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Should the FBI Switch From .40 S&W to 9mm Luger?

FBI switch from .40 S&W to 9mm Luger
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Taking advantage of recent advances in bullet technology, the FBI has decided to switch from .40 S&W to 9mm Luger as their new standard service round.

In an announcement certain to stir significant controversy in the shooting and law enforcement communities, the FBI recently announced a switch from .40 S&W to 9mm Luger as their primary handgun service round.

In response to queries from law enforcement agencies all over the country, many of whom traditionally follow the lead of the FBI and also use .40 S&W, the FBI Training Division released a statement explaining their reasoning.

The statement was not classified Law Enforcement Sensitive and has since spread to civilian shooting circles. The report is posted in its entirety here. I encourage you to read the full report and the research studies that it cites and decide for yourself whether you agree or not.

Below are a few points that I’ve pulled from the executive summary of the report by the FBI justifying their decision to switch from .40 S&W to 9mm Luger:

  • 9mm Luger now offers select projectiles which are, under identical testing conditions, outperforming most of the premium line .40 S&W and .45 Auto projectiles tested by the FBI
  • LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) miss between 70 – 80 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident
  • 9mm Luger offers higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (both in ammunition and wear on the weapons) and higher functional reliability rates (in FBI weapons)
  • The majority of FBI shooters are both FASTER in shot strings fired and more ACCURATE with shooting a 9mm Luger vs shooting a .40 S&W (similar sized weapons)
  • There is little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks between premium line law Auto enforcement projectiles from 9mm Luger through the .45 Auto

The 9mm Luger earned a bad reputation after the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami where the bullet failed to perform as desired. In the 28 years that have elapsed since that incident, there have been significant advances in bullet technology, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the terminal performance of the 9mm Luger.

Primarily due to these advances, the FBI has elected to switch back to the 9mm Luger, completing a full circle that began over a quarter of a century ago.

The FBI makes several very interesting points in their report and for the most part, I agree. For those who are still skeptical about the wisdom of switching from the .40 S&W to 9mm Luger, consider the following points (which are my thoughts, not the FBI’s.)

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Purely for the sake of argument, let’s agree that generally speaking, a single .40 S&W bullet is probably a slightly more effective “man stopper” than a single 9mm Luger bullet.

The question then becomes: is the .40 S&W so much more powerful than the 9mm Luger that its power outweighs the reduced magazine capacity, increased recoil, and increased cost of the .40 S&W compared to the 9mm Luger?

I would say no. Here’s why:

In an apples to apples comparison, a standard magazine for the Glock 17 (9mm) contains 17 rounds vs only 15 for the Glock 22 (.40 S&W). That is over 13% greater capacity. I sincerely doubt that the .40 S&W is a 13% more effective “man stopper” than the 9mm Luger to make up for the reduced magazine capacity.

Also, consider the fact that 70-80% of all shots fired by Law Enforcement Officers miss their target. If only 20-30% of rounds fired actually hit the target, a 13% larger magazine can translate into an additional hit, which may mean the difference between stopping and not stopping an assailant.

I think we can all agree that above all else, shot placement is the most important aspect of stopping a violent attack and that proper training is essential for good shot placement. After all, even a bullet from a .500 S&W won’t do the job if it is placed poorly.

Civilian shooters and law enforcement officers alike live in a world where money for training is limited. Depending on the exact load, .40 S&W ammunition can be anywhere from 10% to 50% more expensive than 9mm ammunition. This translates to more training for the same amount of money, which in theory, results in better shot placement.

Taken together, I believe that all of these other considerations make the 9mm Luger a superior choice compared to the .40 S&W.

I’m not trying to take away anything from the .40 S&W: I believe it is a fine round. But all things considered, I think the 9mm Luger is a better choice for most shooters. That being said, if you own a .40 S&W and shoot it well, by all means, keep using it.

In the meantime, the FBI and I will be shooting the 9mm Luger.

Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams at The Big Game Hunting Blog. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt

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Should the FBI Switch From .40 S&W to 9mm Luger?