Why, you may ask, is this topic coming up again? Wasn’t the debate of which round was better — 9mm Luger vs. .45 ACP — “settled science.” Actually, the debate ended up being shelved with the introduction of the .40 S&W in the 1980s. The .40 took the wind out of the sails since it was seen to be a compromise caliber, giving shooters the best of both worlds: high capacity and stopping power. The .40 became the must-have caliber of the late 80s, 90s and 2000s.
Why 9mm vs. .45?
The .40 held great promise as the ultimate defensive handgun cartridge. It seemed every law enforcement agency began issuing or permitting the use of .40 S&W chambered handguns. The 9mm vs. .45 debate became a dead horse, and there wasn’t much sense in beating it further. When concealed carry was passed into law in 2004 for Ohio and many other states, the .40 also became the must-have gun for permit holders. After all, if it was good enough for cops, it was good enough for civilians too.
As time went on, however, certain issues cropped up and took some of the shine off the .40 S&W. These problems reignited the 9mm vs. .45 debate.
First, the .40’s stopping power did not reach the legendary level of the .45 ACP’s stopping power record. As just one example, there was the shooting of a suspect by a Columbus Officer 15 years ago. The suspect was shot 14 times with the .40 S&W 180-grain ammo before he finally gave up.
The second problem with the .40 is its blast and recoil. It is difficult for new shooters to handle, which is why we used the 9mm at our academy before it became the universal gold standard. It is also why we chose the .357 SIG round at my sheriff’s office. The .357 had less recoil than the .40 due to its lighter weight of 125 grains, and muzzle energy was much higher.
What Happened to .40 Ammo?
Two additional major events worked hand-in-hand to cause the demise of the .40. The first was the FBI’s ballistic testing. It declared that, in terms of stopping effectiveness, the 9mm and the .40 were essentially the same. The second was a special law enforcement deal from Glock. Law enforcement agencies were allowed to trade in their existing Glocks for brand new Gen3 9mm Glocks with night sights for $75 per gun, as I recall.
Talking to my Glock dealer, nearly everyone who traded in their old Glocks walked away with 9mm versions instead of .357s, .40s or .45s, due mainly to the FBI report. There was also the fact that 9mm ammo was cheaper and recoiled less. The police duty caliber landscape changed immediately. With the .40 effectively out of the picture, the question comes back to 9mm vs. .45 again.
So, 9mm or .45?
In the interests of full disclosure, I don’t buy the FBI’s assessment that the 9mm is equal to the .40. You can’t defy the laws of physics. Just peruse the ballistic tables some time. If the 9mm isn’t equal to the .40, it certainly isn’t equal to the .45 ACP. But does that mean it isn’t better?
While the 9mm may be inferior to the .45 ballistically, it isn’t inferior to it in tactical utility. Tactical utility includes factors such as magazine capacity, ease of carry, “shootability” (recoil and muzzle blast), versatility of design and accuracy. When one considers the tactical factors, the 9mm wins out over the .45 ACP.
Now make no mistake, the .45 ACP is a great pistol caliber. But it recoils more than the 9mm, especially with +P ammo. And its magazine capacity is usually no better than 8+1. My S&W M&P 2.0 holds 15 +P, and my SIG M17 holds 17 +1. It also can’t be fit into the new generation of 9mm micro-compact pistols such as the Springfield Hellcat or the SIG P365. But if it could, recoil would likely be miserable.
I do love my .45 for carry in more sedate areas or while hiking. But in high threat areas, I carry a high capacity 9mm. I know my M17 in particular is good to 100 yards and is easy shooting even with +P loads. If I want to go smaller, then my SCCY CPX-1 9mm is a good option.
The 9mm can’t beat the .45 in pure power output, but it does beat it tactically in all areas. In my opinion, it is the better caliber. And judging by the numbers being sold, I’m not the only one who thinks so!