What is the best 9mm handgun available on today’s crowded market? We a look at the best of what’s out there and give you all the help you need to determine which “Parabellum” pistol is right for you.
The 9mm pistol is the staple handgun for many Americans. These weapons are versatile, affordable, and easy to learn even if you don’t have any shooting experience. However, there’s no doubt that some 9mm pistols are better than others. Additionally, sifting through the glut of 9mm pistol models across online markets can be tiring and confusing.
No need to stress. Below, you’ll find a quick overview of what you should look for when you need a new 9mm pistol (or if you’re buying your first one). Plus, we’ve collected the top 9mm pistols currently on the market. Let’s dive in!
In This Article:
9mm Pistol Comparison
Below is my list of the best 9mm pistols for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of pistols.
|Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0||Best Overall||18.3 oz||7/8+1|
|Glock G26 Gen 5 9mm||CCW||21.69 oz||10+1|
|Springfield Armory XD||CCW||28 oz||16+1|
|Heckler & Koch P30K||CCW||23.99 oz||10+1|
|Sig Sauer P320 Compact 9mm||CCW||25.3 oz||15+1|
|Beretta 92||Home Defense||33.3 oz||15|
|CZ 2075 Pistol||Home Defense||25.9 oz||14|
|FN 509 Pistol||Home Defense||25.5 oz||15|
|FN 503 Subcompact Pistol||CCW||21 oz||8|
|Glock 17 9mm Pistol||Range||24.97 oz||17|
|Glock 19 9mm Pistol||Range||23.63 oz||15|
|Glock 43x FS Slimline Pistol||CCW||18.70 oz||10|
9mm Pistol Reviews
1. Smith & Wesson M&P
- Weight: 18.3 oz
- 7+1, 8+1 capacity
- Length: 6.1”
- Sights: front and rear white dot
- Finish: stainless steel and armornite
Smith & Wesson edged out their Reservoir Dogs-era metal-framed “wonder nines” in 2012 with the new Military & Police series of the now famous polymer pistol.
It’s no surprise that Smith & Wesson top this chart with a relatively new member of their M&P series: the M&P Shield 2.0 Compact. This lightweight, easy-to-use 9mm pistol has a lot to like, including a steel frame and stainless steel Armornite finish for both the barrel and the slide.
In a nutshell, this provides the weapon with an excellent aesthetic and protects it from corrosive and abrasive damage – so the weapon should last for a long time to come.
Moving on from hammer-fired DA/SA pistols to striker-fired guns, the new M&Ps had to slog it out against Glock, which had already carved out a big part of the LE market, but the fact that they had better triggers and sights while sporting the same sort of reliability and a “made in USA” cache bought the Smiths lots of room to maneuver.
Today, the second generation M2.0 variants, particularly the Compact version, is about the closest thing to a “Glock killer” for the G19. Plus, the M&Ps of all generations have a take-down lever and sear deactivation system that allows for disassembly without pulling the trigger– something most other polymer guns lack.
For those looking for something in the M&P2.0 neighborhood, there’s also a single-stack subcompact companion to the M&P, the Shield, beating Glock’s 43 series gun by several years.
Today, the Shield M2.0 has a better trigger than the first-gen models, as well as aggressive grip texture and an optimal 18-degree grip angle for a natural point of aim. Thin and lightweight, the Shield boasts a 7+1 and 8+1 capacity depending on what magazine you use and the new Shield Plus aims to take on the Sig 365 in the Micro 9 game.
Designed with performance and safety in mind
It also offers a full-size frame and comes with an easy-to-access external safety, which is easier to use than a number of compact 9mms which mount safeties a bit too close to the slide for comfort.
Other benefits include both front and rear sights that use white dots for added visibility, even in brighter environments.
You get a lot of value out of this striker-fired pistol as well, since it comes with two magazines out of the box. Ultimately, it’s a durable and serviceable metal-framed pistol that fires the reliable 9mm luger at works well for training, self-defense, and concealed carry.
2. Glock 26
Glock’s also very well known for their 9mm pistols. The Glock 17 is a classic, and Glock 19 is the standard for law enforcement. These polymer-framed pistols will usually last for a very long time even with consistent use.
- Weight: 21.69 oz
- Capacity: 10+1
- Length: 6.42”
- Sights: Front and rear iron
- Finish: nDLC (diamond-like carbon)
Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’
Indeed, the Glock 26 pistol is perfectly representative of a Glock’s tendency to keep on trucking even after you put it through a lot of punishment.
