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June 29, 2006

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Say Good-Bye to the 9mm: Our Sorry 20-Year Affair Is Over

In the July issue of The American Rifleman, I saw that the U.S. military is dropping the underpowered and generally unloved 9mm Beretta 99 and going back to the .45 ACP. (The article never named the Beretta 99, which is fairly odd, or maybe not.)

When we went to 9mm Parabellum cartridge 20 years ago, everyone I knew who had any experience of combat was baffled. But the military’s logic was that we had to get our sidearms in line with NATO, and NATO used the 9mm, and that was that.

No one who is familiar with how cops and soldiers select guns should be surprised. In the early 1960s, Air Force General Curtis LeMay (who knew everything about dropping bombs on people but precious little about land war) saw a radical new rifle called the AR-15, and thought it would be just the thing for the Air Force. And so the Army, which had fought against the adoption of the AR-15 tooth and claw, became insanely jealous, and bought it for themselves (after screwing it up with several modifications)  as the M-16.

Eventually, the M-16 was tortured into an acceptable infantry rifle, but now, 40 years after it was adopted, we’ve discovered that its 5.56mm cartridge is not powerful enough to shoot people satisfactorily, and so we now have a new 6.8mm cartridge which may or may not be widely issued in the future.

And in the realm of law enforcement, there is the famous Dade County, Florida shootout in April 1986 between FBI agents and two heavily-armed robbers in which 2 agents were killed and 5 wounded in a savage exchange of gunfire that lasted only a few minutes. Both felons, despite being mortally wounded, managed to do an amazing amount of damage before they expired, and the FBI put the blame on its .38 Special and 9mm sidearms, which did not get the job done. We need something more powerful, they said, and eventually adopted the .40 S&W cartridge.

I happened to be talking about this with a New York State trooper who had 20 years on the job, and he said:

“The FBI didn’t need different guns. The truth is that they simply botched the arrest. Any county sheriff’s department could have taken those two guys into custody without a shot being fired. The FBI is real good at lab work and crime-scene investigation, but they don’t do too well with the other stuff.”

Maybe so. In any case, it was a great reason to get a new gun.


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About time.....It goes to show Military and Government "inteligence" to take a weapon that has almost 100 years of PROVEN battlefield experience and can it. The 1911 and the .45 acp is the God of semi auto engineering. The benchmark ALL auto loading handguns are held to and in 1 way or another copied from.
Now, All hail John Moses Browning and what he did for modern shooting and this great nation!


I was having this conversation with my wife the other night. She had seen a .45 do tremendous damage to a man. Local law enforcement uses 9mm's, and told her that the .45 is a better round -- witness the damage.

She wondered why the .45 is more "powerful" that the 9mm. I knew the .45 was much preferred, but I coundn't explain it to her.

Would someone explain it to me?

Mike M

Mr. JGH;
Firstly, let us all get on the same page, we have a couple differing types of .45. The .45 Colt (LC) and the .45 auto colt pistol (ACP)
for the purpose of this discussion we shall stay with the .45 acp.

In this case its quite simple, the .45 acp has a larger diameter and a longer case length. Longer case length equals more propelant the larger diameter allows for greater bullet weights. More propelant and larger diameter make for harder hitting, more expansion and in essence larger wound tracts. All this equals out to what the uninitiated would call more "Stopping power".
I could go into the more scientific speak with FPS (feet per second), terminal velocities, ballistic coefficiences. But wont bore you or the other folk that read this with all that.
I hope this helps clear it up for you.


Great post Dave, when we were in IRAQ we all wondered the same thing. About time we made the change back.

I just bought my first 1911 and it shoots better then the Beretta I carried in Iraq.

Second, JGH
.45 is the size of the bullet in INCHES so in this case bigger is better. Not to mention the muzzle energy of a Mack truck.

The .45 is not near as fast, but does the damage to the tissue so much better then the 9MM. While the 9MM is much faster then the .45 this is not really a good thing due the penetration factor and collateral damage issues.

I have a buddy who is a Federal Marshall and he has been involved in tests where they have demonstrated that the 9MM will penetrate farther then a 5.56 (Reason 5.56 starts to tumble)

So the .45 is better in all sorts of ways. The Military originally switched to the .45 because of its stopping power, due jungle fighting in the Philippines, the insurgents were high on some type of root that they chewed and the .38 was not putting them down and so the Army needed a better weapon. The call went out and John Browning came up with the 1911!!

I just hope we go with a US Manufacturer this time, hopefully Springfield Armory's MIL SPEC 1911-A1.



Mike M

Concerned Soldier; AMEN

Lets PRAY we go with an american manufacturer,and a big HELL YEAH!! for the Springfield armory 1911.
I have carried a S.A. 1911 as my personal defense carry weapon going on a decade now.

