The “Modern” 9mm

You should tell someone what you know. There should be a history, so that men can learn from it.”
He smiled. “Men do not learn from history. Each generation believes itself brighter than the last, each believes it can survive the mistakes of the older ones. Each discovers each old thing and they throw up their hands and say ‘See! Look what I have found! Look upon what I know!’ And each believes it is something new.”
Louis L’Amour
The Californios

Everywhere you look these days, people are singing the praises of the Modern 9mm. Smallbore advocates have finally been vindicated and they are celebrating with jihadi fervor. I fully expect one of them to announce that the Modern 9mm has replaced the 30-06 as America’s premiere hunting cartridge. This is largely because of the FBI’s recent adoption of the 9mm as the Agency’s service cartridge. Their ‘Summary of Justification for Law Enforcement Partners’ says a lot about their reasons for adopting the Nine. When I first read this diatribe, I thought it was a joke.  No matter how you cut it, the best 9mm loads are on par with the best ‘Plus P’ 38 Special loads. 
For many years I had access to shooting reports, witness statements, medical records w/photos, radiology imagery and autopsy reports from those types of events. I also developed a base of experience from another two decades of attending these picnics myself. I’ve also shot dozens of animals (a few bent on doing me in) with handguns, ranging is size from 35 to 300 pounds. As you may have guessed, I developed some opinions along the way.

Over the past 45 years I’ve seen countless new pistol loads offered as the ne plus ultra of anti-personnel loads and I’ve seen the FBI christen ‘ideal’ service cartridges three times now- followed by a stampede of lemmings behind them. Frankly I’d rather watch Bullwinkle than suffer through another one. At least Bullwinkle was written by witty people who assumed their audience capable of conscious thought.

Here’s what I think. For unobstructed, face-on body shots to people who acknowledge getting shot’s a bad thing, almost any pistol will work. Pack anything up to & including a 9mm and be happy. If the shootee realizes he’s been hit, he’ll either kill you or retreat- most likely the latter.

If you add four legs, weight over 200 pounds, rage, drugs, alcohol, intervening limbs or oblique angles to the mix, everything changes. You better be able to bore a big hole through him/it from any angle and smash support structures along the way. This is best accomplished with larger bores, more bullet weight and ample velocity for full penetration. Yes, full penetration. Anything effective enough in the worst case will fully penetrate in the best case. Yes, it will have some recoil. Either commit to mastering it or carry something lighter- your choice.

Substantial capacity in your defense gun is an asset because it reduces the likelihood you’ll need to reload. The ability to get center-line hits quickly is priceless, but I’ve never seen a gunfight where ‘split times’ had an effect on the outcome. Generally, everybody opens with a barrage that often has minimal effect on all but the unlucky.* Sensible survivors then attempt to apply some precision and take the other guy out. With a cool head, common sense and persistence- that works.

My notion of an ideal anti-personnel rig is a 40/165/XTP or HST type bullet at 1100 fps from a pistol with substantial capacity, along with a spare magazine. I’ve made do with that on 100+ pound attacking dogs (plural) inside 7 yards and it was just enough. That’s the only event where a well directed burst of shots saved my bacon (all landed in the chest) and I distinctly remember wishing for my single action Ruger 45 Colt loaded with 255 SWC’s at 1050 fps. I guess to a degree, we are all products of our environment.

*You have to be good. The other guy only has to be lucky.

Edited for clarity, 11/25/16



6 Responses to The “Modern” 9mm

  1. sully v says:

    Good commentary…although I’ve never been a fan of the .40S&W, I do agree with you about the 45ACP (only handgun cartridge that doesn’t need a hollow-point to be effective). With that said, my LE Agency is offering choice between 9mm, .40S&W, and ,45ACP, for us it’s all about bullet placement. I find that I shoot the 9mm more accurately–period. The FBI should have stated that since the majority of their field Agents are NOT gun people the 9mm is easier for the majority to shoot well, to stay on target.

    Side-Note: I like the .45ACP, and I like plastic pistols–I’ve tried the Glock 30, 30SF, and 30S, but the grip was still too thick for my hands. I did pick up a S&W M&P Compact in .45ACP at a LGS, it has me thinking…

    • Sarge says:

      Thanks for your comments Sully. I’m a LE/FTO myself with major input on the firearms policy. 9mm is on our approved list and there are definitely people who are better off with it. In its original format it is the easiest service caliber to shoot well. Fun, too. I’ve had a blast shooting a Beretta 92 on occasion.

      Take a look at the Model 30 grip mods article over in the Glock Files… it might give you some ideas.

      I am spoiled now and will never own another Glock with the OEM handle on it. And yes, that dang M&P45C has been calling to me too.

  2. Roccaas says:

    How much of this is driven by the increasing number of female FBI agents?

    Is there a discussion of efficacy of 2nd shot on target?

    • Sarge says:

      I can’t say, Roccaas. I’ve trained a number of females to handle the 40 S&W as well as most men. It may have to do with 9mm ammo being cheaper and the simple fact that the vast majority of people will quit their mischief when shot with anything.

  3. Phill Shoemakers 900 # dead brown bear killed with the Buffalo Bore outdoorsman ammo does show that good shooting with the right new ammo in 9mm will work

    • Sarge says:

      There is no questioning Phil’s shooting ability or coolness in that bear incident. I did however ask him the following-

      “Phil you are well regarded by good friends of mine, so please don’t take this wrong. I am asking from the perspective of a guy who made a short notice trip to Alaska in the spring several years ago with nothing but a 2 1/4″ SP-101 (Loaded with Alaska Backpacker 200 grain LBT) and a 1911 loaded with hardball. By what rationale do you leave a 475 at home and carry a 9mm while hiking in known grizzly country? If I’d have had time to arrange for a heavy-hitter, there’s no way in hell I’d have left it. I had my wife and very pregnant daughter along and carried a slug-loaded 870 on those occasions.”

      And here is his answer-

      “Sarge, My family homestead is right in the middle of a National Wildlife Refuge and the incident happened a bit over 5 miles from our home. We know the area, terrain and wildlife and don’t feel the need to constantly be armed — And when we are out the terrain is difficult and carrying something as large as a 475 quickly becomes a burden. something like your SP-101 is alot more likely to be packed. As I have pointed out to numerous folks about this incident — if I had known I would have run into an angry bear I wouldn’t have even gone. And if I had to I would have taken my 458.”

      Original conversation at:

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