When choosing a small to medium-sized defensive revolver caliber, most people automatically default to the .38 Special or .357 Magnum chambering. There are good reasons to take a hard look at the 9mm Luger for this role. One of the biggest positives is the efficiency of the cartridge in short-barreled revolvers. The 9mm can be loaded to significantly higher pressures than the .38 Special cartridge (SAAMI max pressure- 9mm: 35,000 PSI, .38+P: 20,000 PSI). It sends similar weight bullets much faster than the .38 in equal barrel lengths. The 9mm approaches mid-range .357 Magnum velocities in some loadings.

9mm defensive loads thoroughly outclass .38 Special loads in short-barreled revolvers.


.38 Special Round S&W Model 65 3” 9mm Round S&W 547 3”
CORBON 110 +P DPX 957 fps CORBON 115 DPX 1228 fps
Remington 125 +P GS 966 fps Speer 124 GDHP 1131 fps
Federal 147 +P+ H/S 938 fps Federal 147 H/S 946 fps
Speer 135 +P GDHP 920 fps Hornady 135 +P C/D 1087 fps
.357 Mag Round 9mm Round
Remington 125 Golden Saber 1221 fps Winchester Ranger 124 +P Bonded JHP 1243 fps
CORBON 125 DPX 1319 fps AL 9.0 3”
Remington 125 JHP 1473 fps 1277 fps


The author worked with this 547 extensively and became sold on 9mm performance in a compact service revolver.

It is a reasonable assumption that revolvers lose velocity because of the barrel cylinder gap. It’s counterintuitive, but the proof is in the chronograph. 9mm revolvers with long (.357 Magnum length) cylinders achieve equal or even higher velocity than semiautos with similar length barrels. The long cylinder allows the cartridge to burn powder and develop velocity in the “free bore” portion of the cylinder before encountering the resistance of the rifling.

9mm Round AL 9.0 Rev. 3” S&W Shield 3.1” S&W 547 Rev. 3” S&W 6946 3.5”
Federal 115 JHP 1098 fps 1096 fps 1111 fps 1103 fps
Speer 124 GDHP 1119 fps 1049 fps 1155 fps 1084 fps
Hornady 135 +P C/D 1082 fps 1022 fps 1087 fps 1065 fps
Federal 147 H/S 1001 fps 912 fps 946 fps 942 fps


+P 9mm equals mid-range .357 Magnum performance like Remington’s Golden Saber out of a 3” revolver. The original Federal 125 JHP on the left gives velocity (and fierce blast and recoil) that the 9mm cannot touch.

Another advantage is the availability of 9mm ammunition. A check on Midway USA shows 101 choices for 9mm ammo available right now. In .38 Special there are 18 options but none in .357 Magnum. The 9mm is also more affordable due to its popularity. Midway listed Winchester white box 9mm 115 gr FMJ at 34 cents a round when purchased in quantity- the same brand .38 130 gr FMJ was 63 cents. Proven 9mm defensive rounds ranged from $1.13 to $1.75 per round. Equivalent .38 and .357 loads were unavailable and would cost 2.10 to 2.90 a round if you could buy them. The commonality of ammunition between the semiauto you are likely carrying and a 9mm revolver isn’t bad, either.

Moon clips give bulletproof ejection and make for fast reloads. Factory supplied clip on left, TK Custom’s excellent replacement clip on the right.

Most of the guns available today are designed to be used with moon-clips. Moon-clipped empties in a revolver eject as a group which eliminates the chance of having a failure to extract malfunction. That’s the one where a cartridge rim becomes lodged under the extractor star and renders the gun temporarily inert. This stoppage gave nightmares to revolver folk and prompted the universal reload method (incorporating the palm slap on the extractor rod to ensure empties are jettisoned). Shooting an Armscor AL 9.0 revolver allowed returning to the FBI method because empties ejected every time with only the pressure of the support thumb. The cases jump out of the cylinder so easily it feels like cheating. Moonclips also make for fast reloads, particularly with short cartridges like the 9mm.

Moon clips allow the user to utilize the “FBI method” of ejecting spent rounds with the support thumb while shooting hand reaches for fresh ammo.

Most factory clips are constructed to allow easy loading and unloading by hand. While convenient for practice, they’re susceptible to rounds falling out if dropped or stored in pockets, and they bend easily. Bent moonclips prevent cartridges from fully seating and cause drag in cylinder movement. This results in a love/hate feeling from those that use them. Enter TK Custom; they specialize in high-end moon clips for most brands and calibers of quality revolvers. Their clips typically require tools to load and unload because they hold cartridges much tighter. The snug fit reduces droop and wobble and allows even faster reloads. TK’s clips resist bending and are a “must have” item for defensive use. Check out the awesome things they’re doing at TK Custom; their website is revolver guy “drool worthy.”

The Czech Republic made AL 9.0 3” 9mm revolver imported by Armscor. It’s a well-built gun and makes a superior carry revolver. The all-steel construction keeps recoil controllable.

Armscor’s AL9.0 and other steel guns like Taurus’ 905 and Ruger’s SP101 handle the recoil of the high pressure 9mm well. Choose Ruger’s excellent LCR if you need the concealability of a J frame-sized gun. The LCR is light enough that its snappy recoil impulse can cause heavy bullets to break crimp and pull loose from the case. Stick with lighter bullets and shoot enough of them to rule out bullet pull before you carry them for serious work. It is best to use brass cases in all these guns, too. Steel and aluminum cases are more prone to swelling and sticking in revolver chambers.

The original LCR (front) was chambered in .38 Special with an alloy frame. Ruger chose steel for high-pressure rounds like the .327 and .357 Magnums and the 9mm. This model weighs 17.2 ounces, which is about as light as possible and remains controllable with 9mm ammunition.

The pros outweigh these few cons. 9 mm revolvers are worth a look.