When I used to work at a gun store I was frequently asked what caliber was best for any given situation. It would have been nice if there had been some sort of magic death ray that I could have suggested, but there isn’t, and most people have a pretty flawed understanding of what actually happens when a bullet interacts with a human target. Here’s my take on it and personal reasoning behind selecting a 9mm round.
For starters let’s examine a couple of concepts that don’t actually exist in the scientific world but everyone talks about anyway. I’m going to regurgitate the work from those better than myself, and the information is worth paying attention to.
This doesn’t actually exist. If a bullet had enough force to knock down an individual, it would also knock down the individual firing the gun. People do not go flying through the air when hit by a bullet, contrary to what the movies and television would have us believe. Newton’s Third Law and all.
On the back of a box of ammo, manufacturers list the foot-pounds of energy (ft-lbf, or foot-pounds of force/energy) that their rounds have. Well, that doesn’t actually matter. The terminal performance of a projectile is determined solely by how much tissue it cuts, crushes or tears. While it has been advocated by many-a-misinformed-gun-counter commando that some sort of energy transfer occurs between a projectile and its target, this has been rejected by everyone I respect who studies terminal ballistics for a living.
9MM IS FOR GIRLS AND SISSIES
How often have you heard, “If you’re not carrying a caliber that begins with the number four and ends with the number five, you’re doing it wrong”? This almost makes sense if we were limited to nonexpanding ammunition, but most of us aren’t. When we compare modern hollow-point rounds in popular service calibers, there is, on average, one-tenth of an inch of difference in expanded diameter between a 9mm and a .45ACP. Grab a ruler and look at a tenth of an inch. It doesn’t seem like much, does it? That’s because it’s not.
In autopsies of gunshot-wound victims, the wound track created by a 9mm is indistinguishable from that created by a .45ACP.
The only advantage that a larger caliber is going to offer you, in my mind, is slightly better performance through intermediate barriers. Probably one of the more commonly encountered intermediate barriers is the front or rear windshield of a car. That’s not to say that the smaller caliber doesn’t perform well through those same barriers; it’s just that the larger ones perform only slightly better. Tempered auto glass has a nasty tendency to deflect bullets from their original course, as well as separate metal jackets from their lead-core bullets. It’s for this reason that .40S&W gained so much popularity in law-enforcement circles during the early 1990s.
The nice thing is, with modern designs, most service ammunition is going to perform pretty well through barriers, and it is for this reason that a lot of larger law enforcement departments are switching back to or have been using 9mm all along. Some notable examples are the NYPD and my very own Cincinnati Police Department, which is using the 9mm 147-grain Ranger T series fired from their Smith and Wesson M&P9s. The PDX1 Bonded ammo line is the civilian version of this round with the only difference being price.
So, since I’m happy with the 9mm’s performance through barriers, and all handgun calibers suck anyway (editor’s disclaimer: the views of the author are not necessarily the views of the world at large but his determination, confidence and delivery is inspiring), here is why I like 9mm:
“Damn, I wish I hadn’t had so much ammo” is not something I’ve ever known anyone in a gunfight to say after the fact. The phrase “If you can’t get it done in six, then it ain’t gettin’ done” is asinine, and something that I hear so often it makes me want to rip out what remaining hair I have. None of us are mind readers, and if we could predict beforehand how many rounds we would need to stop a threat, then why the hell wouldn’t we just avoid the threat entirely in the first place? More rounds are a good thing; if you think differently, I’m going to have to politely disagree with you, and think nasty thoughts quietly to myself.
Can I shoot a .40 or .45 as quickly as I can a 9mm? Sure I can. Can I shoot a .40 or .45 as quickly and accurately as I can a 9mm? I wish I could. There are some people who can, but I’m not one of them. Whether I’m shooting strong or weak hand, my accuracy only gets worse. In every force-on-force exercise that I have ever participated in, someone always seems to get shot in the hand. So with that in mind, being able to put rounds on a target quickly with one hand seems important to me.
IT’S CHEAP! (Relatively)
Nine millimeter ammunition is cheaper than any of the other service calibers. Cheaper equals more ammo. More ammo equals more practice, and obviously more practice equals awesome. Since I’m a fan of awesome, it all works out pretty well for me.
