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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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A change to the .45 from the 9mm is rediculous and foolish. Just about every story of the a 9mm not stoping someone would probably be the case with a .45. Ever see what the military wears? Flak jackets and lots of gear. A .45 has poor penatration and the 9mm has very good penetration. Give me 17 rounds of 9mm over 7 or 8 .45 ANY day.

O Garcia

ultimately, handguns play only a minor role in the military. it's not like troops still charged the enemy on horses, with only one hand free for fighting. for me, two hands = rifle. or submachinegun.

jake griffin

Dropping the 9mm is the worst thing our countrys armed forces could ever do. For one thing you a .45 will never match the speed and distance of the 9mm, which also holds more ammo. The only thing the .45 has over the 9mm is stopping power which is only effective at a limited range. So it would be smart to keep the 9mm. Our law enforcement would be less effective with out the 9mm.

Larry Winner

I will guess that the military will go to a .40 caliber and probably a Glock. 40 caliber Glocks have most of the police market.

40 caliber is easier to shoot accurately than a .45. It has more stopping power than the 9 mm..

Now many people joining the military have never shot a firearms. Most men and women shoot a .40 much better than a .45. I love my .45 but I shoot my .40 better.

todd ferguson

who cares? pistols are the first choice of fools for offensive (direct) action. i'd rather have a shoulder fired weapon and several friends helping. that being said, the pistol is generally a reactive (defensive) weapon employed during unexpected unpleasantries. just choose a weapon that's reliable, durable, accurate. then train with it until mastery level is acheived. then place the round in the appropriate location, if at all possible while under great duress, repeat as needed.

J.G. Johnson

I served with the .45ACP in the Army back in the early '80s. The power was impressive then and it still is now. The last time I practiced with my Colt .45 Gvmt. Mod., Series 80 was on man sized silhoettes made of 1/4 in steel @ 35 feet. The thumb sized slugs had no problem rocking them back or knocking them down. The "nine" is cheaper to shoot and less dramatic per shot, but for combat I'll take "Old Slabsides" any day!

Mike Jensen

For home defense I'll stick with my 12ga 00buck(has 9 9mm rounds)for home defense and my Glock .40 for backup or quick action. Though the right 9mm+p JHP round is close to the power of the .40, but gets there faster. Check the stats of the corbon ammo on their website and see the numbers yourself. If the 9mm hollow point expands the way it should, your making a .70 hole anyway. Either 9-45 will do the job if you have good shot placement. 2 .356 9mm holes is better than 1 .45 hole. Thats why LE/Military train 2shot center of mass shooting, it's much easier with the lower recoil weapon. Plus if my wife needs a weapon, she feels more confident with the 9mm. If you need to shoot through car doors (or other real world cover) or at assailants with thick clothing/gear, the .40 or 9mm will have enough speed to get through and do it's job.

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