For years, I have suffered the insults, ridicule, jokes and consternation of my fellow shooters. The 1911 crowd was never a surprise. After all, there is the classic 9mm vs. .45 ACP debate. With the advent, and near-immediate acceptance, of the .40 S&W, the 9mm’s position did not approve—nor did mine.
After years of suffering (not exactly in silence…), I finally broke down when I bought a Glock 22 in .40 S&W. The increased recoil alluded to the increased knockdown power the bullet would deliver; I was instantly intrigued. Of course, if the .40 S&W was better, what about the .45 ACP? Not that I am “gun-greedy” or anything, but strictly for, ahem, “research purposes,” a new 1911 was quickly and quietly (lest the wife or caliber foes discover my new acquisition) acquired.
A Glock 23 and SIG P250SC soon followed—both chambered for .40 S&W—the Glock 22 and 1911. I began to wonder if I had been relegated a closet 9mm admirer. Should I truly retire the SIG 228 I had trusted for close to two decades believing it to be inferior? Not a chance. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Shortly after ordering a new Glock and being sent a second Glock 22 by accident—the model was wrong, but the customization was too cool to allow me to send it back—I decided I wanted to shoot both a less powerful and more powerful cartridge out of the Glocks.
Instead of believing the 9mm to be inferior, I simply decided new barrels were required for the Glocks. I jumped online and ordered four new barrels and a few 9mm magazines. Excited, I waited by the door for the delivery that would allow me to shoot 9mm, or .357 SIG, in addition to the .40 S&W, out of the Glock 22 or 23. A significant number of rounds from all three calibers soon followed.
With options, I can now shoot the caliber de jour, but most often find myself going back to the 9mm, and here are my top eight arguments why.
1. Don’t believe old data or old tired arguments.
Perhaps, once upon a time, the 9mm was less than optimal for self-defense. That being said, I do not know of anyone that would hold still just because a 9mm was pointed at them. Since then, technological advances in bullet design and propellants have transformed the 9mm into a much more powerful pill than in the past. These advancements have not been lost on some of the nation’s top law enforcement departments or the military. The reasons leading this new reacceptance of the 9mm include lower training costs, reduced recoil to the shooter, faster target reacquisition for follow-up shots and increased knockdown and soft tissue damage.
2. I shoot the .45 ACP for competition so why not self defense?
It is true; you can be accurate with the .40 S&W or .45 ACP in competition. Many of these guns are also modified specifically for competition and the cartridges are toned down to decrease recoil. (However, even if you shot the competition just as well with a stock gun and self-defense ammunition… Yeah, that’s never really going to happen, so let’s not even entertain the fantasy.) Whatever level of accuracy and speed you can muster with the .45 ACP or .40 S&W, you’ll match, or more likely exceed, with the 9mm.
Do the bigger calibers have more knockdown power and a better chance of stopping the threat with a single shot? According to DOJ statistics, they do. However, that is a generalization. Shot placement is the most deadly consideration in a gunfight.
The lighter 9mm may be at a slight disadvantage for the first shot, but it offers a huge accuracy advantage for follow-up shots. Does anyone reading this carry a single-shot pistol for self-defense? If not, you must consider the possibility of a follow-up to be a real concern and acknowledge an advantage to the 9mm.
3. I have so many choices in 1911s. How does the 9mm compare?
More handguns are made for the 9mm than the larger calibers. This equates to more choices and a better possibility of finding the gun that fits your hand, style of shooting and purpose. Handguns are being designed with grip options that allow you to customize the platform to the shooter. Concealed carry is also more popular than ever. The smaller the caliber, the more concealable many models become. Again, this gives the 9mm an advantage in size, but let’s not forget, it also has an advantage in weight.
4. The 1911 .45 ACP has been around for over a century, what about the 9mm models?
While the 1911 design is indeed over a century old, not every 1911 has seen regular service for the last 100 years. Typically, the 9mm will see less wear and tear than its bigger caliber brethren. Because few of us have the budget to adequately test longevity, we can look to data from various government agencies that log 9mm handguns sustaining as much as 100,000 rounds during their service life. This cannot be said from the larger calibers. The longer service life also equates to less repairs and catastrophic failures from high round counts.
