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Old 09-27-2005, 04:16 AM   #1
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The 9mm myth?

I have heard for years about the 9mm it being unrealible in self defense/combat situations.I used to carry 9 but switched out to .40.I was just curious to hear some of your (true) duty,combat,selfdefense experiences with the 9mm.Thanks?
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Old 09-27-2005, 12:59 PM   #2
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Over the years I've heard blowhards make all kinds of statements about what works and what doesn't, but I've rarely heard a gunshop commando who has any actual proof of his statements or who really has much experience with what he's claiming to know. Accordingly, I want to be clear about the source of my information and the limits thereof.

I'm an appellate criminal defense lawyer. My Department handles the vast majority of the murders in the state, and my office handles almost all of the appeals of murder convictions in the state.

I've had some part in working on over 100 (getting up on 150) handgun killings over the last dozen or so years, and I've reviewed most of the OMI reports for these. However, I personally am not a physician, and have not been to medical school. I remember almost nothing of the few autopsies I've attended. I also have no personal experience with shooting anyone with handguns, but I can tell you some things that I've seen based on what's happened to others in the cases on which I've worked. Obviously, I don't have a sufficient database from which to draw any scientific conclusions (and I'm incredibly skeptical of those who claim that they do), but I have some general observations that might be of interest.

I can tell you that, in my experience doing this work, 9x19s seem pretty much exactly the same as .40s, .45s, .357s and .38 spls in terms of what they do. These calibers seem to all do better than .22s, .25s, .32s and .380s. (9x18s are weird - I've only seen a handful of killings with them, and they've all been remarkably effective. Accordingly, I'd probably lump them in with the better calibers, even though my gut tells me that I shouldn't.) I can tell you that a nationally recognized pathologist with thousands of autopsies under his belt that we hired for a case told us that he essentially can't discern a difference between the wound channels of a 9mm, a .40, and a .45 - whether FMJ or JHP.

I can tell you that handguns in general don't seem to be the best things for killing people - most of the time they take more than one shot to do the job, often a lot more. I can tell you that what seems to reliably put people down quickly in the handgun killings that I've worked is a shot to the spine, brain, or aorta (strangely, shots to the heart are pretty rare - probably since it's pretty well protected behind the sternum). I can tell you that other shots to vitals (lungs, liver, kidneys, various arteries) may kill within minutes, but don't seem to put a person down quickly. I can tell you that headshots often don't work, because the skull is pretty tough.

Based on what I've seen over the years, I've changed what I carry. I now feel that precise shot placement (and, accordingly, knowledge of human anatomy by the shooter) and adequate penetration are far more important than energy on target, expansion of the bullet, or whether my defense cartridge "starts with a '4' or ends with a 'magnum'" (as we've all heard so many times - heck, I've even said it. ops: ). I feel that the ability to perform quick follow-up shots is important so I look for a gun/cartridge combo that is accurate and controllable (particularly since, from my job I can tell you that wrongdoers rarely work alone).

On a few other forums, a fellow recently has been asking "What do pathologists carry?" There's only one pathologist I know who carries, and he carries a German .380 with FMJ bullets. He feels the gun is sufficiently reliable and accurate, that his bullets will penetrate adequately (but not too far), and that his knowledge of human anatomy (another guy with over 1k autopsies under his belt) will allow him to hit the structures that would shut down an attacker quickly. Myself, I'm nowhere near as confident of the .380's abilities, and I don't carry one.