It’s an extremely durable and safe weapon through and through, with a lightweight polymer frame that still allows the weapon to be lightweight at 21.69 ounces.
Nice touches throughout
In addition, it’s a compact but tough 9mm pistol that can deliver unparalleled accuracy thanks to its polygon rifling and the improve the barrel crown. You’ll be able to use this for close-quarters self-defense just as well as long-distance target shooting.
We also really like the removable finger grooves for the grip, so you can choose how the grip feels depending on your comfort.
It also comes with an ambidextrous slide, so it’s a good weapon for both left and right-handed users. The lacks a manual safety, so if that’s a requirement for your selection there are other options which include manual and external safeties.
3. Springfield XD
Springfield Armory’s XD 9mm pistol is an excellent example of a well-rounded 9mm pistol. It features a special melonite barrel finish that protects it from damage and corrosion.
But most importantly, the Springfield XD comes with a double and/or single-action system that allows you to swap between both styles of firing on the fly.
Want a lighter trigger pull, or do you want to ignore the need to pull back the hammer in between shots? It’s all up to you!
- Weight: 28 oz
- Capacity: 16+1
- Length: 7.7 inches
- Sights: Fiber optic front sight, white dot rear
- Finish: Melonite
A beautiful example of Springfield craftsmanship
The Springfield Armory XD is also just a good looking pistol. The sleek frame is only 1 inch wide, so while it’s not the thinnest pistol on the marker you’d be hard-pressed to find handguns much thinner.
Low effort slide
It also comes with a low effort slide, requiring about 27% less effort on average to cycle compared to many other striker-fired 9mm pistols.
The XD-E pistol can also be carried “cocked and loaded” with the safety on, meaning you can have the hammer ready to go for quick-firing at the drop of a hat.
Even better, when you set the pistol to double-action, it requires a longer and more deliberate trigger pull to increase your safety if you plan to use this pistol for concealed carrying or just when walking around with it in your holster.
4. Heckler Koch P30K
The HK P30K 9mm pistol is impressively lightweight and easy to conceal, making it a great choice if you need a concealed carry self-defense pistol.
With a full length of only 6.42 inches and 24 ounces it’s one of the smallest 9mm pistols you can find – but it offers an impressive 10 round capacity, making it’s great for regular duty carrying as well.
- Weight: 23.99 ounces
- Capacity: 10+1
- Length: 6.42”
- Sights: Front and rear
- Finish: black nitride
Adjustable grip for customization & control
It features a completely adjustable grip, including interchangeable backstraps and lateral grip panels. So you can customize the grip according to your hand shape and size.
Furthermore, the pistol is available in several trigger firing modes. You can even choose a special double-action “law enforcement modification”, which requires more finger weight for your initial trigger pull for added safety.
Double action or single action combo option
You can also choose a double action or single action combo pistol, plus a model with dual ambidextrous manual safeties on either side of the frame.
Additionally, different slide and magazine release levers are available depending on the exact model you choose. As you can see, this 9mm pistol is very customizable. The only downsides are its relatively high asking price and the trigger guard mag release, which will take some getting used to.
5. Sig Sauer P320
The Sig P320 9mm pistol is another great choice, particularly if you want great factory sights. The Sig Sauer P320 Compact has both front and rear sights, with the rear sights offering contrasting illumination so you can use the pistol even in low light or nighttime shooting situations.
Developed to both compete for the Army’s Modular Handgun System contract and offer a more forward-looking alternative to their P-200 series pistols, Sig Sauer introduced the P320 in 2014.
Ditching the common frame and slide format that almost every other semi-auto pistol used, the P320 instead uses a fire control unit that can be swapped out between different grip modules to quickly allow the user to move between full, carry, compact, and subcompact sizes.
The modularity of the design made it a shoo-in for the MHS program, and the military is currently fielding the gun as the M17 and M18 pistols, respectively. This is truly a 21st-century handgun.
- Weight: 25.3 oz
- Capacity: 15+1
- Length: 7”
- Sights: Front and rear (night)
- Finish: stainless steel and nitron
15 round capacity
Furthermore, it features an impressive 15 round capacity, so it’s great for squeezing-off multiple shots at the shooting range or for taking down a threat with certainty.
Its striker trigger action ensures a crisp trigger pull and good stability with every squeeze. You’ll also appreciate that the barrel material is made of durable but lightweight carbon steel.
