How 9mm Parabellum Became the World Standard

If you are anything like me or any other shooter, you are familiar with the 9mm caliber and how it makes up roughly 20% of the market today. But what you may not know is the history of the round or how it became the super popular round it is today. In episode 33 of Wilson Combat’s “The Gun Guys,” Bill Wilson and Massad Ayoob, discuss the history of the 9mm round and how it has become the world standard for ammunition.

9mm Parabellum History

First off, Massad says that basic standardization is the reason the round is so popular today. The 9mm saw real action in World War I, but soldiers reported back that the .45 would put down enemies, but not the 9mm, so the round was shunned for many years. Its poor reputation continued well into the 1960s and finally started shifting towards the positive with the introduction of the hollow point round.

Timeline of 9mm

  • Soldiers from WWI didn’t like the lack of stopping power versus the .45. It became dirt in the market.
  • Hollow point 9mm ammunition arrived in the 1960s and its reputation started to shift.
  • Present-day high-tech rounds help push 9mm above .45 ACP for most shooters, including law enforcement and new shooters alike.

With the success of the early hollow point rounds, other ammunition companies started following suit and 9mm was able to gain a foothold in the market. 9mm market position kept growing steadily and is where it’s at today thanks to the high-tech ammo of recent times. These rounds allow for shots out of a shorter barrel with greater accuracy, and that is also barrier blind, just to name a few attributes. The gap between the 45 and the 9mm closed remarkedly.

9mm bullets no casing
Technological advancements with the 9mm round have led it to the popular position it is in today.

Why is 9mm so popular?

With the advent of 9mm hollow point rounds, the gap between the market share of the 45 round and 9mm grew smaller. Those particular rounds (hollow points) can cause more damage than .45 ball in some cases, making the argument for the round. Of course, as Mas and Bill say, you can’t compare a 9mm hollow to a .45 ACP ball. For that comparison, you would need to do hollow against hollow. In that regard, obviously, the .45 hollow would have a greater wound volume, but you would also have the fatter cartridge and more recoil at the expense of the shooter.

The 9mm platform is easily controllable in terms of recoil with a shallow learning curve and, up until recent years, has had a readily available ammunition supply. There has been a push towards higher-capacity weapons both in the law enforcement and civilian realms. This is especially demonstrable in situations with multiple opponents, drug opponents that are harder to neutralize, and flash mobs or riots.

The capacity of the 9mm platform has been one of the largest selling points. The round has less lead, less powder, and less copper in production thus making it a less expensive round to produce. Prior to the pandemic, 9mm production grew as did its popularity, and the round became even cheaper to purchase. Again, this was all pre-pandemic, but it sold well.

Massad and Bill
The Gun Guys attribute the popularity to the fact that with 9mm you have less recoil, an easier learning curve, and a generally available ammunition supply. Additionally, having a higher capacity round count is paramount in recent times with multiple assailants, drug-using opponents, and the advent of flash mobs or riots.

Old Guard vs. New Guard

It isn’t just new shooters and LEOs that benefit from the 9mm craze. Mas and Bill say they are the prime demographic that benefits from the 9mm being so popular. A lot of individuals are migrating from .45 to 9mm for a whole host of reasons. The primary reason that Mas has started shooting 9mm more is his age and his arthritis. Both men agreed that shooting .45 ACP isn’t as fun as it used to be when they were younger.

Both men tell of going to the range and spending all day shooting .45 ACP or even .44 MAG. But now due to their age, it hurts by the end or even in the middle of a training session. They go on to list some fairly notable names of men who have switched from .45 ACP to 9mm: Pat Rogers and Frank James to name a few. All stated they liked the lighter recoil and higher capacity in exchange for the less wound damage potential.

9mm rounds in cupped hands
Mas says that most civilians follow what law enforcement uses, and as LEOs continue using the 9mm, it will continue to be king.

Variety and Pricing

The sheer amount of variety with 9mm is another large factor in its popularity. With all the different loads and bullet options, not to mention manufacturers, Bill estimates that there are around 200 different options on the market. While that number may feel a bit high, Bill points out that Federal alone has at least 15 different options that he could list off. 

As for pricing, the fewer components needed for the round, the cheaper it is to manufacture. Pre-pandemic, the price was a factor for 9mm. For every three rounds of 9mm bought, you could only buy two rounds of .45 ACP. While that is not current pricing, the trend is still there that 9mm tends to be cheaper. Bill goes on to say that it is a commodity and periods of unavailability and scalping pricing over the previous decades led him to tell people to buy it cheap and stack it deep.

Bill elaborates further that pre-pandemic, he had never seen ammunition so cheap. Currently, things are tight and will continue to be so. He had warned others prior to the pandemic that all it would take would be for another event to mess with the availability and pricing. It was so clearly illustrated with the pandemic. He’s been around enough to see the writing on the wall.

Conclusion

Both men think that 9mm is here to stay, Bill more so than Mas. Bill doesn’t see anything knocking 9mm off the top of the hill as the gold standard for defensive carry or training ammo. Mas isn’t so sure and thinks that it would only take another incident like the April 11, 1986 shootout to send ripples through the law enforcement community. And, where law enforcement goes for weaponry, the civilians tend to follow, be it rifles, shotguns, or pistols. But given the high-tech options currently available, it doesn’t seem too likely to shift away.

Patti Miller is one of the most awesome females in the tactical/firearm (or any) industry. Imagine a tall, hawt, dangerous Laura Ingalls Wilder type with cool hair and a suppressed blaster and you'll be getting the idea. What's interesting is that in addition to being a willing brawler and intrepid adventuress, she's also an Ent/Ogier level gardener and a truly badass baker.

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