45 ACP vs 9mm Luger

Article Posted: March 17, 2016

45 acp 9mm compare

So which is the better cartridge the 45 ACP with its hard hitting slow moving projectile or the low recoil high capacity 9mm? Let's take a look at all the data and see.

This article has been a long time coming, and before we even start we want to let you know up front there is no real cut and dry answer as to which is the better cartridge. This page will however allow you to make a very informed decision, as well as give you the ability to join the ever popular 45 vs 9 debate with those knuckleheads over at your local gunshop. :)

We also know this is a touchy subject, people do love their cartridges. We are going to do what we always do here at GunData and look at all the information and compare the 2 cartridges in a very accurate and easy to understand manner.

Like they always say...if you can't explain something simple you don't truly understand it.

45 ACP Quick History

Designed back in 1904 for by legendary firearm designer John Browning, he designed the round for use in his prototype 45 colt semi-auto. It was also used in that time period for the 1911 / M1911 and was later adopted by the Army.

(click here to learn more)

9mm Quick History

The 9mm also called 9x19 Para was designed by the Austrian Georg Luger in 1901. The cartridge shortly afterwards hit production in 1902.

(click here to learn more)

Short Note:

So we can see from the quick history that the cartridges were designed and produced within the same decade, early 1900's when the semi auto pistol was coming into it own. Both of these cartridges are non-revolver cartridges. Yes you can get a revolver chambered in both 45 and 9mm but there is very little point to it. Revolver cartridges tend to be long, while non revolving pistols that rely on magazines tend to be shorter because the magazine has to fit into the grip.

What really matters in a handgun cartridge?

You often hear something like..."A handgun is only good for fighting your way to a rifle", and that does make a good point. If you are new to firearms or cartridge analysis you will quickly realize even large "heavy hitting" cartridges like the 45 acp are nothing compared to even the medium to small rifle cartridges like the .223 Rem. A pistol cartridge is being fired out of a 2" to 6" barrel with limited powder, the bullet just doesn't have the space needed to get up to higher speeds. Heck the average FPS on a 45 ACP is 937, while average FPS .223 Rem is 3148.

So assuming you don't have any grandiose expectations of your pistol cartridge blowing doors of their hinges and sending bad guys soaring through the air in a pyrotechnic display of might, what should a person require out of a pistol cartridge?

  • Rounds / Capacity - At the lowest level you need a cartridge / bullet. If you don't have at least 1 your pistol is essentially nothing more than an expensive hammer.
  • Power - Also known as energy, stopping power, knockdown power. The round has to cause damage. The more the better.
  • Manageability - The cartridge must not create so much recoil that it's just not possible to fire a followup shot. Think 44 Mag totally unmanageable right?
  • Reliable Platform - the cartridge must have a reliable platform to be fired out of. We won't discuss this as they both have more than reliable and time tested platforms.

So how do each of these rounds stand up?

45 ACP (Rounds / Capacity)

9mm over 45 size

The 45 acp is a fat cartridge (Width: 0.48") and average capacity in the 1911 it's most popular platform, is just 9 rounds. To be fair lets use the standard size Glock 37 since its a double stacked magazine, and it holds 10. So on average you will have 10 rounds.

9mm (Rounds / Capacity)

The 9mm is medium sized cartridge. This allows for a good deal of capacity in it's most common platforms. The military uses the Beretta M9 and it has a 15 round magazine. However to make things fair we are also going to compare it using the standard Glock 17. The G17 chambered in 9mm has a magazine capacity of 17.

45 ACP (Power / Energy)

The average energy that a 45 acp will push is 403 fpps that is using the average 200 gr bullet traveling just over 930 fps. This is a large, slow moving, projectile. Large and slow means it is less likely to over penetrate it's target, so all energy is dumped into whatever it impacts. Dimensions - Height: 0.898" and Width: 0.48" Gundata.org gives the 45acp a power rank of 3.88 out of 7.

9mm (Power / Energy)

The 9mm is a slightly faster moving projectile with an average fps of 1136. Average energy is 357. The 9mm is a faster smaller projectile, so it's more likely to over penetrate and as such has a greater risk of not dumping all of it's energy into the target. Dimensions - Height: 0.754" and Width: 0.394" GunData.org gives the 9mm Luger a power rank of 2.82 out of 7.

45 ACP (Manageability)

The 45 acp has a bit more recoil than the 9mm, and our database marks it as 0.93 out of 4. More recoil means more time spent between shots trying to get back on target.

9mm (Manageability)

The 9mm Luger has slightly less recoil. Our database marks it as a .65 out of 4. Less recoil means faster follow up shots.

45 auto PMC FMJ 230gr vs 9mm PMC FMS 124gr (200 yards, 10 yard increments)

45 vs 9 Trajectory

Let's take a look at these 2 cartridges both made by PMC and as a FMJ. PMC is a pretty run of the mill cartridge manufacturer and the FMJ's bullet won't muck with the trajectory and velocity. 45 acp 230 gr initial velocity is 830 (slightly slower than average 45 velocity), and the 9mm 124 gr initial velocity is 1110 (slightly slower than average 9mm velocity). The following chart shows the trajectory and energy of each cartridge.

A A .45 Auto (.45 ACP), PMC Full Metal Jacket, 230gr

B B 9mm Luger (9mm Parabellum) (9x19mm), PMC Full Metal Jacket, 124gr

Range Drop
Velocity Energy Time
0 -1.4523 -1.4709 830 1110 352 339 1 1
10 1.1525 0.1293 821 1088 344 326 38 28
20 3.2416 1.4358 812 1068 337 314 74 56
30 4.8039 2.4374 804 1049 330 303 111 84
40 5.8284 3.1233 796 1032 324 293 149 113
50 6.3038 3.4828 788 1016 317 284 187 143
60 6.2186 3.5053 780 1001 311 276 225 172
70 5.5615 3.1807 772 986 304 268 264 203
80 4.3206 2.4988 764 973 298 261 303 233
90 2.4842 1.4497 757 960 293 254 342 264
100 0.0403 0.0235 749 948 286 247 382 296
110 -3.0232 -1.7894 742 936 281 241 422 327
120 -6.7186 -3.9988 734 925 275 236 463 360
130 -11.0585 -6.6142 727 915 270 230 504 392
140 -16.0555 -9.6452 720 904 265 225 546 425
150 -21.7224 -13.1015 713 894 260 220 587 459
160 -28.0724 -16.9924 707 885 255 216 630 492
170 -35.1187 -21.3277 700 875 250 211 672 527
180 -42.8748 -26.1169 693 866 245 206 715 561
190 -51.3543 -31.3697 687 857 241 202 759 596
200 -60.5712 -37.0956 680 848 236 198 803 631


So which cartridge is the winner? Which cartridge is the best? Well the .470 Nitro Express of course...wait what you mean you don't want a broken clavicle? Well ok then...we have to say that it depends on your capacity as a shooter. If you are a skilled marksman (like Seal Team 6, or Matt V 2099) then the 45 is the winner. If you never miss, never need a follow up round... then the 45 is the clear winner. If however you are like most of the population and you are just "decent" then the 9mm is most likely the winner since you have lot's of capacity and ability for follow up shots.

How to really answer this question?

Get 200 rounds of 9mm, 200 rounds of 45 acp and go to the range. Don't have a gun?.. thats fine most ranges will rent you a gun for about $10 ot $20. If you seem to shoot both equally as well then choose the 45 as it makes a bigger hole. If you shoot the 9mm better than the 45 auto then choose the 9mm. If you shoot the 45 auto better than the 9 then choose the 45. The biggest factor is not the tiny differences in the capacity or energy, but rather the ability of the person squeezing the trigger to do his or her job. Practice...practice...practice...and then practice some more. Don't just buy a gun and stick it in a safe or glove compartment box and let is gather dust. If all else fails just buy a Bazooka.

What do you think? Let's start a dialogue in the comments below.

As always we hope that this article has been informative and pointed you in the right direction. Please post your comments in the comment section below.

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