Saturday, October 3, 2009

9mm vs. .40 S&W vs. .45ACP

It's a tired argument, but it keeps popping up.

I used a .45 in the Marines. I am issued a .40 now as a federal officer. I usually carry a 9mm as a personal CCW.

Urban myth says that .45 ACP hits like the Hammer of Thor, 9mm Parabellum is inadequate, and .40 S&W is some sort of compromise.

In reality, with the recent advances in bonded bullet technology, they are statistically identical in terms of real-world performance. All deliver, depending on the load, somewhere between 300 and 500 foot pounds of energy. (Which is about the energy of a thrown baseball, by the way.)

As for diameter, of course bigger is better within reason. But the unexpanded diameter of a .40 S&W is less than 5 hundredths of an inch greater than a 9mm. A .45 ACP is 96 thousandths greater. Do you really think you'll hit many more blood vessels and vital organs with that extra 45 thousandths or 96 thousandths? And remember that you're giving up magazine capacity to get it.

One of my closest friends is an emergency room physician as well as a shooting enthusiast, and we've had conversations about things like this. He says he can't tell a difference in wounding effects. His standard joke when someone really presses him about which is the most lethal is to say "a shotgun".

The military uses full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets because they're limited by the Geneva convention, and concerned with different tactical problems than us civilians. They routinely shoot through helmets, body armor, walls and vehicles at relatively long distances. Civilians, on the other hand, are usually at or near contact range in a defensive encounter, and would have a hard time convincing a jury that a fellow a ways off and on the other side of a wall was a threat.

So: Any of those three calibers with modern, good quality bonded hollow-points will perform about as well as the next, and as well as a .357 Sig or any other reasonable defensive handgun cartridge. Magazine capacity tips the scales for me. I'd rather have a 9mm or a .40 than a .45, because ammunition is like tokens at the arcade: The more you have, the longer you can play.


9mm Parabellum: 300-500 foot/pounds of energy, .356 bullet diameter

.40 S&W: 400-500 foot/pounds of energy, .4005 bullet diameter

.45ACP: 400-500 foot/pounds of energy, .452 bullet diameter

28 comments:

theotherryan said...

Gosh, Suppose I will stick with my semi standard answer.

First and foremost I think we need to keep in mind that almost (if not all) of the current understanding and stereotypes (for lack of a better word) notions we have about these calibers were created by great men but great men of a very different technological era. These men certainly did all sorts of great things (and formed their opinions from them) but that was an era where the two types of bullets were round nosed lead and FMJ. Today's high quality hollow point ammunition makes all those truths of 50 years ago into ridiculous stereotypes these days.

If you carry anything over 9mm with quality hollow point ammunition and do your job (hitting the target center mass) the bullet will do its job.

On the .45 specifically I think these stereotypes are dangerous because they get people to believe that a full sized .45 (in 1911 platform) is the only weapon to use because so and so or this school or whatever says so. They get that big old piece of iron (got one and I love it;) and it is too big for them to to comfortably carry all the time so they don't carry it and it lives in the glove box or the nightstand.

Don't get me wrong, plenty of folks carry 1911's and they are great guns but my observation is that most people are not willing to carry one all the time. If someone is advocating the 1911 as an EDC gun ask them to show you theirs, right now. Dollars to doughnuts they will mumble something about it being in the car or how they were just leaving the house for a few minutes.

I guess the best advice is probably to buy and carry the biggest gun you will concealed carry regularly and can shoot well. For some folks (who are dedicated and or have a lifestyle that facilitates it) that is a big old wheel gun or a full sized 1911 but for a lot of folks it is something smaller.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think you are dead on.I know a dude who shot 3 armed guys breaking in his home.he was using semi auto thompson .45acp.2-3 rounds each caused pretty good internal injuries, but none of that instant death -old school knockdown power like a runaway train you always hear about.and that was carbine length barrel,not 4-5 pistol.good post

3rdman said...
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3rdman said...

Getting trapped in the belief of one shot one kill will get you killed with a handgun. You shoot until the threat is no longer a threat.

Also interesting site just found it about a week ago.

Anonymous said...

Why are there apparently so many of you twisted types out there 'packing'? I grew up with guns,in some fairly violent environments, but never felt the need to have one on my person unless hunting, and infact, one can, if relatively competent, 'bring home the venison' with a bow.
Of course, the 'to carry or not to carry' thing can be debated forever, and I have seen situations where a close at hand firearm might have prevented very bad things from happening, but I do worry when listening to the (wanna-be) 'shootist' lobby...

