Any time you want to start some sort of flamewar or neverending thread cascade, bring up the topic of ideal pistol calibers.
Opinions are like that orifice at your fourth point of contact…everyone has one and most stink. It seems that many of the more authoritative studies, which are really just collections of incident reports and results, suggest that when comparing FMJ to FMJ, it’s a draw in stopping power for the 9/40/45 autos. Mathematically, of course, there are differences in energy, etc, but in terms of the famous ‘percentage of stops’ , the differences (in FMJ) are pretty small…usually not more than 3-5% points. When someone is trying to kick in your door at 4am that 5% is kinda comforting (I’ll take 90% over 85%), but I’ve never felt undergunned with 9mm for bipedal organisms.
Like lotsa folks, when I got my first automatic I eventually got into a 1911 of some flavor. (I actually have a very tricked out Springfield from back in the day when all those features they offer now had to be done by gunsmiths on a custom basis.) Is it a good gun? You bet. Reliable? With non-crap ammo, yes. Accurate? Very. Parts availability? Everywhere.
So why arent I running around with a 1911 tucked into my pants? Well, honestly, the 1911 was a great gun for many years but to think that there have been no significant advancements in firearms design since then is just foolish, dogmatic, or both. I’ve played around and carried all sortsa different guns. The 1911 is a great gun but it’s really a specialists and enthusiasts gun. SpecForceOpDeltaSix might carry them but they don’t have to pay for their gunsmithing or worry about beating the thing up. I want a gun that can get wet, dirty, dropped, banged up, and still be reliable and reasonably accurate. I want parts replacement to be cheap, drop-in without fitting, require no tools, and usually be unnecessary. And I want it cheap and out-of-the-box. That is NOT a 1911.
Okay, fine…so I don’t want a 1911 for my end-of-the-world gun. But this post isn’t a love story about Glocks. It’s about why I like the 9mm for most of that end-of-the-world planning.
For starters, lets move all the other autopistol calibers off the table. 10mm, .357 SIG, .38 Super, etc. I think we can all agree that while those cartridges have a lot to offer, they are ’boutique’ cartridges that are going to be somewhat infrequently encountered when compared to the ubiquitous 9mm and .45. When the lights go out and its Katrina-ville out there, the odds are quite good that most automatic pistols you run across will be either .40, 9mm, or .45 ACP.
Ok, so of those three, why do I like the 9mm? The .40 splits the difference between the two and offers great compromise. Higher magazine capacity than most .45s and heavier bullet weight than most 9mm. Best of both worlds, right? Well, yes. But ballistics and magazine capacity, while important, aren’t the biggest deciding factors.
Every major handgun maker seems to offer a pistol in those three calibers. Sig, Glock, Beretta, S&W, Colt (sorta), Springfield, CZ, etc all offer various models in 9/40/45. Most of the 9mm guns were developed with an eye towards military contracts, so the 9mm versions tend to be the most tested and refined. Take the Glock, for example…the dreaded kB (kaboom) is almost always with the non-9mm versions. Since gunmakers value military contracts so highly, they tested the crap outta the 9mm guns in ways that they probably wouldnt have for any other caliber. Finding a handgun isn’t particularly challenging. Finding a carbine, however, is another story. Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, some folks (myself included) think there’s a place for a pistol-caliber carbine. In .45 your choices come down to a Thompson, a hard-to-find .45 Uzi that uses equally difficult to acquire magazines, the also difficult to acquire Marlin Carbine, and possibly a few rare semi-auto M3 Grease Guns that are harder to find than the .45 Uzi. Drop your sights a little to the .40 and you start getting some more options. No Thompson or Uzi, but you do get the HiPoint carbine (which is actually a decent firearm..its their handguns that get to be the butt of jokes), Ruger PC40, Beretta carbine, the KelTec, a few ARs from Oly and RRA, and a couple other lesser knowns. Dip down into the 9mm and you get some Thompsons, Uzis, HK94 and clones, 9mm ARs, Feather Industries, Marlin Camp Carbines, Ruger PC9, HiPoint, Beretta, semi-auto Sten, etc. So if youre the kinda guy that likes the idea of a footlocker somewhere stuffed with a carbine, pistol, interchangeable mags, and a case of ammo, the 9mm gives you the most options.
Ammo availability in the US is pretty even across the board. Just about every law enforcement agency in the US uses the .40 so odds are pretty good that youre going to find some locally. Outside of the US the .40 isn’t nearly as well represented as the 9mm. Pretty much every military uses 9mm so there’s always ammo for it everywhere on the planet. Does that matter since you’re probably not leaving the US? Not really, except that if every country on the planet is set up to make its own 9mm or is issuing it to their troops then theres a correspondingly large amount of the stuff in the international markets which means that 9mm is probably going to be the most available and least expensive of those three calibers. The guys in Kiev, Berlin, Toronto, Milan, Krakow and Seoul may not have much experience making .40 but you can bet they’ve got decades of experience cranking out 9mm.
Since 9mm is the go-to for most military forces (including our own), the logistics bases for those guns tends to be centered on 9mm. Or, put another way, which is more common surplus 9mm magazines or surplus .40 magazines? (The same reason why the 6.8 SPC might be a better cartridge than 5.56 but still a bad idea from a logistics standpoint.)
Since I don’t have the same restrictions about ammo as the military, I don’t have to use FMJ in my 9mms. (Although I do keep lots of it around.) I can use whatever JHPs happen to be available and feed well in my guns. When you get away from FMJ and into the magic bullets, the lethality of the 9mm (and the .40 and the .45) go up quite a bit.
So, the reason i went with 9mm instead of .40 and .45 is – designs that were battle-proven and specific to the caliber, wide availability of ammo, large market of caliber-specific surplus military items, broader selection of carbines, magazine capacity, economic to reload, and easy to shoot.
Does this mean you should make most of your pistols 9mm? Not at all. You may be some retired quartermaster with a garage full of cases and cases of DCM .45 match ammo, or you may be a cop with keys to the department range facilities and ammo locker. You may have a particular circumstance that makes one of the other calibers a better choice for you. For me, though, I’ve found that the guns I want are more readily available in 9mm, the accessories and logistics needs are more easily met in that caliber, and things in 9mm are just generally more affordable.