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Decked Out To The Nines: What Is The Difference Between 9mm vs 9mm Luger?

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights



I remember the first Family Christmas I had after I got my shiny, new Gen 3 Glock 17. Like many new gun owners, I needed some fresh full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo to feed my new beloved Austrian self-defense dynamo.

At our Family Christmas, we draw names to see who buys a gift for who with a $50 price limit. The only item on my list was some Winchester white box 9mm ammo, as it was well below statutes of Christmas limitations.

Unbeknownst to me, my Uncle Jerry drew my name. On Christmas, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could rip open my brand-new box of 115 grain, 1100 fps happiness that surely awaited me.

I was not disappointed as the lovely white box of ammo-induced joy awaited me, but Uncle Jerry said something that stuck with me…

"They only had 9mm Luger, I know you asked for 9mm ammo, I hope that's what you wanted!"

Uncle Jerry is not alone, as many new 9mm handgun shooters have stumbled upon a similar quandary when it comes to ammo nomenclature.

What is the difference between 9mm and 9mm Luger?

Absolutely Nothing! They are exactly the same.

But this begs the question, why are there two different (actually, there are more) names for the same handgun cartridge?

To understand how we got to where we are now with the 9mm Luger, we need to take a look at it's origins back at the turn of the 20th Century.

A Brief History of the 9mm Parabellum: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

The 9x19mm Parabellum was designed by the Austrian gunsmith Georg Luger in 1901. Luger fashioned the 9mm Parabellum from his previous design, the 7.65x21mm Parabellum. The 9mm Parabellum is a rimless, tapered cartridge that fires a 0.355" diameter bullet (9.01mm) and has a 19.15mm case length.

During the development of the 9x19mm, Georg Luger was working at the German arms manufacturer Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). Over the factory gate was the company's motto written in Latin: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. The literal translation reads "If you seek peace, prepare for war."

Once approved by DWM, the 9x19mm cartridge was monikered the 9mm Parabellum in reference to the last two Latin words of the DWM company motto.

Georg Luger also developed the P08 Luger pistol to fire his new standard 9mm round. The P08 Luger pistol was the standard issue sidearm for the German military from 1904 to 1945 and saw heavy use in both World Wars.

In 1903 Georg Luger presented the 9mm Luger cartridge to the US military for consideration at the Springfield Arsenal and was in competition with the "Dream Team" of John Moses Browning, Colt, and the 45 ACP. The 9x19mm was not adopted by the US military until much later and was instead picked up by the German Imperial Navy and Army in 1904 and 1908, respectively.

SAAMI specs list the maximum pressure for 9x19mm at 35,000 psi and standard 115 grain FMJ ammo will have an average muzzle velocity of 1180 fps and a muzzle energy of 355 foot-pounds.

After World War I and through World War II, the 9mm Luger cartridge and its accompanying Luger P-08 handgun became one of the most popular handgun cartridges in Europe for both military and law enforcement. However, the United States was late to the party as it clung to the idiom, "Bigger Bullets are Better" and our beloved 45 ACP until the 1980's with the adoption of the Beretta M9 Service Pistol by the US Army.

The popularity of the 9mm Luger really exploded in the United States during the 80's and 90's with the introduction of extremely reliable semi-auto pistols, such as the Glock 19, the Sig Sauer P226, and more recently the Springfield XD and the Smith and Wesson M&P.

Fervor for the 9mm has only been bolstered by the U.S. military's adoption of the Sig Sauer P320 as the new standard issue sidearm for military personnel.

The 9mm has become synonymous with law enforcement and home defense for its high magazine capacity, stopping power using jacketed hollow point ammo (JHP), and low overall cost per round.

9mm pistols are extremely easy to come by and are relatively inexpensive as all major firearms manufactures carry some offering for the 9mm cartridge: Glock, Smith and Wesson, Sig Sauer, Kimber, Springfield, Remington, Ruger, and Taurus, just to name a few!

It has truly become the everyday carry (EDC) handgun of choice if you don't want to carry something chunky like a 45 ACP. And with advancements in JHP technology, the 9mm Luger has solidified itself as the self-defense ammo of choice for the military, law enforcement, and the civilian concealed carry permit holder.

