocks are what John Moses Browning oricinally envisioned.

  9. I take it these photos were post test of uncleaned test subject? What was the OTC price of the gun?

  10. I acquired The Rock in 38 Super and for accuracy, economy and ergonomics had much the same experience as the author’s. I have so far put a couple of hundred rounds through it but in perhaps one out of 3 magazines have experienced an extraction jamb at some point where the spent shell catches sideways when the slide returns to battery. Is this a common problem which will go away by itself eventually of do I need to change the recoil spring?

  11. I recently picked a Rock Island very similar to this one. It was the Double-stack 22TCM/9mm version. I have to agree 100% with Bob’s review. I found this gun filled my hand nicely, but I have large hands. It pointed naturally and out of the box the trigger broke under five pounds. It felt smooth and clean, but the reset was just a bit longer than my other 1911s. The recoil of the 9mm seemed tame. It ate the 9mms with no problem whatsoever. Winchester white box, Remington police training loads, Allegiance One-Strikes, Liberty Civil Defense and some Hornady defensive hollow points. The recoil of the 22TCM was almost non existent, to the point I didn’t think it could have cycled the slide and ejected a live round thinking it couldn’t have picked one up after the first shot. It did have two feed problems with the first magazine but the rest of the 100 round of Armscor fed flawlessly.

    For being considered a ‘low end’ (under $600) 1911, it came with several decent features and the fit and finish looked great. eighteen round of 9mm in a reliable and familiar package of the 1911. That’s hard to beat.

  12. Wait a cotton pickin’ minute! You mean to tell me that Rock Island Armory has NOTHING to do with Rock Islsnd Arsenal, between Illinois and Iowa?!?!

    I really hate being deceived!

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