Is 9mm big enough?

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by Sandy Keathley

It is interesting to observe the history of handgun calibers. For many years, the .38 Special revolver was the standard police sidearm. It was powerful, but had substantial recoil. When the semi-automatic pistol became common in the 1950s, many police departments moved to the 9mm pistol. While slightly less powerful than the .38 Special, it was still judged to be sufficient, and it carried more ammo. In recent years, many departments have moved beyond the 9mm, to the .40 or .45 caliber handguns. Many officers in the Texas DPS carry sidearms chambered for the .357 Sig, which is described as a .40 caliber on steroids. In fact, it was an attempt by the firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer to migrate the ballistics of the legendary .357 Magnum revolver to a semi-automatic platform. The .357 Magnum revolver is a massively-powered cartridge, more powerful than the .45 caliber pistol, and arguably one of the most powerful handguns to be found in common usage (yes, there is a .44 Magnum, but who carries a cannon like that around with them?). When you get to the level of the .357 Sig, .45, and .357 Magnum, you are now dealing with a gun that, loaded with a FMJ cartridge, will put a bullet completely through the criminal, through the person behind him, and through a wall into the next apartment (which is why police don’t use FMJ).

Contrast this to an earlier time. In the 1930s and 40s, many military officers carried a .32 semi-automatic pistol. Soldiers sometimes carried a .22, valued for the way it would dispatch a sentry with little noise. The legendary (and fictional) James Bond carried a .380. German officers favored the 9mm Luger, which was considered a big gun at the time.

Why, now, does it seem to be necessary to shoot through brick walls?

One reason is that criminals are better-armed than before. If I were a LEO, facing a gang of bank robbers armed with AR-15 rifles, and only carrying a pistol, I would want a .357 Sig or a .45, with an 18 round magazine and two spares.

A more common reason has to do with the proliferation of drugs. It is a medical fact that a person in an enhanced emotional state, whether high on drugs, or just enraged, does not feel pain in the same way as normal people. These people can be shot several times, even mortally, and still have the kinetic energy to get to the officer trying to stop him. There is a documented case of a man in a drug-induced frenzy, shot 6 times with a .38 Special, who lived long enough to stab to death the police officer who shot him. Stopping power now takes on a whole new meaning in law enforcement.

This does present a quandary for the concealed handgun license holder. Do you equip yourself to deal with a common street thug, or an enraged 300 lb guy on PCP and meth? Or bank robbers with AR-15s and grenades? Or bazookas?

My view is, if you ever need something bigger than a 9mm, you have bigger problems. I suggest you kill the first person, and take his gun. Repeat as necessary.

Author: Sandy Keathley

NRA-Certified Firearms Instructor