A stainless steel finish for the frame and a Nitron finish for the slide ensure that the pistol is protected from corrosive damage. It should last for a long time to come.
6. Beretta 92
- Weight: 33.3 oz
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 8.5”
- Sight radius: 6.1″
- Finish: Bruniton
One of the most venerable double-stack 9mm pistols on the market, the steel-framed Beretta 92 has been around for almost 50 years.
There is a reason for that: it just plain out works.
Adopted by dozens of militaries around the world, including the Pentagon who has used it for the past four decades, this “Back to Back Gulf War Champ” is still very relevant today in its third generation, the Vertec 92X series.
While originally a full-sized pistol with low recoil, the 92 is also produced in shorter Centurion and Compact variants.
7. CZ 75
- Weight: 25.9 oz.
- Capacity: 14
- Length: 6.5″
- Barrel Length: 3.05”
- Width: 1.25″
Originally designed for export in Cold War-era Czechoslovakia, the steel-framed CZ 75 was so successful that it outlasted that country and is still going strong.
Now made in the Czech Republic and Kansas, the old-school CZ 75 is well-liked, reliable, and has a reputation for accuracy. It is also offered in a Compact version which is much lighter owing to its forged aluminum frame, as well as being more carry-friendly.
Alternatively, if seeking a more plastic experience, try the CZ P-10, and we’ll let you guess what the “P” in that designation stands for.
8. FN 509
- Weight: 25.5 oz.
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 6.8″
- Barrel Length: 3.7″
- Width: 1.35″
Designed to compete for the Army’s Modular Handgun System program, more than a million rounds were put into the development and testing of the pistol series that was introduced in 2017 as the FN 509.
A versatile polymer-framed striker-fired 9mm, it is available in a long slide (LS) Edge variant for practical/competition shooters, standard-length models, Tactical variants with extended magazines and threaded barrels, and Compact options ideal for concealed carry.
Don’t let the fact that it is kind of a sleeper on the market, those who know, know.
9. FN 503
- Weight: 21 oz.
- Capacity: 8
- Length: 5.9 in
- Barrel Length: 3.1″
- Width: 1.1″
FN’s first subcompact single-stack pistol since the Model 1910 (Browning Model 55) went out of production in 1983, the FN 503 is ideal for concealed carry, especially in a deep-cover or non-permissive environment where printing could be inconvenient.
Slightly smaller than a Glock 43, this modern 9mm is a hidden gem for protection outside of the home.
10. Glock 17
- Weight: 24.97 oz
- Capacity: 17
- Length: 7.95 in
- Barrel Length: 4.49″
- Width: 1.18 in
One of the most legendary striker-fired 9mm Glock pistols, the G17 launched the Glock empire when it arrived on the market in the early 1980s. The first successful polymer-framed pistol, it overcame an initial uphill fight– nobody likes change– and has encouraged a crop of imitators.
Boasting a 17+1 shot capacity, this full-sized combat handgun has gone on to be the most adopted in Western military service around the world, with countries ranging from Britain and France to South Korea and Singapore trusting it.
The latest variant, the Gen 5 model, includes upgrades such as the Glock Marksmanship Barrel which is extremely accurate and easy to shoot.
11. Glock 19 Gen 5
- Weight: 23.63 oz
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 7.28 in
- Barrel Length: 4.02 in
- Width: 1.26 in
A more compact version of Gaston Glock’s G17 design, the Glock 19, for many, is the perfect multipurpose handgun.
With a standard 15+1 round capacity, the G19 stands ready for use in home defense, is enjoyable to shoot on the range (there are documented specimens still ticking with well over 100,000 rounds fired), has more aftermarket support than just about any other firearm ever produced shy of the AR-15, and, when using the right holster for the right person, is a great gun for concealed carry.
There is a reason the G19 consistently tops the best-selling pistols list. Go for the Gen 5 model for the most current set of features.
12. Glock 43
- Weight: 18.70 oz
- Capacity: 10
- Length: 6.5 in
- Barrel Length: 3.41 in
- Width: 1.1 in
The smallest 9mm handgun that Glock makes, the “slimline” Glock 43 was introduced in 2015 and was an instant hit.
