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5.7x28mm Vs. 9mm Luger: Caliber Debate

Another caliber debate! Why? Because you love 'em, that's why.

5.7×28 might have one of the cooler origin stories, as far as ammo goes, but 9mm has basically every war in the last 120 years. That’s a lot of street rep. 

What is better, what is best, and why are a bit complex. But we’ll dig into it and see if we can’t break it down for you fine readers.

5.7x28mm Vs 9mm: Where They Came From

Let’s get started by taking a look at the history of each of these formidable cartridges. 

We’ll start with 9mm Luger (aka 9x19mm Parabellum, 9mm Parabellum, or just 9mm) since it’s the older of the two. Dating back to its introduction in 1902 by Georg Luger, the renowned Austrian gun designer, this cartridge was developed to meet the demands of military applications, and specifically for the German Luger P08 pistol. 

9mm quickly became incredibly popular for just those sorts of applications. Over the years, 9mm has earned global acclaim, being adopted by numerous military and law enforcement agencies for its reliability, versatility, and proven performance.

9mm, 357 sig, .40 caliber
Left to right: 9mm Europellet, 357 Irrelevant, and 10mm Short.

Its relatively compact size, manageable recoil, and effective ballistics made it an ideal choice for handguns. Across the decades, 9mm has undergone various modifications and improvements, ensuring its continued relevance and versatility in the firearms community.

In contrast, FN 5.7x28mm was developed by the legendary FN Herstal, a Belgian firearms manufacturer, in the late 1980s. In fact, it was specifically designed to replace 9mm. Initially designed for the FN P90 submachine gun and the FN Five-seveN pistol, this cartridge aimed to deliver enhanced penetration, reduced recoil, and increased magazine capacity. 

The development of 5.7x28mm was heavily influenced by the concept of “personal defense weapons” (PDWs). PDWs are compact firearms that bridge the gap between handguns, SMGs, and rifles, offering improved range and some armor-piercing capabilities. 

The 5.7x28mm cartridge was specifically designed to maximize the potential of PDWs, enabling them to defeat body armor (up to a point) and deliver accurate fire at extended ranges. But, as we’ll see, much of that isn’t as relevant today as it was back in the Cold War.

5.7x28mm Vs 9mm Today

Fast forward to the present day, and both 5.7x28mm and 9mm have secured their places in the firearms realm. 

9mm Parabellum, being one of the most popular and widely used handgun cartridges, finds extensive application in the military, law enforcement, and civilian sectors. Its effectiveness, manageable recoil, and magazine capacity make it a preferred choice for self-defense purposes. 9mm offers a good balance between stopping power and controllability, allowing shooters to deliver accurate and rapid follow-up shots.

In military contexts, 9mm is commonly used as the standard pistol cartridge for armed forces around the world. 9mm's performance characteristics and its track record in real-world engagements make it a reliable choice for military personnel. Well, as far as a pistol cartridge can.

Law enforcement agencies also love it for similar reasons. Moreover, the availability of high-capacity magazines and the wide selection of ammunition loads tailored for law enforcement further solidify its position as a preferred choice.

Among civilians, 9mm is a popular cartridge for concealed carry, home defense, and recreational shooting. Additionally, the vast selection of 9mm handguns on the market allows individuals to choose a firearm (often several) that best suits their preferences and requirements.

5.7x28mm, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly the same popularity as 9mm. Still, it’s managed to garner its fair share of enthusiasts and found its niche in specialized roles that demand specific characteristics.

For example, it’s often used by specialized military and law enforcement units that require increased penetration capabilities and extended range. The high velocity and armor-piercing nature of 5.7x28mm make it effective against soft-armored targets, making it suitable for some tactical scenarios.

Furthermore, 5.7x28mm has found its niche among civilian shooters who appreciate its unique attributes. Some individuals value its reduced recoil, which allows for improved control and faster follow-up shots. It also enjoys moderate popularity among security personnel and armed guards. 

If your job is to protect a bank or a armored car filled with cash, a pistol that can defeat soft-body armory and hold a boatload of ammo per mag is very appealing.

5.7x28mm Vs 9mm Dimensions

To gain a better understanding of these cartridges, let's dig into the technical specifications. Take a look at this chart comparing the dimensions of these two rounds:

Parent CaseBullet DiameterCase LengthOverall LengthCase CapacitySAAMI Max Pressure
5.7x28mmNone5.70 mm (0.224 in)28.90 mm (1.138 in)40.50 mm (1.594 in)0.90 cm3 (13.9 gr H2O)345.00 MPa (50,038 psi)
9x19mm7.65mm Luger9.01 mm (0.355 in)19.15 mm (0.754 in)29.69 mm (1.169 in)0.862 cm3 (13.30 gr H2O)241.3165 MPa (35,000.00 psi)

Analyzing the numbers, we can obviously see that FN 5.7x28mm features a narrower bullet diameter, longer case length, and larger overall length when compared to 9mm. Additionally, it boasts a larger case capacity and a higher SAAMI maximum pressure. These distinctions significantly impact the performance characteristics of each round.

