Every Man’s Defensive Caliber — The 9mm

Brittany Caton with a Glock 9mm handgun in a Tiffany blue Kydex holster

When ammunition and handgun sales are totaled, the shooting public voted with their dollars, and the 9mm Luger is easily our most popular defensive handgun cartridge. The 9mm has eclipsed the .40 S&W in sales—largely due to the .40’s snappy recoil in compact pistols. The 9mm offers a good balance of ballistics including high velocity, good penetration, and excellent accuracy in the right handgun.

Water jug exploding after being shot by a 9mm
The first water jug erupts with a JHP bullet in the air in the first jug and flying toward the second.

The slightly tapered cartridge case is a plus in feed reliability. The cartridge is small in size—allowing more to be carried in a magazine and on the person. The cartridge is a high pressure number and very efficient in modern loads. I respect the 9mm and use it often.

Unlike some advocates of the 9mm, I do not ignore physics and claim the 9mm is as effective as the .40 or .45 caliber pistols. Of course it isn’t, because it cannot be. Physics cannot be changed. However, the balance of power and controllability is ideal for most shooters.


The 9mm is easy to control in a handgun of 20 ounces or more. In service-size handguns, such as the Glock 19, the cartridge is downright docile. In a steel-frame pistol such as the Browning Hi Power or CZ 75, the 9mm offers brilliantly rapid recoil recovery. The 9mm is easily controlled in the larger pistols and never becomes a bear even in sub compact pistols.

Upset Gorilla Ammunition bullet showing petals
Expansion of the modern Gorilla Ammunition all copper bullet.

Those planning to later move on to heavier calibers should begin with the 9mm Luger cartridge and move on after they have mastered the 9mm.

I have seen a number of students come to my classes with a handgun that recoils too much. Most often these handguns were compact .40s. A new student will become discouraged or develop a bad flinch that is difficult to train away. The single most important component of combat marksmanship is shot placement Therefore, we can reasonably deduce that the typical beginning shooter is well served with the 9mm.

If you insist on the larger calibers, then you should learn to use a full-size steel-frame .45 or a Glock 22 when choosing the .40 caliber cartridge. If the pistol is too heavy, you will not wear it. If it kicks too much you will not practice with it.

Expanded Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P Short Barrel bullet
The Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P Short Barrel load not only expands well accuracy is excellent.


It isn’t unusual to see special deals on the 9mm Luger cartridge. FMJ loads are commonly available at good prices. At sale prices, 9mm FMJ is often half the price of comparable .40 and .45 caliber ammunition. Even premium defensive ammunition is less than the larger calibers. On average, recent searches indicate that 9mm Luger ammunition may be had in a 500-round quantity for the average price of 350 comparable .45 ACP cartridges. This means more practice. Yet, it is the larger caliber than demands more practice ammunition to master! Use the logic ladder.

The Handguns

Some of the finest handguns in the world are chambered for the 9mm Luger. These include the SIG P226, Beretta 92, HK VP9, and Glock 19. They are famously reliable and accurate. Even inexpensive 9mm pistols such as the Canik T100 will get the job done, simply with a little less style.

Wound Ballistics

This is the big question. Despite some pretty strange statements and non-standard science, the 9mm cannot produce a wound equal to the .45 ACP—given similar bullet technology. All you need is water or ballistic gelatin to test penetration and expansion. Or, you could simply consult the results posted by the major makers.

Bob Campbell shooting from the retention position
Firing from the retention position, muzzle flip is limited.

A loading with good quality control and cartridge integrity is the first choice. Every maker doesn’t have the same quality control, primer seal and case mouth seal, and bullet technology. The loading must maintain the balance of expansion and penetration. This means adequate penetration must not be compromised. The 9mm has enough energy to maintain high-velocity penetration and expansion.

No, the 9mm isn’t my choice for defense against a pack of feral dogs or a bear, but for most personal defense situations the 9mm has the necessary power with proper loads to get the job done. And the best loads mean a lot! The 9mm FMJ loads we use for practice are very poor defensive loads. However, by comparison, the .45 ACP 230-grain FMJ is a proven military and defense loading. That being said, few of us deploy a FMJ load if we have a choice. (I speak from personal experience and research including police and military after action reports, not secret sources and junk science.)

