I have irrefutable proof that the 9x19mm cartridge is, in fact, ineffective Eurotrash.

Here goes. In the movie 22 Jump Street, in one of the final scenes, a goon using a Sig Sauer P229 in 9x19mm shoots Channing Tatum in the arm. Jonah Hill dove in front of the bullet to save his friend because he knew the 9x19mm projectile was completely harmless, but he leapt prematurely and failed to catch that tiny and insignificant pill in his insulated bod. I hate the word “pill” but it seems appropriate here, doesn’t it? Anyway, Channing the Wonder Boy soldiers on to hang from a flying helicopter with his now-perforated arm, and he’s just an actor, not some kind of real-life special ops guy. Clearly 9x19mm isn’t up the task, even in the movies.

Case closed. 9x19mm is ineffective and useless.

On the other hand, now that I stop to think about it, there are plenty of examples of the 9x19mm behaving as a merciless, one-shot destroyer of arch-villains and faceless henchmen.

From what I understand, the movie Inglorious Basterds is an actual documentary of true stories from World War II. Many of Lt. Aldo Raine’s (Brad Pitt) tough guy Basterds capture and use German MP 40s throughout much of the film, even uber tough-guy Hugo Stiglitz. They manage to defeat the entire German Army and riddle its top staff, including Uncle Adolph, with FMJ 9x19mm bullets, and those are supposed to be the lamest ever, right? Not so, at least in this movie.

Even if you don’t believe in the accuracy of movie ballistics, there’s plenty of proof that 9x19mm works pretty much as well as any other handgun cartridge. The myth that it’s some kind of effete, ineffective round is one of the most pervasive and untrue myths in the gun world.

Designed way back in 1902 by Georg Luger, 9x19mm Parabellum (also known as 9mm Luger) was developed for pistol use. Its short size allows use in pistols with relatively small grips, while its low recoil makes it easy to shoot. As a result, it’s become the predominant military pistol cartridge worldwide. Launching a .355-inch diameter projectile in the 1,200 feet per second range, this cartridge clearly subscribes to the “velocity rules” theory. You know, the crowd that sits on the other side of the sanctuary from the .45 ACP “slow and heavy” team.

Does it work? According to one-shot stop statistics, yes. While it’s nearly impossible to measure given the infinite number of variables at play in a shooting incident, the data seems to imply that there is not a huge statistically relevant difference in one-shot stop performance of 9x19mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.

Case in point: back in the glory days of the FBI, the agency issued Smith & Wesson Model 10s in .38 Special and shortly thereafter Model 13s loaded with either .38 Special or .357 Magnum, per the agent’s choice. In the ’80s, many FBI agents carried, you guessed it, 9x19mm autos.

After the infamous Miami shootout in 1986 (many blamed 9x19mm in part for not ending the fight quickly), the agency moved to heavier 147-grain projectiles and ultimately looked for a new cartridge. Enter the 10mm. Not lacking in recoil or cartridge length, and, therefore, grip size, the 10mm proved a little much for general issue. Next, enter the .40 S&W, which has served the FBI for several years. Why am I talking about all these other calibers? Because the FBI has recently announced that they’re coming around full circle, right back to 9x19mm.

Why? According to the leaked FBI Training Division Report, “Handgun stopping power is simply a myth.” The report goes on to say that “Contemporary projectiles (since 2007) have dramatically increased the terminal effectiveness of many premium line law enforcement projectiles (emphasis on the 9mm Luger offerings).” The report also claims that “there is little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks between premium line law Auto enforcement projectiles from 9mm Luger through the .45 Auto.”

What matters is consistent penetration, and modern 9x19mm ammunition design accomplishes that quite well.

The FBI also conducted extensive testing that demonstrated shooters can make more accurate hits, faster, using lower-recoil 9x19mm. That, combined with greater magazine capacity than similarly-sized guns in larger calibers, is causing the agency to switch back to 9x19mm.

Funny how things that were fashionable 30 years ago make their way back into the mainstream. As long as that doesn’t apply to leisure suits and Naugahyde zip up boots.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Image by Tom McHale

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  • Jim Baglivo

    I was incarcerated with a gentleman who took three 9×19 rounds to the abdomen, and then proceeded to walk three blocks to his sister’s house to call for aid. IMO, w/.357 he would have taken the dirt-nap. This is not to say 9mm is ineffective; rather, I’d like to illustrate the vital importance of shot placement. Peace.

  • John D.

    Never felt under gunned with a 9mm

  • durabo

    Just as in real estate. the formula is LOCATION-LOCATION-LOCATION, in gunnery it’s PLACEMENT-PLACEMENT-PLACEMENT. The caliber is immaterial. Just don’t use the .25 ACP hardball “pimp scare toy.” Even the .22LR works better.

    • BigBear

      A story attributed to Jeff Cooper — He was asked by a female OSS operative if she could carry a .25 ACP. He replied that she could carry the .25 as long as she did not load it. He then explained: “if you load it, you might use it. And if you pull it, you might shoot it. And if you shoot someone larger than you with it, you are likely to piss him off and he will take it from you and beat you to death with it.”

  • Have to agree with durabo; it is all about shot placement. That being said, there is a factor {my dad PD/LE 40+ years} bore size of a handgun is a deterring factor when holding someone at bay. Looking down the bore of a .451 dia vs .355 may not be much; but enough, especially if the bore is of lesser caliber. A .221 Fireball will remove much of your “grey-matter” however you may have to prove the point, as what you see is a small bore. I personally cater to the .40 & .451 size, just because I have used them for years, and I’m extremely proficient; not being out done, my .355 is dead nuts accurate and with a whole lot of in its magazine for backup.

  • joebobmcgillicuddy

    I have no problem punching a fist size hole in a paper target with 9×19 using a Sig Sauer p229 or Kimber 9mm. Heavier guns help with recoil and shot placement.

  • Mikial

    I carry and .45ACP, and my wife carries her beloved Beretta 9mm. We’re both good shots and well trained (and in my case experienced). So, 9mm or .45, a head shot will usually stop the bad guy very quickly.

    The whole 9mm vs .40 vs .45 debate is mostly a lot of noise. Each caliber has it’s pros and cons, and each caliber will work fine if used correctly. The secret . . train, practice and be prepared.

  • rux

    There’s a lot of people that could testify to that. ….but they’re dead.

  • RJ

    Since you believe it is “euro-trash”, I assume you are volunteering to be shot with it. ANY caliber can do the job if used properly. I don’t know anyone who wants to be shot with any caliber.

    • Richard

      So forgive my ignorance, but what changed in 2007? Not hollow points, they’ve been around a while. So what specifically? I hate when writers leave a clue that is important to the conclusions they draw without the specifics to back it up.