As i posted before........its pure INSANITY to argue with nearly a century of PROVEN battlefield experience.

George S

When things go bump in the night, I always reach for my .45. So after I empty both magazines I can club them with 2 1/2 lbs. of steel.


I'm guessing the 9mm rage had a lot to do with high capacity magazines, without considering terminal performance. Put a lot of lead in the air, and maybe you'll hit something. Scary. My Kimber .45 shoots great and puts a big hole in things.


Mike M.
Thanks for your support.

George S, that is one of the best lines I have read in a while!! Club'em to death with 2 1/2 pounds of steel!! Brillant!!




High capacity magazines are'nt necessarily a good thing, especially with a smaller caliber --9mm,.380,.25. This spray lead everywhere mentality can have a lot of lead hitting a lot of stuff it shouldn't, innocent bystanders for one.The smaller calibers above also have a better chance of richoceting and hitting unintended targets. Better to practice a lot and follow the "one shot, one kill" mentality

Greg Russell

No one even mentioned that the .45 ACP has been called the flying bathtub. The reason it`s a killer round is, unlike the 9mm, which is so fast it wants to pass through the victim, the .45 round travels at a much slower FPS, so the slug tends to NOT pass through the victim, but instead transfer it`s energy into the victim. Bullets kill by disrupting the system, putting the victim into shock, flesh and artery damage, but mostly just shock to the system.

And as to the .40 cal., why bother? Go with the .45 ACP and don`t look back.

By the way, I`ll take my Glock 21 every time.

O Garcia

The US adopted the 9mm so it could fire the same cartridge as its NATO allies. Was there merit to that? Cartridge interchangeability was a good idea, BACK in the day when people were armed with revolvers and fixed magazine rifles like Mausers and Lee-Enfields. But once man made the jump to detachable magazines, cartridge interchangeability was no longer enough. Magazine interchangeability has to follow.

The first NATO effort at standardization, the 7.62mm NATO, produced 3 principal battle rifles, the M14, the FN-FAL(British L1) and the German G3. They all fired the same cartridge, and at the armory level, this probably has benefits. (Like in case the US had to invade Germany and seized the munitions factories, it could reload its M14 magazines with German 7.62 rounds.) But in the field, if you were armed with an M14 and ran out of ammo, you really could not pick a magazine of the G3 and pop it in. You'd be better off just discarding your M14 and picking the G3, and all its loaded magazines. Even the 7.62mm NATO machineguns did not readily interchange cartridge belts.
The same applied to the Beretta M9. It fired 9mm like other NATO pistols, but it really had nothing else in common with these pistols. H&K, Glock and Browning used different magazines. The M9 won't even interchange magazines with the Egyptian Helwan, a Beretta clone, but with a single-stack magazine.

Because NATO countries adopted such different firearm designs, cartridge interchangeability ALONE really did not have much merit, at least, not on the battlefield.

The good news is, with the 5.56, the NATO countries have at least got some of their act together, some NATO 5.56 rifles are designed to accept the M16 magazine. What is not clear to me is whether the M16 will accept their magazines.

Jim Roberson

It's about time they scrapped the 9mm. Shoot 'em with a .45 in the shoulder and break their hip!


I have heard stories of soldiers in Afghanistan having to put two, three, even HALF A DOZEN 9mm rounds in a shreaking Taliban before he would finally hit the dirt. Then I also heard about other soldiers taking their own .45 pistols overseas and about how one shot from those was enough to send Muhammad off to collect his 72 virgins. Funny. A hundred years ago we were fighting Muslim nutjobs over in the Philippines. The soldiers then were armed with the piss-poor .38. Now we are fighting still more Muslim nutjobs and the soldiers are armed with the piss-poor 9mm. I guess history really does repeat itself.

Mike M

Matt Only when we do not learn from our history are we forced to repeat it.

Sheesh.. I will stop right there as THAT comment alone opens a HUGE can of worms that has little to do with this forum.

joe w.

long live the 1911 45acp. the greatest combat pistol of all time.

Bob - US Army Ret.

Carried a 1911A1 for years and loved it. Shoots nice and hits like a 2-1/2 ton truck. The best weapon when you want 'em to go down fast. I also hope the US government goes with an American made weapon. After all, the Italians (Beretta's home) haven't won a war since the Romans.


I'm personally not a fan of semiautomatics for LEO use and even some sections of the military (we're doing much better than the Vietnam/Korea era, but a lotta people still treat handguns like crap), but if we're going to use them, we really do need to start getting reasonable calibers out there (I'll still suggest revolvers for those who aren't likely to care for their weapon perfectly).

What makes a bullet 'good', JGH? Bullet lethality is roughly made up of two things : penetration and radius.

