A more compact take on the company's P226double-stack 9mm, Sig Sauer introduced the smaller P228 in 1990 and it soon became a classic "fed gun."
The P228 was a branch of the company's same P-series guns launched with the P220in 1975. Using a double-action/single-action system with a safety/decocking lever on the left side of the frame, these DA/SA handguns became popular around the globe and were soon competing for both law enforcement and military contracts. While the single-stack P220 was adopted by the militaries of Switzerland and Japan, a 15+1 capacity double stack descendant of the pistol was submitted to the U.S. Army in the early 1980s as a replacement for the M1911.
Fast forward to 1990 and a smaller variant of the P226 was introduced. With a 3.9-inch barrel and 29.1-ounce weight, the new P228 was a bit more compact while still offering a flush-fitting 13-round magazine. In short, trading two rounds of ammunition capacity for a half-inch overall length, a bit of height, and a quarter-pound of weight.
The P228 was a hit, adopted immediately by the U.S. military as the M11 for use by specialists such as Military Police units and detectives of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. From there, other Pentagon LE agencies such as the NCIS and USAF OSI would adopt it while it was often seen as a personal defense weapon for Naval aviators, bomb disposal units, personal security details, and others. It was used overseas in Canada, Israel, Sweden, and the UK.
In addition to military use, the P228 was adopted by the Secret Service and a slew of other federal agencies, giving the gun somewhat of an everlasting legacy on both screens large and small as the quintessential “agent" sidearm, appearing in more than 100 films and shows. Among the better-known appearances was by Clint Eastwood as fictional Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan in 1993's "In the Line of Fire" in a memorable scene with John Malkovich.
However, firearms technology left the P228 behind with the move to the P229. Using a Nitron-coated stainless-steel slide in lieu of the West German-made P228's carbon steel top half, and available in more in-demand (for the 1990s) calibers such as .40 S&W, the P229 was essentially the same gun with a few minor differences, so it made sense for Sig to pivot away from the older model. In fact, they use the same 9mm magazine. With that, the P228 was out of production by 1997.
The P228 is one of the few P-series guns discontinued by Sig, joining the ranks of the less commonly-known DAO P224, the single-stack P225 (P6), and the 10+1 shot .45 ACP P227, the latter was briefly a favorite with various state police agencies.
While Sig quietly resurrected the P228 from 2004-06 with a Nitron slide, and a Custom Shop Limited Edition circulated at the same time, the "old-school" model with a carbon steel slide, rounded trigger guard, and smooth, non-railed, dust cover was firmly a child of the 1990s. Even the commemorative M11 launched by Sig recently as an ode to the wonder from the era of Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Mogadishu has a P228 profile that has been much updated.
Still, the lines of the P228 are smooth, its history one of long service, and its legacy one that holds up today. While outdated in some respects in 2021, they still work, have tons of accessories, holsters, and spare parts available, and will likely continue to be a common sight on shooting ranges around the world for generations to come.