There's nothing wrong with your .40, and there's nothing wrong with a 9x19. Both are accurate in the right guns and controllable given sufficent practice. 9mm Parabellum is somewhat cheaper, which may lead to more practice. The 9mm handgun will also hold more cartridges, which is never a bad thing. But, hey, whichever floats your boat . . . just don't let anyone tell you that one's a death ray and the other is a powderpuff. 8)

Anyway, that's my two cents - I'm curious to hear what others have to say on the issue.
Old 09-27-2005, 01:55 PM   #3
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As far as tissue damage goes, I have no beef with modern performance hollowpoints in 9mm,
but when it comes to bone structure is where I feel (with no experience in forensics at all, other
than animals I've cleaned from hunting...) the 9mm would suffer. I firmly believe that you should
shoot as often as you can to retain your shooting skills, and the .45's and 10mm's that I carry
are not as affordable to practice with as 9mm, but I've made that commitment. I'm no high-
speed, low-drag gunshop commando, but I'd rather err on the side of caution with a bit more
bullet. I have no scientific basis for my decision, only my hunting/varmiting experience. I do
like many guns made for the 9, such as the CZ-75, BHP, Glock 19 and others, but would
rather go with what you know.....
Old 09-27-2005, 02:32 PM   #4
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That's interesting. I can't speak to 9mm JHPs in bone, but the FMJs sure go through bone well in the cases I've seen. I don't know whether the same would be true of .40s and .45s as well. I suspect that any JHPs from "combat"-level cartridges would perform similarly against bone. I've seen failures of all kinds of cartidges against the skull, for example (of course, I've seen wimpy cartridges get through . . . it seems to do with the exact place and angle that the skull is hit). I also suspect that 9mm FMJs might outpenetrate the others in bone, just based on what I've seen them do to cars, etc.

On the other hand, I certainly consider full-bore 10mm (like Double Tap's ammo) to be more powerful than "combat"-level cartridges of all types. I don't think this level of power is desireable in a defensive handgun, however, since the recoil is pretty great, and the overpentration risk is more than I'd like as well. I do carry a 1076 stoked with 200-grain Double Taps when hiking, however. Good enough for a dog, a person, a black bear or a cougar (actually, a .38 spl is probably good enough for everything but the bear . . .).
Old 09-27-2005, 03:20 PM   #5
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I too carry the Doubletap ammo, though I like the mid-weight guys (155 and 165's), but I
carry them everyday. The speed combined with a quality expanding bullet like the Gold Dot,
open that baby right up and deliver lots of energy on target. I've shot lots of things with
them (rabbits, deer, coyotes and javelina), and they are like a lightning bolt from heaven!
The only critters I've not recovered the bullet from is rabbits, and one neck shot on a
coyote, and every one of them could have been an advertisement picture.

The main problem I've seen with the 9mm is expansion early. Most of the rounds I've tried
have flowered nicely, but have to penetrate too much before they open up, causing over-
penetration and endangering bystanders and loss of energy on target. Granted, the bad
guy will still probably bleed to death if the hit is good, but I want the fight stopped as quick
as I can.
Old 09-27-2005, 04:28 PM   #6
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Nice post back there. Thanks.

Old 09-28-2005, 06:51 AM   #7
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Thanks, Mr. Lambert!

Mr. Hall, I've got to try some of those 155-grainers. They would really smack down a thin-skinned critter, wouldn't they?
Old 09-28-2005, 07:41 AM   #8
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They work like poison on coyotes and coues deer! I use the 165gr as a trade off for thin skin,
and the ability to penetrate a bit deeper for defensive applications. My Delta really likes the
wieght of the bullet, and it's very reliable, so I figure everything else is gravy!
Old 10-12-2005, 02:01 PM   #9
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The trouble with discussing terminal ballistics is that no matter what you report you are always bursting someones bubble or goring some sacred cow.

When I tell some folks (not usually folks that would hang out here on the pistolsmith forum) that a .45 will not knock a guy sumersalting backwards I usually get a look of stunned disbelief (and that just from the law enforcement guys :-? - some others want to string me up!).

You can approach this from a couple of directions. If the goal is to instantly incapacitate a human attacker (instantly as in less than half a second. RIGHT NOW...since he is trying to kill us an pulling a trigger might be all he needs to do!) ALL handguns and most rifle cartridges are "inadequate" given what most of us consider a reasonable hit.

So yes... a 9mm is inadequate. Guess is a .44 Magnum!

