9mm Ammo

9mm: At a Glance
Firearm Type Primer Type Used For
Pistol, Submachine Gun Small Pistol Self-defense, Law Enforcement, Target Shooting
Case Design Year Introduced
Rimless, Tapered 1902

9mm Luger Ammo: In Depth

Following the introduction of smokeless powder a decade before, handgun cartridges in the final few years of the 19th century were becoming far more powerful relative to their shrinking size. Meanwhile, the quest to create a truly reliable autoloader was quickly gaining steam. Indeed, these were heady times for pistol pioneers and novel, quirky designs flowed freely from the workshops of industrial Europe and the United States.

Take Hugo Borchardt’s C-93, for instance, a pistol that perfectly captures the quirkiness of handgun tech in the 1890s. It was powerful, semi-automatic, and ridiculous looking. Even so, it feels modern compared to a contemporary revolver of that time like the Nagant M1895, and is legitimately important to this story – not for the sum of its features – but because of the man that assisted Borchardt with its development: Georg Luger.

Luger tinkered with the C-93’s ammunition, action, and grip, creating the Pistole Parabellum chambered in 7.65x21mm. This cartridge, much like the Borchardt’s 7.65x25mm, had a bottle necked case and launched a 93-gr. bullet @ 1,200/fps. The pistol would see adoption by the Swiss military, followed by the German Imperial Navy just a few years later.

At the insistence of the Germans, Luger enlarged the case mouth of his cartridge to accommodate a larger 9mm bullet. In 1904, this new ammunition, known as 9x19mm Parabellum, entered service along with a modified pistol into the Germany Navy, followed by the Army (and the P.08 Luger) just ahead of WWI.

The war would swiftly forge 9x19mm Parabellum’s combat reputation, with the Luger pistol alone manufactured in the millions for use by German troops. However, the firepower demands of close-in trench fighting soon prompted weapons makers to ask more of the cartridge – in this case to deliver truly automatic fire. Bergmann Waffenfabrik of Germany would design and deliver the MP18, widely considered the first submachine gun, just before the war’s end. It was capable of cycling the 9x19mm Parabellum at 500/rpm yet was also carried with ease and controllable under fire. It was also the beginning of a trend in small-arms development that would shape battle tactics for generations.

For as loved as the Luger pistols were, submachine guns would eclipse them in importance worldwide over the following decades. The Thompson (chambered in .45 ACP) had materialized in the US by 1921, while designs incorporating 9x19 Parabellum continued to pour out of Europe, including much development in Germany (despite the Versailles Treaty restrictions on combat arms).

WWII would see 9x19mm Parabellum used on both sides. British troops would pit their famous Sten guns against the Germans and their MP38s and MP40s, with each passing battle showing the devastating capability of the cartridge in close-quarters and urban combat. Various Lugers and the new Walther P38 pistols would also see plenty of use in the war by the Axis powers.

In the decade or so after the war, 9x19 Parabellum was chosen as NATO’s standard sidearm cartridge. This decision would have little impact on the US military however, as .45 ACP still captivated the imaginations of ordnance officials in this country. To be fair, it had won Two World Wars, as much as a small-arms cartridge was capable of such a boast, and American troops truly trusted it.

In fact, it wasn’t until the mid 80s that the US military began to move away from .45 ACP. 1982’s NATO STANAG 4090 standardized the 9mm NATO round for many western militaries, even though most of them already fielded a similar 9mm load. Unlike their response to previous NATO agreements about handgun cartridges, the US actually followed suit on this occasion. The Beretta M9, chambered in 9x19 Parabellum, became the official US service pistol in 1985. 

The 80s also brought us the Glock. Although some shooters, especially diehard 1911 proponents, found it repulsive to behold and lacking in substance (and power), its arrival forever changed the public’s perception of polymer pistols. When paired with a cartridge like 9mm Luger, the lightweight and affordable Glock was also surprisingly durable and accurate – these qualities were hardly to be expected of a plastic-framed gun from the 1980s. 

After the Miami-Dade Shootout, the FBI began comprehensive ballistics testing on many commonly-used handgun cartridges. Finding itself among the poorer performers in these tests, 9x19mm Parabellum suffered a blow to its reputation, though it was not alone in this regard (.38 Special and others bombed the test as well). However, ammunition manufacturers soon rolled out a new bullet technology, and powder charges were beefed up in order to drive expansion in these newer projectiles. Widespread law enforcement adoption of this +P hollow-point ammunition helped to partly recover 9x19’s rep in the streets, though it would take decades before .40 S&W’s dominance in the LE space was over. 

