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9mm vs 40 S&W: Full Comparison

The ongoing argument between the 9mm and 40 Smith & Wesson (40 S&W) has been a topic of discussion since the early 1990s when the 40 S&W was introduced. The focus of this debate typically revolves around determining which of these pistol cartridges is superior for concealed carry.

In recent years, the law enforcement community has experienced a shift in their stance on this matter. The FBI, for instance, has decided to retire their 40 S&W Glock 22 sidearms and revert to the 9mm Luger as the standard issue ammunition for their field agents.

However, does this mean that you should completely disregard the 40 S&W and wholeheartedly embrace the 9mm? Is the 40 S&W even relevant anymore when discussing self-defense handgun calibers?

Before you rush to GunBroker to sell off all your 40 S&W equipment, let’s take an objective and unbiased approach to evaluating the 40 Smith and Wesson and comparing it against the world’s most popular handgun round, the 9mm Luger.

To do so, we’ll need a complete package of silhouette targets and several boxes of Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition because we are about to engage in a thorough examination of the 40 S&W vs 9mm debate concerning personal defense ammunition.

What is The Point of 40 S&W?

The 40 Smith & Wesson (40 S&W) cartridge has an interesting history that dates back to the late 1980s. The story begins with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and their search for a more effective ammunition option.

At the time, the FBI was primarily using 9mm handguns and ammunition. However, in the infamous 1986 FBI Miami shootout, where two agents were killed and several others were injured, it was observed that the 9mm ammunition used by the agents lacked the desired stopping power. This incident prompted the FBI to reevaluate their ammunition selection.

To address the perceived inadequacy of the 9mm, the FBI initiated a project named the “Miami Wound Ballistics” study. The study aimed to analyze the effectiveness of different handgun calibers and bullet designs in real-world scenarios. The goal was to identify a cartridge that would offer improved stopping power without compromising recoil control and magazine capacity.

The study concluded that the 10mm Auto cartridge had the desired stopping power, but the recoil and the size of the handguns chambered in this caliber were difficult for many agents to handle effectively. As a result, the FBI decided to develop a reduced-power version of the 10mm Auto that would be more manageable while still delivering improved performance.

In collaboration with the firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson, the 40 S&W cartridge was created in 1990. It essentially shortened and weakened the 10mm Auto, allowing it to be housed in handguns with a more compact grip and slide. This enabled law enforcement agencies and civilian shooters to enjoy the benefits of increased stopping power without the challenges associated with the full-power 10mm Auto.

The 40 S&W quickly gained popularity among law enforcement agencies across the United States, as it provided a balance between the recoil, magazine capacity, and stopping power requirements. It became known as a versatile cartridge suitable for both self-defense and law enforcement purposes.

Although the 40 S&W enjoyed significant success and widespread adoption for many years, its popularity has somewhat waned in recent times. Factors such as advancements in bullet technology for the 9mm, improved training techniques, and the FBI’s decision to return to the 9mm as their standard issue ammunition have contributed to a decline in the use of the 40 S&W.

Nevertheless, the 40 S&W remains a viable cartridge option for those who prioritize stopping power and prefer a slightly larger bullet diameter compared to the 9mm. Its history is rooted in the quest for an improved ammunition solution, and its impact on the firearms industry and law enforcement practices cannot be overlooked.

40 S&W Ammo: PMC/S&B/Federal/Blazer
40 S&W Ammo: PMC/S&B/Federal/Blazer

History of 9mm Luger

The 9mm cartridge, also known as the 9mm Parabellum or 9mm Luger, has a rich and extensive history that dates back to the early 20th century.

The story of the 9mm cartridge begins in 1902, when the German weapons manufacturer Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) introduced the 9mm Parabellum round. This new cartridge was designed by Georg Luger, an Austrian designer, for use in the iconic Luger P08 pistol. The name “Parabellum” is derived from the Latin phrase “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” meaning “If you seek peace, prepare for war.”

The 9mm Parabellum gained popularity rapidly and was adopted by several militaries around the world. It proved to be a reliable and effective cartridge, offering a balance between manageable recoil, magazine capacity, and terminal ballistics. Its success can be attributed to its moderate power, allowing for controllable shooting, while still offering adequate stopping power.

During World War I, the 9mm cartridge became widely used by German forces, and it soon gained recognition as a standard military handgun round. Its adoption by the German military, along with the iconic Luger pistol, solidified the cartridge’s reputation and global recognition.

