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Survival Ammunition: 9mm Luger

by Paul-Martin Foss

The 9mm Luger cartridge, aka 9x19mm Parabellum or 9x19mm NATO, has become perhaps the most popular firearms cartridge in the world. Originally introduced in 1902 by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) for their Luger semiautomatic pistol, the 9mm Luger cartridge is the most popular cartridge in the United States, just ahead of the .223 Remington/5.56x45mm NATO. Nearly 20% of all ammunition sold in the United States is 9mm Luger.

While popular handguns have been chambered and sold in 9mm Luger for decades, the popularity of the 9mm cartridge really took off in the 1970s with the development of the “Wonder Nines”; high-capacity service pistols that offered police officers and soldiers more than double the ammunition capacity of other pistols, with ammunition that, while adequate for personal defense, offered lower recoil.

While 9mm Luger suffered a drop in popularity in the aftermath of the Miami shootout and the development of the .40 S&W cartridge, it has subsequently rebounded. Newer, more effective bullet designs have led many police forces that once adopted the .40 S&W to take another look at 9mm. And civilian shooters have always love the 9mm as its low cost of ammunition, light recoil, and ability to be chambered in small pistols for concealed carry have helped it continue to be the most popular cartridge in the country.

The 9mm cartridge was developed from the 7.65x21mm Parabellum (a.k.a. 7.65x21mm Luger) cartridge, itself a development of the 7.65x25mm Borchardt cartridge. Featuring a bottlenecked cartridge case for ease of feeding, the 7.65x21mm featured a 93-grain bullet traveling at about 1,200 feet per second, for about 300 pound-feet of energy. By necking the cartridge up to 9mm and increasing the powder charge slightly, the 9mm Luger was able to push a heavier 124-grain bullet at about 1,080 feet per second, for around 320 pound-feet of energy.

Modern loads for 9mm Luger normally push a 115-grain bullet at around 1,180 feet per second, or a 124-grain bullet at 1,150 feed per second, for around 350-360 pound-feet of energy. Heavier bullets are available too, with 147-grain bullets normally loaded at around 1,000 feet per second, for about 325 pound-feet of energy, and 158-grain bullets loaded to 940 feet per second for about 310 pound-feet of energy. The heaviest loads commercially available are a 165-grain bullet at 840 feet per second, for about 260 pound-feet of energy.

Most modern 9mm pistols are rated to accept +P and +P+ ammunition, meaning 9mm Luger ammunition that has been loaded to higher pressure levels. These rounds should never be fired in older pistols. The 9mm +P loads often feature a 115-grain bullet at 1,300 feet per second, a 124-grain bullet at 1,225 feet per second, and a 147-grain bullet at 1,175 feet per second. The +P+ loads feature a 115-grain bullet at 1,400 feet per second and a 124-grain bullet at 1,300 feet per second. Muzzle energy levels for the +P loads are around 400-450 pound-feet, whereas the +P+ loads generate 450-500 pound-feet, both significantly above the original 9mm Luger energy levels.

Lighter bullets are also available in the 9mm Luger, with 95-grain bullets being one of the standard weights. Those bullets leave the muzzle at around 1,350 feet per second, for a muzzle energy of around 380 pound-feet. Modern all-copper bullets exist too, with some such as the 65-grain Lehigh bullets leaving the muzzle of a 9mm pistol at 1,700 feet per second, for about 420 pound-feet of energy.

Given the wide variety of ammunition available, the numerous energy levels the 9mm Luger can attain, and the low cost of the most popular ammunition, it’s no wonder that the 9mm Luger has become such a popular cartridge. While many shooters may wish to carry more powerful cartridges such as 10mm Auto and .45 ACP on a regular basis, in a survival scenario ammunition for those cartridges will be more difficult to find. If you want to make sure that you’ll have a handgun that you can use in such a scenario, it would behoove you to have at least one pistol chambered in 9mm Luger.

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