5. Magazine Capacity
Magazine capacity is rather a double-edged sword and an argument that is seldom fully developed. The argument in favor of the 9mm is simply a larger capacity. Compared to the 1911, several models of 9mm will carry twice as many rounds. However, more rounds means more weight. Thus, twice as many 147-grain 9mm will weigh more than half as many 230-grain .45 ACP. More weight in the magazine is often forgotten when the shooter reads the manufacturer’s specifications and notes the weight of the gun unloaded.
A couple of arguments regarding magazine capacity are worthy of consideration. First, on average, less than four rounds (3.8 as I recall reading in a DOJ report a year or two ago) are fired in a self-defense or law enforcement encounter. This begs the question; would you rather have more rounds than you need or risk being short of lead when you need it most? There is also the possibility of carrying spare magazines, but that tips the scales back to the 9mm concerning the weight argument. Likewise, there is the matter of time to swap mags during the heat of an engagement to consider.
6. 9mms can be finicky and not shoot certain types of ammunition.
While it is true that every firearm should be tested thoroughly to ensure it will reliably digest a steady diet of your favorite ammunition, the 9mm has the edge over the 1911, but not other large caliber handguns. The 1911 was designed to handle ball ammunition and models true to the original design show a weakness in the modern era while attempting to shoot modern self-defense offerings. However, manufacturers have realized this and now offer a wide selection of 1911 models with improved feed ramps, wider ejection ports and other features that allow them to better handle these modern self-defense loads. As for non-1911 handguns chambered for the .45 ACP or .40 S&W, I have never found any feeding disadvantage when compared to their 9mm counterparts, but also no feeding advantage.
7. Selecting the Right Ammunition for Practice and Self-defense
The .45 ACP has a bit of an advantage here. In my SIG 1911 C3, I carry SIG’s Elite Performance Ammunition with its V-Crown hollow point technology. However, I cannot argue with the military’s performance record using .45 ACP ball ammunition for practice or against a determined adversary. While the 9mm does not offer the same practice and self-defense potential from a single round, it does offer a much wider selection for either practice or self-defense ammo at a much cheaper price.
For example, the 9mm is commonly loaded with 115-grain +P to achieve a high velocity. Standard 115-grain offerings are great for practice and cause less stress to both the shooter and handgun. Alternately, it can be loaded with 147-grain loads, which offer a lower speed, but a pill with more kinetic energy by comparison.
8. There is simply no comparison between costs.
Likely the number one justified criticism against shooters is that they do not get enough range time. I am a huge fan of laser trainers, SIRT pistols and dry-fire practice sessions to build and maintain skills. However, practice with a trainer is still lacking compared to actually sending lead down range. While few of us will ever have the time and finances necessary to shoot as many rounds as we would like, the 9mm is smaller and therefore uses less raw materials. This makes it cheaper to produce and more affordable. Regardless the size of your budget, this will equate to more rounds for the same amount of cash—the rest is up to you.
Make no mistake in reading this. I favor the 9mm cartridge… for me. However, as I alluded to in the beginning, I have been buying .40 S&W guns for the last several years. The reason? It is simple. Most .40 S&W models can easily be converted to shoot the 9mm or .357 SIG if I so choose. However, the frame of a purpose-built 9mm is too small should I want to convert it to shoot a larger caliber.
My recommendation? Shoot whatever pleases you! It is your butt on the line not mine, so it is your decision… However, I would encourage you to enjoy some time at the range while doing your homework. Ensure whatever you choose to carry is truly the best choice based on your own testing, experience and capability, and not simply based on the rambling of an old gun writer such as myself or any of the esteemed nuts cases I hang out with. Then, compare your hit percentage and round placement when selecting a caliber for self-defense. Happy shooting!!!
What caliber do you prefer? Make your best case and share it in the comment section.
Growing up in Pennsylvanias game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Daves writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersens Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersens Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!
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