As an example, Hornady recently introduced a 124-grain XTP +P load in the American Gunner line. This loading is affordable and demonstrates excellent performance in my personal testing. Winchester offers a 124-grain PDX in 124-grain +P that offers excellent wound ballistics. Speer offers a 124-grain Gold Dot +P load with a bullet especially designed to expand at reduced velocity when fired in a short barrel handgun.

Brittany Caton with a Glock 9mm handgun in a Tiffany blue Kydex holster
Instructor Brittany Caton trusts her Glock 19 9mm. With careful load selection, the 9mm is a great defensive caliber.

If you prefer not to use a +P loading, there are non +P loads that offer good performance. The Hornady 124-grain XTP is among these. The Winchester Silvertip has been around for decades—although the newest version is considerably improved over the original. SIG Sauer Elite offers a V Crown JHP with excellent performance. The Federal Cartridge Company 124-grain HST is a fine choice, and Federal has recently introduced a low recoil 150-grain HST 9mm with surprising performance. These loads offer good performance, are readily available, and exhibit excellent quality control. The 9mm is a good choice for personal defense given a reliable handgun and intelligent ammunition choice. Choose well and shoot straight.

Ammunition Performance

Ruger SR1911 9mm With a 4.25-inch Barrel


Velocity/Penetration in Water  Expansion
Hornady 124-grain XTP 1090 fps/16 inches .54
Hornady 124-grain XTP +P 1180 fps/17 inches .66
Winchester 115-grain Silvertip 1150 fps/11 inches .64
Winchester 124-grain PDX +P 1190 fps/16 inches .65
Gorilla Ammunition 135-grain 960 fps/18 inches .70
SIG Sauer Elite 124-grain V Crown 1165 fps/18 inches .66
Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P Short Barrel 1201 fps/15 inches .68
Federal 124-grain HST 1155 fps/18 inches .72

Power versus accuracy. Do you prefer the 9mm or another caliber? Are you willing to trust your life to the 9mm? Share your answers and preferred cartridge for self-defense in the comment section.


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 (57)

  1. Not mentioned in the arrival but very worthy. I have a M&P 9mm this pistol right out of the box was dead on target. It came with grip adapters to fit diferent size hands… a great plus!
    We like to shoot at our family reunions in the country…everyone was impressed of how well this gun performed! My girlfriend’s first three rounds were on the bulls eye @ 25 yards! She had never shot a pistol before! Several others also had great results, and commented it’s very manageable.

  2. I believe the 9mm is a great all around defensive caliber. Years back I was a die hard .45 carrier/fan. I felt the 9mm was anemic and the .45 (or even .40) just had to have more “stopping power” because it was a bigger bullet with more energy. When I started to learn about real world ballistics though on the job, and what bullets do in real life shootings I changed my opinion greatly. The fact is all service calibers 9, 40, 45, .38/357 are subpar for stopping man sized threats. If you do not get a good CNS hit any caliber is going to fail, and the actual damage caused by all of the service calibers in autopsy is nearly identical. For this reason I have learned that 9mm is an excellent choice because A) you get more rounds in a given firearm meaning more chances for a well placed threat stopping shot, B) it is generally easier to place accurate shots under stress/duress with a 9mm than with a larger Bore handgun and finally 9mm is one of the cheapest rounds to shoot allowing even someone on a budget to practice more, giving a greater probability of putting a well placed shot on target. There is nothing wrong with carrying a .45 or other large Bore, however when modern ammo is used there is NO advantage to carrying a .45 over a 9mm as far as “stopping power” so for me personally I chose the 9mm now as it does offer the advantage of more rounds in a magazine and faster follow up shots. I shoot my 45s well, but I can put an entire 17 round Mag from my Glock 19 into a few inch group at 10 yard defensive distances literally as fast as I can pull the trigger. When I do this with my Glock 30 or my 1911s, the groups open up to about the size of a paper plate shooting at the same speed, and I only have half the round count before I am out of the fight to reload.

    1. Good points on the Model 30 vs. the Model 19. Exactly the reasons why I sold my Gen 3 Model 30 last month, after having it for 18 years, and got a new Gen 4 Model 19.

  3. I agree. I have a SIG P-250 subc and have fired 2000+ through it, all kinds of factory-made ammo, without a single hitch. You pay a lot for the SIG brand, but my experience tells me there is a good reason behind that high price tag.

