The 9mm Handgun

James R. Rummel over at Hell in a Handbasket has a nice write-up answering the question “What is a ‘Wondernine’?“.

I have no problems with 9mm handguns. Yeah, some say any handgun caliber that starts with something less than a “4” is wussy (9mm is about .35″). So are you volunteering to take one to prove how wussy it is? I didn’t think so. 😉  I assert that just about any handgun load is wussy. They all pretty much suck equally, in terms of the fabled “stopping power.” When emergency room techs have to deal with handgun wounds, they can’t really differentiate between 9mm Luger vs. .40 S&W vs. .45 ACP. Granted, in the past 9mm ammo had problems if you were using ball ammo for self-defense, but with advances in technology most any modern hollow-point 9mm is about as effective as you can get from a handgun round.

So why 9mm then over something like .45 ACP? As James explains, part of what makes it a “Wondernine” is the expanded capacity. Consider something like Springfield Armory’s XD(m) in 9mm. It has a 19+1 capacity, which means 19 in the magazine and one in the chamber, for a possible 20 rounds total. That’s a lot of lead. So why might someone want this much capacity? I’ve spoken about it before.

Let’s also consider that prices of 9mm ammo is less than prices for many other calibers. 9mm is so popular, so pervasive, it is a NATO standard. If it’s less expensive you can get more for the same price, you can then practice more, you can keep more on hand. I don’t see how this is a negative.

Finally, 9mm is rather controllable to shoot. It doesn’t have a lot of recoil. I mean, 11 year old McKenzie has no problems with her Glock 19:

(note, her malfunctions are intentional… they have random snap caps in there to force the practice of malfunction clearing).

Granted as she gains more strength in her forearms and wrists she’ll manage the recoil even better. Now this isn’t to say that the recoil of a .40 or .45 isn’t manageable, but when you’ve got more kick and have to manage it, you’re just not going to perform as fast. I recall one of the KR instructors telling a story on this… I may have the details wrong, but the gist was that highly trained handgunners shot courses with a .40 then a 9mm and the 9mm shooters always finished about 15% faster. When those follow-up shots matter, when a fast reacquisition of your sight picture matters, why subject yourself to something that will just slow you down?

So, 9mm handguns. They can hold more ammo, ammo that is less expensive and able to be found worldwide, and shot with more control, and be about as effective as any other top handgun round out there. I don’t see much of a downside.


Updated: A lot of people come to my blog via this posting. So, you’ll also want to check out this article and this article that elaborate further and may be of interest.

15 thoughts on “The 9mm Handgun

  1. I don’t know who deserves credit for this, but I heard or read this somewhere.

    Pick the largest caliber you can shoot comfortably/well/whatever.

    When I leave the house, most of the time I carry my 9mm EMP, but I shoot my Wilson in .45ACP a lot and do carry it from time to time.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking something in a .38 Super/9×23 double-stack would be a pretty good carry gun on paper. The capacity of a “wonder nine”, and ballistics approaching factory .357 loads. Sounds like an expensive gun with a lot of customization though. (STI/SV)

    • Not to mention such a gun would probably be a hassle to deal with as a carry gun. Finding ammo… or if you reload, it’s generally recommend to only use factory ammo for carry. Then if something happened to such an expensive gun…. So like you said, on paper it’s probably good but in reality it’s probably not worth it. I’ll be curious to hear if you gather any more information on this tho. I mean, if it does sound good on paper, likely that’s occurred to others as well, so why hasn’t it taken off, y’know?

      As for “largest you can shoot well”, I do see the merit in that. As I remember the saying it’s simpler: “carry the largest gun you can shoot well”. That implies it’s not just caliber, but it’s also physical gun size (e.g. barrel length, frame size) since those things affect stuff like sight radius, grip size, weight (more weight helps manage recoil), and other such matters. In the end, it’s a personal choice as to what you can handle most effectively. Just take the time and effort to determine that. For me, I’m happy with my 9, but it’s sure fun shooting your Wilson. 🙂

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  4. Dear Hsoi,, i know you perfer 9mm ,and i also enjoy shooting 9mm as i have a p-38,S&W 459 and a few other around,amoung the many other pistol Calibers I have and shoot regularly,I do not know if you have ever reloaded your own ammo but powder load and Caliber ,bullet weight matter a whole lot when it comes to stopping power in any caliber ,along with if its a hollow point etc,When Dealing in self defence and some criminal thats got an adrenilin rush,or some drug in his system that makes stopping him very difficult,9mm you can empty a clip and he or she will continue to come after you,The .45 caliber was designed srecificaly to stop a human being running at you as in WW-2 in the Phillipenes the Japanease were doing human wave attacks and the 38 would not stop them ,same problem as the 9mm,so the 45 caliber was developed to do the job,They selected the caliber and powder load to specificaly produce a round with a velocity to do damage to tissue and a human and the organs inside,the 45 cal is effective at short range for taking down people is what its designed for not long distance etc as the powder load is not sufficent for a long accurate shot,but works wonders at up close kills,because it is not an over powered cartridge,that will shoot clean thru you and out the other side like a 9mm,the 45 is designed to do maximum damage to a person at short range,I really do not think there is anything more deadly and effective than a 45 caliber round esp a hollow point round,most quality 45,s are set up to handle a heavy recoil,and not effect control of the gun very much,that also goes into the design of the firearm when they build it knowing they have a heavy cartridge with a lot of recoil they design the firearm to absorb quite a bit of that recoil,I have a 45 ,and a 45 thompson i shoot regularly,And of all the rounds i have shot in the last 35 years,id fear a hollow point 45 cal round hit anywhere on my body ,it is designed by bullet weight and powder load to destroy human flesh,it was designed in 1909 and produced in 1911,and has been used in service up untill the beretta recently replaced it,for a handgun and handgun round to hang around for that long in our armed forces ,id say that round is a pretty effictive round for stopping power,I suspect you may have never shot a 45 cal firearm??as there is quite a difference in damage if you shoot that and a 9mm into something ,do it one day and you will understand my point,And the recoil is not bad,as the powder load in the 45 is weaker and not designed to shoot clean thru a person,but to stop them,a small 45 caliber compact firearm for concealed carry will be much more effective than 15 9mm rounds going all over the neighborhood,a couple 45 calibers in the body should do the job,and not continue on down the road into someone else.

