Ammo Brief: America’s ‘New’ Favorite — 9mm Luger


The 9mm has become the most used cartridge in the U.S., and now boasts performance on par or exceeding larger-bore pistol options.

How the 9mm became popular:

  • Smith & Wesson and Colt drove interest in the 1950s with 9mm semi-auto pistols.
  • An influx of military pistols in the caliber also drove its popularity.
  • It has become the most used cartridge in the U.S.
  • Modern bullets and high velocities have improved its performance.
  • It penetrates as deeply as many .45 ACP rounds.
  • In many cases, it can expand to a wider diameter than the .45.
  • The 9mm also has a higher impact velocity than a .45, causing more tissue damage.

The 9mm Luger, or 9mm Parabellum, was introduced in 1902 with the Luger automatic pistol. It was adopted first by the German Navy in 1904 and then by the German Army in 1908. Since that time, it has been adopted by the military of practically every non-Communist power. It has become the world’s most popular and widely used military handgun and submachine gun cartridge.


Although the 9mm Luger delivers good performance, it was not popular in the United States until fairly recently. In 1954, Smith & Wesson brought out its Model 39 semi-automatic in this chambering, and Colt chambered its lightweight Commander for the 9mm Luger in 1951. This, plus the influx of military pistols chambered for the 9mm, greatly increased both popularity and acceptance in this country. Currently, the 9mm Luger is the most widely used cartridge in the United States, though a principal complaint has always been that the 9mm LugerMo lacks stopping power as a defensive cartridge.

Modern bullet engineering, combined with the moderately high velocities obtainable with a 9mm Luger, 9mm Luger +P and 9mm Luger +P+ loads, has changed the performance of the 9mm. Extensive tests have shown that many defensive loads for the 9mm expand to a wider diameter and penetrate as deeply as many .45 Auto loads — and they do this with a higher impact velocity, which translates to more tissue destruction. Anyone armed with a 9mm and good defensive ammo should feel just as safe as if they were carrying a .45 Auto.

9mm Factory Ammo Performance


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2008 Shooter's Guide issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. But the soul ripping??

    Everyone knows that even a near miss from a .45ACP rips the soul from the corpus.

    9×19 is nice, but Necromomgers insist on the big bore when it comes time to refill the ranks.

    .45 ACP – substituting one kind of pain for another.

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