In 1950, Colt introduced their lightweight Commander 1911 style pistol in three calibers: the all-American .45 ACP, .38 Super, and 9mm Luger. It was the first American-made 9mm Parabellum. After all, for two world wars that had been “the enemy’s pistol cartridge.”  The Commander has been in production ever since, but for decades the 9mm was its least popular chambering.

Things have changed. The 9mm 1911 is now hugely popular.

In this article, from the issue of GUNS magazine that is currently on the newsstands, I attempt to explain why.


    • Esteemed and gracious Mas, that target shows your usual high proficiency. I am one too, who has gone happily from .45 ACP Combat Commander to compact 9mm. Please allow me to comment cautiously, however, that if the exhibited target were wearing a Level 4 vest with a “chicken plate,” you would likely have scored only one effective hit, which could have even been a “flyer” accident. No one should miss the point, however, that 9mm is generally thought of as extremely accurate, especially in “mag dump” volume, and so is very useful when the Mozambique Drill is called for.

  1. The 9mm Luger round is popular because it has a lot to offer to shooters. Consider these advantages:

    1) It is an efficient design using a compact case. As such, this leads to a number of associated benefits:

    A) Its small case uses less material. Compared with the .45 ACP, it uses less brass for the
    case, less powder, and a smaller bullet. Combined with its popularity, this means that it
    can be manufactured and sold for less cost.
    B) Its small case design means increased magazine capacity. Especially when used in
    double-stack magazines.
    C) Its small case design also means it can be adapted to everything from small, sub-
    compact carry guns to full-size service pistols.
    D) Its small case also gives it efficient powder burn characteristics. It generates good
    muzzle energy figures with acceptable muzzle blast. Especially when compared to some
    other high pressure cartridges such as the .357 SIG or .357 Magnum.

    2) Its popularity leads to increased market efficiency and selection. Therefore, large numbers
    of models have become available with selections to please every market segment.
    Competition drives down both the cost of the guns and the cost of 9mm ammo.

    3) The one real weakness of the 9mm Luger, its relatively poor stopping power with FMJ
    ammo, has been overcome with the development of modern JHP and other expanding
    designs. So, when modern defensive ammo is used, the 9mm works about as well as
    any other common handgun rounds.

    It should be noted that no handgun round is really all that powerful when compared with powerful long guns. Indeed, even long guns are not guaranteed stoppers. Witness that, in the recent Arbery Shooting, it took two hits from a 12 gauge shotgun (loaded with buckshot and fired at close range) to put Arbery down for good.

    In this context, the relatively mild recoil and fast shooting characteristics of most 9mm handguns is a plus if multiple hits are required to stop an aggressor.

    So, when all is said and done, the balanced design and many benefits of the 9mm Luger make it an ideal cartridge for defensive use. It really is not a mystery as to why the 9mm Luger is so popular.

    A “not invented here” mindset slowed down its acceptance in America as compared with the rest of the World. However, once it was adopted by the U.S. Military and many law-enforcement agencies, and improved defensive ammo was developed, its success could not be denied any longer.

    • TN_MAN, well spoken, as usual. When I see “9mm” in print, I am also often reminded of 9mm NATO, which seems to compare well with 9mm +p and .38 Super in penetrating ability. “NATO” is reminding me today of the need for belligerent nation-states to find common ground for de-escalation and hopefully for more serious Christian and other traditions of forgiveness, as well as promoting getting along, instead of exercising poorly controlled emotions. If you have ideas on promoting peace among NATO, Russia, and the Ukraine, please speak, Sir. May our brave Soldier “Girls”(one of whom I especially love and regard) and “Boys” be blessed with truly competent leadership along the lines of our past and future President Trump, who are capable of thinking and acting out-of-the-box in continually constructive ways.

      • Strategic Steve,

        Well said. I don’t know how to convince nations to avoid war. I might mention the cost to young lives, and wars can easily bankrupt nations. Of course, in modern times, unrestricted warfare could result in poisoning parts of the world with nuclear fallout, the way Chernobyl is poisoned. I think the Thirty Years War (1618–1648, in the area we call “Germany” today) is instructive. What I have read is that, the war was fought over religion and politics, which were united in those days. Both sides got so worn out and impoverished, they just decided to stop fighting because of exhaustion. Everyone should look at The Thirty Years War before they rattle their sabres.