Around the 2010s, pistol makers began targeting the concealed-carry market with small-framed polymer pistols chambered in 9mm Luger. Instead of the snappy airweight .357 Magnums or even .38 Special +Ps of a generation before, these guns didn’t suck to shoot. They could also be carried with ease compared to heavier all-steel guns.

As an added bonus, newer 9mm Luger loadings had proven to be especially effective in stopping threats – or at least on par with a heavier cartridge like .45 ACP. Further driving the round’s popularity, pistol-caliber carbines chambered in 9mm Luger were released to the market in greater numbers than before, and they proved to be great sellers. Though some might question their effectiveness when compared to rifles, there is certainly an argument to be made for their use in a home-defense context, or perhaps for small critter control.

9mm Luger has every reason to be popular at this point in its history. Target ammo is cheap and available in the US, it’s an active military cartridge (as 9mm NATO), and every semi-auto  handgun made in the last thirty years has a 9mm version, with few exceptions. 

9mm Luger: Guns

Guns offered in 9mm Luger – including pistols, pistol-caliber carbines, submachine guns (semi auto and NFA) and more – are offered in every size, shape, and description. In fact, there is such an incredibly broad selection just in terms of carry pistols that a shooter can usually find something that fits them perfectly right out of the box. In addition, the aftermarket for parts and accessories is massive, allowing for performance and ergonomic upgrades along the way (barrels, grips, backstraps, etc.).

Early Pistols

  • DWM P.08 Luger
  • Mauser c96/M1916
  • Radom VIS.P35
  • Walther P38

Modern Pistols

  • Glock 19
  • CZ USA CZ-75 SP-01
  • Beretta M9A4
  • Sig Sauer P320
  • Canik TP9SFX

Pistol-Caliber Carbines

  • Ruger PC Carbine
  • CZ USA Scorpion 
  • Kriss Vector CRB 
  • Keltec Sub-2000

Submachine Guns

  • Bergmann MP18
  • Erma MP40
  • H&K MP5
  • Sig Sauer MPX
  • B&T MP9

Why Choose 9mm Luger?

9mm Luger offers a great balance between size, recoil, and effectiveness in a handgun. In the past, projectile performance on impact was certainly lacking compared to close competitors such as .40 S&W, but not so with modern loads. These days, it's the top choice for carry, LE, and tactical training.

Target / Competition

  • 9mm Luger is the most popular handgun cartridge in the world. FMJ target ammo is widely available from nearly every manufacturer. 
  • Pistol-caliber carbines bring the ergonomics of a rifle with the price tag of a handgun cartridge.

Concealed Carry / Defensive Carry

  • There is an incredible selection of carry guns chambered in 9mm Luger.
  • Decades of law enforcement use have given rise to great defensive loads like Federal HST, Hydra-Shok, and Speer Gold Dot. Many companies are now making carry ammo that won’t break the bank as well.
  • Recoil is still controllable when shooting micro-compact guns.
  • Cartridge is sized appropriately for good magazine capacity – even micro-compact carry guns are now able to accommodate north of 10 rounds in the mag.

Training

  • Military surplus is ammo everywhere. 9x19 Parabellum has been a military cartridge since the beginning of the 20th century.

Home Defense

  • If using a quality defensive load, over penetration through walls can be minimized.
  • Modern 9mm Luger pistols with accessory rails enable the use of weapon-mounted lights for low-light situations.
  • Pistol-caliber carbines chambered in 9mm Luger can be easier to handle in stressful situations than pistols, and may offer a higher hit probability as well.

Hunting

  • Although it’s possible to dispatch a bunch of different critters with 9mm Luger, you’re honestly better off with a rifle if you’re going to hunt.
  • That being said, there are purpose-built loads for hunting such as Hornady’s Handgun Hunter, which features a 155-gr. solid copper hollow point projectile @ 1,100/fps.

9mm Luger: Ammo Brands and Loadings

Finding a manufacturer that doesn’t offer a 9mm Luger load is difficult. It’s been an active military cartridge around the world since 1904, so there are a lot of pistols out there in the chambering. Here in the US, the introduction of the Beretta M9 in the 80s took the round from a foreign curiosity to the most standard of all handgun cartridges within a decade or two. Accordingly, since everyone is shooting 9mm Luger in such high numbers, the cost per round is lower than almost every other cartridge, save .22LR. 

Brands

Standard Loading

  • 115-gr. FMJ @ 1,150/fps.

