Downsizing Defense

The 9mm is increasing in popularity—again—but are
the choices being made for the right reasons?

The standard magazine of a 9mm Springfield Armory XD(M) holds 19 rounds,
for a total of 20 if the chamber is loaded. Smaller cartridges allow higher
capacity while keeping gun size down.

For a couple of years now, there has been a building wave, though not yet a tsunami by any means, of law enforcement agencies “powering down” from .40’s, .45’s and .357 SIG’s to 9mm pistols for duty.

I saw it clearly in evidence this year while teaching at the annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, and I’m seeing it in armed citizen classes as well. There are some good reasons for it, and at least one debatable rationale.

Arrowed brass and muzzle orientation show 9mm controllability
as Mas runs Ruger SR9 1-handed.

Good News 9mm

There are at least three advantages to choosing this least powerful of accepted “service calibers.” Firepower is one. When the cartridges are narrower, you can fit more of them into a gun the same size. Assuming the user has a fully loaded pistol and two full spare magazines on his or her belt, a single-stack .45 with 8-round mags puts 9 in the gun, with a total of 25 rounds at the armed person’s disposal. But the same individual so outfitted with a 17+1 9mm Glock 17 or S&W M&P9 can go 18 rounds before needing to reload and 52 rounds total on their person.

Milder recoil is another advantage of the 9mm over the larger calibers. It will be particularly important to new shooters and to the disabled shooter or one with physical strength issues.

Finally, there is the matter of ammo cost. The universal popularity of the 9mm Luger cartridge allows manufacturers to take advantage of economies of scale. Lead, copper and brass ain’t cheap, and the larger cartridge uses more of each, making the bigger rounds more expensive for obvious reasons.

On the other hand, no 9mm will give you the expanded diameter of this
Federal HST +P .45 ACP, which Mas used to instantly drop a charging
hog with neck-into-chest shot.

Personal Choices

We all have to make our own choices. Last year I carried a .45 about a third of the time and 9mm (with 127-grain +P+) the rest, usually in double-stack Glocks or a 20-shot Springfield Armory XD(M). In jurisdictions with magazine capacity limitations, and in cold weather for the reason above, I’ll go .45. But when traveling to teach, with an 11-pound airline ammo limit, I can carry a lot more 9mm cartridges than .45 ACP.

For every agency, and indeed every individual, choice should follow rational cost/benefit analysis specific to our own unique needs. The 9mm choice can certainly make sense, but said choice needs to be made for valid reasons to answer genuine needs, and those needs are not necessarily the same for all of us, all of the time.

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