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Posted on April 15, 2019 by in Training

Larry Vickers on the Great Handgun Caliber Debate


Set out below are three well-known quotes that frequently appear in internet handgun forums:

  1. “The .45 ACP will stop a man 19 times out of 20.”
  2. “A 9mm may never expand, but a .45 will never contract.”
  3. “Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun, the caliber of which does not start with a 4.”

And here is one more quote from Larry Vickers that will most likely eclipse all three of the above quotes someday:

  1. “Dude, the 9mm has won the defensive pistol caliber wars.”

I had the good fortune to be sitting at the same table with Larry Vickers and CCW Safe Co-Founders Kyle Sweet, Stan Campbell, Mike Darter, and CCW Safe General Counsel Don West a few weeks ago when Don asked Larry what he thought might be the best handgun caliber choice for the average concealed carrier.  Larry Vickers is one of the leading firearms and training consultants in the United States. He joined the US Army and completed Infantry, Airborne, and Special Forces schools, and eventually became a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as “The Unit.”  

Larry was involved in a famous hostage rescue mission known as Operation Acid Gambit, and part of the team that entered the Modelo Prison in Panama and fought their way through armed prison guards to successfully rescue Kurt Muse, an American civilian that Panama President Noriega had claimed was a CIA asset. During his career in Delta, Larry participated in numerous missions and managed to survive three helicopter crashes. Subsequent to his retirement from The Unit, Larry has stayed extremely busy doing private-sector, law enforcement, and military training, consulting on the development of multiple weapons, flashlights, and related small arm accessories, and as firearms community advisor for CCW Safe. Don West had selected the right person to which to pose his question. It was also time for me to start taking notes.

Larry said that we have enough data now in the United States on handgun shooting involving different calibers including the 9mm, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP to draw some conclusions, one of which is that from 9mm up, all service-pistol calibers pretty much perform in a like manner.  Any advantage a caliber has that is marginally faster, heavier, or wider than the 9mm does not offset the virtues possessed by the 9mm, which include lighter recoil and greater capacity.

The 9mm is simply easier to shoot and practice ammunition significantly cheaper, which makes frequent practice more affordable. While the double-stack .357 Sig and .40 S&W pistols may seem to be the perfect blend of capacity and power, these pistols are noticeably harder to shoot well, especially for novice shooters and those with less grip strength, and since many pistols in those calibers are built on platforms originally designed for the less-punishing 9mm their service life may be shortened.

Larry said that the selection of handguns in 9mm was also greater (a fact that I had never considered before). Larry’s take is this: if the terminal performance of the 9mm and above is more or less the same, then there is no real reason to choose anything other than the 9mm.  Handgun ammunition has seen dramatic improvements occur in the last 20 years, and the 9mm has been a direct beneficiary of this trend. Larry may be the best-connected trainer and consultant in the industry, and consequently has had multiple opportunities to discuss this subject with some of the most learned authorities in this field. Larry summed it up by stating that in his opinion the jury is out and the 9mm is the winner.

I have been involved in defensive firearms training since 1993 and became a licensed law enforcement officer in 2001. I have seen the transition from revolvers to double-action/single action autoloaders to striker-fired polymer frame autoloaders. I have seen a trend that started with the 9mm, and I have seen the 9mm largely abandoned when the .40 S&W emerged, and I have watched police department after police department dump the .40 S&W recently and go back to the 9mm. I think this serves to confirm Larry’s observations, and the 9mm is indeed the current King of the Hill.

Steve Moses

Steve is a long-time defensive weapons and instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (