The 9mm is the most popular handgun round in the world. Originally developed in 1901 for the Luger P08 pistol (hence being commonly called 9mm Luger), the 9mm is today the most widely available pistol round worldwide thanks to its effectiveness, low cost, and moderate to low recoil. Pistols chambered for the 9mm can often have large magazine capacities, with the right defensive load the 9mm can be effective for self-defense.
The 9mm was originally designed for the German army with the Luger P08 pistol as described above, but in the decades afterwards came to be adopted all over the globe by military and law enforcement. Germany followed up the P08 with the Walther P38 as their main sidearm, and it was likewise chambered for 9mm. John Browning designed his Browning Hi-Power pistol around the 9mm, giving it a 13-shot capacity, which at the time was the highest capacity pistol in existence.
It was really after World War II when the 9mm started to become adapted in such wide use. Smith & Wesson released their first semi-automatic pistol in history for the caliber (the Model 39, later evolved into the 59 with nearly twice the capacity) and more gun makers followed suit with so-called Wonder-9 pistols, or pistols that could hold large numbers of rounds. Examples included the CZ-75, Walther P88, SIG Sauer P226, Smith & Wesson 2nd Gen and later 3rd Gen pistols, and the Beretta 92.
In 1985, the United States military made the formal decision to transfer over to the 9mm round, and selected the Beretta 92FS (or designated the M9 for the military) like you see below as their sidearm of choice up until 2017, when since it has been phased out in favor of the SIG Sauer P320 and P320 Compact (designated the M17 and M18).
Today, the 9mm is the most common pistol caliber with the military, law enforcement, and civilians. Pistols evolved from the Wonder-9s into lighter polymer framed, striker fired pistols. Examples include the Glock 17 and 19, Smith & Wesson M&P, Walther P99 and PPQ, CZ P10C, HK VP9, and the SIG Sauer P320.
9mm ammunition is also very inexpensive and readily available. Most 9mm ammo is available with bullet weights from 115 grain to 124 grain to 147 grain. The 115 grains offer 1,200 FPS on average, while the 147 grain offers 1,000 FPS on average.
Selecting range ammunition is simple. 115 or 124 grain full metal jacket round nose or flat nose ammunition for the 9mm is readily available and usually for $10 to $15 for a box of fifty rounds. This ammunition is great for target practice and for stockpiling large quantities for a doomsday SHTF scenario, but it’s not the best kind of ammunition to use for self-defense.
The best 9mm rounds for self-defense will be jacketed hollow points, which will penetrate less to reduce the risk of collateral damage but will also expand to cause more damage.
As you can imagine, you have a great multitude of different options for a JHP defensive round with 9mm. Most defensive loads can be categorized into three types: light loads, medium loads, and heavyweight loads.
Light loads for self-defense with the 9mm include the 115 grain Hornady Critical Defense and the Federal HST, which are two of the most popular 9mm self-defense loads in existence.
Rounds such as these are suitable for self-defense and produce much less recoil, allowing for faster and more accurate follow up shots. These will also be a great choice to use in a smaller or lightweight pistol, which are usually harder to shoot because they produce more recoil. However, they also do not meet the FBI standards for self-defense, on average.
Medium powered loads such as the 124-grain JHP can produce a muzzle velocity of around 1,100 FPS. They produce more power than the lighter loads, and should theoretically be more reliable because they create more energy to rack the slide and chamber a new round.
The middle ground would be standard-weight ammunition in normal velocities, such as a 124-grain JHP at the normal 9mm velocity of 1095 fps. One reason to select such a load would be simply that your ultra-compact pistol does not run reliably with a ”softy” 115-grain or a heavy but slow load. These are the kinds of rounds that the FBI and police departments usually use.
The heavyweight loads include the 147 grain JHP, which commonly have an FPS of around 1,000 FPS. These rounds are also subsonic and will create the most bullet expansion, at the cost of slower velocity. They also produced the most recoil. Examples of 9mm self-defense rounds that fall into this category include the Winchester PDX1.
In all honesty, the lighter to medium 115 to 124 grain rounds will be perfectly suitable for most self-defense uses, and they are the most common options amongst civilians. Your best bet will bet to try three to four different types of ammunition and fire them out of your 9mm pistol of choice to see what you like.
It’s very important that your ammunition functions reliably in your pistol and is comfortable to shoot. Always fire at least 50-100 rounds of a certain type of ammunition out of your pistol to confirm that it functions reliably before using it.
When it comes to training ammo stockpiling 9mm ammunition for a major disaster or ammunition shortage, the round nose FMJ are your best bet because they are cheaper and can be bought in bulk (if you can find them – we’re already in the midst of a major ammo shortage thanks to everything happening).
The best kinds of 9mm FMJ loads include Winchester White Box, Magtech, PMC, and Sellier and Bellot, and SIG Sauer ammunition. Blazer Brass and American Eagle are typically lower cost ammunition that is usually not quite as high quality but will still get the job done and can be bought in bulk at the lowest prices.
Finally, steel cased Wolf or Tula ammo is also an option and are the cheapest choices, but also make sure that your pistol of choice can handle steel cased ammo.
All in all, 9mm is a timeless round that is here to stay. It’s affordable and widely available (at least before the current shortage) and easy to shoot with good ballistics with the right loads. Use the above information to your advantage as you begin shopping for 9mm defensive ammo for your pistol.