Bullet Types

  • FMJ (Full Metal Jacket)  - Target, training
  • JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) - Self defense
  • HP Lead Free  - Self defense, hunting
  • Monolithic / Penetrator  - Self defense w/ barrier penetration
  • Frangible - Target, training

Bullet Weights

  • 50-gr. to 100-gr. - Frangible,  lead-free, and other specialty rounds
  • 115-gr. - Standard
  • 124-gr. - 9mm NATO standard weight, nearly as common as 115-gr.
  • 147-gr. and up - Subsonic, self-defense, hunting

Velocities

  • 50-gr. to 100-gr. - 1,200/fps to 1,800/fps
  • 115-gr. - 1,150/fps
  • 124-gr. - NATO - 1,200/fps, others 1,100/fps - 1,150/fps
  • 147-gr. - 850/fps - 1,100/fps

+P Ammo

  • This indicates that a round has more chamber pressure. This is especially common in defensive loads with hollow-point bullets. Expect more recoil from these rounds, and avoid using them in antique firearms. 
  • Some ammo will indicate +P+ which is even higher-pressure than +P.

Subsonic Ammo

  • Ammunition with velocities under the speed of sound (1,125/fps @ 68° F)
  • Typically features 147-gr. bullets, which are heavy-for-caliber and ideal for shooting suppressed.

Steel-Cased Ammo

  • Runs great in most modern handguns.
  • Cheaper to shoot than brass-cased ammo, but tends to run dirtier since the case doesn’t expand in the chamber as much as brass. 
  • High-volume use might wear your barrel more if the bullet is bimetal (copper-jacketed steel). These bullets are found in some steel-cased ammo.

9mm Ammunition FAQ:

9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9x19 Parabellum all refer to the same cartridge. 9mm NATO refers to a specific load but is dimensionally identical to the others. 9mm NATO is usually a little hotter than 9mm Luger, often around 1,200/fps vs. 1,150/fps and will typically have a heavier bullet (124-gr. vs. 115-gr.).

For the vast majority of Americans that carry, yes. The number of different carry pistols, the variety of loads, and the accessory aftermarket for 9mm Luger are all major reasons why people choose this cartridge. 

This cartridge is definitely powerful enough for home defense. Consider choosing a load with a bullet that expands rapidly on impact to avoid over penetration.

Yes. Whether or not this is ethical depends on what you’re hunting, as always. Hunting loads are available for small game. 

Generally, 124-gr. loads will have more recoil than 115-gr. loads. Whether the difference is enough to feel depends on the shooter and the gun. 9mm NATO ammo 124-gr. @ 1,200/fps will feel snappier than 115-gr. @ 1,125/fps to most people. 

An economical option: steel cased ammo is not [easily] reloadable, burns dirtier, and as such may earn you some imperious glances from others at the range.  Steel cases expand differently than brass, leading to arguments of more chamber wear on your firearm.  Steel cases also have a reputation for not cooperating with some extractors.  

For plinking or training, however, many find steel cases to be worthwhile.  Especially as any failures provide training on how to fix an issue in real-time. Wolf/Tula are the primary makers of steel cased ammo, though Hornady and Remington also have a steel case line.

These are the same size as the 9mm Luger, but NATO is a heavier bullet (124gr) and is loaded to approximately 5%+ more pressure.  A small difference that can lead to damage and injury in older or lower quality firearms.  You should consult your manufacture’s specs, but most modern “duty sized” pistols (with barrels of 4”+) can handle at least infrequent use of NATO.

9mm+P has approximately 10% more pressure and should only be used in firearms explicitly rated for it. This goes double for anything rated at +P+.  These last two are not terribly common and are best reserved for specific scenarios like national disasters or when the Martians land.

Some manufacturers collect once or twice fired brass cases and reload them with fresh powder, primer, and bullets to resale at a slight discount.  The cost difference inspired individuals to reload ammo, trading once fired brass for cheaper rounds in return – but individuals do not often carry liability insurance the big name manufacturers have in case something goes wrong.  

If you are considering reloading, or partnering with someone who does, PMC is a good new ammo to start with as it has a reputation for sturdy cases for reusing.  

Non jacketed or lead bullets are less common in today’s environment, but do show up from time to time, especially with reloaders or companies such as Ultramax.  They can be cheaper and offer enhanced accuracy and defense benefits (when JHP is prohibited) in either soft lead or hard cast in pistols with traditional rifling (the spiral liney thingies inside your barrel), but modern pistols with polygonal rifling (Glocks for example), can eventually choke on lead bullets. 

With increased recoil management found in modern pistol designs, the 9x19mm’s versatility is suitable for plinking, reloading, competition, law enforcement, and personal defense—all dependent on the type of bullet used, all within a single cartridge for shooters of all skill levels.  No need for different firearms of various calibers; the FBI tried that and found the 9x19mm answers it all. To find the cheapest 9mm ammo, consider using this 9mm Ammo Finder.

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