There have been many times I asked myself this question: If I survived a holocaust of some sort — like say a zombie apocalypse or a nuclear fallout — and there was only one semi-auto handgun caliber left in the world, what would that be for me?
Maybe if I compare the most common handgun calibers two at a time and record all my thoughts, I’d be able to figure out what the answer to the above question is.
Disclaimer: I do not intend to start another argument over which caliber is better — a lot of “gun experts” have been debating on these topics since Internet gun forums and message boards started becoming popular in the early 2000s, and I will not add to anyone’s pain or pleasure. This will be a very subjective comparison based on my own logic and experience, and my opinions do not reflect those of the other contributing authors of Gun News Daily.
So please do not take this article too seriously.
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In this article I will be comparing two kinds of similar but very different handgun calibers: the 9×19 Parabellum and the .357 SIG.
Both were designed for semi-automatic handguns, both use a projectile that has a diameter of 355/1000 of an inch, and with modern bullet designs, i.e. jacketed hollow points (JHPs) and jacketed soft points (JSPs) both can be great man-stoppers.
Where the two differ greatly are their bullet velocities, their case dimensions and some would argue, what they can be used for.
Georg Luger, an Austrian sharpeye, patented a design for a pistol he so aptly named after himself in 1898, the Luger P08.
Not long after, he designed the 9×19 Parabellum cartridge that would use a .355-inch bullet — it would later supersede the then dominant but relatively smaller .309-inch bullet in the 7.65x21mm Parabellum.
Looking at the 7.65x21mm’s and the 9x19mm’s ballistics performance, it’s obvious that the former is superior. I can only assume Georg was tasked to redesign the 7.65x21mm and come up with the 9x19mm because of a few possible reasons:
Since its introduction in 1902, the 9x19mm Parabellum, now more commonly referred to everywhere as the 9mm, has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation.
Its tapered brass that can withstand a SAAMI pressure limit of 35,000 psi (241 MPa) is quite tiny and allows for typical single-stack magazines designed for its arguably biggest rival, the .45 acp, to hold up to 22% more ammo.
The high-pressure rating of the brass can also push the typical 115-grain .355 caliber projectile out of a 4.65-inch barrel with muzzle velocities of up to 1,180 feet per second. The relatively small cross-sectional surface area of the bullet (diameter) allows it to penetrate solid objects quite well.
And since it’s only been popular for, well, close to a hundred years (if we consider that it only really became widely accepted after World War I), guns and ammo availability for this caliber will never be an issue.
Seeing how it’s still in use today in several countries’ military and law enforcement, the 9mm would probably continue to be a popular choice for handgunners for a hundred years more, notwithstanding threats from new contenders like the wildcat .22 Tuason Craig Micromagnum (.22 TCM) and the still unnamed 7.5mm cartridge for what is arguably the most powerful semi-automatic production handgun yet, the 7.5 FK BRNO.
As Sylvester Stallone so eloquently put it in Rocky VI, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows!” This is the sad truth, and doubly more so in the case of the .357 SIG.
Elmer Keith, an Idahoan gun nut among other things, got it right when he decided to hot-load the .38 Special for use in some of Smith & Wesson’s .38-caliber revolvers built originally for the .44 S&W Special.
His experiments led to Smith & Wesson developing a powerful new cartridge in 1935, capable of pushing a .357-inch 125-grain bullet out of a 4-inch barrel at speeds of at least 1,450 feet per second and producing more than double the .38 Special’s muzzle energy.
The brass was made 1/8-inch longer so it wouldn’t fit inside the weaker .38 Special revolvers’ chambers to avoid catastrophic results, and in 1935 it was christened the .357 S&W Magnum. In that same year the Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum (M27) was born.
The .357 magnum was so awesome that SIG Sauer, a Swiss-German firearms manufacturer, attempted to duplicate its ballistics when fired from a 4-inch barrel revolver by cutting the 10mm Auto’s case and necking it down to accept a .355-inch bullet (the same projectile for the 9mm).
The new cartridge was designed to be used for semi-auto pistols because of the platform’s inherent advantages over revolvers:
In 1994, it was introduced as the .357 SIG.
Since its release some 23 years ago, the .357 SIG has had a small but loyal (even die-hard) fan base — “small” being the operative word.
Because it didn’t really catch on as far as popularity, partly due to it being released just a few years after the .40 S&W and partly due to it not really having any practical advantages over other more established handgun calibers, ammo availability tends to be an issue in some states.
Here are some other reasons why I think the round has yet to win the popularity contest:
If life is as easy as doing ballistics comparisons, then it would be a no-brainer to state that the .357 SIG trumps the 9mm. It can send a same-size, same-weight bullet flying at much faster velocities which results to better terminal ballistics. Even the extremely hot 9mm +P+ with the same bullet weight runs about 150 feet per second slower than just the standard .357 SIG load.
Life isn’t ever going to be that easy though, and superior ballistics doesn’t necessarily mean a particular cartridge/caliber is better than another. Why, if that were the case, then I say we get rid of all types of ammo save the almighty .50 BMG, gather them and burn them all. Let’s all just get ourselves a .50 BMG rifle, gather around the bonfire with all the burning lead flying everywhere and sing Kum-ba-yah to high heavens.
I’m not dismissing the .357 SIG. I think as a concept, it works great. In a perfect world where money is never going to be an issue, I’d tell anyone who asks for a recommendation to buy any handgun chambered for this round if only to give it the chance it deserves.
I think the fine folks at SIG Sauer nailed it when they designed this cartridge. I love my Taurus 689 in .357 magnum. I’d love to have a subcompact semi-auto in .357 SIG. I’d love to have a Coonan in .357 magnum too. Ahhh so many guns, so little time.
But I digress.
So, for this handgun caliber showdown, it is with much sorrow and misery that I have to say that for all intents and purposes, the time-tested, relatively weaker but more readily available and more affordable 9mm wins over the .357 SIG.