    1. I certainly agree with you, John, as to the quality of SIG Sauer firearms. My introduction to SIG came with the purchase of a P228 over 25 years ago, and I have been methodically adding SIG Sauer pistols and long arms to my collection ever since. While most of my SIGs are in 9x19mm, I also have a few in .357SIG, 40S&W, and .45ACP… well as 5.56x45mm.

      My SIGs eat everything I feed them, and they always perform to my satisfaction. The SIG Sauer mantra is certainly well deserved…..”SIG, When It Counts”

  4. I’d love to know what Joe Bloe’s scientific background is. I have a scientific background as well, and can assure you that some Phds couldn’t pour
    p—- out of a boot if it had the instructions on the heel. I will take practical experience over theory every time..

    1. Casey,

      Thanks for reading. I am certain you hit the nail on the head with your remarks.

      Bob Campbell

  5. Here’s my parting thoughts. As an Infantry Marine, PSD provider, CQB Instructor and a PsyWar Operator the one prevailing phrase that has always been preached is “Shot until it (the threat) stops being a threat.” Whether its a .22, an M240 or a 40mm grenade doesn’t matter. Shoot until it stops. Two more military catch phrases and then I’m done. 1. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. 2. Any gun (weapon) in your hand is better than the one you don’t have in your hand.

    *The only golden rule is always carry more ammo than you think you need. It makes fighting easier that way.*

    1. Thanks for reading and especially thanks for taking time to comment.
      Thanks for your insight.


  6. I agree. The 9mm has become a caliber that just about anybody can use and handle as a self-defense cartridge as well as target shooting and even hunting in limited use. With the kind of amunition availible today makes it ideal for many formats. Howevr I also beleave that the .22 lr caliber can hold the same title as the many new firearms availible both pistol/hangun and rifles that have been put on the market and the fact that it still to this day is one of the hardest cartidges to but without being f@!#$ by all the horders and profitiers. What used to be so common is now a comadity and not for sure if there Will be an end to the shortage for a long time. Yet they still come out with a new firearm chambered in..22 about every two or three months. When I was a snot nose brat you could go to local hardware store back to the gun counter and stick you hand in a fish bowl grab a handfull of .22 lr for 2 for a penny to 1 per penny depeding on brand. All good things must come to an end. Never ever seen a shortage of 9mm like there is for .22lr.

  7. 9mm m&p shield for ccw with hollow points. 357 next to the bed with magnum xtp and a glock 22 80% for when the gov. Tries to take away our registered guns.

  8. How refreshing – an analysis that refers to science and physics. And jeez, water jugs, ballistic gel, stacked boards, bags of clothing…. all you need is a steel ruler. .45s make bigger holes than .40s; .40s make bigger holes than 9mm’s… But 9mm holes, well-placed and made with proper ammunition will absolutely produce incapacitating wounds in an adult human.

    You need to make holes of sufficient depth to reach vital organs and their network of blood vessels such that the attacker can no longer fight. .45s don’t turn into giant boxing gloves that knock a person out of their shoes. They make holes just like 9mm rounds. The holes differ in diameter, but not that much. Seriously. Put a ruler to them.

    Three 9mm holes in the heart and lungs will do more to stop the fight than one .45 cal hole in your assailants shoulder and two in the wall behind them. They won’t be knocked down either.
    The rational argument is that most people will shoot straighter in a fight with a 9mm than a .40 or .45

  9. I am a wheel guy and I use a 6″ .357 magnum with SJHPs at 125 grains. I normally load these to an anemic 1200 FPS in deference to my neighbors near and far away. This load with a six inch barrel is very manageable for a medium frame magnum and usually one shot is sufficient to down any attacker. I do have some special loads I load myself and they are loaded to 1520 FPS with a 125 gr bullet and are good to take into the woods. This cartridge with SJ flat nose bullets is good against black bear and cougars and has the deepest penetration of all handguns calibers. If I am in grizzly country then this revolver is underpowered because of their very thick layers of fat, but I am seldom in brown bear country so my .357 becomes my all around handgun for home and field. I am looking at some of the new 8 round magnums for extra capacity. They cost exactly as much as a M1A and that bothers me a lot. I’m sure they cost a bit more to manufacture, but Ruger has the temerity to also charge over $1100 for a six round GP100. Revolvers are getting ridiculous in price, but I favor them for their power and absolute reliability. Yes they are heavy, and I’m considering a lightweight .38 Special snub nose with HPs for concealed carry.