The 9mm Luger: One Cartridge, Many Names

To the keen-eyed observer, you'll have noticed that I've been using several different names for the 9mm cartridge.

• 9x19mm Parabellum
• 9mm Luger
• 9x19mm
• 9mm

Is there any difference between these cartridge names?

No, they are the same

So why is it that we have multiple names for the same standard 9mm cartridge?

There are several reasons why a cartridge might don several names during its lifetime, one being manufacturers and the other being the regulatory organizations for ammo (namely SAAMI and the CIP).

In the case of the 9mm Parabellum, it is primarily SAAMI and the CIP that are the cause for the differences in naming for the most popular handgun cartridge in the world.

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) is a non-government organization of ammo manufacturers in the United States that is responsible for standardizing ammunition production specifications. The Commission Internationale Permanente, or CIP for short, is the European version of SAAMI.

The issue is that often, SAAMI and CIP have different names for the same cartridge.

The CIP has the 9x19mm Parabellum as the name for Gerog Luger's famous cartridge in their database.

However, SAAMI will not list a cartridge that has its name as a registered trademark to avoid any infringement lawsuits.

Therefore, the SAAMI registration is listed as the 9mm Luger in honor of its creator to avoid any trademark issues with the name 9x19mm Parabellum.

What are the Variants of 9mm Ammo?

Although the 9mm Luger is a very versatile round, there are many variants on the cartridge that shooters need to be aware of when purchasing 9mm ammo.

For more ammo options, keep in mind to check out our inventory of Remington 9mm ammoPMC 9mm ammo and Fiocchi 9mm ammo.

Let's take a look at all the variants of ammo that fire the same bullet diameter that identify as 9mm.

9mm vs 9mm +P

If you spot a box of ammo labeled as "9mm +P" this means that it is a higher pressure load, not to the levels of magnum cartridges, but hotter none the less. To obtain the ubiquitous 9mm +P rating, a cartridge is simply loaded with more gunpowder to increase the overall pressure and FPS achieved by the round.

SAAMI specifications stipulate that the maximum pressure for standard 9mm ammo is 35,000 psi, whereas 9mm +P ammo is rated for a maximum chamber pressure of 38,5000 psi (10% higher).

9mm +P ammo is often touted by many gun owners as an ideal choice for self-defense as it is rated for higher pressure and this, in turn, improves terminal ballistics for the round. And they are correct in asserting this as 9mm +P JHP ammo often rates very highly in FBI ballistic gel testing.

However, not all 9mm handguns are rated to handle +P ammo. It is best to reference your handgun owner's manual or manufacturer's website to determine if your handgun is rated for 9mm +P rounds.

Ammo that is loaded even hotter than +P is designated as +P+, however, SAAMI does not have a specification for 9mm +P+ ammo.

9mm vs 9mm NATO

Many new shooters may be under the impression that 9mm Luger is the same as 9mm NATO, and this is not the case.

Sure, the two cartridges have the same case length, rim diameter and fire the same 9mm bullet.

However, CIP specifications dictate a maximum chamber pressure of 36,500 psi for 9mm NATO. NATO requirements state that 9mm NATO ammo should be loaded with a bullet weight between 108 to 128 grains.

Standard military-issue 124 grain bullet weight 9mm NATO ammo will have a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps and muzzle energy of around 400 ft-lbs. In comparison, standard 9mm ammo firing a 124-grain bullet will exit the muzzle around 100 fps slower with about 50 ft-lbs less energy.

The higher pressure allowance lets the 9mm NATO round penetrate a bit deeper and improves its terminal ballistics.

If your handgun is rated to handle 9mm +P ammo then you will have no problem firing 9mm NATO through it.

However, if you own an older P08 Luger handgun or something older, I would NOT recommend firing 9mm NATO through it as it was not designed to handle the higher pressure of the NATO round.

Any modern firearm produced within the last 40 years should not have any issue handling 9mm NATO.

Continue reading about the 9mm's history here.

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