What’s In a Name?

9x19mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm NATO —the same flavor in different wrappers.

9x19mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm NATO —the same flavor in different wrappers.

Some months back, I went with a friend to one of those giant outdoor stores.

While he was running his errands, I was perusing the handgun ammunition shelves. He returned to find me frowning, and asked what was wrong. I replied, “They’ve got the 9mm Makarov right next to the 9×19 and the .38 S&W right next to the .38 Special. I don’t like that one bit; it’s too easy to grab the wrong one by mistake.”

I was reminded of this when I was leafing through an owner’s manual with its usual caution about only using cartridges, “designated by the cartridge indicator on the firearm” or somesuch, which was worth a snort of laughter. My pistol just says “9mm” on the chamber hood. 9mm what?

The correct cartridge is sold under a handful of names: 9x19mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm NATO, 9mm Parabellum … and there are another half-dozen ways to buy the wrong cartridge that still start with “9mm”, like the aforementioned Makarov. Yet, the “only use the caliber marked on your gun,” advice is still offered in firearms manuals, despite many of today’s small CCW pistols simply lacking the room to engrave every possible alternate name for their ammunition.

 

Be an informed consumer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Join one of the myriad online firearms forums.

 

My roommate recently purchased an old Colt revolver that was clearly marked “.38 Colt New Police.” This caliber will never be found for sale today, since it was simply Colt’s re-labeling of the .38 S&W round to avoid having to mark their revolvers with the initials of their hated rival. (The extremely popular .32 S&W Long cartridge was magically transmogrified into the “.32 Colt New Police” in the same manner when chambered in Colt revolvers.)

Similarly, sometime around the turn of the millennium, the designations “S&W” and “SIG” disappeared from the chamber hoods of Glock pistols, leaving only the cryptic numbers “.40” and “.357” as signifiers, the latter of which has led to more than one utterance of the phrase, “Can I return these? They won’t fit in my gun,” within my earshot from customers who had inadvertently bought .357 Magnum revolver ammunition for their recently-acquired Glock chambered in .357SIG.

I could go on at length about this, from the way it seems like every country has their own pet name for the .380 cartridge, to the dangers of mixing up the dimensionally nearly-identical 9mm Largo and 9×23, to why someone with a revolver marked “.32 WCF” or “.44 WCF” can wander the aisles unfulfilled while walking right past the .32-20 and .44-40, but this magazine only has so many pages. This is just one of those areas where the buyer needs to beware: Be an informed consumer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Join one of the myriad online firearms forums. Consult a copy of Cartridges of the World (or, as I like to call it, The Big Book of Bullets).

Oh, and as the lawyers are fond of saying: “Locate the cartridge designation marked on the firearm. This information indicates the correct ammunition that must be used in this firearm (See Figure 1).”

 

[ Tamara Keel has been shooting guns as a hobby since she was eighteen. She has worked in the firearms business since the early 1990s. Her pastimes include collecting old guns, writing, and being bossed around by house cats. ]