Is the High-Capacity 9mm the Right Gun for You?

By Bob Campbell published on in Concealed Carry

Is the high-capacity 9mm the way to go? For some it is.

I am aware of trends. I observe many and take notes until trends assert themselves as more than fads. Tradition takes longer to recognize; I am glad that when I run out of things to teach, I am still able to learn. I have noticed a trend among beginning students and hardcore defense shooters. A number have experimented with different handguns, although in the end, chose a high-capacity 9mm pistol as a personal defense sidearm.

Tan box of Winchester ammunition above a black handgun, barrel pointed to the right, on a white-to-gray background

An ergonomically designed pistol and good ammunition will carry the day.

Many experienced handgunners, including myself, did not have much use for the .40 caliber pistols and clung to the 9mm handguns current with police forces when the .40 was introduced. I know of few shooters who seek and choose a .40-caliber handgun on their own time and dime.  If I want a lot of shots, I use a 9mm with the hottest possible loads, and if I want the assailant to go down right now, I use the .45. SIG P 220 and SIG P 226 9mm or Czech CZ 75 9mm to Colt 1911 .45. While there is no changing the laws of physics—the .45 is the bigger bullet with better wound potential—the best 9mm loads have a reasonably good track record.

The reasoning behind the 9mm’s popularity surge is the underlying concern with gang-related crimes, organized groups and take-over robberies. A revolver does not look good. and while the .45 takes ’em down one at a time, sometimes a lot of shots, delivered quickly, sounds good too. Some of the gangs are urban gangs and others are take-over bandits.

And the fear of gangs on the border is especially real. These are trying times. Never in history has any elder or government been so unconcerned with its borders. As long as 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians and other nations patrolled and enforced their borders. They knew what they stood to lose if security lapsed.

As an example, an acquaintance recently called for a recommendation on the best 9mm load. I knew him as a hard-bitten Westerner. Recent gang action around the border had convinced him that he may need more than the eight rounds in his .45. He now uses a Beretta 92 in a shoulder holster, along with two spare magazines on the off side. That is a total of 45 rounds of 9mm.

Paranoid? Hardly.

The Case for the 9mm

Young man in blue t-shirt, green ear protection and sunglasses practices shooting a black Beretta 9mm

Is the 9mm Beretta good enough? This Army Captain may think so.

Another plus for 9mm shooters is that the handgun is proven when they choose a quality model, and there are few handguns more proven than the Beretta 92. The SIG PRO, a popular and affordable high-capacity 9mm pistol, was tested in a program in which the French gendarmes fired some 460,000 rounds before choosing the SIG as their new service pistol.

I also am particularly pleased with the performance of the modern Heckler & Koch P30 pistol. And the Smith and Wesson Military and Police pistol is an increasingly popular handgun. The differences in handling among the better pistols are real to the shooter, although primarily conversational to most. Tactically, all the modern 9mms do the same thing in the hands of a practiced shooter. They have a reserve of ammunition, although the shooter must understand that cadence of fire is set not by how quickly he or she presses the trigger; it is set by how quickly the shooter realigns the sights and controls recoil.

Some pistols have smoother triggers; others have more rapid reset. All are tactical if the shooter is tactically minded. I prefer a pistol with a safety for most uses, although one such as the SIG, with safety features including a long, double-action, first-shot press, is acceptable.

Black HK magazine

This HK magazine holds a good reserve of ammunition.

I recommend always using a holster, but in dire straits you may press a double-action, first-shot handgun into service without a holster; simply carry it in the waistband. You cannot do this with a cocked-and-locked 1911 or a safe-action Glock. When you compare the whole pistol and advantages of the type, there is a lot to be said for the high-capacity 9mm handgun. If you are in a dangerous situation with only the ammunition in the handgun, then a 15-round magazine looks good.

As mentioned, the test programs that back these pistols are verifiable and tremendously influential in swaying my thinking toward them for certain areas of conflict. Currently, I am not split between the CZ 75 B, HK and SIG; I own all three. I also own a Smith and Wesson Military and Police I like very much. The CZ is the largest, the heaviest, the easiest to control and the most proven.