So there you go, the logic behind why I’ve chosen 9mm as my preferred handgun caliber. Obviously the choices you make are going to be determined by your circumstances and personal preferences, but hey, at least you know why 9mm gives me the warm and fuzzies that is does. For a more detailed and intelligent take on this subject, check out Service Caliber Handgun Duty and Self-Defense Ammo by Dr. Gary Roberts. ASJ
To know more about John Johnston go to WHAT IS BALLISTIC RADIO?
Editor’s note: John Johnston is the owner and host of Ballistic Radio, a weekly show and podcast dedicated to topics about self-defense, firearms and training with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure. See the cover story of American Shooting Journal’s June 2015 issue. John Johnston is on the cover.
Story by Danielle Breteau • Photographs by John Johnston
When I first heard about something called Ballistic Radio, which doesn’t sound like two words that go together, I did what anyone would do: I Googled it! One of the first websites I landed on was for the Ballistic Radio Youtube Channel. The description? “A channel that is dedicated to making the Internet cry by destroying popular gun and shooting myths.” I immediately needed to know more.
“I don’t want there to be any stupid gun owners.”
John M. Johnston is the owner and host of Ballistic Radio. Johnston may not be what you would think when you visualize a guy in a radio station, sitting behind a DJ’s microphone. Johnston is a 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound man, with lots of tattoos and a shaggy beard that conjure up images of a cave man crossed with an ornate Aztec warrior. Maybe that is what he is going for, but my interview with him proved to be something more than a discussion with only grunts and sign language. Johnston is actually quite brilliant and has a diverse background in psychology, real estate office management and fashion photography, to name a few. Ballistic Radio seems to allow Johnston to express his deep-seated passion for bringing gun-industry news, tactics and concepts to the world in a very intelligent and sometimes humorous manner.
Ballistic Radio is a syndicated weekly radio show that covers topics about self-defense, firearms and training without politicizing it. “Stereotypes of gun owners have nothing to do with politics, and how you feel about guns is not a point to be made when someone is kicking down your door,” Johnston threw out during our conversation, making a very poignant point. After listening to multiple podcasts of the show to get a feel of the conversations, subject matter and demeanor, I found that they refreshingly incorporate industry experts with intelligent conversation and a good dose of humor to top off the content. I think this is great, since the average age of his audience is younger than you might expect, around 32 years old. It seems to be doing well so far, and as of this issue’s press deadline, they are on their 101st episode, with plenty more content yet to cover.
I asked Johnston what he was trying to do with his radio show. He said, “I don’t want there to be any stupid gun owners. I would like to see people understand that there is more to self defense than just having the gun. It is not a magic talisman that wards off evil just by existing. You’ve got to have the knowledge of how, when and why to use it, as well as familiarity with local laws, which can make a huge difference in how a gun owner can react in a bad situation. I feel like there are lots of different sides to this vast topic, and I am able to help breach the language barrier between them. I love being able to talk to people from all walks of life, and have even received an email from a couple who fall into at least six minority/specialty groups combined and are professed liberals. They own guns and said they felt like I wasn’t alienating them by talking about things outside of the self-defense topic, and that is why they love the show.” Johnston went on to say that he felt that we as a community are fighting against the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological phenomenon where people without knowledge, experience or expertise pass along bad information as fact, while ignoring and arguing against accurate information. He feels he runs into this quite often, and almost seemed defeated when he said it.
“I do product torture tests, not dumb ones like shoving a ham sandwich into the action and seeing if it will fire, but realistic ones”
The start of this radio show was a combination of luck and good timing. After a rough divorce, Johnston found himself working in a gun store. Johnston said he often heard gun store clerks say things around him that he simply couldn’t believe. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a clerk at a store suggest something like a Smith and Wesson J-frame .357 magnum (subcompact revolver) as the perfect self-defense gun for a woman because it’s small. The problem, of course, being that they’re incredibly uncomfortable to shoot and almost impossible for a new shooter to shoot well. Can you imagine trying to train with that if you have never shot before?” Johnston went on to explain that there are everyday questions that inspire him to want to help the industry. “I’m probably strange for enjoying this, but I like having conversations with people who say things like, ‘I don’t need to have a flashlight handy because I have night sights on my gun.’ Having to explain the importance of knowing what you are shooting at before you shoot pushes me to try and help educate gun owners.”
