9mm vs .45 — which really IS better?

Yes, I’m diving into the “9mm vs .45” war.  No, I don’t care that you have a preference.  (I don’t care in that it doesn’t matter to me, though obviously it should matter to you.)  Yes, I realize that many people will immediately hate me no matter what I’m going to say next.

Before I jump in, though, here’s my question to you:  Do you know what current research says about ballistic effectiveness when comparing modern self-defense rounds between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?

If the answer is “No” then your opinion is useless, whether it happens to be right or wrong.  You see, here’s the deal:  Your ignorant opinion (ignorance:  lack of knowledge, which is not the same as stupidity) is simply not as valid as someone else’s knowledgeable opinion.  This doesn’t mean that you might not be right, and the other person can’t be wrong—but it DOES mean that if you start by saying “Well, I don’t know much about it, but I think…” —-then the rest of your sentence really should be— “….that I should shut up and learn about the subject before I express my opinion.”  If you happen to be right in your opinion, it is purely due to luck, since you have already admitted you don’t know what you are talking about.

Do you have a caliber preference in terms of self-defense round?  Probably.  Is that preference based on “feel,” personal expectations, personal experience, opinions heard on the internet, opinions heard from friends, or wide-scale research data?

Because while you are welcome to go with whatever your preference is, the only reason list above that is valid for reliable results is the last one—wide-scale research data.  How it “feels” doesn’t tell you anything.  Personal expectations based on what?   Personal experience—well, once you’ve shot 1000 people with varying rounds for comparison purposes, get back to me.  Opinions heard on the internet or from friends?  Please.  I’ve heard people advocating disassembling a handgun one-handed and putting the parts in a bag on the dashboard while coming to a stop on the highway when pulled over by the state patrol in order to make the LEO more comfortable with the firearm.

(No, I’m not kidding about that.  I wish I was.)

So why should you listen to my opinion?  Because I’m right?  How about because I’m telling you not to take my opinion as gospel, and instead telling you to look at what the research says, and what it means.



I realize that is actually considered sacrilege to the “.45acp is God’s Own Round” crowd and the “9mm capacity makes all the difference” crowd and the “.40 is the best of both worlds” crowd.  (Not to mention what the 10mm Manly Man are like on this topic.)  And yet—opinions based on lack of fact mean nothing.

Oh, good lord, I forgot the .357Sig fanatics.  Yeah, them too.


I’m bringing this up because I have a friend who carries a Glock 30 in .45acp all the time.   He likes to shoot IDPA matches, but realizes that particular gun is non-optimal for the IDPA game for all that IDPA touts itself as being for “real concealed carry” training.  In SSP or CDP he is at a “compact gun” disadvantage, and in SSP he is at a serious recoil disadvantage.

He asked me about switching to a 9mm for IDPA, and I asked him (since I knew he carried his G30) if he wanted IDPA to be for trigger time with his carry gun, or instead wanted to work on winning matches.  After all, while trigger time is always good, the grip on a full-size 9mm Glock is different from the grip on a G30, and if he wanted to work with both, it was going to take even more practice.  So, did he want to mazimize his SD practice and also play at IDPA, or did he want to practice with two guns, work on SD, and work on IDPA at the same time?  He decided that was really the question, and started thinking about it.

(I realize that at this time, the people who carry 5 different guns and rotate them out weekly or have the “you should be able to handle EVERY gun!” attitude will be wondering why this is a problem.  For you folks, never mind.)

Back to what my friend was thinking about:  When I thought about it, I really wondered if that really was the right question.  What if, instead, the real question is:  are you completely wedded to the idea of a .45acp for self-defense?

You know what current research says about modern self-defense rounds in 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?  It says that 1) all are marginal in effectiveness, 2) reliable physiological stops only occur due to disruption of the central nervous system (CNS), 3) those calibers work equally well (or rather, equally badly) for shots placed in the CNS, and 4) all calibers (including .22) work equally well for psychological stops.  Oh:  5) Heavier bullets (in pistols) work slightly better to defeat intermediate barriers, if your lifestyle happens to be such that you often have to shoot through doors and windshields.

