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.40 vs. 9mm: Weapon Manipulation Trumps Ballistics

Caliber debates are endless and tiresome — which doesn't mean they aren't worth having. Gun writer and former Marine Corps officer Wiley Clapp recently penned on op-ed on American Rifleman professing his preference for the .40 S&W round over the 9mm. This works for him, and I have absolutely nothing but respect for the man. But I disagree with his take on the .40 vs. 9mm argument.

The old, tired, .40 vs. 9mm argument.


Now. There will be those who say the title you say above is “clickbait,” and that the caliber discussion is long past being worth the time.

It's not, and they're wrong. Conventional wisdom isn't, always. Things we accept as common knowledge aren't, always.

Don't be smug. It's always new to someone.

Joe Weyer teachingDavid teaching Mongo

.40 vs. 9mm: Weapon Manipulation Trumps Ballistics

My stance on caliber for social work is not based entirely on bullet performance; in fact, bullet performance comes in a distant second to my primary concern, which is the individual's ability to drive the gun. And not just on the ability to drive the gun, but to do so with the off hand by itself. My personal standard, which I'm aware many will mock, is that a person (specifically someone defending hearth and home, or carrying concealed in public) should never depend on a firearm-ammunition combo they cannot effectively use at 15m or closer with the support hand only.

It is, in a way, a sort of redundancy. Should your strong hand be removed from the fight — whether because it has a kid in it, it's taken a bullet, or it's in a cast because you were drunk on a trampoline — you still need to be able to fight. This means you must be functionally accurate with the support hand.

A well intentioned miss using the greatest, most killemest, stopping powerest .46 caliber bullet is of far less use in a shooting than a properly placed .22 Magnum round, and ideally you are in a shooting rather than a gunfight. How anyone could possibly argue with that is beyond me.

Note: to reiterate, that's firearm-ammunition combo. This isn't a new concept and I'm certainly not its progenitor. I believe the first time I heard it was in a debate with PDN/CFS HMFIC Rob Pincus, though I've since heard it many times on numerous ranges from lots of instructors.


Weapon Manipulation Trumps Ballistics: A Septuagenerian Example

It just makes sense. After struggling strong-hand to make consistent effective hits strong side only with both an off the shelf Glock 26 and 43, #GrandmaMaximus began experimenting with different firearms and calibers. She ultimately changed up from 9mm to .380 when she realized she could operate the weapon (a stock G43) and still make consistent head shots with the latter support hand only. In this case her choice was dictate by the ability to manage that ammunition using that weapon platform.

Now, it's important to note that she changed back to 9mm once she had the opportunity to shoot an ATEi/Holloway-modified S&W Shield. That decision was also predicated on her ability to manipulate a specific weapon, but the vast majority of gun owners can't or won't go to a customized Prestige level gun ensorcelled with +3 Shootability bonus by a wizard like Doug. Their decision will hinge more on the ammunition type, though the ergonomics of a specific weapon should always be considered.


None of these arguments for the 9mm over the .40 are new. None of the dissenting comments you'll read in response are new either; not everyone has heard them before, however, or seen them put in this particular context. Thus we deemed it worth initiating the conversation yet again, and welcome intelligent discourse for those who might be struggling with what breed and caliber of pistol to purchase.


USASOC soldier shooting a Glock — in some cases, like the military or an LE agency, you won't be able to choose the pistol you personally prefer; if you have that option though, it should be an informed choice.

I'll make one more comment, and in this particular case I will say unilaterally that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.

Agency or unit mandated firearms aside, do not ever choose a make, style, or caliber of pistol based on a single individual's opinion (especially if that individual is someone you just met sitting behind the counter at a gun store). Do your research. Get some opinions from people or organizations that have a clue (unless you get the sense they're an echo chamber). Ideally you'll get differing opinions, which is a Good Thing. Try different weapons on the range if you have the opportunity.

Anyone who says, “The perfect weapon for you is a weapon type,” or, “Never use anything smaller than a caliber type.” without explaining why and without enumerating its disadvantages as well is completely. full. of. shit.

Dave Spaulding Handgun Combatives

Consult a number of SMEs like the one above if you can make the opportunity. Even if they seem a little like William Munny.


There are many, many great instructors out there. You can learn a lot just by stalking them on social media.
Can't get to a class? Lots of great videos online, and YouTube doesn't cost anything but a few minutes of your time.

Here's part of Wiley Clapp's take on caliber choice.

We have had the .40 S&W cartridge since 1990, roughly a quarter century of active service. Much of that service was in law enforcement, but many civilian handgunners have also cheerfully climbed aboard the medium-bore bandwagon. When it's evaluated on the basis of actual field performance, the .40 out-performs its closest competitor, the 9 mm Luger, but falls short of the .45 ACP. The amazing fact to be drawn from all of this is that the least-effective cartridge has become most popular. This is a situation in need of some serious examination.

You can read the rest of his opinion, and some background on caliber development in the remainder of his article here.



A note on proper use of the internet argot.

Earlier we explained that the title of this article is not clickbait, and we were serious. It's not.

This right here is clickbait, although we've striven to ensure there is some actual redeeming information in the article.

There. Now you know.

How to clean your Glock 2

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