    1. Revolvers are no more reliable than automatics. Less reliable than autos in many cases. If you’ve never had a revolver malfunction then you haven’t trained enough.

    2. In defense against animals the facts point to the animal bowling over the victim in an assault. Bears go for the neck and the big cats go for the head. Very scary things happening, not too hard to research. The revolver is much, much better choice against animals. When under attack the revolver may be pressed into the adversary’s body and fired until empty, the auto would jam. However— I would definitely go for the heavy penetrating 180 grain bullets (Buffalo Bore) for large animals. Revolvers do malfunction but they are not usually Smith and Wesson and never Ruger revolvers.

    3. “Mean rounds between failure” are higher for revolvers, but the number is misleading.

      Most failures in a semi-auto pistol are failures to feed or eject that can be quickly solved by a tap/rack drill. Revolvers aren’t susceptible to those minor issues. However, when a revolver does have a failure it usually means the gun is completely inoperable and will require a trip to the workbench to repair. They’re also susceptible to certain problems that simply won’t occur with a semi-auto pistol (such as cylinder timing).

      I once heard it summarized that semi-autos can better handle abuse while revolvers can better handle neglect, which I think accurately describes the practical differences in reliability between the two.

  10. I have used the 9mm on chargeing boars to good effect BUT, without the added stopping power to the central nervous system from larger heavier bullets from larger calibers, shot placement is critical.
    A hit from a .22 is better than a miss from a .500 any day.
    A gun in your pocket at the moment you need it is ALWAYS better than a gun back in your truck or a night stand.

  11. I’m Going to to have to take issue for posting water testing results. Water is a good constant and alway a naturally calibrated medium and It’s fine for back yard ballistics and Ineresting to shoot at but it Is no where near as accurate or creditable as real ballistics gel at simulating real tissue or evaluating and comparing possible real world effectiveness, especially for publishing professional informative articles . I’ve had bullets preform well in water tests but behaved much differently in calibrated gel. Results such as expansion, penetration and fragmentation do not convert accurately or proportionately.

  12. I carry Hornady Critical Defense (FTX bullet) in all my defense pistols. I carried a Browning Hi-Power as backup to my required .357 while a peace officer (showing my age…) My usual EDC now is .45, loaded with mix of Critical Defense and Ranger XT. Lighter clothing days is a Glock 43 with only Critical Defense 9mm. Plus two mags with extenders. A Charter Arms .44spcl is bedside, again stoked with Critical Defense.