(How many .45/.40 folks just said, “Well yeah, see, mine is better” I wonder?)

How often DO you want to be able to shoot through intermediate barriers?  (Unless you have a job that potentially requires it, of course.)  Don’t people who think about normal citizen self-defense usually worry about the exact opposite?

So here’s the thing:  unless you have a job that requires you to have slightly better than pretty bad barrier penetration, there is no effective difference between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP.  For physiological stops, they are all very bad unless you get a precise CNS hit, whereupon they all work equally well.  For psychological stops, they all work as equally well as a .22 LR out of a Beretta Bobcat.

So truthfully, my suggestion to my friend?  Think about carrying a G17 or a G19 instead of that G30, and use a G17 or a G34 in competition.  The grip, trigger, and recoil will all be similar, you’ll have more rounds for self-defense (without giving up much of anything in effectiveness), and you’ll be more competitive in IDPA all at the same time.

That isn’t to say that everyone should carry a 9mm.  You should carry whatever you like!  This merely is my solution to my friend’s problem, and YOU may not have this problem.  You may just like the feel of a 1911 in .45acp better plus you think JMB was the last True Prophet.  Or you may like the .40 because muzzle blast, recoil, AND capacity should all be maximized simultaneously.  Or maybe you like 9mm because…..well, there’s probably a reason out there somewhere to like 9mm.

Pick what you like.  But 1) don’t base your decision on some supposed “advantage” to one caliber in terms of effectiveness—there isn’t one, and 2) don’t let your personal preference get in the way of making the most logical choice for all the reasons you might need a gun.

And quit telling me that your caliber is better than the others for random nonsense reasons that have no basis in reality.


(No, I haven’t forgotten about the “How to Learn To Shoot” series—part IIA will be coming relatively soon.)

Why do people keep saying IDPA is more accuracy-oriented than USPSA?

“IDPA rewards marksmanship, USPSA rewards speed.”

I keep hearing that IDPA is much more accuracy-oriented than USPSA…and I wonder why.

Most places that discuss the differences between IDPA and USPSA all seem to agree that IDPA is much more accuracy oriented, and that in USPSA it is all about speed.  (Or at least, significantly more about speed than IDPA.)  So much so, that in USPSA you can “miss fast enough to win” but in IDPA, poor accuracy will just destroy you.  Looking at articles, forum discussion, etc—everyone seems to agree with this.

And you know what?  I really don’t understand that.

Let’s take the last IDPA match I just shot.  I had some accuracy problems, and on a 12-round stage, shot one mike and one -1 hit.  (Roughly the equivalent of one mike and one C-hit in USPSA.)  In IDPA, this means 6 points down, for an additional 3 seconds of time added to my score.  I shot the stage in 16.25, so my total time was 19.25.

Here’s the thing:  Had this been a USPSA match, my initial hit factor would have been 43 points / 16.25 seconds or 2.6462.  (Misses really hurt your points in USPSA.  And for the record, I’m using Production Minor scoring here, which is what I shoot, which matches the gun/division I shoot in IDPA.)

Now, what if I had shot that stage perfectly in the time given by the final IDPA score, which includes their penalties for bad hits?  In other words, shot perfectly (60 points) but in 19.25 seconds?  (So, I’m using the time created by IDPA as the appropriate penalty for poor accuracy.)

My hit factor would have been 3.1169.  In other words, going slower but with better accuracy was worth MORE in USPSA, compared to what IDPA considered a reasonable penalty.

If USPSA and IDPA were equally accuracy/speed oriented, the hit factor should have stayed the same.  After all, that IDPA time corresponded to what they believe should be the penalty for poor shooting—that every C-hit-equivalent is worth half of a second, and every miss is worth 2.5 seconds of penalty time.

And yet, in USPSA, those points lost (for this case) are worth MUCH more than that time penalty.  One miss and one C-hit in USPSA means 17 points lost—which on a 60-point stage, is HUGE.

For this case, accuracy is MUCH more important in USPSA.

Okay, maybe that case is just an odd one–maybe most of the time, it is the other way around.

