Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stopping Power and the 9mm

9mm Luger
# of people shot - 456
# of hits - 1121
% of hits that were fatal - 24%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation - 2.45
% of people who were not incapacitated - 13%
One-shot-stop % - 34%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) - 74%
% actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) - 47%

The funny thing about the 9mm is the number of people shot.  It is more than the .357 and .45 totals combined.  This could well be a result of the 9mm’s use as a military sidearm, which also probably contributes to its poorer performance in terms of one-shot stops since military ammunition is typically non-expanding.  The 9mm is not a bad self-defense arm if it is loaded with relatively high-velocity, expanding rounds. 

I do not have a 9mm to try out, but friends tell me that 115-grain bullets at 1200 or so feet-per-second perform well, giving in the neighborhood of 360 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.  Winchester Silvertips and Speer Gold Dots are probably the specific brands I heard mentioned most often. 

Notice that, on the plus side, only 13% of bad guys were not incapacitated.  That is quite respectable.  It may take an extra round or two, but the 9mm will stop trouble.  Since we are on the subject, think about what is required of a self-defense handgun.  We do not care whether our assailant dies, is knocked to the ground, or runs away.  We want the attack stopped.  That is all we care about.  If we walk away alive and more or less whole it is a win.  A meth-head who flops instantly to the ground with a chest full of buckshot no more successful from our viewpoint than one who turns and runs away after a miss whizzes by his ear.  It is just that we can’ t count on the latter working whereas the former is certain.

If I were looking for a Nine, I would probably seriously consider one of the smaller Glock models.  There is no reason for most of us to carry a big service pistol like the Beretta 92 to handle the 9mm.  It is better suited for concealed carry in smaller autoloaders.  Capacity, even with easily concealable weapons, is good.  So what if you need to do the Mozambique every time?  You have plenty of ammo.  And speaking of double-tapping, recoil on the 9 is not hard to control for most shooters even in the smaller pistols.

While the 9mm is not as potent or flat-shooting as the .357, it does allow the shooter to extend the range a little if that is necessary.  Lighter, faster bullets will take some of the hump out of the ballistic arc and require little compensation for drop over the distance of most gunfights.  Unlike the versatile .357 magnum, I do not consider the 9mm any kind of “all-around” cartridge.  It lacks the potency and flexibility of a .38/.357 revolver.  It is primarily a cartridge for self-defense, and there is nothing wrong with that.  

You can feed a 9mm fairly cheaply and get in a lot of practice.  If you have one, do that.  Then load it with quality expanding ammunition that feeds reliably and shoots accurately in your weapon, and you can count on having a good tool to defend yourself, your family, and your property. 


  1. Years ago when I was much younger I would carry a Berette model 92, but it became too hard to conceal in the summer, so I went to a .380 Beretta with a staggered clip. I love it and it's fully loaded with hydrashock bullets.
    I hope I never have occasion to use it in responce to deadly force...but in this world, you never know.
    Good article.

  2. The human lung has only 1/3 the density of water. So if your aim point is the chest, fast expansion outweighs penetration. There is only 2 or 3" to get inside the chest cavity.

  3. I agree that rapid expansion can be extremely effective. This is one of the reasons I'm such a big cult adherent of the .22WMR for so many things. And, of course, it's why civilians using the Nine for self-defense are well advised to avoid heavier, slower projectiles.

    The other side of that is that you get to vitals with 2 to 3 inches of penetration under ideal conditions. Sometimes we won't have ideal conditions due to position, movement, barriers, clothing, etc. To be on the safe side, a little more penetration is preferable.