The SIG is user friendly, reasonably priced for the quality and offers a light rail, which my personal M9 Beretta does not.

Black HK pistol, barrel pointed down and to the left with a tan box of Winchester ammo above it on a white-to-gray background

The HK pistol is among the most reliable in the world, and the Winchester 9mm is a proven service loading. You could choose a larger pistol and not be appreciably better armed.

The HK P30 is the newest pistol. The ergonomics are excellent, a great improvement over the USP pistol from the same maker. The P30’s decocker—on the rear of the receiver—has been criticized by some, although the design is tactical. Practically every competing type has been inadvertently depressed when the shooter wanted to fire. The HK is not deployed unless you intend to use it, which means there is no need for a speed decock.

The Beretta features a manual safety. If you are willing to practice with the safety and learn the strong, straight, thumb action needed to address the safety, a manual safety offers important advantages.

During the past six months, I have let interested shooters fire all of those handguns. The military types naturally excelled with the Beretta, while they praised the SIG’s smoothness, and the ergonomics of the HK impressed all who fired it. All three are accurate, with the SIG perhaps outperforming the others in the final determination, albeit only by a small margin.

The Beretta is the heaviest, which is an advantage in off-hand fire and drawback in concealed carry. I am glad to have all three and tend to move toward the HK for concealed carry. I keep my hand in sync with dry fire and practice the basics often with live fire. The Beretta and the SIG have conventional rifling, which means they digest a lot of my lead bullet handloads. I primarily use the Oregon Trail 125-grain RNL bullet. Over enough WW 231 for 1,050 fps, these loads are accurate enough for practice and burn clean.

The HK has polygonal rifling, which means no lead bullets. I use the highly accurate Nosler 115-grain JHP practice loads and admit that the ability to double tap three targets, take cover, double tap them again and retain a good reserve of ammunition is attractive. Since 9mm ammunition is economical and affordable, it invites practice.

While I use handloads primarily for practice, there is plenty of good practice ammunition available. Winchester USA in the white box is just one choice. Often available at the giant retailers, it is reliable ammunition with good service. The initial price and shipping is less with the 9mm than the larger calibers.

Two spent gbullets a .45 and a .9mm on a light gray background

This is the real question: .45 or 9mm?

If you carry the 9mm for personal defense, take the utmost care when you choose personal defense ammunition. The 9mm runs a wide spectrum in penetration, and you need to keep the balance of expansion and penetration. There are only a few loads that maintain this balance, and one is the Winchester PDX line, with proven performance in police service.

  • The Winchester 124-grain JHP +P breaks over 1,200 fps in most 9mm handguns. Accuracy is good, and Winchester quality control is there.
  • The Federal HST is another choice for law enforcement use recently released to the public. That load has plenty of testing and evaluation behind it and performs well in ballistic tests.
  • The Speer Gold Dot is another performer that is controllable, reliable, clean burning and accurate.

The High Cap 9 is easy to fire well with these loads and exhibits the most velocity from a service-length barrel.

Young  man in long sleeved denim shirt with yellow ear protection firing a Glock 19 9mm at a target, with a wooded area behind him

The Glock 19 9mm is an easy pistol to use well.

It is up to you to put the bullet where it does the most good, although those loads maximize the caliber. All is not roses with the high-capacity 9mm. If your hand does not fit the frame well, then you may not be able to control the piece and a slim-line 9 is more attractive.

When all is said and done, there is much to be said for a handgun that is easy to use well with little kick, good accuracy, lots of shots and a high-velocity cartridge. The 9mm is not the sledgehammer like the .45; it is more like a scalpel and will demonstrate good tactical penetration with the right load and a skilled user behind the sights.

Choose a quality handgun and support gear, and the 9mm high-capacity pistol may be the answer for you.

What is your favorite 9mm handgun? Favorite ammo for it? Share in the comments section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (73)

  • Don Haines

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    I have to agree! My P-38 is over 50 years old (and so am I) and is as reliable as any of my newer pistols. It is far more accurate than I am at this point. While I usually carry either a S&W 9mm or a 10mm short (that’s .40 to the rest of us) for their magazine capacity, I feel totally confident that if needed the old P-38 warhorse will be there for me.

    Reply

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