Am I Ticked off at the Parabellum?

In a word, no. There are a number of cartridges of which I'm actively afraid of and would not shoot, but I don't dislike any of them, and the 9mm has done nothing to get my goat. I'm writing about it because I was asked in a previous post on what basis I said it was ineffective, and that the .45 ACP was a model of people-pounding power.

First, I subscribe to the philosophy of Jeff Cooper, whom I’ve been reading since 1958, and never found anything he said to be flat wrong. (I think he got a bit crazed on the subject of the Scout Rifle, but otherwise everything he said has made sense over the past 56 years.) Col. Cooper was the leading small handgun round hater of the past century, and wrote about 9mm failures with glee. If you’d like to see a collection of them, purchase GunSite Gossip, Volumes I and II.

Second, in the mid-80s (1980s, not 1880s) when there was a great deal of churning and restlessness among police departments on whether to go to automatics and which cartridge to issue, I was invited to watch a for-cops-only film on the effectiveness of various police loads. It was long, thorough, and cited not only real-life incidents but scientific research into the subject. It was also pretty gross.

Its conclusions were that the 9mm and the .38 Special were unreliable, that the .357 Magnum did well, that the .45 ACP was by far the most dependable law-enforcement cartridge, and that the 12-gauge 00 buckshot round was in a class by itself. (The .40 S&W didn’t come on line until 1990.) None of this is exactly a surprise, and I’ve heard all of it confirmed by cops and soldiers with whom I’ve spoken.

I was asked, if the 9mm is such a wretched object as a pistol cartridge, why has it done so well in submachine guns? Two reasons: 1) its light recoil makes it easier to control a submachine gun without having the firearm weigh a ton; 2) You’re talking not about single shots but about bursts of at least three rounds each, and if you get hit by three or more 9mm slugs you’re in trouble.

Remember that a 00 buck load is 9 lead balls of 9mm in diameter, and when they catch up with you, you’re going to cease and desist.

Third, I’ve been a relentless reader of military history since the mid-1960s, and if you read enough about actions at the small-unit level you get a pretty good picture of which guns worked and what didn’t. What you don’t see anywhere are accounts of 1911s jamming, or breaking, or failing to stop people who needed to be stopped. None. Zero. Zip.

And finally, if you’re not familiar with it, the most famous case of 9mm inadequacy took place in Florida in 1986 when the FBI tried to arrest two serial killers and robbers named Michael Lee Platt and William Russell Matix. Both had been servicemen, and Platt was a former Army Ranger. Both were highly proficient in the use of firearms.

There was a hail of gunfire from both sides. The suspects were outnumbered 4 to 1 by the forces of law and order, mostly armed with 9mm and .38 Special handguns. Two FBI agents were killed and five others wounded. Matix was killed after being shot 6 times; Platt died after being hit 12 times. The FBI affixed the blame for the carnage on the lack of stopping power of the 9mm and .38 Special and went on to adopt the .40 S&W, which it is now trying to get rid of because the round is allegedly beating FBI handguns to death.

A New York State Trooper friend of mine said, “Any county sheriff could have made that arrest without a shot being fired. The FBI simply screwed it up.”

If I were in the law enforcement trade and was issued a 9mm, I’d look for another line of work where they gave you .45s.