…and yet, it doesn’t really seem to be.  I’ve shot four stages in IDPA in the past two months, and in each case, the time penalty given for IDPA is worth significantly less than the penalty that occurs in USPSA due to poor accuracy.  (Particularly if there are misses involved.)

Here’s another way of looking at it:

If you take our scores from the last IDPA Nebraska match (which you can get from Practiscore) you can then look at how people did relative to each other.  If we do the normal % method, we can see that the difference between first place and second place using IDPA scoring was a little over 14%.  And yet, if we performed scoring using the USPSA method, the difference was only 7%.  The first place person ran the stages much faster than everyone else—but also dropped more points than most.

You’d think that the sport that was more accuracy-oriented would then have the smallest difference between 1st and 2nd place because 1st was faster–but dropped more points than the rest.  And yet, we see that it was in USPSA scoring where that lack of accuracy actually brought the 2nd-place finisher closer to winning.

What if there aren’t misses?  Well, if you get down to only one or two points down, AND the stage itself has close to the IDPA maximum of rounds, then you might get a case where the IDPA penalty is worth more than the USPSA penalty.

But the rest of the time?  A comparison of IDPA time penalties for points down (and what it does to your score) and USPSA points lost (and what it does to your hit factor) seems to show that dropping points in USPSA hurts you more than it does in IDPA.

…if you are shooting Minor in USPSA.  Shooting Major may be different.

An example that someone used on the Brian Enos forums awhile back, to “prove” how IDPA penalizes poor accuracy more, started with a standard “El Presidente,” and immediately showed how IDPA penalized poor accuracy far more than USPSA—and the math did work out.  However, for it to actually make a difference, the stage had to be only a few seconds long.  If you run the numbers, during extremely low-time stages, of course the IDPA penalties are going to be relatively bigger—as they are absolute, and don’t change.  However, once you start getting into stages that are 14 seconds or longer—something as small as one C-hit actually makes more of a difference in USPSA than it does in IDPA.  (I could show you the match, but I’m not sure you’d all be interested in it…)

It is also true that misses and hits on no-shoot targets get penalized a LOT more in USPSA than they do in IDPA, which is odd considering the “we do REALISTIC shooting” attitude of IDPA.  On a 12-round stage, if you pull a miss in USPSA, you have just lost 25% of your possible points on that stage, period.  In IDPA, you just added 2.5 seconds.    If it is a 5 second stage, that is one thing.  But if (like the stage last weekend) it was (at fastest) a 16 second IDPA stage, then it only made a 15% difference.  And since all those times add up, a faster run elsewhere can mitigate that problem.  In USPSA, you are never getting those points back.

This isn’t a “one is better than the other” sort of article, by the way.  It is merely a commentary that in both USPSA and IDPA, the people who win are the ones that shoot the most accurately, the fastest.  In neither one can you win by only being really accurate, or only being really fast.

For very short stages, yes, USPSA puts a higher premium on speed than IDPA.  For longer stages, the IDPA penalties for poor accuracy really aren’t as severe as what happens in USPSA.  (Again, this is based on USPSA Minor scoring, as guns fitting Production division are what is shot most in IDPA in this area.)

So please quit telling me that “IDPA rewards marksmanship, USPSA rewards speed” — because you know what?  To succeed at either one takes BOTH.

I need a gun to feel like a man?

Awhile back, people locally made a number of comments on a local mall’s Facebook page about the mall’s proposed policy to make itself a “gun-free zone.”  The comments were fairly standard, saying that if the mall didn’t want to allow them effective self-defense, that they wouldn’t shop there.  Almost all of the comments stayed civil and factual from the pro-self-defense side.  (Not quite all—there are always idiots on every side.  But almost all.)

Whereupon a number of people commented back with things like:

  • “I’m not paranoid enough to need to pack a gun when shopping.”
  • “I’m glad that people who think they need guns will stay away.”
  • “Why are you so scared?  Why do you need a gun just to go out in public?”
  • And my favorite:  “I’m glad the freaks who need a gun to feel like a man will stay away.”

….and the comments went downhill from there.