  13. What physics is Bob referring to, in reference to a 9mm not being as effective as the .40 or .45? The kinetic energy of a 45 is a 10# weight being dropped 1.1” (One point one inch). The 9mm is the same 10# weight dropped from .75” (Point 75 inch). Hardly a perceivable difference if it lands on your chest. That is only ENERGY. The wound cavities are near identical, with gelatin blocks shot with 45, 40, and 9mm showing no discernible difference. When shown the wound channels, no police officers are willing to bet that they could tell the difference and label the permanent wound cavities they were looking at. It’s the old, “bigger must be better.” Yet we know what a little .223 50 grain bullet will do to gel, and we don’t have a problem at all with addressing a suspect with an AR-15, especially if a choice is made between any handgun and the AR-15. Yet when it comes to handguns, the Dirty harry rule prevails. We showed videos of a coward shooting a female store clerk with a 357 magnum. She didn’t launch through the air Hollywood style. She flinched and put her hand to her mouth. The coward fled. She walked around wondering what to do. The red stain then began to appear through the back of her shirt with the camera pointing from behind her. She then picked up the phone and called someone, hopefully 911. About 30 seconds later she sat down. I estimate the clerk at a slim build. If she was 5’6”, she would have weighed around 125-135#. Handguns kill by the shot person bleeding out, unless a CNS hit is made. Knock Down power with a handgun is a myth. The FBI now states that in a 2014 article, and I’ve been a 9mm fan since around 2000 when I saw a ballistics gel demo. I have seen it several times since and it always the same. Science and research say that results should be repeatable, and they are. A good bullet like a 147 grain HST from a 9mm will do what a good bullet with a 45 will do. It’s like hitting a deer with a bullet. If they are comparable, the results will be a dead deer. A 150 gr bullet from a .308, or the same .308 caliber bullet shot from a 30-06, the deer doesn’t really care. A few years ago I was headed to black bear country which wasn’t a real concern for me, but I wanted to take a handgun. We have a selection of 40’s and 9mm, but I thought maybe it would be an excuse to get a 357, 41, or 44 in the safe. I looked at some loaded ammo in 357 that advertised 1300fps. I wasn’t real impressed and checked my reloading manuals. Then I sat down to the bench and loaded a few 40’s, working my way up. With my chronograph I was hitting 1300 FPS with a 155gr Hornady XTP. Now I was a couple tenths over max, but didn’t intend to shoot 500 of these things out of the Glock 23 we were loading for. I loaded 3 mags worth and haven’t shot them as we didn’t have the need while in the woods. t mentioned this to a veteran military shooter at work. He said, “Yeah but the 40 just isn’t a bear defense gun, go with the 357.” I said, “Scott, it’s physics. Would you rather have a 357 caliber 125 gr bullet going 1300 fps, or a 40 caliber 155 gr bullet going 1300 fps?” He still couldn’t get passed the magnum terminology. I loaded for my friends shorter barreled 7mm mag. His factory rounds on my chronograph with a 150 gr bullet were 2,960 fps. My son has a custom 7mm-08 with a longer 24” barrel. I have loaded him 154gr Interbonds at 2,920 FPS. 40 FPS is insignificant. Tell an outfitter you brought your 7mm-08 for 400 lb black bears and he’ll perhaps winch a little. Show up with a 7 mag, and he will be fine with that. The truth is, the 7mm-08 shooting a slightly heavier bullet at a very slightly lower velocity is hitting with the same energy. SO when Bob says the physics don’t lie, they really don’t. For handguns, think wound channel for bleeding. If a good 9mm expands to 1.5 times caliber, with 12-15” of penetration, the 45 won’t do anymore. Also during our tests, the HST and Gold Dot were getting over 1.5 times caliber and still were penetrating 12-15 inches. It comes down to what you shoot best, and for most, recoil is the issue. There aren’t many, if any folks who can shoot their 45 better than they can shoot their 22.

    1. Additionally, until the bullet hits 2,000-2,200 fps, bullets are killing by the suspect bleeding out. So “very hot” pistols rounds are still killing by blood loss, unless a cns hit is made. No police handguns are hitting close to the type of velocity. That’s why the little 223 50 grain is so effective. At 3200 fps it is killing by shock. If you have ever seen the insides of a deer, and the organs are like jelly, that’s a shock kill. Compare that with a bow and arrow kill where unless you spine the deer (CNS), they die only once they have bled to death.

    2. A long read, off the topic, from which I learned nothing.

      Practical mechanics perhaps is a better application than physics.

      Actual damage is the only thing that matters.

  14. As a retired ER RN and former Army medic, I have seen a lot of GSW’s. I switched back to .45 from having a 9mm as a carry gun after seeing several unsuccessful self defense shootings by people who trusted their lives with a 9mm. I have seen people shot with 9mm who were not slowed down sufficiently to prevent them from killing the person who shot them. Some of them even died after being shot with a 9, but not all. This is the real world. I find most of the people who proclaim the 9 is effective have never experienced the sheer terror and adrenaline fogged confusion that accompany the drawing of a weapon and firing on a moving target. If you think that it is like the movies, it is NOT. Odds are, if you have to experience this, you will remember NOTHING of the incident. All of your target practice will mean nothing; you will default to behaviors you don’t know are harbored deep inside your psyche.
    People who die from GSW’s die because they bled out or the neurological system has been shut down. Usually it is from bleeding out. If you want to see a really good example, shoot one inflated tire on your car with a 9mm and another with a .45. The side that has the biggest hole will will deflate faster. The body with the biggest hole will bleed out faster. Do you really want to shoot someone in self defense and find that he will still kill you before he dies. Or do you want to know that your family member who trusted the 9 to die before the maggot who kills them die.
    For me, I will go with a .45 as a carry gun. My house gun is a 20 ga pump shotgun, #4 shot, improved cylinder choke. I have talked to several cops who saw that being used. In ER parlance, those people were DRT (Dead Right There) Can you say BIG HOLE?

    1. Chuck,

      Thanks for your service, and thanks for taking time to share your information with us. I agree completely.