After the war, the 9mm cartridge continued to be favored by military and law enforcement agencies due to its versatility and effectiveness. It became the standard handgun cartridge for several countries, including the United States, where it was used in the M1911 pistol and later in the Beretta M9.

Over the years, advancements in ammunition technology led to the development of various bullet designs, including Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), Hollow Point (HP), and other specialized loads. These advancements further enhanced the cartridge’s performance and expanded its applications for self-defense, target shooting, and competition.

The 9mm cartridge’s popularity and widespread adoption continue to this day. It is recognized as one of the most commonly used handgun calibers globally, and numerous firearms are chambered for it. Its moderate recoil, high magazine capacity, and availability of ammunition make it a popular choice for both military and civilian applications.

The 9mm cartridge’s history is marked by its reliability, versatility, and widespread use, contributing to its status as a staple in the firearms industry for over a century.

9mm Ammo: PMC/Winchester/Federal/S&B
9mm Ammo: PMC/Winchester/Federal/S&B

 Does 40 S&W Hit harder than 9mm?

“Stopping power” is a term often thrown around by shooters to justify their preference for one caliber over another. However, it is not easily quantifiable and depends on multiple factors. Stopping power refers to the rate at which an assailant becomes incapacitated, typically through blood loss, oxygen deprivation to the brain, or damage to the central nervous system (CNS). Achieving incapacitation requires accurate shot placement.

While a shot to the foot with a 40 S&W is less lethal than a center mass shot with a 9mm, it is generally accepted that the 40 S&W delivers more kinetic energy and creates a larger permanent wound cavity due to its wider and heavier bullet compared to the 9mm. Some argue that modern jacketed hollow point (JHP) technology has brought the 9mm on par with the 40 S&W in terms of expansion, but there is still a difference in potential wound size

Recoil is a significant consideration for shooters, especially the snappy recoil of the 40 S&W. The 40 S&W has higher breach pressure than the 9mm and .45 ACP since it is essentially a shortened 10mm. This higher pressure causes increased muzzle rise during recoil, making it uncomfortable for some shooters and leading to slower follow-up shots as they must take extra time to reacquire the target.

Compared to the 9mm, the 40 S&W experiences about 25% more recoil. Experienced shooters can manage this recoil, but new shooters or those with smaller hands may find it challenging to handle. In a personal defense situation, recoil directly affects the speed of follow-up shots, and it is crucial to accurately deliver as many rounds on target as possible.

The Differences Between 9mm and 40 S&W

When it comes to comparing two popular handgun calibers like the 9mm and 40 S&W, it’s challenging to declare a definitive “winner” because each cartridge has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Supporters of each caliber tend to hold strong opinions, and even empirical data and ballistic gel testing may not sway their preferences for one over the other. However, we can objectively examine both cartridges to help you make an informed decision for your next concealed carry weapon (CCW).

Magazine Capacity:

Both the 9mm and 40 S&W offer good magazine capacity. The 40 S&W allows for firing a heavier bullet while sacrificing only a few rounds compared to the 9mm. For example, comparing the Glock 17 (9mm) to the Glock 22 (40 S&W), there is only a 2-round difference in magazine capacity. However, those 2 rounds can make a difference in engaging multiple targets before reloading.

The 9mm generally offers higher magazine capacity, allowing you to carry more ammunition without sacrificing belt real estate. This can be advantageous in a self-defense scenario where having more rounds available can increase your chances of success.


Accuracy primarily depends on the shooter rather than the caliber or firearm. In an ideal scenario, shooters would experience similar accuracy with both the 9mm and 40 S&W. However, due to the higher recoil of the 40 S&W, many shooters find that they are more accurate with the 9mm. Law enforcement data also supports the notion that officers exhibit improved accuracy with 9mm handguns, as they can focus on the fundamentals of shooting without the added concern of recoil.

Home Defense and Concealed Carry:

When it comes to home defense, my preference leans towards the 40 S&W. In close-quarters engagements within the confines of your home, having a heavier and more powerful round is advantageous, provided you can handle it while maintaining shot placement.

The 180-grain bullet of the 40 S&W offers excellent penetration and kinetic energy transfer to the target, minimizing the risk of overpenetration that could harm innocent bystanders or neighbors.

On the other hand, for concealed carry purposes, the 9mm seems to be the better choice for several reasons.

Firstly, a compact or sub-compact 9mm handgun will generally have less recoil compared to a similarly sized 40 S&W. This reduced recoil translates to improved accuracy, a crucial factor when carrying a firearm in public. The potential for hitting an innocent bystander is significantly higher in a public setting, and as a responsible carrier, you want to avoid this scenario at all costs.