Providing a 6+1 capacity pistol that was smaller than some of the most compact .380s and .32s on the market, the G43 soon became the choice of many for concealed carry, be they the average CCW holder or off-duty police. Hitting the scales at just 20 ounces when fully loaded, the gun is one of the few 9mm pistols that can be ankle carried comfortably. We dove deep into the G43 in our review of Glock’s concealed carry masterpiece.
13. Ruger EC9s
- Weight: 17.2 oz
- Capacity: 7
- Length: 6 in
- Barrel Length: 3.12 in
- Width: 0.9 in
Ruger introduced their hammer-fired Lightweight Compact 9mm, or LC9, a decade ago and it had a lot to like. However, once the company switched to a striker-fired version with more economical fixed sights a few years later, the Essential Compact 9mm (striker-fired), or EC9s, brought a bit more to the party and for less cost.
Offering a 7+1 capacity in a compact frame just 6-inches long overall and 17-ounces in weight, making it ideal for conceal carry, the EC9s has a few minor improvements over the Glock 43 while costing less.
On the downside, it doesn’t have the same aftermarket support, with fewer options for holsters and no options for upgrading the basic sights. It’s also short and light, meaning it’s snappier than larger pistols, which can make follow-up shots more challenging.
However, for a few dollars more one can get a Ruger Security 9 Compact model which is only a couple ounces heavier but offers 10- and 15-shot magazines and the ability to swap out sights.
14. Ruger Security 9
- Weight: 23.7 oz
- Capacity: 15+1
- Length: 7.24 in
- Barrel Length: 4.0 in
- Width: 1.02 in
A fundamental replacement for the company’s chunky old P-series pistols of the 1980s and 90s, the striker-fired polymer-framed Security 9 series is much more contemporary.
Lightweight but with a 4-inch barrel and 15+1 capacity, the gun is compact in the same way that the Glock 19 is, but costs less.
Using drift adjustable sights, the Security 9 is also offered in a Pro version that comes standard with Tritium night sights. For those wanting something smaller from the same line, there is the Security 9 Compact variant.
15. Sig Sauer P229
- Weight: 34.4 oz
- Capacity: 15
- Length: 7.1 in
- Barrel Length: 3.9 in
- Width: 1.5 in
Just as the Glock 19 is seen as a more perfected sequel to the preceding G17, Sig Sauer’s P229 was introduced in 1992 following almost 15 years of feedback on other Sig P-200 series pistols.
With a flush-fitting 13-round magazine in its 9mm variant– Sig retired the .40S&W option last year– the P229 has a smaller capacity than a lighter weight G19 but for fans of metal-framed double-action/single-action hammer-fired pistols with an exposed hammer, it is preferred over contemporaries such as the Beretta 92.
In short, the P229 is kind of like the gun version of a Cadillac: it may not be the fastest car on the road, but it will get you there in style.
16. Sig Sauer P365
- Weight: 17.8 oz
- Capacity: 10+1
- Length: 5.8 in
- Barrel Length: 3.1 in
- Width: 1.0 in
Sig kind of broke the carry gun market with their P365, the lead entry of a line of pistols that are now considered “Micro 9s” as they are very small, rivaling single-stack subcompacts such as the FN 503 or Glock 43, but have a modified double-stack magazine giving them a 10+1 or 12+1 capacity.
Since its initial introduction, Sig has expanded the P365 series with larger XL and XL Spectre models as well as a melted SAS model.
They have also sparked a whole line of imitators that are trying to keep up, however, most of those other Micro 9s, for now at least, should probably still be in the beta test first-generation stage.
- Weight: 22.0 oz
- Capacity: 12+1
- Length: 6.3 in
- Barrel Length: 3.2 in
- Width: 1.2 in
Brazilian gunmaker Taurus has been working for the past quarter-century on its semi-auto 9mm game and the G3 series, as you may figure from its name, is the third generation of that effort.
A fun gun that’s affordable to the point of being eschewed by many of today’s more aristocratic gun shoppers as too cheap to be any good, it is almost impossible to find a negative review of these bad boys.
Plus, with a 12+1 capacity and a size just shy of the Micro 9 category, they check a lot of boxes for those looking for a good carry gun.
What to Look for in a Quality 9mm Pistol
Not all 9mm pistols are made alike. Focus on the following factors and you’ll be able to narrow down your search to a great 9mm handgun that works for you.
1. Name recognition
While the caliber started slow, typically just seen in German-made Lugers and Mauser C96 pistols across the first 30 years of the cartridge’s career, the 9mm today is the most popular chambering for modern semi-automatic handguns.
