More powerful round - 9mm vs .38 special?


September 27, 2003, 10:20 AM
Looking at getting the wife a revolver for protection but don't have much experience with the .38 round. I have shot plenty of the 9mm and taurus makes a nice small revolver in both calibers. Is the .38 more powerful than the 9mm?

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September 27, 2003, 10:27 AM
9mm para seems to get a few more FPS than .38 Spl in teh snubbies but I doubt that its really more effective. The real question you should ask is if you want to use moon clips or not. They are great for competion due to the fast reloads, but a lot of people just find them cumbersome.

September 27, 2003, 11:10 AM
More important (IMHO) is that there are more effective bullet designs available in 9mm....better expansion and penetration.

Ammo companies have not spent as much time on the .38

September 27, 2003, 01:40 PM
The above said is pretty true. Ammo companies seem to use the same bullets in 38 Special as they do in the 357 Magnum. While expansion with the Magnum is pretty much assured, that same bullet at 38 Special velocity is likely to expand very little or not at all. Moon clips are great, right up to the time they get bent, then they can render the revolver useless.

September 27, 2003, 02:08 PM
Standard 38 special vs. standard 9mm...very similar rounds. Have your wife shoot both & see if she has a preference.

September 27, 2003, 03:30 PM
Remember, also, 9mm autos usually have longer barrel length than .38 Special or .357 Magnum snubs. From what I've seen, .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo will not reliably expand from a snubby (2") barrel, however, 9mm ammo will reliably expand when fired out of one of the smaller autos. Something to think about.

Standing Wolf
September 27, 2003, 09:07 PM
If 'twere my wife, I'd suggest she buy a compact .357 magnum revolver: she could shoot .38 special loads to start with, then graduate to the more useful .357 magnum without having to buy a new gun. I'm sure there's nothing wrong with the nine millimeter or the .38 special, but the magnum is an all around better cartridge.

Gary A
September 27, 2003, 10:18 PM
As fond as I am of the .38 special, I think the 9mm is a better choice for the reasons stated. It looks like the classic 158 grain LSWCHP+P is beginning to fade in favor of the the lightweight 125 grain +Ps (a shame) and if I had to choose between a lighweight .38 and a lightweight 9mm, I'd take the 9mm. Without more mass, I don't see much that the .38 has over the 9mm unless it's just a choice between revolver and semi-auto platforms. Now, .357 is another animal altogether. Just MO.

September 28, 2003, 08:24 AM
I chrono-ed 9mm ball ammo (Blazer 115gr FMJ) at 1165 fps from my wife's CZ-75B. That is well into the supersonic region, thus the 'crack' when it goes off. The .357 magnum rounds, recall they were developed to shoot through fleeing felon's car doors, are even faster - even at the 158gr level. Since the comparison was with the .38 Special, I will address only that round.

I feel the slower .38 Special round has advantages over the 9mm in home defense. Firstly, it won't deafen you in an enclosed space (room) due to it's loud boom vs the ear-splitting 'crack' of the 9mm. Secondly, it won't exit your target like the 9mm - it will stay, even at low expansion rates, within even a smaller torso (Recall here G. Gordon Liddy's oft raised story of how the current Pope received five 9mm wounds to the torso in an assasination attempt.). Thirdly, it probably wouldn't make it through your wallboard and siding to injure a neighbor - the 9mm is like the Eveready Bunny - it just keeps going and going... The 158gr LSWC is a decent stopper, despite it's NYPD 'widowmaker' reputation.

I have purchased my wife a 2" M10-11 in .38 Special for her use, rendering her CZ-75B as a plinker. I, of course, have a 296 (.44 S&W Special) loaded with Blazer 200 gr GDJHP... bigger and slow is good...


Gary H
September 28, 2003, 11:58 AM
Of course, this discussion mostly ignores the fact that most .357/.38 revolvers can be loaded with magnum loads. Handloading enables us to blur the distinction between .38 Special +P and .357 magnum. My elderly father started shooting .38 Special and can now easily handle .40 and some powder puff .357 magnum. My 85 pound wife can now handle .357 magnum. There are some factory magnum loads that don't kick like a mule. A good example would be the Pro Load .357 magnum 125 gr. JHP Tactical Lite. This option provides a great deal of long term flexibility that just isn't there with the 9mm. BTW: Both father and wife own/started with a 4" S&W Model 66 with reduced power springs and some trigger work. These are the older models with the hammer mounted striker. You can still find these NIB.

September 28, 2003, 04:19 PM
S&W 686 4" with .38 ammo
Beretta compact type M
Beretta 92FS full size in blue

My up coming purchases....

Lady smith 65
S&W 60 3"
S&W 66 F comp
S&W 686 2 1/2" in 6 shot and another in 7 shot
Beretta Brigadier in Inox
Glock 19 and 26

It's a matter of what she's most comfortable with and will practice with. Remember, shot placement not caliber is the key. Be sure she tries it first so as not to be surprised by recoil. Money is a terrible thing to waste.

September 28, 2003, 09:19 PM
I'll state again, I think that the problem with the .38 Special and .357 Magnum is the shortness of the barrel, meaning that the projectile can't get up enough speed to reliably expand and penetrate to sufficient depth to disrupt vital structures. With a 4-inch barrel, I wouldn't be arguing with you, but the 2-inch and shorter snubby barrels just don't have the length to allow for the powders to burn long enough to produce enough velocity, even in .357 Magnum (the powder on .357 Magnums fired out of snubbies usually produces a "firebreather" effect, producing a lot of light and noise, but not a lot of velocity). Perhaps this could be solved with quicker burning powders and lighter projectiles, but that isn't something that's been developed yet.

With even the smallest 9mm's, such as the Kahrs, the barrel is at least 3.5 inches long. That, combined with the greater pressure and efficiency of the 9mm cartridge, means you get reliable expansion and penetration in good loads. That's why I think that the 9mm from an auto should definitely be looked at.

Gary A
September 28, 2003, 10:25 PM
Oracle - although the shorter barrels do rob the .357 of some velocity, many articles (and my own limited testing) indicate that it still has much more velocity than a .38 and a little (not a lot) more velocity than 9mm from a 3.5 to 4 inch barrel. My objection to the snub .357 versus the 9mm is the blast and noise, not velocity loss. Also, several testers have indicated that a 2 inch 9mm revolver produces very nearly the same velocity as a 3.5 inch barrelled semi-auto. Dick Metcalf and the fellow who passed away (too young) a couple of years ago, Robert (the name escapes me) have both written about this. Lastly, it has also been reported (I cannot confirm this) that the decibel rating for a 4 inch .38 and a 4 inch standard pressure 9mm are very similar, though I think the 9 does have more "crack". The .357, of course, is another story. Bottom line, I agree with you on the choice of the 9mm, just not on those points. Best.

P.S. I love that little ending word and notice that many are beginning to use it, no doubt in honor of Mr. Stephen Camp whose posts are always informative and, most of all, polite.

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