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Calibers of the Semiautomatic Handgun: The 9mm

Eric J. Perry is a former firearms instructor for various police departments. He is an Army veteran.

Various Semiautomatic Handgun Cartridges

Various Semiautomatic Handgun Cartridges

Is a 9mm Right for You?

Every caliber has its purpose and its fan base. Just like cars, trucks, and sports teams, there are people who think one is terrible and the other is great—there are those who hate the 9mm and those who love it. This is the reason there are so many options to choose from. Just remember when it comes to all the varieties of rounds out there, no one is wrong and no one is right. Everyone must choose what is best for themselves.

Finding Your Ideal Round

I hope this article will help you in determining which round suits you best. If you feel you need more specifics before deciding—and I highly recommend further research—then do it. You will be more accurate, more willing to practice, and buy more ammunition when you find the pistol and caliber that you really love. My desire is to get you heading down the right path.

In this segment, we will discuss the history, ballistics, cost and availability, and my personal experience and considerations in choosing the 9mm cartridge. I will discuss in detail the various makers of semiautomatic firearms in another article. This article is specifically intended to discuss calibers.

The Ammunition Is More Important Than the Firearm

The ammunition is arguably more important than the firearm because most malfunctions with a semiautomatic pistol are due to the ammunition. There are dozens of high-quality firearm manufacturers out there, but you only need to buy the pistol once. The ammunition must be continually replaced during use.

For example, I purchased a .32 Magnum revolver for $60. A box of 25 rounds cost me $20 plus tax. That is just shy of $1 per round. Additionally, I have been unable to find the rounds for sale anywhere other than a gun store and they rarely have more than a couple of boxes at a given time.

Realistically, that is not a round that I can take to the range all day and shoot. The purchase was more for novelty than necessity. When choosing a firearm and caliber more practicality in availability and cost should be considered to allow you greater opportunity to practice without costing you a small fortune. If you find a good deal don’t pass it up. Just take everything into consideration.

Experience and Considerations

I love a 9mm pistol, even though my favorite is the .40 caliber. I love it so much I have more than one. I have shot cheap 9mm pistols and expensive ones. I have shot small (subcompact) frames and full frames. I have trained officers and civilians, both men and women with the 9mm. I have seen the pistol in action. I know a man that was shot with a 9mm and it missed bone and went straight through; barely changing trajectory in the entrance and exit wound. I also know a man that died from a 9mm.

My experience is extensive. I do not profess to be an expert, I have a different job, but I have seen the good and bad, and the positives and negatives behind the 9mm cartridge, and I still love it.

Two Reasons I Recommend a 9mm

There are two features I would like to focus on that make this cartridge my top referral.

1. It is easy to shoot.

There is very minimal recoil making it easy to control and reset for follow-up engagement, regardless of age, sex, or physical stature. My experience with the Glock 9mm is that it will make you look like a semi-pro on the range.

My brother was in the Navy. There are only a couple of jobs in the Navy that would have any reason to use a pistol, and he was not one of them. He was a radioman on a ship. He was required to qualify with a pistol. He shot 19/40, and they said it was good enough. You get the idea that he is not experienced with a handgun.

We went to the range and he fired a Glock 9mm. He hit the target every time. Hitting the target is a huge encouragement to continue, and strive to improve. Plus, missing is not an option when it becomes necessary.

2. The firearm and ammunition are both plentiful.

The 9mm is one of the most commonly sold semiautomatics in the U.S. Data is limited on specific calibers sold, and many manufacturers have multiple calibers for the same pistol nomenclature, however 9mm is at the top of just about every firearm company’s list for guns sold.

I am not going to link any sellers, due to HubPages rules, and I do not promote any vendor or manufacturer. I reference Glock simply because I have experience with that manufacturer, but there are many out there. Back on topic, 9mm pistols can be bought for as low as $150, making one easily obtainable. Ammo is cheaper than .40 or .45 making it more common. People can afford to buy more.

My final point here, is that if the world crumbled due to some disaster or what have you as some people believe, then the 9mm cartridge would be most plentiful since the U.S. military issues the 9mm, many police departments issue it, and it is the most popular among civilians. Let’s pray we don’t get to that point, but the possibility and option is there.

There are many considerations. Do not limit your thought process to one scenario. If you do, then that will be the only scenario you will be prepared for. Instead, consider many, such as someone else having to use your firearm to save your life, or availability of ammunition if you were unable to purchase it anymore. Pray for the best; prepare for the worst.

DWM 1916 Luger 9mm

DWM 1916 Luger 9mm

History of the 9mm

The German Luger was the first 9mm semiautomatic pistol developed. Georg Luger developed the 9mm in 1902. The term 9mm Parabellum was created by the German company, DWM, which is a Latin phrase meaning, “prepare for war”. This was part of the company’s slogan. Luger developed the 9mm cartridge in response to the German Army’s desire for a larger caliber pistol than what they were carrying, which was the 7.65mm. The round became popular worldwide after WW1.

