The Reliable 9mm Luger (9x19, 9mm Parabellum)

By Chuck Hawks

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The 9x19, also called the 9mm Luger or the 9mm Parabellum, was adopted by the German Army in 1908 as the cartridge for the famous Luger pistol. It has become the world's most popular pistol cartridge. It is now used by most of the militaries of the world, including all of the NATO countries, and also a great many police agencies. It is popular with civilians everywhere they are allowed to own handguns.

The 9x19 uses standard .355" bullets, generally from 115 to 147 grains in weight. The standard NATO load uses a 124 grain FMJ bullet.

To be so popular with so many people in so many places the 9x19 must have something going for it, and it does. For one thing, it is ideally shaped to feed well in autoloading pistols. It is a short, compact cartridge with a slight (.014") taper from rim to mouth that enhances feed reliability.

The 9x19 is more pleasant to shoot than the .40 S&W or the .45 ACP (its major competitors among auto pistol cartridges). It has noticeably less muzzle blast and recoil than the other two cartridges, and a less blinding muzzle flash in the dark (a frequently overlooked point).

Because it is not as fat as the popular .40 and .45 caliber cartridges, a double stack pistol for 9x19 can hold between 50% and 100% more cartridges. The slight energy advantage held by the larger caliber per shot (345 ft. lbs. for the 124 grain 9mm slug compared to 370 ft. lbs. for the 230 grain .45 slug) does not come close to making up the difference. The shooter with a 15 shot 9x19 pistol in his hand controls 5175 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy, which he can deliver to any number of targets between 1 and 15. The shooter with a 7 shot .45 ACP pistol can deliver only 2590 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy to between 1 and 7 targets. This is one very good reason why the U.S. Army adopted the 9x19 and the Beretta M-9 pistol in 1985.

All during the post-WW II years from 1945 to the 1990's there were a tremendous number of articles and books written by supposed experts alleging the superiority of the .45 ACP over the 9x19. These assertions were usually based on theoretical models of stopping power (like the Cooper "short form") that suggested a large .40 or larger caliber bullet had some intangible advantage in stopping power irrespective of the actual energy delivered. These theoretical models seriously over estimated the stopping power of the .45 ACP and seriously underestimated the stopping power of the 9x19. Assertions that .45 ball (FMJ) ammunition was 90% effective in achieving one shot stops were common. The truth revealed by the 15 year Marshall-Sanow study of thousands of actual shootings is that standard 230 grain .45 ball ammunition is about 62.89% effective, and 9x19 115 grain ball ammunition is 62.26% effective in achieving a one shot stop.

More important to civilian and police shooters is the effectiveness of the best bullets in the calibers, which for most purposes are expanding JHP bullets. The top load for the 9x19 is the Cor-Bon +P 115grain JHP, which is 91% effective in achieving a one shot stop. (For comparison, the top load for the .45 ACP is the Federal 230 grain Hydra-Shok, which is 92% effective.) The 115 grain +P loads from Federal, Remington, and Winchester are all close, averaging about 89% one shot stops.

The effectiveness of the 9x19 goes down as the bullet weight increases and velocity decreases. The best 124 grain JHP loads average about 81-84% one shot stops, and the best 147 grain JHP load delivers about 76% one shot stops.

Remington ballistics tables (Federal and Winchester are similar) for the standard 115 grain JHP load show a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1155 fps and a muzzle energy (ME) of 341 ft. lbs. The trajectory of this load shows a midrange rise of .9" over 50 yards, and 3.9" over 100 yards. The 9x19 is one of the best auto pistol cartridges for long range shooting.

Remington ballistics tables for the 115 grain +P JHP bullet claim a MV of 1250 fps and a ME of 399 ft. lbs. The trajectory of this load is slightly flatter, with a midrange rise of .8" over 50 yards and 3.5" over 100 yards.

The reloader can do quite well with the 9x19. According to the Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 their 124 grain Gold Dot JHP bullet can be driven to a MV of 1159 fps by 8.0 grains of HS7 powder, and 1249 fps by 8.9 grains of HS7. This is a pretty good field load for a 9x19 pistol. These Speer loads used Speer cases and CCI 500 primers, and were chronographed in a 4" pistol barrel.

It is hard to argue with these figures. The popular 9x19 is clearly a superior cartridge for self-loading pistols, and a top drawer self defense cartridge.

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Copyright 2001, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.