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Which has more stopping power, 9mm or .38 spl?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by MR.G, Jun 23, 2004.

  1. MR.G

    MR.G Well-Known Member

    Which has better stopping power, a 9mm or .38 spl?
  2. ChristopherG

    ChristopherG Well-Known Member

    A good bullet from either one in a full-sized weapon will be equally effective in real-world terms. In more precise, lab and math-world terms, the 9mm usually fires its projectiles a little faster for a given weight.

    E.g., a typical 9mm 124 grain JHP might go 1150 or 1200 fps, whereas a typical 125 gr JHP in .38 special might go 975 fps ('typical' numbers pulled from Remington's website; both hotter and slower varieties of both might be found, and different bullet weights are available and sometimes favored in each of these calibers).

    Again, though, a good .38 will do virtually anything in the real world a 9mm will; these numbers are just that: numbers. Why d'ya ask?

    PS--in case you're not aware, there's not enough difference in the actual diameter of these two calibers to matter--just 2 thousandths of an inch.
  3. JohnKSa

    JohnKSa Well-Known Member

    9mm has the edge in terms of velocity as pointed out.

    It's also worth noting that most 9mms will hold at least 11 rounds while a .38 will only hold 6 to 8.
  4. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

    Shot placement is everything.
  5. Trebor

    Trebor Well-Known Member

    I'm not a big believer in the "magic bullet" theory of stopping power. That is, that there is one "perfect" cartridge in every caliber and that it's performance will be predicted via some quasi-scientific "one shot stop" research.

    As far as .38 vs. 9mm, I'd say it depends on the specific load and the platform from which it is fired. There are weak loads and there are hot loads in both calibers, and I really can't say if a hot .38 might be better then a weak 9mm or vice versa.

    Personally, assuming good shot placement in both cases, I'd tend to think that 9mm and .38 would come out about equal if both were using "optimum" loads for that caliber and were fired out of barrels long enough to allow expansion.
  6. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

    You have to talk about specific loads.

    OVERALL, the 38 is down on energy but has advantages of it's own: lacking "feed ramps" and magazines, it can run huge hollowpoint cavities of exotic shapes that would choke most 9mm guns.

    Then there's a few exceptional critters. Bufallo Bore is about to ship a 158grain lead hollowpoint moving at 1,000fps from a 2" barrel. Folks, if that sucker lives up to it's billing, that's about 350ft/lbs energy on tap, WELL into 9mm ballistic territory even when discussing a 9mm with a 3" or 4" barrel.

    I want to see test data on that puppy but to say it has "potential" is a gross understatement. In the stronger guns at least...the 1970's-era Charter Undercover I own, I wouldn't load those.

    Then again, the Gold Dot 135 38+P should pull around 1,000fps from a 4" tube - and that'll put a serious hurt on too. Even at 875ish from a 2" barrel, it'll get a good deal of work done (and based on the prelim data, expand very reliably). I *would* consider these in that particular sweet old Charter of mine, soon as I can find some :scrutiny:.

    In a good late-production steel 38 though, those BufBores look goooooood! And I have a strong suspicion they'll perform at least as well as ANY 9mm fodder made today.
  7. cratz2

    cratz2 Well-Known Member

    I know on paper they should be pretty similar assuming identical bullet design and shot placement but in general, '9mm' sounds more menacing to my ears probably because when I envision a carry 38 Special, I think of a 2" snub nose revolver with 5 shots... When I think of a 9mm, I think of a fullish cap pistol that holds about 15 shots such as the CZ PCR or the Glock 19. Discounting the new 135 Gr Gold Dot load, I believe most 38 loads expand very poorly out of a 2" barrel if at all while the 9mms tend to expand pretty regularly.

    The good news is that many of those poorly expanding 38 loads offer very respectable penetration. And never forget how many bad guys have fallen via a 4" service 38 and even 2" backup guns or detective guns... As others have said, if the bullet hits something important, it just might slow the guy down. ;)
  8. albanian

    albanian member

    It looks like the 9mm is more powerful so I guess the short answer would be that the 9mm has more stopping power.

    There. Thats settled. I am a fan of simplicity.:D

    Since we are talking about basically the same diameter bullet, velocity and weight become the only other factors we need to consider. Also, since we are talking about the same cal, it is resonable to assume that we can compare same weight bullets to each other. I know we have to factor in bullet shape, type and what type of gun will be shooting the different cals but yada, yada, yada.
  9. mete

    mete Well-Known Member

    Energy never stopped anything so forget those numbers , but the 38 and 9 are in the same ballpark. If you want more stopping power go to a 40 or 357.
  10. JohnKSa

    JohnKSa Well-Known Member

    Ok, somewhere along the way we went from comparing .38 & 9mm to comparing 38+P to 9mm.

    If we're going to compare using 38 +P, it seems only fair to compare the .38 +P to 9mm +P.

    There are a lot of variables when you compare different bullet weights in different calibers. That's not what we're doing here.

    The bottom line here is that apples to apples, a 9mm can propel a virtually identical caliber bullet of identical weight faster than a .38 can.

    Wanna talk +P? Ok, a 9mm +P can propel a virtually identical caliber bullet of identical weight much faster than a .38 +P can.

