Capacity Vs. Power

1 min read

Trigger pullers frequently point out that a sidearm is something you only use when things have gone terribly wrong and you can’t get to your rifle. Pistols suck, they smugly say.  They say there is no difference between 9mm and .45acp because inadequate is inadequate.  They may even prefer the 9mm, because if it’s inadequate, you may as well have lots of chances to make it work.

The problem with this, of course, is that it isn’t true.

Let me demonstrate.

A 9mm (9×19 parabellum to be specific) is going to hit with say 420 pounds of energy.  That’s for a 115 grain fmj, and I’m being generous.

Now let’s compare that to a .41 magnum wheel gun.

We’ll give the 9mm pistol a capacity of 17.  Fair enough?   And we’ll give the .41 magnum a perfectly modern capacity of 7.

17 to 7!  Obviously the 9mm is the better choice, right?

Well, a 170 grain bullet out of that .41 magnum is rolling out at over 1800 fps.  That’s more than 500 fps faster than what that pathetic little 9 is throwing that little 115 grain bullet.  The .41 is producing over 1300 foot pounds of force.

So, looking at the 9mm: 17 shots X 420 pounds of energy, equals 7140 pounds of potential energy.

But 7 shots from the .41, at 1320 each, equals 9240 pounds of energy.  2,100 pounds more that the pathetic 9.  In fact even at 21 rounds of 9mm, you’re still around 1000 pounds less than what 7 shots of a .41 mag produces.

Something else to consider,  people think of the 9mm as a small, fast bullet. But please notice that the .41 mag isn’t just a much bigger bullet. It’s a much bigger bullet that is going much faster.  Same with the .45acp.  People think it’s a big, slow bullet.  In reality, a 185 grain bullet rolls out of a .45 at over 1200 fps, meaning it’s faster than a 124 grain 9mm.  In terms of energy, the .45 is hitting at over 600 pound, so it’s nowhere close to the .41 mag above, but the ammo capacity is greater.  13 rounds, in the case of a Springfield XD-M.  So let’s do the math again..

13 rounds times 616 foot pounds equals, 7969 pounds of potential energy.  Again,  several hundred pounds more potential energy available than the 9mm, in spite of lower capacity.

Sure, if you have 21 paper targets threatening your life, I’m sure your 21 separate bullets will suffice to deal with it.  You can punch a hole in each one of them.

In real life though, you’re more likely to face one or two, or maybe three at the most attackers. In that case, you better have a big hitter on your hip, not some glorified pellet gun.


  1. Something is better than nothing.
    Some folks just can’t reliably put .41 magnum on target. Some folks don’t want to carry a large .45acp on their hip or small of their back.
    At the range one needs to employ a handgun, getting double-tapped by a 9mm is going to leave them in greater discomfort than getting their entire chest removed by a .41 mag. Either way, they the enemy will no longer present a valid threat.
    I do detect a hint of snark in your post, so I suspect you re just dredging for a flame war… I guess I stumbled right into that?
    I do have a homework request for you, if you are serious: find someone who has been shot at close range by a 9mm, and tell them they were only hit by a glorified pellet gun. And then let me know what they said in reply. Really try to find one that was double-tapped with hollow point 9mm, please.
    The largest pistol one reliably carries carries and can put rounds are target at the 15 – 25 yard range is the best pistol for that person… even a .22lr.
    In terms of stopping power, I noticed that you left out choice of ammo. A little .22, modified, very nearly killed Reagan, after a ricochet.
    You got the response you hoped for?

    • I shot a rooster in the chest with a beretta 92fs. in fact I shot it 3 times. it was still alive and I felt bad so I went back inside… grabbed the 20 gauge.. and when I walked back out side… there it was… still laying on its side breathing.

      the 20 gauge did the job.

      I’m sorry your feelings have been hurt. I know it makes everyone feel better to hear that there little pocket pistol is just as good as anything else.. but that is a lie.

      Teddy Roosevelt was shot in the chest with a 25acp. he gave an 85 minute long speech with that bullet still in his chest.

      • Thank you for your reply. My feelings have not been hurt, in fact, I’ve spent the last 20 years working hard to kill my feelings, for they always lie.
        A little pocket pistol is *not* as good as anything else, just as a .44 magnum is not as good as a M1 Garand. But a little pocket pistol is better than nothing. My point being, a 9mm can be just as deadly as a .41, with correct shot placement–you can only make someone so dead, beyond that, extra tissue removal doesn’t really help any.
        You know, I rolled my eyes yesterday as I typed out my reply… I knew we were going to end up going back and forth like this! This argument, much like any firearms argument (the AR vs. AK) never goes anywhere.
        And using old Teddy as an example is just unfair. While I disagree with most of his policies, he was a fine example of a “man.” He probably would have finished that speech with a .41 magnum in his chest!
        And yes, I’m sure yours is bigger than mine. I’m ok with that, you know? Remember, no feelings.

