June 29, 2006
Say Good-Bye to the 9mm: Our Sorry 20-Year Affair Is Over
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
In the July issue of The American Rifleman, I saw that the U.S. military is dropping the underpowered and generally unloved 9mm Beretta 99 and going back to the .45 ACP. (The article never named the Beretta 99, which is fairly odd, or maybe not.)
When we went to 9mm Parabellum cartridge 20 years ago, everyone I knew who had any experience of combat was baffled. But the military’s logic was that we had to get our sidearms in line with NATO, and NATO used the 9mm, and that was that.
No one who is familiar with how cops and soldiers select guns should be surprised. In the early 1960s, Air Force General Curtis LeMay (who knew everything about dropping bombs on people but precious little about land war) saw a radical new rifle called the AR-15, and thought it would be just the thing for the Air Force. And so the Army, which had fought against the adoption of the AR-15 tooth and claw, became insanely jealous, and bought it for themselves (after screwing it up with several modifications) as the M-16.
Eventually, the M-16 was tortured into an acceptable infantry rifle, but now, 40 years after it was adopted, we’ve discovered that its 5.56mm cartridge is not powerful enough to shoot people satisfactorily, and so we now have a new 6.8mm cartridge which may or may not be widely issued in the future.
And in the realm of law enforcement, there is the famous Dade County, Florida shootout in April 1986 between FBI agents and two heavily-armed robbers in which 2 agents were killed and 5 wounded in a savage exchange of gunfire that lasted only a few minutes. Both felons, despite being mortally wounded, managed to do an amazing amount of damage before they expired, and the FBI put the blame on its .38 Special and 9mm sidearms, which did not get the job done. We need something more powerful, they said, and eventually adopted the .40 S&W cartridge.
I happened to be talking about this with a New York State trooper who had 20 years on the job, and he said:
“The FBI didn’t need different guns. The truth is that they simply botched the arrest. Any county sheriff’s department could have taken those two guys into custody without a shot being fired. The FBI is real good at lab work and crime-scene investigation, but they don’t do too well with the other stuff.”
Maybe so. In any case, it was a great reason to get a new gun.