A week ago a buddy asked me what my thoughts were on the .40 S&W round. While I’ve carried it and the .45 ACP for nearly 20 years, over the past 5 years, significant improvement in the performance of the 9mm round has led me back to the notion that I would rather carry more, smaller rounds that fewer, bigger rounds (specifically the 9mm vs. .40 S&W & .45 ACP). He also asked the standard “what’s the best defensive pistol on the market” question – I answered that a few different ways. Here is my reply to his questions:
The primary difference between the 9mm and the 40 S&W (aside from the diameter) is the internal chamber pressure of the round. Most 9’s run around 25,000 psi (give or take) while the 40’s run around 35,000 psi. The pressure is a major function in “felt” recoil, which has a profound effect on how well and quickly a person can shoot a given pistol. Specifically the higher the pressure the more quickly the energy is transferred back to the shooter, so the .40’s snap a bit more than the 9mm’s, even though the have about the same amount of energy. With advances in bullet technology over the past 20 years, we have much better terminal ballistics with a modern 9mm today (Speer Gold Dot, Winchester PDX1, Hornady Critical Duty) than we did out of 45 ACP’s twenty years ago. The development of the .40 (actually the 10mm) was an attempt to get the round capacity of a 9mm with terminal ballistics of a 45. Today, you can do so much more with a 9mm and carry more rounds. Add to this, the data that supports that 9mm Speer Gold Dots “over-penetrate” less than 40’s or 45’s and you have a very useful cartridge. If left with no other option, but to use deadly force, the option of shooting (at) the bad guy with 2 rounds of 9mm vs. 1 round of 45 increases the likelihood that the bad guy’s deadly action would cease; since many 9mm pistols carry twice as many rounds as 45 acp pistols that option exists. Also, 9’s are generally cheaper to shoot than most other defensive caliber pistol rounds, so you can practice more often, which is frequently the most important factor is prevailing in a deadly force encounter
Now, what is the best “defensive” handgun on the market? I can answer that a couple of different ways (1) “Whatever is incredibly reliable and the person shoots best“; I really don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all solution to this question. I do believe the gun should be chambered in 9mm or .38 spl or larger (no magnums unless concerned with bears, wolves, cats or moose); (2) “The Glock 19“. It is the correct size to carry concealed for many people in a strong side hip holster. It holds a 15+1 rounds of 9mm and it will take the G17 mags, so you can carry 16 rounds in the pistol and have a 17 round magazine as a spare. For a smaller framed person, I’d go with the G26 simply for concealment issued. If carrying concealed was not an issue, then I’d strongly consider the Glock 17. I believe the S&W M&P is just as good of a pistol and it works better for left-handed shooters, plus it has better magazines. The Steyr M9A1 (often over-looked) is one of the best point-shooting pistols ever made and it is the same size as the G19 – that should also be a strong consideration.
To help support my claim, some of the best instructors throughout the country (you’ll have to look them up) have given up their 1911’s for 9mm Glocks (or M&P’s / Springfield XD’s).
If you agree or disagree, feel free to share your thoughts on the comment page.
God Bless America!