        • BTW,
          I can’t believe I’m justifying myself, maybe you hit something in my subconscious. I carry a 9 rather than a .50 for several reasons:
          1. Cheap to train with.
          2. Heaviest caliber I could talk my wife into carrying… she often has our 4 children and I’m at work. We live in a shitty part of town. I like the idea of a common caliber… with cheap ammo.
          3. Clip. yep. I know my shooting is going to be terrible if, Lord forbid, I need to. My first concern is actually going to be what’s beyond my target, because that’s where all my bullets will go.
          4. I don’t want to remove the bad guy’s limbs. I want them to stop. If that requires killing them, so be it, but I’d rather not.
          So, if the 20 gauges did the job with your chicken, why don’t you carry that?
          You may now have the last word… it is your website after all. I promise I’ll stop here.

  2. Caliber wars, got to love it. Anything you get shot with hurts. A good friend was knocked down while on patrol outside Hue by one piece of shrapnel that hit him right above his ankle. How big? A little bigger than the finger nail of your little finger. He said it really hurt.

  3. uh… I’ll take 17 rounds of 9mm any day over a SINGLE ACTION .41 Magnum (pictured) revolver…

    I like this website, but this article is dumb. Caliber arguments are nothing more than measuring contests…

    The article fails to mention that in a real world self defense shooting you will miss 2/3rds of your shots, and revert to 50% of your highest level of training. Seeing as not a whole lot of people get serious training, this will be very poor performance.

    Also, keep in mind that a very sizable majority of handgun wounds are not lethal. Not that the object is to KILL the bad guy, you should only shoot to STOP him.

    I agree with the previous post by Just A Chemist. In fact, more people have been killed with .22lr than any other caliber out there (in crimes anyway).

    You can’t hurt what you can’t hit. Shot placement is key. I’ll take quantity over power all day, every day. Seeing as most law enforcement, the FBI, and the military are also using 9mm, and they all kill their share of bad guys, it wouldn’t hurt to follow suit.

    Not that there is anything wrong with 41 mag, 45 acp, etc. Carry whatever you want to carry, own whatever you want to own. It’s your birthright as an American, but don’t put down those who chose differently…

    • If all you can shoot in a 9mm… then shoot your 9mm. Just don’t pretend to me that your 9mm is the same as my 10mm. It isn’t.

      If capacity was as king as you kids like to say… we’d all carry 22 magnums.

    • In the FBI report on why they went back to 9mm was because of training. It was easier for (female) agents to shoot. And let’s face it, Glocks in 40 cal suck. However, the FBI’s HRT is staying with 40 and 45.

      As for the military, a sidearm is normally only something grabbed when the primary (rifle) malfunctions, to get away. 9mm is fine for that.

      Now Special Forces is completely different. They carry two pistols, a 9mm pistol for backup, and a secondary pistol (HK45 Compact) designated Mark 24. Because SF train to takeout bad guys with pistols and that 185 grain +p 45 round makes sure the bad guy is dead.

  4. I love .45. Very fond of .40. Yet I will carry 9mm when I need something more concealable. Larger calibers in subcompact sizes lose too much capacity. I’m not carrying a rifle as my primary weapon these days, so the pistol becomes my primary by default for EDC. The pistol and caliber I carry any given day depend on circumstances. I’d carry my FNX .45 if I could always conceal it, but sometimes I cannot. Size matters in more ways than one.

    As for 10mm, are you carrying that glock you got a deal on? shameful.

  5. With guns my motto is, “love the one you’re with”. I carry 9 mm, but learned to shoot with a Colt 1911 and a Ruger single action .22 lr. Love both, but my s&w mp shield works for concealed carry. Guess which one I train with the most.

  6. There’s a reason special forces use 45 +p 185 grain for their offensive handgun program over 9mm handguns. SF found out there’s times when units would only have a sidearm and would use only a sidearm to go after the bad guy. In the late 80’s USSOCOM had gun manufacturers develop an offensive handgun in 45 to fire 185 +p. The pistol became the HK Mark 23. It was really too big of a gun and SOCOM replaced it with the HK45 Compact (Mark 24) in 2010. A smaller 45 with 8 and 10 round magazines.

    The 9mm is fine if you’re wanting to throw a lot of firepower on a target to stop it and or get away. However, if you must take out at target with a handgun, you want a bigger caliber.

  7. Your right, .41 is great against man killing beast or a single subject maybe. I would dare say 98% of handgun owners do not handle recoil effectively enough for multiple adversaries. Even .40 S&W 180 grain loads to dump 6 shots into a 5″ circle at 5 yards in 3 seconds is impossible for the average. More people have been killed by 9mm than .40 or .45. Par time between shots is more manageable for the amateur shooter w/9mm. I carried all these calibers. I used to get issued 2000 rds a quarter of .40 for proficiency. It all boils down to shot placement. In a world of nano seconds and who gets the first effective shot off wins. Yep, 10mm is badass if you get that first effective shot, but 3 adversaries at the same time better have mobility and reduced par time.

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