9mm, .357Sig, .40S&W, .45ACP, 10mm…
These are the more popular semi-auto rounds. If you go into your favorite local gun store and buy defensive ammo for any of these calibers you’ll end up with basically the same load. Off the shelf loadings for these are so identical that there is little to no difference in their terminal ballistics. This doesn’t mean that the rounds are the same, because they aren’t. Each one has a distinct difference in how it shoots and even sounds.
The 9mm is the oldest of the “modern” pistol calibers, followed by the .45. These older cartridges weren’t designed to be as high pressure as the modern rounds, making them less “snappy” when shooting. While some people do say the 9mm is more snappy than the .45, this is due to the weight of the projectile being shot. Shoot a .40S&W next to the 9mm and you quickly see what a snappy round really is.
When talking about stopping power there are many things one has to take into consideration. Many formulas have been devised to try and explain the difference or to document numerically the stopping power difference of rounds. Unfortunately these only go so far, and only tell part of the story. Sectional density, momentum, velocity, and placement. These all play a factor in terminal ballistics, and while we can reliable control most of these factors, we can rarely guarantee proper placement.
The 9mm has had a bad rap for most of it’s life. Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with the round itself, but instead the bullet. Bullet technology, for a long time, has been very much unevolved. Ball ammo, the standard for any loading, is a piss poor design at best. Ball type ammo is the oldest design of bullet for modern firearms. It’s easy to produce, feeds well in most all guns, and is the most available. All of these make ball ammo the most common.
1901 called, it wants it’s bullet back. Seriously, there’s no reason to run ball ammo for self defense in today’s world. Modern bullet designs have taken ALL calibers and cartridge designs to a new level of performance. If you’re running ball ammo for defense, and you’re not using government issued ammo, then you need to step into the 21st century. A good bonded JHP is one of the best things you can have. Some brands are better than others, and while I personally like the Federal HST load, there are many other good brands.
Now, we talked about bullet design and how modern rounds are all almost the same. So what’s next? Oh, right… If you’re hung up on the “size matters” argument, then it’s time to re-evaluate what you know. Shot placement is key, and is the only thing that matters when we’re talking about pistol calibers, especially the ones listed in the headline. Two things stop a fight outside of psychological effects, blood loss and CNS damage. Blood loss takes time, time is not your friend when you’re fighting for your life. The longer you have to be engaged in a fight, the more chances the bad guy has to hurt you. Even if you manage to hit an artery and blood is literally spraying out of the attackers body, it’s going to take time for them to lose enough blood to either go unconscious or lose strength. Our other option is CNS damage.
The Central Nervous System is what makes us work. Damage to areas of the CNS cause debilitation and/or death. The ideal place to aim for is the “T” that is the CNS. The “T” is basically eye to eye, and then straight down along the spine. It also happens to be in our favor that organs are in and around the CNS “T”, making misses to the CNS good hits on vital organs, such as the lungs and heart. Severing the spine is a clear fight stopper, so is CNS damage to the brain. These are guaranteed fight stoppers and are the ONLY recommended places to shoot when trying to stop a threat. This is corroborated by countless ER doctors, police officers, and medical examiners.
If placement is everything, why own anything larger than a 9mm? This is a question I’ve asked myself, and I want to separate owning from carrying. I own many firearms in various calibers. Some of them have a purpose, like the 10mm, while others do not. I enjoy collecting and shooting various guns. Some are historically important and others are unique. There is nothing wrong with having a safe full of guns you never intend to carry. However, there is no reason to carry a gun that isn’t suited for carry. Sure, I’ve carried guns that are less than ideal for carry. I’ve done this a few times because it was fun, or because it was more of a social thing. But carry a gun is an active and conscience decision, meaning there is thought and intent that goes into it.
Because of this intent, your carry gun choice should be suited to the task at hand. With shot placement becoming key, the larger calibers become a liability. Crazy talk you say? Nay, and here’s why. Every round that is in your gun is a chance to stop the fight. Given the smaller size of carry guns, would you deliberately put yourself at a disadvantage? Of course not. So why carry a M&P Shield in .40S&W, or a Glock sub-compact in .45? Oh, you shoot them better in those calibers? Bullshit. Why is it bullshit? Because physics. In order to move the larger weight bullet you need to burn more powder. This means that not only do you have the increase recoil from moving a larger bullet (equal and opposite reaction), but you also have increased recoil from the larger explosion. A lot of shooting problems come down to training issues. If you’re having problems handling a gun that is otherwise comfortable to shoot, get some training on the platform.
You may shoot a M&P Shield in .40 better than the Glock 26 in 9mm because the Shield fits your hand better and your shooting style. But one does not shoot a .40 or a .45 better than a 9mm in the same exact platform. There is no difference in accuracy between the calibers. What there is a difference in is recoil, and while you may be “manly” and shoot anything, can you do so fast and accurate? I know I can shoot 9mm, 10mm, or .45 fast and accurate, but I can only pull the trigger as fast as the gun cycles. The more recoil the gun produces, the more the barrel rises, and the longer it takes to get the sights back on target.
Don’t believe me? Go to a USPSA shooting match and ask anyone there why there is a major and minor category. Of course the major category for USPSA is a very soft shooting .40, which is NOT what you’ll find on the shelf of Walmart. Even still, the 9mm has an advantage over the downloaded .40 in competition.
So what’s the purpose of this article? To make people more aware of their carry choice. In a state like California where you’re limited to 10 rounds on new purchases, some will argue that there’s no point in going 9mm. On a full size gun, that argument is more valid, but you’ll still have slower follow-up shots. Does this matter? That’s a decision you’ll have to make. I do own a full size 1911 in .45, and a Glock 20. Both of these hold less rounds than say my Glock 17. I do love my 1911 as it’s had some upgrades and shoots like no one’s business. While the 1911 is on my carry permit, it will soon be replaced by a 9mm 1911, which holds 10 rounds. If my carry situation dictates a slimmer carry option than my Glock 19, the 1911 in 9mm is a great choice for me. 10 rounds, the best trigger on the market, and one of the most accurate guns every made.
However, my day-to-day carry gun is a Glock 19. 15+1 rounds, plus another 15 in my pocket. That’s 31 rounds, which is far more than I believe or hope to ever need if I need to defend myself. With 16 rounds I don’t necessarily feel the need to carry a spare magazine, but I do, and I do it because machines break and malfunction. While I do trust my Glock, it is fallible. If I need to clear a malfunction or something else stupid, having a second magazine literally becomes a life saver. If I were to carry say the Shield with it’s 8+1 capacity, I would always run a spare magazine. But I would never take a small gun, and then go a step further and run it in .40 or .45. Neither of those are game changers to a gun fight in the terms of stopping power. But, they entirely could be game changers in terms of capacity, but not in your favor.
I’ll wrap up with this. It seems the average round count for self defense shootings are 3 rounds. If you’re running 6-8 rounds in your gun, and you have two attackers, you’re now out of rounds and will need to reload. Of course that 3 round average seems to be when only one side has a gun. If both sides have guns, a longer gun fight could ensue as you try to get away.
The loudest sound during a gun fight is not “bang!” but “click…”.