  15. I have all the trust in the world in the 9mm luger rounds for self protection. I carry a full size Jericho 941 in 9mm. Heavy it is but I can deal with the weight issue. Mags hold 16 +1 and consistently shoot 3 inch groups at 15 yards. If I had my 20 year old eyes back I could cut that down to 2 inches or less. No muzzle rise means I can get good groups down range fast. I’ll trade the power of a 45 or 40 for tighter groups and more holes any day.

  16. Growing up in a Navy town, as Key West once was until 1972, the .45 reigned King. Lee Jurris was coming out with high performance ammo back then called SuperVel. Light weight, fast moving hollow points. 9mm reliably expanding to over .60 caliber. The crusty Navy Chief who ran His Range, His Way, the Right Way, Chief Packer responded the .45 starts out that size and sure as shootin’ doesn’t get any smaller. The new CCI 200 grain HP, AKA “The Flying Ashtray” was the darling of the day out of ramped & throated 1911’s.

  17. I love my 1911 .45, but my EDC is my Glock 43 loaded with the above-mentioned 150gr HSTs. I carry a 9mm because it has not failed me in combat (3 yrs in Iraq). Also because my 5″ 1911 doesn’t conceal well on me unless its winter. I will realistically never carry anything else. I don’t care for the .40, don’t see any real point for it. Just my opinion.

  18. I have gotten to where I shoot the 9mm now. I love my 45’s but my wrists and elbows don’t deal whith the reciol very well. I recently purchased a Kimber Solo and really do enjoy shooting it. I typically shoot Hornady 124 XTP. Yes I know the Solo is suppose to shoots no less than a 124. Before the Solo I was still shooting the Hornady 124. I would love to carry my 45 again but my bones are too old. GREAT ARTICLE

  19. 9mm is my ‘go-to’ round for most everything I own in hand firearms now; but, that could change. If I had to pick another, it would be .45 as I never liked the .40; no matter, carry what you find best, I say. Ammo ballistics have changed so much for the better; we now have many choices that will get the job done when needed (thank you ammo guys).

  20. When police officers start waxing poetic about science, you need to recognize it for what is: poetry, and not science. Mr. Campbell really should leave scientific discussion for those of us with scientific education and experience, lest he reveal, as he does here, his ignorance. In the interest of fairness, we scientific types will leave all opining about law enforcement procedure to him.

    1. I am currently working on university level curriculum so I suppose the director of information agrees. Anytime the lab coats choose ammunition the cops suffer. When men have their choice- and purchase their weapons with their own dime and train in on their own time- they choose well. As for experience look over both ends of the gun barrel a few times and get back with me.

  21. Just my opinion but if you can put a second shot in a 3 inch circle within 1 second of the first shot at 7 yards then caliber doesn’t matter that much. I practice this with the 38+p, 45 and 9 that I own for carry. I admit I can’t, yet, achieve this with my carry revolver.

    1. Your comment is short and to the point and very very accurate as I am certain your shooting is!

      Thanks for reading.


  22. I always appreciate a no nonsense honest evaluation from someone who knows what they are talking about. I used to be old school, a 357 / 45 ACP enthusiast. But with age and having been through carpal tunnel surgery I have come to also embrace the 9mm especially with the new innovation in ammo technology.

    1. Pete,

      Thanks for reading.

      Changed over from a pump shotgun to dual action/pump/auto lately.
      After 40 rounds of buck and slugs, woke up next morning and soaked my hand and wrist in Epsom salts and hot water for an hour! Getting old is still pretty cool but fee the pain more often.

  23. Most bad guys are easily discouraged by mere display, so 9mm guns are as effective as any other caliber in those cases. For the rest, we have to note the increasing tendency for serious violent actors to employ multiple assailants, rifles, body armor, and aggressive tactics — all factors that tend to make the high-capacity, quick-handling 9mm tactically superior to the more cumbersome, low-capacity .45. Would you advise the military to abandon their M4s, Garands, Thompsons, etc., and go back to the .45-70 Browning High-Wall because it “hits harder”? No? Then we already agree.