In 2018 alone, some 2 million 9mm pistols were made in the U.S., more than any other caliber– a figure that doesn’t include pallets of guns coming from overseas.
With so many horses in the race, it is always a better idea to bet on an experienced thoroughbred who knows the course instead of an untried newcomer or unsteady nag.
Dropping the horse metaphor for plain talk, the odds you will get a good pistol from a company like Glock, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, or FN– who have made thousands of them over the course of decades to near-universal acclaim– are much better than grabbing some oddball from who knows where.
There’s a reason why Glock Fanboys and HK Diehards exist — those brands have created some of the best firearms in the history of mankind.
Sure, the price difference between, say a Glock and a “Fly by Night 9” may be just $150 or $200, and they may look and feel mostly the same, but when it counts, is your life worth that extra cash?
2. Mature design
Everyone loves the newest thing. When a customer is offered a choice between a solid design with a good reputation that has been on the market for years, or the just-released gee-whiz carry gun that is an ounce lighter, has a cooler finish, and carries two extra rounds for the same price, it isn’t hard to forecast what will likely sell.
However, there has been a nasty trend among new handgun models to come out with issues that are only discovered after they have been in circulation for a few months.
Even top-notch companies are not immune to such problems in beta models. For instance, take the primer/striker drag issues with the early Sig P365 or the more recent recall on S&W Shield EZ, a gun that reportedly tended to go full-auto.
When evaluating choices for a 9mm handgun, or any firearms for that matter, it may be a wise idea to select something that has already gone through its teething problems.
3. Aftermarket support
One of the worst thorns an owner of a new (or at least new to them) handgun can run into is to find out that their new 9mm has very few holsters available to fit them, extra magazines cost $75, and there are no options to replace the kind of creepy trigger or sometimes hard-to-see sights.
To skirt problems such as these, either go with an established design– one that has been in production for several years– or double-check to make sure the new model under consideration is supportable. If possible, do a quick search for replacement magazines, triggers, extended mag and holster options to get an idea of life cycle costs before committing to a pistol.
Foremost in the mind of handgun shoppers looking into 9mm pistols is to evaluate the intended use of the firearm. Inside the caliber, there are duty/home defense guns, which are generally full-sized with a barrel length of 4-inches or longer — often with a double-stack magazine offering a capacity of 13 rounds or more.
Such full-sized guns made in the past 20 years will typically have an accessory rail on the frame to accommodate a pistol light and/or lasers, while guns made in the last few years in this size envelope will often have the provision to mount optics such as micro red dot sights.
More compact guns, with a barrel length under 4-inches but still with an accessory rail and a double-stack magazine, are ideal for carrying outside the home but can still be used for home defense.
A subcompact pistol — or micro-compact, often deletes features such as double-stack magazines (in place of a smaller, single-stack mag carrying fewer cartridges) and accessory rails for the sake of making a more “melted” design, often making them some of the best concealed carry pistols available.
However, these shorter pistols, with their truncated barrel length, also give up sight radius, making them inherently less accurate at distance, and can be less comfortable to shoot due to their tendency to have a snappier recoil and more pronounced muzzle rise as they have less mass to eat up that impulse.
5. Action Type
All 9mm pistols will be either single or double action, which refers to the number of actions a single trigger pull will perform.
Single-action pistols will only fire when you pull the trigger. The hammer is released, starting a chain reaction that results in the bullet leaving the barrel. This is the landscape of striker-fired pistols.
Double action pistols’ triggers actually perform two actions: they both pull the hammer back and release the hammer to fire a bullet.
There are advantages and trade-offs to both types. Single action pistols have lighter trigger pulls (meaning you have to put less finger weight on the trigger to squeeze off a shot), but you have to pull the hammer back manually in between every bullet.
Double-action triggers require additional pull but might allow you to more easily squeeze off rapid fire shots since you don’t have to pull the hammer back yourself every time, making a great concealed carry pistol or home-defense option.
6. Grip Quality
Many of the best 9mm pistols will have fantastic grips with textured surfaces or ergonomic shapes. Textured surfaces are great since they make the pistol easier to hold, even if your palm is sweaty.
Meanwhile, ergonomic shapes are more comfortable to hold and will prevent your hand from cramping. This is mostly useful if you’re practicing with a 9mm and have to hold it for long sessions at the gun range.
