Note: This article pertains to the 9mm Parabellum Cartridge, as configured in a pistol load. The 9mm is also known as a 9×19, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger, and 9mm NATO. For the purposes of this post, I will simply refer to it as 9mm. For more information on the 9mm Parabellum, check out the 9mm Parabellum Pistol Cartridge Library page.
9mm Parabellum: A Classic Center fire Pistol Cartridge
The 9mm Parabellum is an old center fire pistol cartridge, with a lot of history. It stands today as one of the most well-known, most used, and most versatile cartridges around, despite being well over a century old. It is commonly recognized as one of the 3 most used and most popular pistol cartridges in many regions of the world and especially in the United States, standing next to its larger siblings the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP. You can check out my thoughts on these 3 Cartridge in the article “Semi-Automatic Pistols: Who is the Caliber King?”.
So why do people like/dislike the 9mm Parabellum? A lot can be said for it, a lot can be said against it, as with almost all pistol cartridges. In fact, I cannot think of one particular pistol cartridge that is perfect in every regard. Each one has its strengths and its faults. The 9mm has a lot to offer however, and here are few of its better points.
9mm Parabellum: Fat Guy in a Little Coat
First, the 9mm Cartridge has a lot of power in a relatively small package. The case is not overly large in diameter or length. The 9mm diameter comes out to around .355-.357″ and the case length is 19.15mm (0.754″). A typical plinking load might be something like a 115gr FMJ projectile with an OAL of around 1.165”. A load like this, depending on the charge used, might produce an average of around 1150fps+ with roughly 350ft/lbs of energy, if not more. Factor in loadings from brands like Buffalo Bore or DoubleTap in a +P configuration, and now your talking 1500fps+ with around 450 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. Not bad for a small cartridge.
9mm Parabellum: Super Compact Concealed Carry
Because of its smaller cartridge size, but equally great ballistics, you can pack a lot more 9mm rounds into a semi-auto pistol and still pack a lot of power with you, compared to something like the .40 S&W or .45 ACP. Some pistols, like the Springfield XDm pack 19+1 rounds into a standard size magazine. Get a Glock 19, and you could buy yourself an extended magazine that holds 33 rounds of 9mm Luger. Talk about some fun at the range!
Large quantities of projectiles are not the only way the smaller 9mm Parabellum cartridge has a benefit however. On the opposite spectrum, you can pack the potent 9mm round into a much smaller package. Typically, a lot of the super small sub-compact pistols around have only been in what are generally considered to be under-powered cartridges like the .380 ACP, .22 LR, or .32 ACP (The Beretta 3032 Tomcat comes to mind!). Modern firearms however offer many more choices that included the 9mm in a sub-compact model that also pack 10+ rounds, small enough to put into your pants pocket without printing. And we’re talking small, true Sub-Compact size.
Reloading: A Wide Range of Options
Because of its popularity, the 9mm Parabellum cartridge has a wide variety of reloading combinations. You can load very light plinking rounds, all the way up to extremely fast, high energy defense rounds that are moving close to 1200fps with 450 ft/lbs of energy with a 147gr JHP. This will punch a good size hole through a pretty thick piece of material. I for one, would not want to be hit with one. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the data in the Pistol Cartridge Library.
While a .355 caliber 147gr projectile may not seem overly large (and it is generally the largest of 9mm projectiles) compared to something like a 230gr .45 ACP, you gotta consider that your standard load for a .45 ACP is only moving about 850-950fps with 350-400 ft/lbs of Muzzle Energy. Yes, it is large and heavy, but with the negative that it has a large drop in energy over at a distance and is moving quite slow in reality. The 9mm is a very flat shooting caliber, and can be quite effective from a distance with the right load.
9mm Parabellum: Good Old Fun That’s Affordable
The 9mm is just an incredibly fun and relatively inexpensive round to both practice with as well as for recreation. Compare the shelf price of 9mm today, even with the recent drought of ammunition and reloading supplies, and you will see it comes up quite a bit cheaper in most areas compared to something like .40 S&W or .45 ACP, and many times is more readily available in different calibers, brands, and configurations. Not to say anything against the .40 S&W or .45 ACP, they are both great rounds, who each have their individual strengths against the 9mm no doubt. The 9mm Parabellum however remains one of my favorite calibers and one that I assume will be around for quite some time.
These are just a few of my thoughts, and a few points I thought were worth mentioning in favor of the 9mm Cartridge. No, the 9mm is not perfect by any means, and many other rounds have benefits that far surpass the 9mm in the right circumstances. Overall though, the 9mm remains one of my personal favorites and that of many people the world over, and I believe it will be that way for quite some time.