October 2013

9mm Short-Barrel Choice: We’d Carry 124-Grain Speer Gold Dots

Compact-pistol carriers should take heart. Out of a 3-inch barrel, these loads performed well. Yes, their velocities were trimmed somewhat, but they still penetrated and expanded satisfactorily.

Among the most-popular concealed-carry handguns is the 9mm compact pistol. From the immensely popular mini Glocks to the Sig P290, there are quite a few pistols of this type in service. Thatís not hard to understand why: in the same frame size, the 9mm is more powerful than the 380 ACP, and when compared to a similarly sized wheelgun, most 9mms offer more shots than a 38 Special. But many carriers who like the portability of a small 9mm pistol with a lot of shots worry how the 9mm compactís terminal ballistics compare to the same rounds shot out of a full-size gun.

Oddly, thatís less of an issue for 38 Special loads. Most makers design their 38 Special loads for use in snubnose revolvers ó there arenít a lot of 4-inch-barrel 38s in concealed-carry use. However, in the case of the 9mm Luger cartridge, many of the expanding-bullet loads with the best reputations were designed as service loads for use in full-size 9mm pistols with 4- to 5-inch barrels. Because the 9mm relies upon velocity to instigate bullet expansion, a significant loss of velocity may be ruinous to a bulletís performance. The issue is important because the once-obscure German service-pistol cartridge is now the most popular semi-automatic carry-pistol caliber in America.

The 9mm jacketed bullet load offers excellent penetration against web gear and heavy clothing, but commercial FMJ loads seem to exhibit icepick-like effect when used against motivated felons. Such a felon bent on causing human misery and suffering must be personally impressed by the ballistics of a cartridge. Some believe that the 9mm with nonexpanding bullets is effective in stopping a fight with one well-placed shot about half of the time. This 50% figure is challenged by the now-decades-old Police

Marksmanís Association study, which gave 9mm hardball a more realistic rating, in our opinion ó 25%. The 9mm also showed the least likelihood of a hit per each shot fired. Poor hit probability and poor ballistics are a recipe for disaster. Practicing hard and carrying effective ammunition is a foundation for effective defense.

A number of 9mm loads available today have good reputations. Some have been qualified in police service and others in lab testing. Often, police agencies demand more penetration than most of us really need, and with good reason. Unless you are facing felons behind cover or in vehicles, then a bullet with more expansion and less penetration may give better results. Many of the inherent difficulties in getting the 9mm to perform well are compounded by a short barrel that doesnít give a full powder burn. A bullet designed to expand well at 1200 fps may not reach its design threshold at 1100 fps and may not expand much or at all. After all, the bullet would be too frangible if it expanded at a lower velocity than its original design.

In developing this report, we ran across several authorities with differing opinions.

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