Also, removable replaceable grips make for a customizable shooting experience and can improve hand feel, control, and shooting comfort.
7. Weight and Size
Of course, some 9mm pistols are bigger and heavier than others. In general, larger and heavier pistols will have larger magazines and offer bullet capacities. They may also have more accessory rail, allowing you to add optics or other attachments to the weapon. That additional weight also helps increase control, reducing muzzle flip and helping to maintain a solid grip when firing.
On the flip side, smaller and lighter 9mm pistols are the preferred choice if you don’t want to lug around a heavy weapon or concealment is your primary objective. Smaller pistols are a better choice for concealed carry weapons, as they fit more comfortably in a wider variety of concealed carry holsters and carry positions.
Smaller pistols, in direct contrast to a full sized gun, can be more difficult to control thanks to less grip area and shorter barrels — creating have more muzzle flip than their larger counterparts.
8. Optics Support
See if a given 9mm pistol includes any iron sights out of the box.
Sights allow you to better hit your target at a distance. You should also see whether the sights are adjustable (to allow you to compensate for different variables), fixed, and day/night sights which will help increase the lighting situations in which your sights remain useful.
9. Rail Space
Consider whether you’ll need a 9mm pistol with a mounting rail. Some pistols allow you to slot new attachments, like red dot sights or other optics, to the top of the pistol or beneath the barrel on an abbreviated Picatinny rail — a perfect home for a pistol light — while others eschew this feature in exchange for affordablility.
How did 9mm get so popular?
Introduced by Georg Luger around 1900 for use in the toggle-action semi-automatic military pistol that carries his name, the 9mm Parabellum– also seen as 9×19, 9mm Luger, and 9mm Para– became popular initially in Central Europe.
Then, by the early 1940s when handguns like the Astra 600, Browning Hi-Power, Poland’s Radom VIS, and the Finnish/Swedish Lahti were in circulation, it started to become a more worldwide cartridge. Shortly after World War II, it was the staple cartridge in use with Western military combat as well as law enforcement duty pistols, spreading to America by 1954 with the Smith & Wesson Model 39.
Within a few decades, the light-recoiling 9mm, which still provided effective ballistic performance with appropriate bullets, had largely replaced both lighter rounds such as the .380 and .32 ACP, as well as toppling the vaunted .45ACP in popularity.
In 2017, the FBI tapped it as its standard duty caliber for handguns, a move that cut the legs out from under the .40S&W which had long been billed as splitting the middle ground between 9mm and .45ACP.
In short, today’s 9mm now stands atop the mountain when it comes to modern pistol calibers as it is controllable for both novice and experienced shooters, is typically available in a diverse range of loadings — from target to defensive ammunition to hunting uses — and its short overall length allows it to performs as advertised in a full-sized or compact pistol.
History of the 9mm
During the First and Second World Wars, 9mm Parabellum began to find its popularity with the German military in particular. Used in the famed Luger, as well as the Walther series of pistols often issued to officers and police forces, it found its way through capture and other means into the hands of servicemembers, intelligence agencies, and militaries the world over. Other states, such as the US and USSR also developed cartridges as this time, mostly erring on the side of being larger than 9mm: the smaller round often meant lighter, easier to carry pistols. This would become a major attraction after the war.
The Cold War saw a lot of the world standardizing into blocs. NATO, for their part, wanted to do what they could to standardize their small arms. The US being an exception, many NATO countries adopted 9mm handguns as early as the 1960s. By the 1990s, even the US had joined the 9mm bandwagon, making it a cartridge that would be found in military handguns the world over. This period also saw an increase in military doctrine and practice finding its way into the law enforcement world: 9mm handguns became more popular among law enforcement agencies during the Cold War period as well.
The Global War on Terror, which began after 9/11, saw these trends continue. As many nations, even those who had been enemies not too terribly long before began to at least publicly cooperate in terms of anti-terrorist wars and special operations, 9mm handguns became more or less the global standard for military sidearms and submachine guns, even in former Soviet countries that had tried to hang onto old standards for decades. Now, nearly every special operations soldier you’re likely to find on the planet has a 9mm pistol, carbine, or submachine gun close at hand when on duty.
In civilian hands, 9mm has only grown in popularity for the past several decades. Where .45 ACP, .38, and so on used to be common calibers, now nearly every civilian who is concerned about self-defense has at least one 9mm handgun in their possession. It’s no wonder, either: the 9mm in its contemporary loadings is a lightweight, reliable round that has had billions of dollars worth of research and development done around it. For most civilians, the availability and reliability of the cartridge and guns that fire it make 9mm a deeply popular choice.