By The Numbers: Ballistic Comparison:

Based on just the larger case capacity and higher max pressure, we’d generally assume that 5.7mm would have a higher velocity and energy and therefore a flatter trajectory, and that is partially true. However, that’s only part of the story because of one other major factor: bullet size. 

Take a look at the ballistics and see what we mean:

CartridgeMuzzle50 Yards100 Yards
VelocityEnergyVelocityEnergyTrajectoryVelocityEnergyTrajectory
5.7x28mm, 40 gr1800 fps288 ft-lbs1510 fps203 ft-lbs0.1”1271 fps144 ft-lb-2.7”
9mm Luger, 115 gr1210 fps374 ft-lbs1071 fps293 ft-lbs-0.8”981 fps246 ft-lb-8.2”

*Compares manufacturer’s claims for Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection 

Because of its significantly larger bullet, 9mm is actually capable of higher energies than 5.7mm. However, those aren’t enough to offset the other factors we just mentioned since 5.7mm takes the edge in velocity, resulting in an overall much flatter trajectory.

Power & Performance

Given the higher energy of the 9mm, it excels in scenarios that demand stopping power and energy transfer. This round is particularly suitable for self-defense, law enforcement, and military applications where immediate incapacitation is crucial. 9mm's larger bullet diameter contributes to a wider wound channel, enhanced by good ammo choice.

In contrast, 5.7x28mm, with its high velocity and flat trajectory, finds its strength in extended-range accuracy and armor-piercing capabilities. It is a compelling choice for specialized applications that require enhanced penetration and extended effective range. That said, 5.7x28mm is still plenty effective on meat, even without the larger bullet. Between the rounds ability to fragment, bounce around, and generally cause a lot of damage, 5.7x28mm can chew up meat. 

Recoil & Shootability

When it comes to recoil, 5.7x28mm tends to exhibit less felt recoil compared to 9mm. This characteristic allows for faster follow-up shots and improved shootability, making it an appealing option for shooters who are recoil-sensitive or seek a more manageable shooting experience. 

(left to right) AAC 5.7x28mm, 9mm FMJ, and 10mm FMJ

9mm, while having a slightly higher recoil, remains controllable for most shooters, especially with proper training and technique.

Ammunition Availability & Cost

Now, let's discuss practicality. 9mm holds a significant advantage in terms of ammunition availability and cost. It has established itself as one of the most popular handgun cartridges worldwide, boasting a vast array of ammunition options, including affordable choices. This wide availability ensures easy access to ammunition and provides shooters with a diverse selection of loads.

On the other hand, 5.7x28mm, although gaining something of a cult following, offers a limited range of ammunition options, which can translate to higher costs compared to 9mm. Availability may vary based on location and local firearm regulations, so it's essential to consider this aspect when making your decision.

Generally speaking, 5.7x28mm is about double the price of 9mm for training ammo and roughly par for defensive ammo.

Make It Simple

When it comes to selecting a cartridge, it all boils down to your specific needs and preferences, so it’s impossible, even for experts like us, to say one of these rounds is inherently better than the other. If you prioritize raw energy, stopping power, and wide ammunition availability, 9mm emerges as a clear winner. It has a proven track record, extensive adoption, and versatility for a variety of applications.

However, if you seek extended-range accuracy, enhanced penetration capabilities, and reduced recoil, 5.7x28mm may be a suitable choice for specialized scenarios where its unique attributes shine.

Ultimately, I think both 5.7x28mm and 9mm offer their own advantages and excel in different areas, so think about your intended purpose, shooting preferences, and the availability of ammunition before making your final decision. And, of course, you can always just choose both. The more the merrier when it comes to the contents of a gun safe, if you ask me. 

That being said… unless you understand your niche and you have a real need for something like 5.7x28mm, 9mm is going to be your better bet overall. Being different just to be different isn’t a great idea.

Parting Shots

As we conclude our exploration of the 5.7x28mm versus 9mm debate, remember that firearms and ammunition selection is a highly personal choice. It's essential to understand the strengths and limitations of each cartridge, evaluate your needs, and consider factors such as power, recoil, availability, and cost. 

With this knowledge in hand, you should have no problem making an informed decision and embarking on your shooting adventures with the right cartridge by your side.

Happy shooting! Stay safe, stay responsible, and stay strapped. 

Oh, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

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