The gun store where Johnston was working was given an opportunity to have a radio show on a local station. He ended up running it and tailored it with his personal ideas and topics. That show subsequently became very popular locally and online, according to Johnston. “After some time I offered to buy the show from my boss and he agreed to sell it,” Johnston said, and that is how Ballistic Radio started.
Among Johnston’s hobbies, and much to the entertainment of many, he spends a great deal of time destroying guns through hard use, then documents his efforts. “I do product torture tests, not dumb ones like shoving a ham sandwich into the action and seeing if it will fire, but realistic ones,” he emphatically states. As an example of what he calls a test, he took a Salient Arms International MK25 Tier 1 Prototype and shot 25,000 rounds through it in 18 days in the middle of winter, a test which he himself barely survived physically.
Another of Johnston’s gun-torture tests involved practically submerging a Wilson Combat 9mm 1911 in the mud, and immediately after rescuing
it, demonstrating a successful firing sequence. You can see videos of some of his torture tests like this at ballisticradio.com. His next victim will be the LWRC Tricon MK6 with a SilencerCo suppressor. Johnston says this will be the first public high-roundcount test of a suppressor ever done.
You can find Ballistic Radio on multiple radio stations to include: 1100 KFNX in Phoenix, 55KRC in Cincinnati, 820 WWBA in Tampa, among several others, with 20 to 30 more on the way. If you are more of a podcast person or mobile-app type, there is a Ballistic Radio podcast and you can listen via iTunes, or you can catch the live stream Sundays at 7 p.m. EST on iHeart Radio (55KRC channel). You can also check out Ballistic Radio at ballisticradio.com to keep up with all the latest action in the gun industry, as well as gun and shooting experiments, AKA “torture tests,” that are quite entertaining. ASJ
Editor’s note: When I explained to Ballistic Radio show host John Johnston that I would need some photos to share with our readers, even though he is a former fashion photographer, he couldn’t imagine what I wanted. I flippantly suggested a photo of him geared up in camouflage, covered in mud, holding a gun and radio microphone would be a good start. Well, you get what you asked for, and this is just another glimpse into Johnston’s level of effort and humor, which we applaud.
Posted in Editor's Blog Tagged with: 1100 KFNX, 1911, 55KRC, 820 WWBA, 9mm, ballistic radio, Danielle Breteau, educational, Evaluation, Firearms, Gun expert, guns, Iheart Radio, J Frame, John Johnston, Podcast, Salient Arms International, Silencerco, Smith and Wesson, T&E, talk show, Testing, weapons, Wilson Combat
I really hope you enjoy the variety in our Women’s Annual June 2015 issue. We are featuring extraordinary women from all facets of the shooting world, and I’m sorry that I don’t have a thousand-page magazine to highlight more amazing stories.
Hailing from multiple shooting arenas to include top huntresses, SWAT chicks, mounted-shooting champions, girls in practical shooting competitions and sporting-clay trailblazers, these ladies are seriously bad to the bone!
Among our feature stories, we had an exclusive opportunity to interview and see inside the home and workshops of Frank and Lally House, creators of fine contemporary long rifles and Native American-inspired porcupine-quill embroidered gun straps and slings. No matter where in the gun industry you plant your passion, the work of these two Kentucky artists is not lost on anyone. Our team is proud to bring this story and images of the Houses’ amazing works to you.
Our cover feature should inspire some questions. Why in the world is that guy holding a gun to a microphone?!? My thoughts exactly, but our interview with John Johnston of Ballistic Radio on his sadistic tendencies towards guns and sharing the results with his listeners is quite revealing.
Looking ahead to our summer issues, next month is our patriotic and beginner’s guide, followed by the long-range shooting and working dogs issue in August.
For July, I am reaching out to you, our readers, to ask, “What does freedom mean to you?”
We plan on compiling some of the best phrases and comments from around the nation and will share them with you in that star-spangled issue. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please share them with me at