As far as the future goes, we expect 9mm to stay the industry standard for a long, long time. There are still World War Two vintage firearms in the caliber that works well, and modern militaries are still adopting new firearms in 9mm. Until body armor becomes basically ubiquitous, necessitating higher-velocity rounds, we full well expect militaries, law enforcement, and civilians alike to continue buying, using, and developing the 9mm cartridge. Since it is available widely, relatively cheap, and works extremely well, there is no major reason for the cartridge to fall out of the spotlight any time soon.
Why the 9mm?
First and foremost, the 9mm is a widely available cartridge. While things might get a little dicey depending on political panics here in the U.S., it is still one of the easiest cartridges to find. You can likely get up from your desk right now and find 9mm for sale on a shelf right now within a 20 min drive of your current location. Since it is so easy to get when compared with, for example, .32 ACP, it stands to reason that people will keep using firearms in ammunition types that they can get access to quickly.
Secondly, 9mm is relatively affordable. Again, this will change with the times and ammunition has been creeping up in cost overall through the past several decades. With that said, companies have been making 9mm for a century at this point, and they have to compete with one another to some degree. Thus, it is still feasible for most people who want to get into the hobby of shooting to pick up a 9mm handgun and some ammunition for a cost that is at least somewhat palatable. Ideally, prices will come down in the future, but 9mm is still one of the more budget-friendly rounds.
These days, the most reliably handguns that you are likely to find are in 9mm. Take Glocks, for example. With millions of units sold, military contracts, police use, and so on, the company has a lot of incentive to make their guns run well and a lot of user data to back up their research.
That’s why so many 9mm platforms have been iterated over several generations, and they tend to get more reliable over time. For us, that means guns that tend to go bang when you want them to and not to go bang when you drop them by accident.
Firearms in 9mm also tend to have more modern designs that allow for a lot of customization from the perspective of a relative handy user.
Today, it’s not awfully difficult to take a stock handgun from several manufacturers and make it exactly how you want it in terms of lights, magazine sie, slide length, optics, and so forth.
The ability to tailor a firearm to a specific user, in our view, is a great thing that will keep people shooting firearms in that caliber. Older designs are a lot harder to work on, and so new 9mms are likely to stay popular for the time being.
Finally, the 9mm has proven itself to be exceptionally adaptable in terms of its usage. You can fire them out of rifles, submachine guns, and several flavors of pistols. No matter what, they seem to work well, maintain decent accuracy, and can be loaded for everything from long range to use with a suppressor.
This adaptability in terms of usage, format, and bullet type gives us, as shooters, lots of reasons to stick with the caliber even if it would be possible to make others that are good at one or two things.h
Who Uses 9mm Pistols?
As we mentioned earlier, the 9mm first got its start in military circles, and that is still certainly true today. The US Army, for instance, adopted yet another 9mm pistol just last year, the M19, and thus will continue to use it for the foreseeable future. With supply lines and treaty alliances as ingrained as they are today, we expect this to be the case for at least the next decade if not more.
The same is true for folks in law enforcement: much of the tools, techniques, and technologies that the military uses trickles down over the years into law enforcement as well. Most American police carry a sidearm in 9mm today, and that’ll be the case for decades to come. A 9mm hollow point is an effective round to stop assailants, making it a common choice for law enforcement.
On the civilian side, competitive shooters also use 9mm, for some of the same reasons that we detailed above. A fully customized 9mm competition shooting pistol is an extremely common sight at most competitions today.
Around 40% of the firearms manufactured each year in the U.S. are pistols, and about half of those are chambered in 9×19 — making one in 5 firearms manufactured in the U.S. a 9mm pistol. It’s the most popular caliber choice for citizens — both those who choose to arm themselves with a concealed carry weapon and almost everyone else. The 9mm is available, affordable, and comes in a wide variety of formats, making it a great choice for those who want to defend themselves, shoot for fun, target practice, or anything in between.
In short, most shooters probably have some experience with 9mm. It would be tough, we’d argue, to find people who have many experiences in shooting at all without at least one round of 9mm fired: it’s likely the most common pistol caliber on the planet today.
Types of 9mm Handguns
There are several types of 9mm handguns that are relatively common.