The 9mm round is now the most commonly issued cartridge in U.S. law enforcement. The U.S. military adopted the 9mm as its chosen duty pistol in 1985. It replaced the .45, which had been used by the military since 1911. The 9mm was the handgun that most of law enforcement moved to when they began to give up their revolvers in the 1980s and 1990s. The higher capacity magazines helped law enforcement keep up with the increase in violence following the crack epidemic of the 1980s. There are a lot of people that do not like the 9mm, but with over 100 years of service in the military and in law enforcement it is hard to argue the effectiveness of the cartridge.

Ballistic Penetration Chart of Various Ammunition

Ballistic Penetration Chart of Various Ammunition

9mm Ballistics

In this section, we will talk about ballistics of the 9mm cartridge. My intent is to simplify this so that every reader can understand the basics of how ballistics work and vary among various calibers. There are numerous variations of the round such as hollow point and full metal jacket (FMJ) with even more manufacturers. The grain of the cartridge also plays a factor in ballistics. For example, a hollow point would have less penetration than an FMJ but would have more force at the point of impact (the knock-down power we always hear about). Also, the grain of powder in the cartridge would affect penetration by having a higher velocity (speed) of the round. One of the major factors regarding velocity is how much the round will slow down at greater distance from the barrel and the overall drop of the round. The greater the distance the round travels the more it slows down and begins a downward slope. This means at longer ranges the round will hit lower on the target than where you aimed.

There are countless studies and reports done that provide hundreds of bits of data regarding ballistics. There are countless factors that can change that data. I don’t want to take away from the importance of the specifications of a handgun, ammunition, or caliber, but it is very easy to get bogged down in the numbers. With that said, I am going discuss a few numbers as an overview of the 9mm. The velocity generally ranges from 950-1400 fps. The .45 caliber averages 700-1150. The 9mm round travels about 25% faster than the .45 round. That would compare to me driving on the interstate at 52 MPH and you were driving 70 MPH. You would definitely notice the difference in speed. The same affect will occur when the bullet is coming to a stop. If we both slammed on our brakes at the same time, my car would stop sooner because you were going faster. That is velocity. It can get much more complex, but for the average shooter it doesn’t need to. Continuing with the theme of the cars stopping, the penetration of the 9mm is 8”-40” compared to the .45 that is 11”-27”. This wide range of depth is due to the various amounts of powder used in a cartridge and whether the round is full metal jacket or hollow point, or some other hybrid version. The main idea is that the 9mm travels fast, and penetrates deep, but the entry and exit hole will be smaller partly due to the speed and the size of the round.

Varieties of 9mm Ammunition

Varieties of 9mm Ammunition

9mm Cost and Availability

The most important factor in choosing a caliber or firearm, for that matter, is accuracy. Accuracy is best obtained from practice. With that said, the second most important factor is cost and availability. If the round is not readily available then you will be subjected to the prices of a specialty dealer, like I am with my .32 revolver. Also, that dealer may not keep many rounds in stock due to the rarity and low demand. Every gun store/dealer I have dealt with is more than happy to order the rounds for you, but for me that is not convenient or cost effective especially with so many other options out there. The less rounds you have, and the more expensive they are, the less you will practice. This returns us to the most important factor, accuracy. The more you practice the better you will become and the more confidence you will have in yourself and your firearm.

The 9mm round is very common and can be found at any gun store, sports store, major department stores and online. I use Wal-Mart as my control group for ammo, as well as other products. Wal-Mart is not always the cheapest, but most people in the U.S. are close to Wal-Mart and since they have so many stores and can purchase in great bulk they can drive the cost down among other businesses. For example, Wal-Mart has a 100-round box of Federal 9mm ammunition for sale for $18.97. That is around 20 cents per round after taxes, which is half the price of .40 or .45 ammunition. Online is also a great way to buy ammo in bulk and for reduced prices. Be careful that the online company is legit and provides quality service. Don't get scammed.

A Great Choice

As I said from the beginning, I love the 9mm. I have several, that I keep in various locations. The ammunition is inexpensive so my family can train with them without it breaking the bank. The handgun and ammo is very popular so I know regardless of the world situation there will be 9mm ammo available.

The handgun is relatively inexpensive. I bought my Kel-Tec for $250, and Kel-Tec is a quality firearm. There are numerous manufactures that make very compact and easily concealable 9mm pistols.

Finally, anyone can shoot it, and hit the target with minimal practice. Once you begin shooting it though, you will want to shoot more, and you will get better. I love it, and I believe you will too.

What is Your Favorite Caliber

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 ericjperry