    It's true that bullet design might allow for better expansion in the .38, but to offset that possible advantage, even a AWB neutered 9mm holds just about double the capacity of the typical .38.

    WHATEVER your definition of stopping power, when you take two guns of virtually identical caliber shooting the same weight bullets and give one a velocity advantage of a couple hundred feet per second, you give that one a stopping power advantage.

    If that WEREN'T true then why is does anyone make or buy .38 +P, 45 +P, 45 Super, 9mm +P, 9mm +P+???
  11. BluesBear

    BluesBear member

    Stopping Power?

    Just about the most stopping power than can be hand held by one person comes from a high pressure fire hose. :D
  12. ducktapehero

    ducktapehero Well-Known Member

    Against 2 legged critters I would say the 9MM has a slight advantage but against 4 legged critters I'd rather have a 38 as you can get heavier bullets for it. All in all I consider them about equal.

    Both are easier to shoot than a full power 357 so it's easier to get repeat hits faster. I believe every round has certain advantages and disadvantages.
  13. pogo2

    pogo2 Well-Known Member

    Nail down the variables

    As mentioned above, there are quite a few variables other than just caliber that may influence stopping power. So it is impossible to give a clean answer to the ".38 special vs. 9mm" question without specifying some of these variables:
    1. What is "stopping power"? How is it defined?

    2. Bullet design and weight- which .38 special and 9mm bullets are you using?

    3. Barrel length - has an effect on velocity. What barrel lengths are you assuming?

    4. Powder charge and chamber pressure - quite a variation is possible with both calibers. Are we talking +P+ ammo or standard?

    5. Shot placement - where does the bullet hit, and at what angle?

    6. Characteristics of the target - what are the size, build and motivation of the person we are trying to stop? What clothing is he wearing?

    So it is a complicated question without a simple answer.
  14. HankB

    HankB Well-Known Member

    I'd say it depends on the specific loads and the specific barrel lengths they're being shot out of. Winchester white box 115 grain 9mm ball ammo out of a Kahr PM9 will perform differently than Winchester Ranger 127 grain +P+ out of a full-size 9mm. Similarly, the military 130 grain jacketed .38 Special slug out of a 2" J-frame will likely give very different results than a 158 grain +P SWCHP out of a 6" K38.

    And handloads would change the equation further - I believe few 9mm loads would compare to a .38 148 grain HBWC seated backwards atop a hefty powder charge.

    Bottom line - IMHO if you're using the best loads for each, you'd be hard pressed to see a difference.
  15. tbeb

    tbeb Well-Known Member

  16. Mikul

    Mikul Well-Known Member

    Arguing the merits of 9mm vs .40 vs .45 has it's merits. They are all proven to be effective and each on offers something that the other lacks.

    The 9mm stomps the 38 Special in every catagory. It has more energy and momentum. It has a vastly better record in shootings (.38 Special starts to look more like a .380), and it has better penetration. It shoots flatter and probably tastes better.

    Go look at Ammolab's web site. The .38 Specials (+P included) did one of two things: failed to penetrate more than 13.6 inches or failed to expand. None of them expanded to more than .46 inches.

    Then look at the 9mm's. The number of 9's that outperformed the .38 Specials is staggering. One of them expanded to 0.77 inches!
  17. ChristopherG

    ChristopherG Well-Known Member

    Gotta read closer than that, Mikul; those Ammolab test results are for a 1.875" barrel--which is why I specified in my initial response:

    Precision is the key to good cooking--and good ballistic comparisons ;) As noted, the 9mm has something of a ballistic advantage in typical loads (and a uber-9 probably has something of an advantage over an uber-38, though the Buffalobore load makes me wonder); but to attempt to quantify that as 'Stomps' is a plain exaggeration, IMHO. I'd suspect the ballistic advantage of the 9 might even be offset by the less limited bullet design (sans feed issues) of the 38.

    As far as the 'record in shootings' you cite, I'd be happy to have access to such data, but am not aware that it has been collected in a useful form anywhere.
  18. Elkslayer

    Elkslayer Well-Known Member

    If it were my decision, one thing I'd consider is a 9mm semi-auto will leave brass on the ground, with a 38 it is easier to take with you.

    Personally, I know I don't want any brass laying around. Quirky? Sure but thats me. :D
  19. Jim March

    Jim March Well-Known Member

    Mikul: not only is your proposed comparo totally apples'n'oranges on barrel length, but several new 38+P loads have shipped that may well turn the tide. Besides the two Bufallo Bore loads and Speer's new 135, Cor-Bon has the Pow'R'Ball out in 38+P...at only 100grains it's a bit suspect, but if it's hot enough...?
  20. Scoob

    Scoob Well-Known Member

    I personally believe that the "FBI" 158gr LSWCHP +P load from a normal 4 inch barrel is, for the most part, equal to many of the best 9mm loads. I don't care for any of the lite wieght or jacketed 38 rounds.

    I've compared penitration/expansion in phone books with the FBI load from my 2" barrel snub VS. a friends 4" 38 and there is a big difference with the extra barrel length. Very comparable to many of the 9mm rounds I've "tested". Not scientific, just thought I'd add my my 2c:)

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