It’s important to remember that every bullet fired has legal implications, so ensuring precise shot placement is crucial when defending your life outside the home.

The second reason the 9mm is favored for concealed carry is its higher capacity. 9mm magazines typically offer greater round count compared to 40 S&W magazines of the same size. This means you can carry more rounds of 9mm ammunition without adding extra weight, and having more rounds available is always an advantage.

Handgun Price and Availability:

If you enjoy handgun variety, both the 9mm and 40 S&W offer a wide range of options from major manufacturers.

Glock, Smith & Wesson, Springfield, Kimber, Sig Sauer, and CZ, among others, have multiple semi-automatic handgun offerings for both calibers, as they are highly popular choices.

When it comes to pricing new handguns, you can expect to pay similar prices for either caliber. Since both utilize the same frame size and have virtually identical external dimensions, there is no additional material cost in manufacturing a 40 S&W handgun.

However, the used market differs slightly when comparing 9mm and 40 S&W handguns, particularly with Glock pistols.

Many police departments use Glock as their duty pistol manufacturer, and due to the decline in popularity of the 40 S&W, several departments are transitioning back to the 9mm. As a result, there is currently an excess of police trade-in Glock 22 models available.

It’s not uncommon to find a used or police trade-in Glock 22 for under $350 on platforms like GunBroker or at gun shows. On the other hand, finding a Glock 17 for a similar price, unless it’s a Gen 3 model requiring slide refinishing, can be challenging.

As of Q3 2021, 9mm Glocks are in high demand and hold their value better in the secondary market compared to 40 S&W Glocks. If you’re seeking a cost-effective and extremely reliable sidearm, consider picking up a Glock 22 from local gun shows, gun stores, or pawn shops.

What is Cheaper to Shoot, 9mm or 40 S&W?

As of the time of writing, both 9mm and 40 S&W ammunition are readily available with various bullet weight options.

The majority of 9mm Luger ammunition is found in 115 gr, 124 gr, and 147 gr varieties, while 40 S&W is predominantly available in 165 gr and 180 gr bullet weights.

In terms of premium jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammo, the price is around $1 per round for both 9mm and 40 S&W.

For full metal jacket (FMJ) practice ammo, you can expect to pay approximately $0.50 per round for 9mm and $0.60 per round for .40 S&W. While the price difference isn’t substantial, 9mm FMJ ammo tends to be slightly cheaper due to its broader usage, including military applications, compared to 40 S&W.

Buying in bulk is always a wise choice, so be sure to explore our options for bulk 9mm and 40 S&W ammo.

Should I buy 9mm or 40 S&W?

When it comes to self-defense pistol calibers, both the 40 S&W and 9mm are highly capable options that can meet the needs of most concealed carry permit holders.

The 40 S&W offers increased stopping power with its larger, heavier bullet while still maintaining a respectable magazine capacity. However, it’s important to note that the 40 S&W is a high-pressure round, and some shooters may find its snappy recoil uncomfortable or difficult to control, resulting in slower follow-up shots.

On the other hand, the 9mm Luger has made significant advancements since the 1986 Miami Shootout, particularly in hollow point technology. As a result, the terminal performance of the 9mm is now comparable to that of the 40 S&W and .45 ACP. Additionally, the 9mm provides the advantage of higher magazine capacity and a recoil impulse that is more manageable, especially for new or inexperienced shooters.

The fact that many law enforcement agencies have transitioned back to the 9mm as their standard duty pistol further emphasizes its benefits. The increased accuracy and faster split times reported by officers shooting the 9mm highlight its effectiveness in real-world gunfights, surpassing the significance of firing a larger bullet.

Although the popularity of the 40 S&W has waned in recent years, it remains a potent self-defense round that should not be dismissed or overlooked.

Ultimately, the best choice for you depends on your personal preferences and shooting ability. I recommend visiting your local gun range and renting handguns chambered in both calibers. Take the opportunity to shoot a few boxes of FMJ ammo through each firearm and determine which one you handle better.

Remember, shot placement is paramount in any personal defense situation. It’s crucial to carry the caliber that you can shoot most effectively, ensuring that you never feel underpowered with either of these exceptional handgun cartridges.

Need bulk ammo? At True Shot Gun Club, we have a wide variety of handgun ammo and rifle ammo available to purchase. Please visit our website trueshotgunclub.com, call us at (888) 736-6587, or you can email us at [email protected] for more rifle ammo options.

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