Has the Marine Corp's choice to transition from 45 ACP to 9mm duty pistols settled the debate on which caliber is better? Probably not, but here is my take on the ol' 9mm vs 45 ACP debate.
Bidding for New Military Handgun Contract:
The Department of Defense has recently been taking a hard look at the sidearms and sidearm calibers issued to today's military personnel on the front lines. In July, reports indicated that the top candidates in the final running for the new $17 million-dollar Modular Handgun System (MHS) contract to replace the current Beretta M9 included Glock's G17, the Sig Sauer P320, Smith & Wesson's M&P, and the new Beretta APX among others.
It was just announced by Smith & Wesson last week that they are out of the running for the contract.
Marine Corps Gives Their 2 Cents:
At least to the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), there is no longer a question. For two decades, MARSOC operators have been allowed to carry custom-built Colt 1911s chambered in .45ACP. However, in early 2015 the door was cracked open, allowing them to choose Glock 19's (chambered in 9mm) instead of their larger counterpart.
The door has been opened and shut for good on John M. Browning's classic 1911 design. This recent policy change and operational change means the U.S. Marine Corps' special arm of SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) has also come to terms with the debate of 9mm vs. .45ACP. According to the Marine Corps Times:
For Marine special operators, the never-ending debate over whether the 9mm or .45-caliber round is the more powerful bullet has been settled.
Previously, the classic .45-caliber Colt 1911 was one of three pistols that Raiders were allowed to carry, but now the 9mm Glock 19 is the only pistol that Marine special operators can take into battle, said Maj. Nick Mannweiler, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
“We put our money behind the 9mm round fired by an extremely well-trained marksman carrying a Glock 19,” Mannweiler told Marine Corps Times.
Wondering if these Marine special operators are not only allowed but required to carry exclusively the 15-round Glock 19, why not the slightly larger and higher capacity Glock 17? It has something to do with occasions where they might carry concealed:
Since last year, MARSOC has purchased and fielded 1,654 Glock 19s because Raiders needed a reliable secondary weapon “that could be used for both a concealed carry profile and a low-visibility profile,” and having one approved pistol for all special operators saves money, he said.
This Guy Clearly Doesn't Know What He is Talking About:
I can buy that. But what I am struggling to understand is some of the ludicrous logic coming from various sides of the issue. Also quoting from the Marine Corps Times:
The arguments boil down to this: The .45-caliber round is the bigger bullet, so it has the “knock down power” to neutralize any adversary with one shot; while pistols that fire 9mm rounds are generally more accurate and can carry more bullets. Where a bullet hits the human body is also a major factor on whether it inflicts a mortal wound.Even though the .45-caliber cartridge has more propellant, the 9mm round usually has more penetrating power because the smaller round faces less air resistance on its nose as it files [sic] through the air, said Neil Clapperton, a firearms and forensic expert with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory.
I am at a loss for words as I read the above two paragraphs … like literally at a loss for words.
First of all,
…who proved the .45-caliber round has SO MUCH more “knockdown power” than the 9mm that it only requires one shot to incapacitate a threat? This myth continues not because of fact, rather because of unsubstantiated statements like this. This story of a Chicago-suburb police officer should answer that one for you.
…are 9mm rounds substantially more accurate than their larger caliber brethren? I'd like to see the science on that one. Still, I think when we're talking about pistol caliber handguns, it's pretty hard to measure any substantial accuracy differences when we're rarely shooting at distances greater than 15-25 yards if that. I don't know about you, but my .45's seem to be plenty accurate, certainly as precise as any of my 9mm pistols.
the statement that a 9mm “can carry more bullets.” True. But we generally would refer to them as “cartridges” or “rounds” as a bullet is just the projectile portion encased in a cartridge and loaded into the firearm.
the article mentions that “where a bullet hits the human body is also a major factor on whether it inflicts a mortal wound.” Okay, I have to give them props on this part of the statement because this is 100% correct.
this was the part I couldn't wait to get to and dissect.
They argue that “the 9mm round has more penetrating power because the round faces less air resistance on its nose as it flies through the air.” What kind of insane non-scientific reasoning is this?
How does air resistance have ANYTHING to do with the terminal ballistics as they relate to penetration?
Yes, I will agree that air resistance is constantly at work against a bullet, thereby slowing it down as it travels toward its intended target. But are we supposed to believe the difference in air resistance between a 9mm and a .45ACP is that great? That the .45ACP slows down so much that its penetration is less effective than a 9mm? Especially when it carries nearly double the mass with the bullet?
I don't think so.
I'll tell you what DOES impact penetration–it is the frontal area of the bullet and its relative friction and resistance as it impacts a body and attempts to travel through. A .45 ACP will encounter greater resistance than a 9mm, but it also carries more weight, albeit at a slower velocity.
Most of the ballistic testing I have seen comparing the penetration of various bullets and calibers would suggest that generally, a .45ACP and 9mm are both quite comparable as far as penetration is concerned.
I have got to wonder about this Neil Clapperton quoted above. Supposedly he is firearms and forensic expert with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory. You would think he would know a thing or two about firearms and ballistics with a title like that.
I checked him out, and he's legit as far as that title is concerned and where he works. But I have some serious doubts about his understanding of external and terminal ballistics.
If you have to revisit the basics of projectile ballistics, here is a decent place to start.
Here is My Point About the 9mm vs 45 Debate:
The point here is this: it is okay that the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command has decided to issue only Glock 19's.
They are fine weapons and are certainly capable as a sidearm. And it is acceptable to me that they made at least some of their determination based on the need to accommodate smaller hands.
Not everyone can adequately conceal a full-sized Colt 1911. Not everyone is as capable or as comfortable at shooting a .45ACP as they are a 9mm. Plus, this decision saves the military a substantial amount of money as Glocks are cheap, and the 9mm ammo is also very affordable and, perhaps more importantly, readily available.
That alone could be a convincing argument to switch platforms. But to suggest they made the change due to the reasons quoted above–particularly because the 9mm supposedly has greater penetration due to less air resistance–is complete hogwash! Somebody needs to vet their sources of information and also use a little common sense.
Agencies Change Calibers All The Time:
On a side note, this is the recent trend … move away from larger calibers to smaller ones. The FBI just did the same thing. In the last 30 years, the FBI has moved from .38/.357 caliber revolvers to 9mm semi-automatics. Then moved to 10mm (after the 1986 Miami shootout). Then they changed to .40S&W (once they realized how difficult it was for some agents to handle). Now they have announced they are moving back to the 9mm in the form of the new “Gen5” Glock 17M.
Their explanation (other than increasing ammo capacity): bullet technology has come a long way since 1986. Testing shows terminal ballistics of modern 9mm is virtually the same as the .40S&W or the older .45ACP round. In case you didn't get the memo, the FBI's ballistic testing labs are the best in the world, and they've been doing it for a long time.
So it should not come as a surprise that while the DoD's call for submissions for the new military Modular Handgun System XM17 contract doesn't specify a particular caliber or size, they will most likely settle on a new 9mm sidearm. And I suspect it could very well be the Sig P320 as it is the epitome of “modular.”
The Glock 17/19 could be a possibility as well, though, as there are plenty of them already in the inventory, and the P320 also seemed destined for the FBI (which had similar requirements), but they suddenly settled on the Glock at the last minute.
Anyway, stay tuned … we shall wait and see.
Is the debate on 9mm vs. .45 (or .40) settled then? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Also, do you love this debate on the various handgun calibers? Head on over to the Concealed Carry Podcast for great audio content. Episode 424 is the perfect companion to this post because we discuss caliber and it's relation to hit factor!