The older type is fired by a hammer, which strikes a firing pin that then detonates a primer.
These pistol designs date back to around the turn of the 20th century and were part of the first wave of magazine-fed, semi-automatic pistols that would enter wide use and military service. Some legends in this type include the Browning Hi-Power as well as the German P08 Luger. Despite the age of this design, they’re often excellent in terms of accuracy and trigger, and you can buy new-production models of this type still today.
Second, and newer, are striker-fired handguns which have a mechanism to retain the firing pin in the rearward position within the bolt and then release it forward when the trigger is pulled.
Glocks are the most famous in this category. Often, these designs take good advantage of polymers to make the frames light, which makes them an excellent option for people who have to carry a handgun all day long.
Finally, a few companies do make 9mm revolvers, but these face a major design challenge: the rimless cartridge. Revolvers usually use rimmed cartridges, like .44 Magnum, because the rim keeps the cartridge in the chamber. 9mm, to feed in magazines, does not have much of a rim and thus, using a 9mm revolver usually also means re-designing the cylinder or making use of plastic moon clips.
There is No "Best 9mm Pistol"
As you can probably tell by the length of the firearms on this list, there’s no right answer to the question of which is best. And that’s okay. For many people, a fantastic starting point would be a new Glock 19 or S&W M&P 2.0. They might not be the prettiest firearms on Earth, but what matters to us is that they’re deeply practical firearms. Glocks are reliable, relatively affordable, and tend to work well when you need them to. S&W is one of the great names in firearms. That makes them, in our view, a great choice for the best 9mm handgun.
With that said, the real answer to this question for you is likely: the best 9mm handgun is the one that you have and are willing to practice with. So long as you train with it and have tested it to be reliable, we would rather that you have a cheap, used Hi-point when you need to defend yourself as opposed to not having a handgun at all. 9mm has come a long way in the last century, and most contemporary designs that you can buy are likely to be well-functioning firearms that will work when you need them to.
While the 9mm is an excellent choice when it comes to an all-around handgun caliber, and the variety of pistols chambered for are more expansive than anything else out there, the combo does have a few pitfalls to navigate.
As a double-edged sword of its popularity, with so many firearms chambered in 9mm in circulation, it soon became the least available ammo in the country in 2020 during the COVID panic. Much like Charmin two-ply, gun owners stopped by the local big box or gun shop and picked up a few extra boxes. Added to that were millions of new first-time gun owners– many selecting 9mm handguns as they were the most prevalent in display cases– and the shortage grew even more dire.
Of course, ammo makers are working overtime to fill those empty shelves, and the laws of supply and demand dictate that eventually, they will be so successful at the restock that 9mm ammo will be stacked in pallets at every gun store in the land, it is probably a good idea to grab several extra boxes as soon as that surplus appears, just in case.
What you get for your money
For under $200, it is still possible to get some used, quality 9mm handguns. Some of the sweeter deals in this space will be police trade-in Glocks and similar that you can sometimes find at local gun stores or through online gun deals. As it phases out, you might be able to get some surplus M9 pistols from the military as well, but that’s more of a pipe dream at this point. Some new models from budget-focused manufacturers can also be had at this price point.
At around $400, you can get a newly made, relatively stock 9mm pistol that is striker-fired, reliable, comes with available and affordable magazines, and possibly a stainless steel barrel. These are the bread and butter of the pistol world, and they work well for a wide variety of shooters.
At the $1000 mark, you’re into the territory of custom models of striker-fired guns, or newly made classics like the new FN Hi-Power that came out earlier this year. These are expensive, but often awesome guns that are either collector’s pieces or ready to head out to the competition. You’ll find options like a threaded barrel, suppressor-height irons, and optics support almost as standard at this price point.
At $2000 or more, you’re talking really special guns. Sometimes you’ll see gold-plated custom models, or, for those looking for something more practical, hand-tuned race guns that are tailor made for you as an individual.
Since 9mm is such a popular caliber, you can largely spend as much or as little as you like to get into the caliber. For us, starting cheap and used was the way to go, and a police trade in Glock is a great self-defense firearm if you can snag one at a local store or online.
The 9mm handguns of today represent the cutting edge of firearms development, with over a century of lessons learned coaching along that evolutionary process to its current pinnacle.
With so many designs offered, there is something to fit every need and personal preference for those looking for a quality pistol that can last a lifetime. Do your research and choose wisely, and the odds of being disappointed are slim.
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