Probably the best we can hope for is some general sense of what brings about incapacitation quicker. If we are stuck with one shot then that is pretty simple - if the CNS is not scrambled - bullets that do more damage to internal organs usually incapacitate quicker. The complex part of that is bullet design and load specs... SOME 9mm loads will do more damage than SOME larger calibers but we are really talking apples and oranges here.

On a more practical note, WHAT is hit is critical. We cannot be satisified with comparing hits to some generic "A-zone" let alone the questionable "Center Mass" or even more questionable torso hit. We must classify hits according to what they actually hit...there is some talk now that even all heart shots are not created equal...hits to the top of the heart are more quickly incapacitating (and more often fatal) than hits to the bottom of the heart according to a few folks. I cannot argue that one way or another.

So, then we get even more complex with how many GOOD hits there are and how fast they came.

In order to keep my sanity I more or less just pay attention to the failures with good hits. The rest is just too hard to figure out (did he drop becuase he could not continue or because he lost the will to fight or did he run because he was frightened..... and on and on). I will say this.... ballistics has very little to do with most "stops" on human attackers! Their mental and physical condition is the most important factor - how do you measure that????!

I have accumulated confirmed real world cases of people taking 30, 32, 42, 65 and 106 9mm hits (all with expanding bullets BTW, except for the one with 32 hits) before stopping the fight. Not all hits were great but there were definitely plenty of good ones (the 106 hit case involved 50 lethal hits).

With the .40 S&W I have accumulated 3 cases in which 11-13 hits were achieved (all decent hits and two involved 5-6 heart hits) before the subject sucummed. In all these cases the "stop" occurred long after we might expect the luxury of not being some miracle the shooters (all good guys) survived though two were injured.

While I personally have not run into anyone who has had multiple good hits with a .45 fail, I have been told of a few from people I trust. The most I have heard of is 4 (remember we are talking good heart/lung hits not torso hits). I did have a friend who's officer (he was a Chief), shot a man 7 times with a .45 but not one hit was above the navel - even then the man gave up the fight and laid down quicker than some of the cases above....still if you have time to fire 7 rounds the fight has gone on too long!

In the hunting fields I have had two spectacular failures with the .45 - one with ball and one with Cor-Bon Power Ball...both involved multiple really good hits. But then I have had and seen more spectacular failures with 9mm, Super .38, .357 Magnum and even .44 Magnum and .223.

Sorry that I cannot offer you some sort of figure or solid proof. But I have been looking for it a long long time.

All I can say is this, based on a lifetime of hunting, and association with law enforcement and military, I don't think the 9mm with good bullets is woefully inadequate (compared to other handgun cartridges ). I am no big fan of head shots but, if forced to carry one in the military with ball ammunition, I would not shoot someone in the body at really close range. Experience tells me that they will have quite a while to shoot at me! Now 50 yards out maybe. When I canvas people I know really well who have had the misfortune of using the 9mm with ball in combat there is a takes from 5 to 6 hits in the heart or lungs to stop agressive people! Of course that is not far off from the Police Marksman study which showed 5 hits on average until the "stop" and that was with modern expanding bullets.

Sorry to be so long. Dont let the above rock your is still where you hit and if the bullet penetrates enough...of course the same is true if you select a .22 :wink:

Old 10-12-2005, 04:23 PM   #10
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 260
I'm not qualified to express a conclusion but I'll repeat an

I'm not qualified to express a conclusion but I'll repeat an opinion.

The 9mm is a good subgun cartridge, tending to be effective with multiple hits (ball)
- no, none, nada, zip single shot controls, the more the merrier in all cases
- I don't consider the subgun a defensive weapon; the .45 is a better defensive pistol cartridge (ball and also trick bullets). Cooper is right on both counts, the pistol is a defensive weapon and the .45 is a better defensive cartridge
-Give me a license to kill and make it a shoot first offensive and I'd be willing to go with James Bond's Beretta and Walther - and I could poach elk in the yard with the High Standard .22mag derringer I sometimes use for slaughter (solids at 90 degree contact have always penetrated the skull for me) but I wouldn't use it for trophy hunting in season.
- and I carry a 9x23 (Silvertips) in some part because I'm old and tired.

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