  24. I have all three calibers, 9mm 40 s&p and 45 acp, of the three I prefer the 9mm and 45 acp, I just shoot them better and my second shot is a hole lot faster and more accurate, a fast recovery second shot is important to me as a concealed licensed gun carrier, and for that matter as a home defense weapon also, the 40 is just too snappy, I have two of them, a Glock 27 g4, and an HK P2000, both excellent guns, but I find myself carrying the 9mm and 45 acp more, they just work better for me…

  25. The Germans in both world wars were definitely the heavies, even monsters in WW II, but no one disputes their acumen in military matters. Bullets are to Germany what heavy knit sweaters are to Ireland. The Germans never felt the need for any handgun caliber bigger than the 9mm Luger in war or in peace. I wear sweaters made in the Aran Islands and I carry a pistol with ammo used by Kaiser Bill’s boys.

  26. Somewhat in support of “Adams” reply, ” A handgun is what use you while getting to your rifle!” 🙂 In that sense almost ALL handgun ammo is a “weak” selection for personal defense. Having said that, however, I agree with Bob Campbell that the 9mm is a satisfactory choice for self-defense in most situations. And is MUCH easy to shoot, to re-acquire your target, and generally control for the average shooter, which most of us are whether we will admit to it or not. AND it is generally much easier to conceal in a pistol that is small enough and comfortable enough for most people to carry all day-everyday, which IS the POINT of self-defense. I own tons of Glocks including the G21 and G20. But do I ever carry them concealed? No. I have a little Springfield XDs 9mm in an Aegis pocket holster that I am wearing as I write this. It is accurate, comfortable, and very concealable that I can and do carry EVERYWHERE ALWAYS (unless I have to go through a metal detector). Now, if I absolutely knew that in a few minutes, I would be in a life or death shootout, would I reach for my little “pocket-rocket”? Absolutely not. I’m sitting at home with rifles handy and big caliber handguns handy as well. But, I won’t have those at the grocery store or the restaurant or anywhere else out in public. I will have a little 9mm pistol with 7+1 high grade 9mm defense ammo in it. IF I need more than that I am in big trouble anyway! And Oh, I DO sometimes carry my Springfield XD9 Mod.2 in my pocket as well (13+1).

  27. Great article. I prefer the .45acp, but , my star BM in 9mm is reliable and small enough for concealed carry. It was rated the best value in the Gun Digest Book of the 9mm. . My other choice for a 9 would be the Browning Hi-Power. If I could find a Star PD or PDA at a decent price I would go back to the .45. Being retired I don’t have a lot of extra money to spend, so rather than go with the latest and greatest, I stick with what works for me.

  28. A well-written and thoughtful discussion of the venerable 9mm.

    However, part of the debate of 9mm vs 45 ACP has been somewhat misrepresented. That 45 ACP is the harder hitting cartridge is not in dispute (simple physics, as you point out) – rather, the argument is that the difference doesn’t matter in practice due to the unreliable stopping power of handgun cartridges in general.

    It’s akin to asking which of these hits harder – a baseball or a softball? One will obviously be “better”, but barring a precision throw neither will reliably knock someone out with a single hit.

    1. I agree & ballistics gel is also not a human and while it is able to provide consistent and repeatable testing parameters, it doesn’t account for the variables that human bone and tissue does. I have also read studies that involved health care professionals dealing with actual GSWs that showed that wound cavities were completely indistinguishable between smaller and larger calibers.

      I guess it would be like comparing the bruises between getting hit with a baseball at 90 mph or a softball at 90 mph.

  29. While I own pieces in many different calibers, when it comes to what I consider the most utilitarian handgun caliber, I choose the 9×19. I like to carry .357SIG as an EDC, but the old Parabellum is always an option. There is a ready supply of 9mm ammo, and one can go almost anywhere on the planet and find additional supplies of it. In my somewhat extensive collection of firearms, 9×19 is the most prevalent of calibers.

    1. Just a note on the 357 Sig. It’s for the faster is better crowd. We didn’t have a wide selection of rounds, but one officer offered up his carry round. The bullet was ripping apart in gel, and fragmenting, resulting in less penetration because mass was being stripped away. I call this “overshooting” the bullet. Now the SS carries it a lot. But they are in crowds and next to the prez. They don’t want over penetration. If that’s why they carry it, I understand. But, just so people know, you get less penetration unless you have a tougher bullet. Think of hitting a person with a ripe tomato as hard as a major league pitcher could throw it. The splat is your penetration or lack there of. Now have an average person whip a baseball at the same guy with slower velocity and the thud will cause more damage. The same is true of why you shouldn’t use a varmint bullet on deer. So the 357 Sig shoots another 100 fps or so, but the bullet is tearing up as it’s as ripe as that tomato at that velocity. You wouldn’t load a 30-30 bullet of .308 caliber designed for 2300 fps, into a 30-06 and shoot it at 3,000 fps. It would evaporate on a deer’s shoulder on a close shot and wound it only. Just my thoughts. I would put the 357 Sig bullets into gel to see if I were to decide to carry one. Just me.

