The Great Caliber Debate

I generally dislike handgun caliber debates as they pertain to personal defense, for a couple reasons. One, people tend to invest their egos in their chosen caliber and often cannot be reasoned with. Second and foremost, I feel there are other topics that deserve more attention and that matter a hell of a lot more than this one. Unfortunately, this will likely be the most read / shared article I’ve written thus far, based solely on the title. But, in all fairness, it was the topic of handgun caliber that ultimately set me on the martial path.

So, let’s give it a shot.
Q: 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP?
A: 9mm.

The question is posed this way because these three calibers are the most commonly debated. I understand that other calibers exist and that carrying any of these calibers is better than carrying no gun at all. That said, for the sake of your attention span – and my sanity – let’s lump the gimmicky .357 Sig and .45 GAP right in there with the .40 S&W. I refer to each of these high-pressure calibers as “recoil for no reason.” I’m sure that some “tacti-cool” social media warrior, is likely to suggest that I’m a recoil sensitive pansy, but I’ll be more than happy to dispel that accusation on the range anytime.

Of the calibers in question, 9mm reigns supreme and .45 ACP comes in a distant second. Those “recoil for no reason” calibers don’t offer a single tactical advantage in private citizen, law enforcement, or military applications – not one! Furthermore, high-pressure caliber guns will ABSOLUTELY wear out faster than 9mm or .45 ACP guns of the same type. 9mm pistols hold more ammunition than their .40 and .45 caliber counterparts. Generally, 9mm ammunition is less expensive. 9mm generates less recoil than the others, which makes it easier to shoot accurately – especially as it pertains to follow-up shots. No, Boomer, “knock-down power” is not a real thing. It’s only real in the sense that it’s real dumb to say. You might need to shoot someone more than once – even with your FAWTY-FIE!

Let’s talk ballistics. Internal – External – Terminal. Internal refers to the projectile movement inside the gun from chamber to muzzle. External refers to the projectile in flight, from the time it leaves the muzzle until it impacts something. Terminal refers to what occurs when the projectile strikes the intended target – basically, the damage the bullet does to the bad guy. The only one that matters from an everyday or duty carry standpoint is terminal – and the difference in terminal ballistics between 9mm, .45 ACP, and those “recoil for no reason” calibers is negligible. With current ammunition technology, 9mm is more than sufficient to incapacitate an evil doer.

“But gel tests…” Blah blah blah. When’s the last time you saw a block of ballistic gel with real human organs and bones inside? Gel tests have their place, but they have absolutely no bearing in this discussion. Coroner’s reports are far greater evidence of ballistic effectiveness than gel tests.

I’ve never met anyone who has been in a gunfight who carries less ammunition with them than they did prior to their gunfight. I’ve also never met anyone who could shoot a .40 or .45 well that couldn’t shoot a 9mm better. Knowing what we know about terminal ballistics, and considering roughly 85% of people shot with handguns of ANY CALIBER survive their wounds nowadays, why would you choose a caliber that’s harder to control? Why would you intentionally carry a gun with lower round capacity and that has an obscene amount of recoil, comparatively speaking? I mean, if you’re going to tote a .40, why don’t you tote a real man’s .40 and strap up a 10mm? You must be recoil sensitive too.

The .40 S&W was created following a high-profile gunfight in the 1980’s, during which several members of a certain federal law enforcement agency lost their lives. It was determined that the tragedy was the result of insufficient firepower – as opposed to the training methodologies in place at the time. That agency opted to deviate from its standard issue 9mm but quickly decided against the .45 ACP. Why? Because .45 ACP already existed. If a change needed to be made, they certainly weren’t going to switch to a gun they could’ve already been issuing. Lol… feds – am I right? The idea of 10mm was kicked around and ultimately vetoed because it was “too powerful.” See how silly this sounds now? Ultimately, the 10mm cartridge was shortened and the .40 S&W was born in 1990. It was quickly pressed into service with the feds, and because almost every police agency in America takes their cues from the “Alphabet Boys,” .40 S&W quickly became the law enforcement standard across the country. However, for the last 10 -15 years the .40 S&W has been dying a very public death – and for good reason.

Then there’s the revolver crowd. Modern-day wheel gun packers usually fall into one of three categories: people who live in close proximity to bears – antiques who can’t let go of their antiques – and women whose husband, dad, or boyfriend put a revolver in their hand because he isn’t capable of teaching her how to properly operate a semi-automatic handgun. Ladies, if your man gifts you a revolver for everyday carry, take that as a misogynistic micro-aggression. Don’t beat them up too badly though – they probably think .40 caliber pistols are cool.

Look, if a 9mm won’t kill it, you need a rifle anyway. We only use handguns because they’re practical and efficient to carry. Rifles are superior fighting tools, but it’s tough to conceal a rifle in your pants. “Is that an AK-47, or are you just happy to see me?” Lastly, steer clear of tiny calibers like .22, .22 magnum, .25, .32, and .380. They’re anemic little things – and thus, are far less likely to incapacitate a threat should you need to smite a violent attacker. Even .40 caliber is a safer bet than those options. Just stick to 9mm – at least until new technology knocks it off the mountain top.

Avoid what you can. Defeat what you can’t.

Please submit your questions to Ryan via email at

(Ryan Barnette is not a licensed attorney or a medical provider, and no information provided in “Slicing the Pie,” or any other publication authored by Ryan Barnette should be construed, in any way, as official legal or medical advice.)

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