The 9MM, The .45 Auto and Concealed Carry: The FBI Is No Help At All by Brian McCombie
When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced it was returning to 9MM handguns, those who used 9MM’s for their every-day carry firearm acted like the 9MM versus .45 Auto controversy was settled. After all, the FBI–the country’s most respected federal policing agency–had not only selected the 9MM; it had issued a science-heavy explanation of why the 9MM was the best choice over the .45 Auto and the .40 S&W it had been using for a couple decades.
The FBI also stressed that 9MM self-defense rounds had come a long, long way over the last 30 years, and argued the 9MM was actually the equal of the .45 Auto and .40 S&W when it came to “immediate incapacitation.” The 9MM concealed carry crowd jumped on these statements, and proclaimed: the 9MM was the equal of, if not actually better than, the .45 Auto.
The problem with all that? It’s not actually true–not from an ammunition standpoint.
An examination of the FBI’s own report on selecting the 9MM makes it clear the FBI actually choose the 9MM for non-ammunition reasons, including the lower costs associated with running 9MM’s instead of the FBI’s .40 S&W’s–not some huge advantage the 9MM round would provide law enforcement.
The FBI’s report document for choosing the 9MM—widely shared across the Internet—notes that law enforcement officers, “miss between 70 – 80 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident.” Even on the range, officers aren’t very good shots and handgun recoil—or the inability to adjust to it—was pegged as a big reason for the lack of accuracy.
So if most of your shots are misses, especially in an actual shoot-out, and if handgun recoil makes your shooters even less accurate? The solution, according to the FBI, is the “….9mm Luger [because it] offers higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (both in ammunition and wear on the weapons) and higher functional reliability rates (in FBI weapons).”
FBI agents had carried 9MM’s in the past. But during the infamous 1986 Miami Florida shoot out with a pair of heavily armed bank robbers, the 9MM’s used by FBI agents fared so poorly, the 9MM round was cited as partially to blame for two FBI agents dead and a third wounded. The FBI went in search of a more powerful round, eventually selecting the .40 S&W.
But how to get around the fact that the .45 Auto uses a larger, heavier bullet that (generally speaking) delivers a larger foot-pounds-of-energy wallop than its 9MM cousin?
The FBI did that by insisting there is no such thing as stopping power. Got that? Stopping power does not exist! According to the FBI document, “Handgun stopping power is simply a myth.”
Ah, the magic of making your own definitions to fit your own argument. The FBI defines “stopping power” as one-shot and an assailant is down and done. In the FBI’s terminology, real stopping power would be “immediate incapacitation,” which is only achieved through a hit to the brain or spine. So, the FBI notes, a hit from a 9MM, .40 S&W or a .45 Auto all have the same effect: bad guy down.
The FBI then indulges in some sleight of hand in discussing the “medical facts” relating to handgun wounds. According to the FBI document, “Due to the elastic nature of most human tissue and the low velocity of handgun projectiles relative to rifle projectiles, it has long been established by medical professionals…that the damage along a wound path visible at autopsy or during surgery cannot be distinguished between the common handgun calibers used in law enforcement.”
It continues, “That is to say an operating room surgeon or Medical Examiner cannot distinguish the difference between wounds caused by .35 to .45 caliber projectiles.”
However. The research cited by the FBI was from 1989 medical studies. These studies examined wounds made from the same relatively ineffective rounds used by the FBI and other agencies in the past.
Not by wounds caused by the more effective self-defense rounds available today.
Today’s 9MM self-defense rounds are better than full-metal jacket and hollow-point rounds used by law enforcement 30 and 40 years ago. But so, too, are their .45 Auto brethren.
Take a look at two current rounds on the market today, Federal’s HST Premium Personal Defense, and Winchester’s Defender line.
According to data supplied by Federal, the 9MM HST round with a 150 grain bullet, and fired from a Glock 43, showed an average diameter expansion to .607”, with 13.7” of penetration, when fired into bare 10% ordnance gelatin. When the gel was covered in heavy clothing, a .597” diameter and 13.25” penetration.
From a standard-sized 1911, the .45 Auto HST firing a 230 grain bullet averaged an expansion to .926” diameter and 12.85” penetration in bare gel, and .831” diameter and 13.35” penetration in heavy clothing.
The same general pattern exists the Winchester Defender loads (data supplied by Winchester): the 45 Auto 230 grain Defender penetrates 12.2” and expands to .84” in bare gel; the 9mm 147 grain Defender penetrates 15.8” and expands to .58”.
Of note: both ammo makers used the standard FBI Protocol for gel testing these rounds.
No one in their right mind wants to get drilled with any of the aforementioned rounds. But the laws of physics suggest very clearly that the heavier bullet, with larger expansion, has to do more damage than the lighter, less expanding bullet.
The FBI would have done a better service to both law enforcement officers and concealed carry holders had they admitted they chose the 9MM despite it offering less knock down than the .45 Auto and the many self-defense loads for it on the market today.
But, they didn’t.