Oblio13 said...

If helpless passivity seems like a good defensive strategy to you, go for it. No one is questioning your right to be a victim.

Anonymous said...

Amen Oblio13. I hope every arrogant anti-self-defense elitist is faced with a situation in his/her lifetime where the full weight of their own naive stupidity comes back to haunt them.

Anonymous said...

The eye opener for me was at a tactical range shooting knock down steel targets. I was shooting an H&K USP 40S&W full size, and my friend was shooting an H&K USP 45ACP Compact. He dropped every target with a single round, while I had to double tap every time to drop the target. On paper this doesn;t make sense, as the 40S&W round should have 10%-15% more energy at the 7-10 yd range that we were shooting. Out with the H&K 40 and in with the XD 45. With 13+1 in either weapon, I'm UP 7 rounds of 45 ACP in the new pistol shooting the same 7 targets.

Anonymous said...

I killed a charging bull moose with a p.o.s .40 with ball ammo. I carry a gun in the woods. Could I repeat this probably not. liberal pussies who say statistically a gun in the home is more like to take one of of the occupants life than to save it are right. Most cops that are shot are shot with their own guns. People shoot horribly in real word situations. Historically only 20% of trained soliders deliver accurate fire at the enemy. Unless you make a perfect shot nothing is going to stop large game or a person with a with a gun before they have a sporting chance to harm you. Has a gun saved my life yes, is it more likey to save your your ass in most cases than a can of bear spray, no. For the most part that gun is like a kids safety blanket. In my life I have been robbed, beaten, attacked by a Grizzly and a Moose. Why did these things happen, for the most part, because I was intentionally exposing myself to risk. What saved me, luck. What is the best self defense combo for people who arent highly trained killers, is any gun and a can of counter assult for when you find out you are not special and cannot effectively take life with a gun.

Anonymous said...

Situational awareness + right gun for the context + practiced hand + willingness to make evil pay the price = very probable good outcome

Passive liberal pussy + no gun + bad laws protecting criminals = definite bad outcome

You decide for yourself...

Dan said...

"Liberal pussy" is a bullshit concept that's being propagated by the mainstream media. I don't believe in the government's right to legislate morality (which would make me a liberal), but I fully support the right of every American - without a felony conviction or mental illness - to carry whatever they want, wherever they feel the most comfortable carrying it. I carry a S&W 638, because I don't see myself getting into a protracted gunfight with multiple assailants in the street. I'm also confident that if 5 rounds of .38 Special JHP +P in the chest isn't enough to stop an attacker, then an extra 5 rounds in a higher caliber isn't going to make much difference. I chose a lower caliber revolver because I wanted a weapon that was comfortable to carry and would never, ever malfunction. If you need 4 pounds of bulky steel under your jacket to make you feel safe, more power to you. But the only way I'd consider a larger caliber would be for home defense or open carry in the woods. And that's why the 12 gauge lives under my bed and the .464 Casull goes camping with me.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with guns, and just bought another. Not a liberal pussy either. Statistically the dumbest thing I can do with my guns is have the ammunition and guns within easy access so I can shoot intruders. The math, science, statistics, behavior science, actual evidence, news reports, and anything else you want to consult will convince an unbiased person that it's best to lock your guns away in a house, and while tooling around town not to carry them.

However, unbiased persons are rare birds. If your bias is to carry a gun to feel good and proud and free and American and all that, great. If your bias is to not to carry a gun, that's even better.

Oblio13 said...

That hasn't been my experience. But, armed self defense is not for everyone. If you think carrying a firearm is too dangerous or too much responsibility for you, you're undoubtedly right. We have no argument unless you want to project those presumptions onto me.

Anonymous said...

It's really easy to just go back and forth with each other forever, but the bottom line is we all have our priorities. I for one do carry, I for one do not just have CCW to feel "cool" or "badass". I carry because I am willing as a former Marine to protect myself, my family, my friends and those around me who are concerned with their daily life. If you don't own a gun, great. You can spend it on the other things you deem necessary...We are all Americans and entitled to our differences.

Anonymous said...

I know this is way late, but I would like to respond to Dan's comment. Your description of your views sounds a lot more like "Libertarian" than "Liberal" to me. To me, liberals want to legislate everything including morality...it's just that their definition of morality is upside down and ass backward. For the record, I don't like conservatives trying to tell me how to live any more than Libtards.

Oblio13 said...

Most liberals are nice people who want to do what's right. My problem with them is that they want to use the 'benevolent' hand of government to FORCE everyone to conform to their vision.

