People love to discuss the age of and continued popularity of the .45 ACP, thought to be the granddad of cartridges and still widely used. However, the .45 ACP does not hold the only reservation in age and popularity. Enter the 9mm Parabellum. Conceived in 1902 and pushed into service in 1904 for the German Navy, this cartridge predates the venerable .45 ACP by over three years. As a .45 person, this hurts to say, but the 9mm cartridge is by far the most popular pistol round in the world. Like the .45 ACP and the Colt 1911 pistol, the 9mm story is synonymous with its namesake. One of its many names is the 9mm Luger, as with the .45, its designer, George Luger, built the gun, and designed its cartridge.
The cartridge name, Parabellum, derived from the Latin phrase Si vis pacem, para bellum means If you seek peace, prepare for war. I have to admit that is very cool to say. Another name this cartridge answers to is the 9x19mm. This is to distinguish it from numerous other 9mm cartridges like the 9x18mm Makarov and the 9x17mm Browning Short, which we call the .380. When asked if these different calibers are compatible with the 9mm Parabellum, the answer I give is very simply, no. Yes, they are all 9mm in diameter but the length is the difference. In firearms, a good rule to live by is that close is not good enough.
Now that the U.S. has adopted the cartridge for its military and is the largest contributor, it is now known as the 9mm NATO. However, this is a relative new caliber in the U.S. military’s firearms history. It arrived in the U.S. via bring-home weapons from World Wars I and II, but the first American company to mass produce a firearm for this caliber was in 1954. In that year, Smith and Wesson began making the Model 39, specifically designed for the foreign cartridge. Three years before, Colt had re-chambered some of their Commanders to take this round. Numerous designs finally started arriving on U.S. soil at the cartridge’s 50-year anniversary.
Following several civilian law enforcement incidents beginning in 1986, such as the FBI shootout in Miami and the dramatic shootout during the North Hollywood Bank Robbery in 1997, law enforcement realized that the day of the so-called wheel gun revolver had passed. It was time to address the concept of firepower in a civilian law enforcement application. Generally, firepower goes to the one with the most bullets.
Law enforcement found they were greatly outgunned with their .38 special wheel guns. In contrast to the firepower some criminals carried. At that time, a police officer generally had six rounds in the gun and two speed loaders of six rounds each for a total of 18 shots. The Beretta 92F 9mm, just adopted as the new sidearm for military, could fire 15+1 without reloading. With two additional magazines, the amount of ammo a single officer could carry on their duty belt was 46. It became a no brainier and as they say, the rest is history—just like the wheel gun.
However, not all was good with the 9mm. While one was able to carry more bullets, the ability to stop a criminal with the 9mm bullet was and continues to be in question. This is the only failing that those against the 9mm can lay at its doorstep. There are those who claim that the stopping power of the 9mm is equal to that of the .38 special. Let us be perfectly honest that true knock-down or stopping power does not exist in the average handgun caliber for duty use. Yes we have all heard of the .45 ACP lifting people across the room, but that is more Hollywood than reality. Under different circumstances, cartridges cannot lay out the victim and at other times stop them more through internal damage rather than kinetic energy transfer.
The FBI jumped the gun looking for knock down power during this period, and by jumping it they picked the wrong caliber, 10mm. The 10mm is not a bad cartridge to use. In fact, it is a monster of a caliber. The problem was too large a gun for many officers with smaller hands to be comfortable with using it. Thus, the FBI and many law enforcement agencies settled on the 9mm and later the .40 Smith and Wesson. Those two cartridges make up the bulk used by today’s law enforcement officers.
As far as the military goes, the 9mm has the vast majority of use around the world. While there are others who hold out with such calibers as the .45 ACP, it still cannot compare in number of uses as the 9mm.
For us .45 ACP fans, if we base our argument on the age and popularity of our cartridge, we are forced to take a backseat to the cartridge made for war, the 9mm.
|Cartridge||Bullet Weight||Muzzle Velocity||Muzzle Energy|
|.38 Special||125 Grains||950 fps||251 ft.-lbs.|
|.45 ACP||230 Grains||850 fps||370 ft.-lbs.|
|9mm Luger||124 Grains||1,120 fps||345 ft.-lbs.|
|.40 S&W||155 Grains||1,205 fps||485 ft.-lbs.|
|10mm||155 Grains||1,330 fps||605 ft.-lbs.|