Penetration is how far the bullet goes in, and is a function of propellant and bullet mass. You generally want a 'sweet spot' of penetration - enough to hit internal organs, but not so much as to go flying out the other side and bouncing around. Radius is how wide the bullet is (after expansion like on hollowpoints, etc). Generally speaking, the larger radius is better, simply because you end up with a wider hole (and thus the target drains of blood faster, and the bullet is more

You need both of those attributes. Glaser Safety Slugs, for example, have a massive width (I've seen blasts nearly a foot wide from them), but only penetrate a half-inch. They don't kill people fast. Same goes for a (now-defunct) "Gyrolance", which moved very fast, but did so with minimal power when it hit (it was allegedly like getting hit with a needle).

A few attributes are related to the gun. A gun with a longer barrel will have a higher muzzle velocity (although returns do diminish significantly), and thus will get more penetration and sometimes more bullet radius (through fragmentation, expansion, and in rifles, a shock-wave feature called a 'temporary cavity').

Speaking from a single shot perspective, the biggest bullet that will penetrate a good 18 inches of ballistic gel is the 'ultimate' round.

Of course, nothing's so cut and dry when you involve humans.

.45 ACP cartidges are significantly heavier, costlier, and more difficult to control the fire pattern of than a 9mm parabellum. That means you get fewer shots, and shots in a row are less likely to be as accurate (although this can be countered with a good grip and careful fire patterns).

Why's that matter if a pistol round is going to down in one shot?

The truth is that handgun bullets do not have the power to shut down the human body within 15 seconds without hitting the central nervous system. Even a shot to the heart will not assure an enemy is downed instantly : the truely suicidal can and will fight for the above 15 seconds after their heart isn't able to pump blood any more. There are records of people taking .50 BMG rounds to the chest and continuing to attack for an unreasonable amount of time.

Downed targets are due to the psychological aspect or what I'm simply stuck calling a lucky shot. Larger and more powerful bullets do more psychological damage. Faster, more accurate fire is more likely to be lucky. Most people prefer sticking with the former concept for our military.

JA Demko

Shoot 'em in the shoulder and break their hip? Sounds like somebody didn't pay attention in physics class. Remember what our old friend I. Newton said about equal and opposite reactions? The .45 is a more effective round than the 9mm, but please let's keep ourselves grounded in reality.

craig curtis

wow dare i say ive still got my baretta loaded and next to my bed !! i know you guys love your 45s when kimber and springfeild ,and colt make me one i can afford i"ll be right their with ya. for now dont come creepin in at all hours of the night because id really like to see what kind of stoppin power my nine really has. after reading all this im still carring mine !!!!!!! happy hunting gents god bless our vets and troops

Bryce Clevenger

What a great article. I was really ticked when the U.S. Gov't blew off my old .222 Rem Magnum and turned it into a jungle gun, sort of. I could not sell that gun or find ammo in 6 months.
Now about that .45... When I taught my son to shoot he thought it was odd that the other fathers were throwing 9mm slugs like salt on ice and I was shooting .45's one round at a time, one clip at time. Then the others would want to shoot my Colt. How many boxes of ammo does it take to realize 9mm's stick in the meat, .45's break bones.

bob lawton

help me win a bet. I say a .45 long colt round will kill a grizzly if it attacks you, or a .44 magnum. is either of these rounds effective against a GRIZ?



45's so good as a combat round since if you hit someone with that thumb size bullet even in the hand, it'll spin 'em like a top.

Also a gov't .45 auto is very rock solid, as well as butt ugly.

JA Demko

"Then the others would want to shoot my Colt. How many boxes of ammo does it take to realize 9mm's stick in the meat, .45's break bones."

"45's so good as a combat round since if you hit someone with that thumb size bullet even in the hand, it'll spin 'em like a top."

No and no. Neither staement is true, unless you live in the alternate universe where GWB has a goatee.
In typical military loadings, the 9mm is, in fact, more penetrative than the .45 (which is no more of a bone breaker in that configuration). If the .45 did spin a human-sized target around with a pinky, the recoil of the gun would spin the shooter around as well...see our old friend Newton for details.
Both my duty pistol and my personal defense pistol are .45's. My two 9 mm's see use only at the range. But look, the .45 is only incrementally better than the 9mm. Anything else is either hyperbole or firearms knowledge gained through gruelling hours of playing "Splinter Cell."

Bryce, i dont know if a .45 lc or .44 mag will stop a grizzly with one shot,its all in shot placement, get a shotgun load it with a slug first then with 3.5 shells with OO buck for fast second shots. I dont really want to test a .45 against a griz anyway.

Mike M

Hell, Who wants to test ANY gun, be it a 12 guage slug, 35 whelen, 30-06 ackley, or .45 LC against ANY charging bear..be it griz or blacky.i prefer to shoot MY bear with a LONG camera lens...thanks all the same

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