Libertarians tend also to think that they know what's best for others. But they see no need to either save people from their own mistakes, or to punish them for being too successful.

I like the way Robert Heinlein divided people into two political categories, those who want others to be controlled and those who don't.

BIGJIM said...

As a former combat Marine who spends a lot of time in a dangerous inner city neighborhood and as much time as possible hunting and bivouacking under the stars in wilderness areas, I've thought a lot about self defense.

In both the city and wilderness, I am most concerned about animals -- dogs, bears, cougars and now wolves, especially rabid ones, and especially when our grandbabies are with us. Of course, 2-legged varmints are out and about too.

I learned the hard way to carry a firearm, as often as circumstances permit, for defense of self and family. It's always a burdensome responsibility, but that's better than the alternatives. But not everyone is in the same situation or cares to share that responsibility.

I'm always comforted to learn that many of my fellow veterans and other colleagues do responsibly carry, whether in the city or in the wilderness. We found that it's good for our collective safety and peace of mind, as well. Life happens.

Oh yes, I'm also a big believer in carrying Bear Pepper Spray, again both in the city and the wilderness.

Semper Fi.

BIGJIM said...

To clarify . . . I carry both a sidearm and Bear Spray, when possible. In the city, it's a Ruger 345, a Sig Sauer .40 S&W, or a compact .38 revolver. In the wilderness, a Ruger .44 Super Blackhawk is my best friend. For most actual hunting, it's a Browning .300 Win Mag (along with the .44).

In the end, it's all about Freedom. We helped secure our Freedom, and we should all cherish it and defend it, in one way or another.
Semper Fi

sjma79 said...

I did not grow up around guns but I have a tremendous respect for the US Constitution and the military. I have had bad things happen to me in my life but nothing that would have cost me my life or the lives of my family. Therefore,I never felt as though I needed to carry a gun to protect myself.I now am thinking about buying a pistol for both recreation and security 60/40. Is this a good idea? On one hand I don't think I need it for protection, yet I would hate to be unprepared if my life or the lives of my family were seriously threatened. Plus range shooting would be a fun hobby

Anonymous said...

sjma79: It's a fine idea, and shooting is a wonderful hobby. I wish there were more of us out there who took an interest in firearms, for recreational as well as more practical reasons. The only bit of advice I would offer is that if/when you decide to purchase a gun, practice with it often, and remember that as a tool used to defend life and limb, a gun is only as effective as the person wielding it. Hope to see you on the range...

David and Shelley said...
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David and Shelley said...

Edit:
The reason I, personally, carry a .45 ACP compact is due largely in part to what I've read concerning over penetration and fragmentation in 9mm and .40 S&W. .45 for self defense, much like .30-30 vs .30-06 in densely wooded areas for deer hunting, is statistically less likely to fragment or deflect when it comes in contact with a hard surface (ribs, sternum, cell phone in the pocket, jewelry, small branch, etc.).

As far as rounds carried, the average shooting for NYPD officers was figured to be 8 per incident, but anyone carrying an autoloading pistol should absolutely be carrying (and be extremely proficient with reloading with one and two hands) at least one spare magazine. This isn't so much because of the lack of ammunition, but rather that autoloaders are much more likely to be afflicted by Murphy than revolvers.

Finally, at the end of the day when the chips are down... the only gun that's going to save your life is the one in your hand. Apply the four weapon safety rules, train like you mean it and familiarize yourself with your weapon, and you will be effective.

S/F

Oblio13 said...

I think most people worry too much about over penetration and too little about misses.

Anonymous said...

but then again, you can just tell em ya goin to get ya 10mm if they try n break in, n they die from sudden fear, shock, heart attack. Its just that mean.

Anonymous said...

I survived 2 Home Invasions and can say from my own personal experience that seeing the slugs in a revolver is a heck of a lot scarier than wondering if an auto is loaded. From my own perspective that's any caliber you care to name.

Anonymous said...

Thats crazy, i got beat up nd robbed by that same moose. I hope he gets whats comin to him, in the meantime i went square dancin and was packin my nine, but when i dosey doed it went off n blew off my left testical, so lesson learned, dont pack heat and boot scoot. Peace yaw.

Anonymous said...

if someone breaks in, i just hide behind the ol lady, or i go out the window, and send her downstairs to check it out. Tell her to call me when its safe, i be at the strip club watchin the game.

Anonymous said...

me too man, someone broke in on me n a buddy out campin, i locked myself in the closet with all the guns. I didnt come out til they quit rapin him. He doesnt go campin much anymore.