No, this is not a 9mm versus .45 ACP debate. The 9mm has already won; perhaps you are the last to know it, though. It’s not much of a secret that I prefer the 9mm for most applications. That being said, the last four handguns I purchased were three .40 S&Ws and a .45 ACP. Preferring a particular caliber is different from advocating for only one caliber. For instance, I have two Glock 22s and a Glock 23. All three are .40 S&Ws. However, I also have 9mm and .357 SIG barrels and magazines for each Glock. For training, I normally run the 9mms — less recoil, cheaper ammo, higher capacity.
For training, the 9mm makes sense. The lower recoil and faster follow-up shots are undeniable benefits. I’m sure there will be plenty who boast how well they have tamed the additional recoil of larger-caliber handguns; Mazel Tov! The flaw in your argument is this: Regardless of how well you handle the .45 ACP or 10mm (insert chest thumping here), you’ll still control the 9mm better. Still not convinced? Read on.
Even as I write this, I can hear the screams and denials from a sect of readers. Fair enough. I know some of you are itching to bang away on the keyboard with your arguments about the FBI’s one-shot-kill statistics. Again, fair enough. However, the FBI’s statistics are based on one hit, not one shot fired. However, the bigger the pea, the harder the hit nonetheless and I’ll concede that point.
However, the whole “Larger Calibers Are More Deadly” debate begs certain questions, such as why did the FBI go back to the 9mm if the 10mm was so much better? Why have the Navy SEALs used the SIG P226 in 9mm as their primary sidearm for decades? Surely they could handle a larger caliber, and at last check, they were in the business of killing bad guys. Why are more and more police departments either using or going back to the 9mm? I’ll tell you why: It works! It works a whole lot better than advocates of larger calibers will ever admit.
The 9mm has been much maligned in the past with claims that its incapacitating force was inadequate or unreliable. Much of this data (or fish tales) was either based on old bullet designs and propellants or poor shot placement. Modern bullet designs and propellant combinations — especially those tailored for pocket pistols or backup guns (BUGs) — have placed the 9mm at the top of the heap for the following reasons.
Time and again, it has been proven that will you shoot the 9mm at least as accurately—and more likely better—than larger calibers such as the .40 S&W, .357 SIG, or .45 ACP. This is true regardless of the distance and more so when follow-up shots are required. With any caliber (the .50 BMG is an exception, but the person who could fire it from a handgun would have fists akin to Thor’s hammer, so you’d be dead anyway), but with any normal handgun caliber, shot placement is the key factor that determines lethality, not caliber. Properly placed, the 9mm has more than enough stopping power and penetration to compete against larger calibers.
The 9mm is the king of handgun cartridges. As a result, manufacturers have more models with a variety of safety features to fit your particular need, style, hand size, etc. More selection means more opportunity to find the handgun that fits your physique and needs rather than trying to modify your shooting style or adapting to controls that don’t fit your hand. The more comfortable you are with the gun and the more natural the fit and feel, the more likely you are to shoot with better accuracy. Again, shot placement—better shot placement is more deadly.
All mechanical parts wear, but larger calibers cause more stress and wear parts faster. With the 9mm, you can expect a service life reaching up to 100,000 rounds on some models. While few of us will ever shoot that many rounds from a single pistol, it’s certainly a check in the plus column for the 9mm over larger calibers. Of course, models designed for the .40 S&W or .45 ACP may use heavier springs and feature a more robust wall thickness in an attempt to counter the heavier forces, but the result is much the same. Plus, you then get into a weight issue.
Continually, I read comments about capacity — no one wants less. Pocket pistols are very popular right now. Everyone wants a smaller platform, but the first thing they do is buy an extended magazine or mag extender. The smaller cartridge size of the 9mm simply offers the extra capacity shooters already demand.
More guns to choose from also mean more ammo choices. From concealed carry to law enforcement, there are far too many ammo selections to list here. Have a need for speed? Try a 115-grain +P. If you are a fan of increased kinetic energy at the expense of a few feet per second, the 147-grain offerings are for you.
Pistols chambered for 9mm have an outstanding record of reliability. While the 1911 is a favorite among many, it can get finicky about certain types of ammunition such as hollowpoints. There are plenty of workarounds and improved designs, but at the end of the day, all you are doing is matching what the 9mm already offers.
Money is always an issue. When you are buying self-defense ammunition, money shouldn’t matter. Buy the best you can. That’s not to say the most expensive is best, but don’t skimp and get something you feel is less than worthy of your life or the life of your loved ones.
Practice is another argument altogether. When it comes to bulk ammo, you can’t get it cheaper than 9mm without dropping to .22LR. More ammo means more shooting and better preparedness when it really counts.
I know there are still naysayers out there, and I get it. There are times, as reasoned as my argument is, when I still feel I need for a little more kick. There is no real empirical evidence to base this feeling on, but I feel it. For instance, if I had a pistol within easy reach in my truck and was worried about a carjacker at pointblank range, a Taurus Judge with .410 shells would be a top choice.
However, if I wanted to take carry said truck gun when going into a store or was worried about the comfort and feel of the revolver versus the semiauto I would normally carry, perhaps I would choose a Glock 23. If I were feeling particularly testosterone filled and ornery, I would set it up with the .357 SIG barrel. However, when headed to the range for my weekly practice, I would still reconfigure it for the 9mm for the vast majority of practice and then finish with a magazine of the .357 SIG. If, that is.
Are you a fan of the 9mm? Make your best argument for another caliber in the comment section.
Growing up in Pennsylvania’s 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 Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s 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!