    2. While I appreciate the ballistic characteristics of the .357SIG might be considered somewhat excessive due to velocity, one of the characteristics of the cartridge that I find very fascinating is that it is a bottleneck pistol round. Such rounds, in my humble opinion, offer a degree of reliability that might be superior to straight walled or slightly tapered cartridges due to the natural tendency of such bottlenecked cartridges to feed more easily from a magazine into the chamber of a pistol. As I said, it’s an opinion, but at the same time I have never experienced a jam with the .357SIG or, for that matter the 7.62x25mm Tokarev.

  30. I would trust the 9mm for personal defense. It’s not about bigger calibers, it’s about shot placement. If you have a good steady aim in a high-stress situation you can take out an attacker even with a .22 cal. Although for animals attacks, .45 acp and higher are recommended. Depending on the animals size. So for a human attacker 9mm is a great choice defense for man or woman.

    1. I totally agree. As Bob suggested the 45 is the better penetrator but who cares if it misses or hits the arm or leg? People forget that MOST times that a self defender actually USES his/her weapon for defense it is not a single shot being squeezed. That is where the 9mm SHINES past every other option. The Para is the peak of the curve between accuracy on multiple fire (recoil control and muzzle flip) and penetration and tissue damage. It is nice to squeeze the bigger loads of 10mm or super 45 but doing it in rapid succession is tantamount to only those with weekly practice available to them.
      As I also agree the moot differences between pistol calibers is met when compared to even the puny results from such as the 223/556, 12G or the other available rifle/smooth loads.
      The BEST pistol is still a compromised outcome so why not take the solution that gives you the best multi-shot potential rather then fighting over a slim difference in one caliber over another? The only realistic combat value for a pistol is size and convenience surely not stopping power and lethal force.
      I can also testify after digging out HUNDREDS of rounds of all calibers from dead or dying ED patients the 22lr is still quite deadly it comes down to shot placement. RFK was killed by a 22LR.

    2. Physics for the most part can at times be misleading. Case in point; speed and weight determine energy output. But does that alone dictate the ability to stop another human in regards to handgun rounds? Let’s compare the physics of a gun fight to let’s say a slower moving 200+ grain round versus a faster moving 124 grain round. 45 ACP 225 gr JHP @ approximately 880 fps = about 385 to 390 ft-lbs, versus a 9 mm 125 gr JHP @ 1110 fps = about 340 to 345 ft-lbs. Now lets take in consideration recoil of both handguns; a 9 mm will generally have less recoil and upper deformation during detonation the than a 45 cal out of a similar type semi-auto. So, with that said, a well trained shooter, using a 9 mm, can accurately shoot into a 10″ circle from a distance of around 3 yards (average distance of most deadly encounters) 4 rds per second. I myself, averaged just below that number at 3.89 rds per sec and about 2.5 with a Sig 220. But who dies first in a gun fight? The person who gets hit 2.5 x’s a sec with a heavier bullet or the person who’s shot 3.89 x’s a sec with a lighter bullet? Quite simply the person with the most holes. Barring a central nervous system shot or upper spinal shot people die by cavitation; simply put they bleed out losing hydraulics. Accuracy during rapid firing of projectiles let’s say from a glock with 17 rd mag (at 4 rd’s per sec) versus a 45 ACP with let’s say a double stack 10 rd mag ( at a generous 3 rds per sec) the 9 mm will dump 17 rds in a little over 4 sec’s where the 45 ACP will be far behind at 10 rds in a little over 3 sec’s. In 3 sec’s your adversary, with a 9 mm, will have shot you at least 12 times versus your 10. And will continue to put 5 more holes in you. With very little power disparity for most load data.

      So since we’re talking about physics in the realm of handguns the 9 mm makes more sense. Inexpensive, easy to load, and higher capacity. I carry 84 rds on duty as a Deputy. Less weight and more room.

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