        By land mass, Russia is the largest country on earth. It has 11 time zones. Why does the largest country on earth need to be even larger? Sounds like another example of human greed to me.

        Rodney King famously asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” No Rodney, we can’t.

  2. I own three .45ACP pistols, but use them mainly for range practice. My defensive loads don’t feed as reliably as I would like in the Commander and certainly not in the mil-spec 1911A1 which prefers a steady diet of ball ammunition. My S&W MP45 will eat anything I feed it, but unless I wear several layers of clothing it stands out in a crowd, but not in a good way.

    My heart is with the Beretta 92 series, both the G and the Compact. Absolutely reliable and they ride well on the hip despite their double stack mags. I like shooting the 1911s for old times sake, but time and technology march on.

  3. Consider an XDE, gives you DA/SA or cocked and locked SA. Excellent sights, good trigger, not M1911 match quality, but good. Feeds everything.

  4. MY LW commander manufactured in 1951, the year I was born, is my carry gun, however it is in 38 super. It is not all that fun to shoot. I load it with COR-BON 130 gr hollow points. I do have a colt competition in 9mm and it shoots well.

  5. A1911 in something other than that cartridge of ballistic anti-personnel bliss, the .45 acp? Less recoil? Easier to shoot? Can shoot it more accurately? Faster? None of these matter. It is the Holy instrument of John Moses Browning we are talking about here. Go ahead and get one in that Eurotrash 9×19 Luger, or the cheat-for-higher -scores .38 Super if you want, but it will never be the nexus of that triad of .45 acp, 1911, and, yes, steel, perfection that angels delivered directly to HRH Browning. Priorities. Keep them straight. But, you know, a Lightweight Commander in 7.62×25 would be very cool, too. Nice article. Great read.

  6. I have many 9mm pistols which are fun to own and shoot. However, I don’t carry one as a primary weapon and even seldom as a backup. The 9X19 cartridge is like the proverbial ‘Free Lunch’. It’s less expensive, more controllable, shoots flatter, weights less, more compact so pistols are smaller/lighter and carry more ammo, has as much or more stopping power than the obsolete .45 ACP, and NATO uses it. Everything about the 9X19 is good and there’s no downside. When something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

    I’m waiting for the next big shootout between the good and bad guys like the late 1980’s Miami situation and when the much admired 9X19 fails to quickly incapacitate a criminal, there will be a mad rush to find something more effective. Maybe the next time it will be the .357 SIG instead of the 10mm of the 1980’s which the FBI or other alphabet agency will adopt.

    My humble advice to fans of the 9X19 is to get as much expanding ammo in that caliber as you can because if things go really bad in the future and only ball ammunition is available, those little non-deforming projectiles are not going to work very well on the bad guys/gals, especially if they’re intoxicated or pumped up on drugs.

  7. My first regular range gun was a Llama 9 mm 1911 copy, and I put thousands of rounds through it at one or the other of the Duncan ranges back in the old days. I shot it then because it was all I had, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized how wonderful it was, especially compared to a Beretta 92 in the same cartridge.

  8. Everything written above is wonderful and instructive.

    If I was limited to full metal jacket ammo, I would want to use .45 ACP for self-defense. If I can have hollow points, then I believe 9x19mm Parabellum is the way to go.

    Isn’t it great to live during The Golden Age of Technology, and have choices? Imagine warriors thousands of years ago debating the usefulness of the spear versus the bow, or debating which is better for self defense, arrowheads made from flint, bronze, iron or steel? Ha! Ha!

    • Roger, watch out for those dangerous bows. I once accidentally shot myself with one while cleaning it. Make sure it’s not loaded before handling to avoid mishaps 😉

  9. My only problem with the 1911 in 9mm is that the grip is larger, both front to back and side to side, than it needs to be. I’ve never had the opportunity to fire a Springfield EMP 9mm, but I really admire the concept. 9+1 capacity, single action trigger, slim profile, ambidextrous safety (I’m left handed), 3 or 4 inch barrel; what’s not to like?

    • Prof, you’ll like the new S&W CSX (not really a 1911, but single action auto carried cocked and locked). The EMP, a scaled down 1911 in 9mm, is now available with a 30% price cut as the EMP Ronin.

  10. If Arnold was here, he’d be talking about the girly men who shoot the girly 9 mm pistol, while powdering their noses, and sipping pink, girly drinks.


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