History and Variations of 9mm Luger Handgun Ammunition

Luger 1900
The 9mm Luger was a revolutionary handgun. Wikimedia Commons

The 9mm Luger, sometimes called 9mm Parabellum, is one of the most common types of handgun ammunition available. It is used by the military, law enforcement, and enthusiasts alike. 

History of the 9mm Luger

Prior to 1900, the .45 cartridge was the most commonly used type of handgun ammunition. Although guns of this caliber had plenty of stopping power, they couldn't match the velocity or accuracy of newer smaller-caliber ammunition.

In 1902, German firearms designer Georg Luger created the 9 x 19 Parabellum for Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, a munitions manufacturer. The name "Parabellum" is taken from a word in the company's Latin motto, which means "prepare for war." The numerals represent its measurements: 9mm in diameter, 19mm in length. 

The cartridge, initially intended for the company's Luger handgun, was quickly adopted by the British, German, and U.S. militaries, and was used in World Wars I and II. In the postwar period, the 9mm Luger soon surpassed the .38 cartridge as the most popular ammunition among U.S. police departments, and it remains the choice of many of the nation's largest forces, including New York City and Los Angeles.

Types of 9mm Bullets

A bullet is actually three parts: the projectile head, the casing, and the primer base. The primer is what ignites the power, which is contained in the casing. The casing is capped by the projectile head or core. There are several types of 9mm bullets:

Unjacketed or lead bullets don't have an outer casing. They are usually the cheapest kind of 9mm ammo, but they are also the least powerful.

Full metal jackets are the most common. They have a core of soft metal like lead, surrounded by copper or a similar harder metal. The tips may be round, flat, or pointed. They are generally used for range shooting.

Hollow point jackets have an outer tip of metal and a hollow interior. These are designed to expand on impact, maximizing stopping power. Tips are usually rounded. This kind of ammunition is typically reserved for law enforcement or military uses.

Open tip match bullets are so called because their tapered tips are open at the very end. They are used for target and competition shooting.

Ballistic points resemble streamlined hollow points but have a plastic tip. These are designed for hunters who need distance and stopping power.

Casings or jackets may be made of brass, a copper alloy, or aluminum.

9mm Ammunition Standards

Although it is generally known as 9mm Luger or 9 x 19 Parabellum ammunition, this cartridge has historically carried many different names, depending on its origin. The Soviet Union's 9mm cartridge was called the 9mm Markov after the firearms designer, for example.

There are two common standards for 9mm ammunition today: CIP and SAAMI. CIP is a European firearms standards and testing organization, while SAAMI fulfills a similar role for U.S. firearms and ammunition manufacturers. NATO and the U.S. and Russian militaries have proprietary standards of their own.