9mm Wins the Caliber Wars

“On July 25, 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a pre-solicitation notice for a family of pistols chambered in 9mm — and in so doing, fanned the embers of ‘the great debate’ over pistol calibers,” Mike Wood reports at policeone.com. Hey! Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Of course, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion anyway. The .40 caliber round adopted by the FBI and thousands of police departments after the infamous FBI Miami shootout (a cluster-you-know-what of epic proportions) was a panic-induced compromise that didn’t provide 9mm capacity or controllability, or .45 caliber controllability and terminal performance. But don’t take my word for it. Wood rings the death knell for .40 . . .

The FBI is not alone in this respect. Executives at all the major ammunition companies have confirmed that law enforcement orders for 9mm ammunition have spiked in recent years, and the cartridge is making a serious comeback. Many agencies throughout the United States have recently adopted — or readopted — 9mm pistols, dropping the .40 S&W in the process.

It’s not that the .40 S&W failed to deliver the terminal performance they wanted. It’s just that the new breed of 9mm ammunition can deliver similar performance without the generally snappier recoil and the accelerated wear (on both pistol and shooter), at a more affordable price. The fact that the new pistols can house more of the cartridges in the same sized gun is an added bonus.

These agencies have also taken an honest look at the demographics of their personnel, and have accepted the fact that law enforcement officers no longer come in just one size—Large. Instead, there are many officers with smaller hands and shorter fingers who find it difficult to reach the controls on larger caliber pistols with their corresponding larger frames.

Despite all the ergonomic advances in pistol design of the last three decades, there is no way of getting around the fact that a .45 ACP pistol (and particularly a wide-body .45) is just going to be bigger in the hand and a .40 S&W in a smaller frame is going to recoil more.

A smaller-frame pistol in a milder shooting caliber allows more officers to achieve the control necessary for good shooting, and makes sense for diverse agencies that want to standardize on a single gun and caliber.

You heard it here first. Well, less than a month later. .40 is dead. 9mm rules. Deal with it.