I really don’t understand why people who say those things happen to think that way. After all, surely they have a reason to believe that.  If they didn’t have a reason, they wouldn’t just make up vicious derogatory commentary, would they?  Perhaps they had some information that I simply don’t have.

Recently, I had a friend (we’d been friends for a number of years) post a very anti-gun screed, to which I replied with a large set of statistics (and links for all of the citations where I got my facts, such as the CDC and the FBI)—and the entirety of her response was:  “Scared Thomas? Take your precious guns and move to El Salvador.”

Um, what?  I said:  “Scared?  Hm.  So, your response to a set of statistics refuting your commentary was a personal attack?  Why?”

Her response?  “Are you scared of [sic] someone is going to take your precious firearms away or that I have an opinion?  We get it already Thomas, you love your guns, maybe more than life itself.  Compensate much?”

What?   This was the response to a set of logical arguments backed with statistics on a particular topic?

Is it that scary to actually look at the facts?  It is so frightening that people might need to re-think their beliefs in the face of actual data describing reality?  So upsetting that moving immediately to personal attacks seems to be a good response?

Paranoid?  Compensating?  Scared?  Need a gun to feel like a man?

Why would people jump to those conclusions?  I mean, I know that for many people, cognitive dissonance results in serious emotional reactions—but immediately jumping to ridiculous conclusions that make no sense, giving emotional motives to other people that have no basis in reality?  Seriously?  I mean, I’ve read this article:  Raging Against Self-Defense, but you’d assume that most people would at least START a discussion before immediately reacting emotionally.

You see, when I carry, I like to think it is because I’m prudent, intelligent, and and have taken responsibility for the safety of myself and the people I love.

I wear a seatbelt whenever I’m in a motor vehicle, even though I haven’t been in even a minor fender-bender in years.  I have a fire extinguisher in my home, even though it has never been on fire.  (Well, the outside was once when my neighbor set his lawn on fire, but I was elsewhere at the time.)  I keep jumper cables and a spare tire in my car, though I haven’t needed them in years.    I wear safety glasses when using a power saw, even though nothing has ever contacted the glasses.  When cleaning up my student’s chemistry experiments, I wear protective gloves even though none of the materials they are using are likely to be remotely dangerous.

In a similar fashion, I carry a concealed firearm because 1) I have looked into the prevalence of crime in my area and the probability of my lifestyle intersecting with someone else’s criminal action–and it is low, but not zero, 2) I am aware that no one else is able to protect both myself and my loved ones in a self-defense situation (most likely, no one else would even try), and 3) taking steps for protective purposes (like having a fire extinguisher, wearing safety glasses, and wearing seltbelts) is not difficult—you just make it a part of your lifestyle.

I’m not paranoid—it is unlikely that I’ll ever have to use any weapon at all.  (And that is a good thing.)  I don’t think I’ll “need” a gun—if I thought I was going someplace where I’d need a gun, I’d simply not go–but if I had to go, I’d bring 30 friends with guns, preferably all armed with cannon.  In a similar fashion, I’m not scared to go out without a gun—but like wearing a seatbelt, since it is simple and potentially useful, why not do it?

As for the “feel like a man” comment—it doesn’t really deserve a response (particularly since a number of CCW permit holders I know are female) but I will say:  “Projecting much?”

I realize it derails the whole “trying to be calm and rational in discussion” thing I’m trying for here, but seriously:  I’m tired of attempting to explain my perfectly rational behavior to idiots who prefer to make commentary based on the ignorant emotional projections of people who can’t be bothered to learn anything remotely resembling facts, or use any form of basic logic.

Want to discuss firearms and violence?  Excellent.  I’d be happy to engage in a discussion in which we debate so that we end up closer to the truth in our understanding of the world.  Please read and follow these rules for having a rational discussion, and we’ll have a great time.

Edited to add:

Read this link:  But YOU SAID THIS!!! Or why arguing with crazy people is pointless.

The entire thing is good—-but the last paragraph is completely brilliant.  And quite frankly, leaving out the hyperbole due to frustration, is pretty much spot-on.  (Thanks to Kozball for the link!)