    • Jim, thank you for your contribution on the topic.

      I’ve shot numerous handguns chambered in .45 ACP. It’s a load of fun to shoot those, no question. Recoil is strong but not that bad… more like a firm push (whereas something like a .40 S&W is a sharp snap and less controllable than .45 ACP or 9mm). I certainly wouldn’t feel defenseless with a .45 on my hip.

      I will say that there are advantages to .45 ACP. Poking large holes is good, and a .45 ACP bullet does poke a larger hole than a 9 mm. Now, if the 9 mm is a hollow point and expands, you get just about the same diameter… but what if the hollow point doesn’t expand (e.g. gets clogged)? Now it’s a smaller hole, and yes it’s a round going faster and could go straight through. If a .45 ACP hollow point doesn’t expand, well, it’s still a larger hole. 🙂 So there’s a solid advantage there for .45 ACP. You are correct about the over-penetration issues with a 9, including lack of internal damage especially if the round doesn’t expand. After the Miami FBI shootout, the 9 went through a lot of reassessment and redevelopment, and the modern 9mm hollow points aren’t the same as 9mm rounds of old. To that end, I’ve become curious about the new Hornady “Critical Defense” loads. They seem to be striving to combat clogged hollow points and ensure reliable expansion.

      The reality tho about “stopping power” is that all handgun rounds are fairly underpowered. There is no real evidence that modern 9mm HP’s vs. modern .45 ACP HP’s vs. modern .40 S&W HP’s provide any more or less “stopping power”. They’re all inadequate! I’m not volunteering to get shot with any of them, but the fact is if there was a definitive difference then there’d be no caliber war arguments. No one debates on if a .22 LR or .25 ACP or other such round is sufficient for self-defense because it’s plain that they’re not (better than nothing, but there’s certainly better things). Plus the notion of “one shot stop” is pretty much a myth; or if it exists, it’s more a matter of the shot placement than pure caliber alone (news stories of folks dropping from a single, well-placed .22 LR; news stories of cops firing lots of rounds, perp taking lots of hits, but doesn’t go down since nothing vital was struck). But if you wish to hope for stopping in as few shots as possible, shot placement takes a higher priority. Thus, having a round that’s the most controllable for you to shoot, especially if there’s a need for follow-up shots (likely) is a good thing. Of course, if .45 ACP is the round you can shoot with the most control, by all means go for it. I certainly can shoot a .45 ACP well, fast, and controlled, but the simple physics of the load does have more recoil and I can accurately empty my 9 faster than 45. If stopping power is more or less the same, choice gets made upon other criteria, so things like managability, capacity, etc. enter into the equation.

      Anyway, I’m aware of all the caliber war issues. The plus and minuses of each caliber. It’s all been rehashed and retold many times. In terms of the homework I’ve done, I’ve settled on a 9. No it’s not ideal, but nothing is; it’s all trade-offs and we have to balance them as best we can until we have something that satisifies our needs.

      Thank you again for the contribution. It’s appreciated to have some counterpoint.

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  7. Not to be a nitpicker here, but the .45 caliber 1911 pistol and .45 round were adopted in the year (drumroll please)….. 1911. Many years before we were in combat with the Japanese.

    I do not believe the statement that it was adopted specifically to halt human wave attacks is accurate.

    However if you could provide a source that corroborates your statement I would very much like to read it as it would be counter to what I belive to be true and I’m always open to discoverying something new.

    • Ah… at first I wasn’t sure to what you were referring, but I see you’re responding to the comments made by “jim p” on May 22, 2009. I’ll let you guys battle it out. Hopefully Jim can reply (not sure if he’s subscribed to the comments).

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  10. The .45 ACP round was developed to duplicate, more or less, the .45 Colt loading of the Single Action Army revolver. The link to the Philippines was the failure of the .38 Colt round (similar to but not equal to the .38 Special) to stop a native Philippino group called “Moros”. This was during the ‘Philippine Insurrection’; time era was pre World War One, about 1898 if I’m recalling correctly.

    Just for the record, I normally carry either .40 S&W, .357 Magnum, .45 ACP or .44 Special. In limited circumstances I carry a S&W M36 in my trouser pocket. That little five shooter is loaded with 158 grain LSWCHP ammo. Some times I can’t wear a jacket.

    • I carry a S&W 442 with 158 grain LSWCHP’s too (either the Remington R38S12’s or Buffalo Bore’s 20C/20). It’s generally my backup, but yes, sometimes it gets forced to being a primary because of circumstance (not by choice).

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