.38 Spl. Vs 9-mm

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John b
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Joined: Mon Sep 04, 2023 1:05 pm

.38 Spl. Vs 9-mm

Post by John b »

The basics of .38 Special vs. 9 mm:

• .38 Special is a revolver round; 9 mm is typically a semi-auto round
• .38 Special is rimmed; 9 mm is rimless
• .38 Special is taller than 9 mm and has a larger case capacity
• Both calibers are popular for self defense and perform well in ballistic gel tests
• .38 Special concealed carry revolvers typically have 5-round capacity; 9mm concealed carry pistols typically have a 7-round+ capacity

.38 Special History

After the .38 Long Colt’s poor performance in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. government sought out a new revolver through Smith & Wesson. Smith & Wesson’s new cartridge had the same diameter as the .38 Long Colt, but with a heavier bullet and hotter black powder charge. Due to its popularity, Smith & Wesson soon offered this new round, the .38 Smith & Wesson Special, in smokeless powder loadings. Smith & Wesson’s new revolver had a medium-frame with a swing-out cylinder with manual ejection. This differed from the older top-break revolvers from Smith.

9 mm History

Austrian firearm designer George Luger developed the 9 mm cartridge in 1901. He worked for the German arms company Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) and had previously developed the 7.65x21mm cartridge for his Luger pistol.

The German Army wanted a larger cartridge than a .30 cal pistol round, so Luger went to work. He took the bottleneck out of the 7.65 round and put a .355 caliber bullet in it, creating the 9 mm.

.38 Special Gun Options

The .38 Special is a revolver caliber and there is a wide selection of revolvers on the market chambered in the round. You’re not likely to find a semi-auto handgun chambered in .38 Special, however you can find lever action rifles that accept the cartridge.

Every major manufacturer that produces revolvers has one chambered in .38 Special. One of the most common types of revolvers you’ll see for concealed carry is the snub nose. Snub nose revolvers have short barrels, usually under 3”. These smaller framed revolvers, like the Ruger LCR or a Smith & Wesson J-Frame, typically have a 5-round capacity.

There are also .38 revolvers with larger frames that have a capacity of up to 8 rounds, though most shooters won’t opt to conceal one. A perk of the .38 Special round is that you can shoot the cartridge out of revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum. This opens up an even wider variety of revolver options.

9 mm Gun Options

The 9 mm cartridge is the most popular self defense pistol cartridge in modern times. While most 9 mm guns are semi-auto handguns, you can also find revolvers and carbines chambered in the cartridge. The 9 mm’s popularity means there is no shortage of 9 mm pistols on the market. For self defense, it’s easy to find a compact or subcompact 9 mm pistol. Full size 9 mm pistols are popular for competition, and some people choose to carry them. Some of the most common 9 mm pistols for concealed carry include the Glock 43, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, and Sig Sauer P365.

Because most 9mm pistols are semi-autos, they’ll have a higher capacity because they use magazines. On the smaller end, guns like the Ruger EC9s hold seven rounds in the magazine plus an additional round in the chamber. Many shooter conceal carry the Glock 19 which has magazine capacities from 15 rounds up to 33 rounds.

.38 Special vs. 9 mm for Self Defense

Both the .38 Special and 9 mm are more than adequate for self defense as shown in ballistic tests and proven by their decades of law enforcement and military use. WIth both rounds, ammo selection will be an important factor in choosing your self defense setup.

Some .38 Special loads out of snubbies can have trouble gaining enough velocity to expand upon penetration of soft tissue, causing over-penetration. Many shooters choose to shoot a 148 grain wadcutter, like the Federal Gold Match .39 Special 148gr. Wadcutter, for this reason. While the wadcutters don’t have the expansion we look for, its sharp edges will cause significant tissue damage.

For 9 mm defense loads, the Speer Gold Dot 124gr. JHP and Federal HST 124gr. are at the top of the list for ballistic performance.

Price and Availability

Under normal circumstances, .38 Special is more expensive than 9 mm for comparable loads. The 9 mm is a smaller cartridge, which means less raw materials are needed to manufacture it. You can sometimes find 9 mm rounds for half the price of .38 Special. However, .38 Special is still typically cheaper than larger handgun cartridges like .45 ACP and .357 Magnum.

The 9 mm is the most popular handgun caliber in the world. This means it’s easy to find and many manufacturers produce it. In times of ammo shortages, it’s likely that you’ll have an easier time finding a variety of 9 mm than .38 Special.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, either round is great choice for self defense or just fun at the range. The 9 mm is cheaper and there are plenty of semi-auto handguns on the market to choose from. However, if you like wheel guns, you can’t go wrong shooting the .38 Special.
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