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Joel Nordness Jan 24 2023 6 min read

9mm vs 9mm Luger: What’s In a Name?

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Introduction

A little while ago, I was at my local gun store perusing their wares. My eyes stumbled upon a classic Czech CZ-82, a combloc pistol from the 1980s, chambered in 9x18mm Makarov. However, the tag merely said 9mm.

I am a fan of rare and unusual European guns and calibers, and I knew that the current description was only partially correct. I brought it up to the counter and told them the problem. Luckily they listened to me because an uninformed buyer could have made a possibly fatal mistake.

When they hear 9mm, most Americans think of some of the most common pistols out there, like Glocks and Berettas, both with large 9mm Luger offerings. But the 9mm rounds those shoot won’t work in a CZ-82.

Why not? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about 9mm vs 9mm Luger.

9mm Luger

9mm luger

History and Adoption

Austrian firearms designer Georg Luger developed the 9mm Luger cartridge in 1901, hence the name. It was derived from the earlier 7.65×21 Parabellum cartridge. Both cartridges were designed to be used with the Pistole Parabellum, also commonly known by its designer’s name as the Luger pistol.

As you can see, as colloquial names entered the lexicon, it muddied up a few things. Most people don’t know the Luger used to be called the Pistole Parabellum, yet the round that it made famous is often referred to as 9mmx19 Parabellum. That’s also why the cartridge is known as 9x19mm Luger.

The 9mm Luger cartridge slowly became more popular as the 20th century progressed, being adopted as the standard pistol round of NATO in 1955. It was adopted by police forces starting with the Illinois State Police in 1968, culminating in formal adoption by the US military in 1985 via the Beretta M9.

Glock started offering innovative polymer frame pistols starting in the 1980s, which led to a surge in popularity in the civilian market. 9mm Luger is currently the most popular semi-automatic handgun caliber.

Due to the popularity of the 9mm Luger cartridge, when someone says 9mm, they mean 9mm Luger/Parabellum. However, there are cases when 9mm doesn’t mean 9mm Luger.

9mm ammo 9mm vs 9mm luger
L to R: 9mm cast lead, 9mm FMJ, 9mm JHP

9mm Ammunition

All 9mm Luger ammunition has the same case dimensions, but certain factors vary, such as bullet size and powder loading. Most standard 9mm ammo features a 124-grain bullet with a chamber pressure rating of 35,000 psi, resulting in a muzzle velocity of 1,150 ft/sec.

NATO standard rounds are loaded a little higher. With a 124-grain bullet, it has a chamber rating of 36,500. The extra loading results in a muzzle velocity of 1,200 ft/sec.

Self defense loads can be loaded even higher. 9mm +P ammo can have a chamber pressure of 38,500 psi, resulting in a muzzle velocity of 1,300 ft/sec with a 124-grain jacketed hollow point bullet.

High-pressure rounds can negatively affect the longevity of your firearm, so use them with care. It is also not advisable to run hot ammo in very old pistols, such as the original Luger, which was designed before the invention of +P ammo. It could lead to damage to the firearm.

Other 9mm

Not every 9mm cartridge is 9mm Luger.

In the United States, though, most people mean 9mm Luger when they say 9mm. There are differences in how the US and Europe market their pistol calibers due to the difference between metric and imperial measurements, which can lead to confusion regarding European pistols.

9mm Kurtz/Short

Some guns from Europe are chambered in 9mm Kurtz, 9mm Corto, or 9mm Short. What is this mysterious cartridge? In the USA, we call this cartridge 380 ACP, but it has also been known as 9mm Browning, after its designer.

The metric dimensions are 9x17mm, so it’s 2mm shorter than 9mm Luger. The imperial diameter of both 9mm Luger and 380 ACP are the same at 0.355 in, but the 9mm Luger bullet is longer and heavier.

9x17mm (380 ACP) FMJ
9x17mm (380 ACP) FMJ

9x18mm Makarov

This is the cartridge from the introduction. Originally designed in the late 1940s by Boris Semin, it was based on the 9×18 Ultra developed by the German Luftwaffe in 1936. The objective was to design a more powerful round than 9x17mm (380 ACP), yet still able to be used in simple blowback style pistols.

Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov designed a new pistol around this cartridge, which was given his last name, Makarov. The Makarov PM became the standard sidearm of the Soviet Army in 1951, and several other handguns/submachine guns were designed around the 9x18mm cartridge, such as the FEG PA-63 and the aforementioned CZ-82.

Due to differences in how the Soviets measured their calibers, the bullet diameter is 0.365 inches vs. 9mm Luger’s 0.355 inches. Not paying attention and mixing up the calibers can lead to bad things.

9mmMakarov
9x18mm Makarov FMJ

9x21mm IMI

Another 9mm cartridge is the 9x21mm IMI, or 9mm Italian. It is based on a lengthened 9mm Luger case but extended by 2mm. The bullet sits deeper in the case, though, meaning that the overall length is nearly the same between the two cartridges.

Originally designed by Jager in Italy for their civilian market, it was also adopted by Israel Military Industries (IMI). They used it in several applications, such as the Uzi and the Jericho pistol.

While popular in Italy, it is little known within the USA.

9X21_and_9X19_cartridges
Left: 9x21mm IMI JHP Right: 9mm Luger FMJ

9mm Luger Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Most common 9mm caliber in the US by far
  • Cheap and commonly available ammo
  • Greater variety of ammo
  • Huge variety of 9mm Luger guns to choose from
Cons
  • High power usually requires a more complicated locked-breech design
  • Incompatible with other European 9mm calibers

Other 9mm Pros & Cons

Pros
  • 9x17mm and 9x18mm pistols can use a simple blowback design
  • Many unique gun designs rarely seen in the States
  • Smaller cartridges and simpler designs result in generally smaller guns
Cons
  • Not as common in the United States
  • Ammo is more expensive and harder to come by

FAQs

Can you shoot regular 9mm in a 9mm Luger?

In the United States, “regular” 9mm is assumed to be 9mm Luger, so the answer is yes.

What does Luger mean on 9mm?

Luger is the last name of the person who designed the cartridge. It’s also the name of the pistol the cartridge was originally designed for.

Is a Glock a 9mm Luger?

Glock makes many 9mm Luger pistols, but not all Glocks are 9mm Luger.

Conclusion

The 9mm Luger has become the most common semi-automatic pistol round in the United States. Because of its popularity, people refer to it simply as 9mm. If you ask for a 9mm pistol or 9mm ammo for your birthday, everyone will know what you mean.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other 9mm cartridges around. There is 9x17mm, 9mm Makarov, and 9x21mm IMI. Lucky for us, 9x17mm is known in the USA by its imperial name, 380 ACP, while the Makarov and IMI rounds are rare outside of Europe.

So, keep using 9mm Luger and 9mm interchangeably. Everyone here will know what you’re talking about. However, if you decide to sling lead at some Eastern European range, you’ll need to be a little more specific to avoid confusion.

Written by Joel Nordness
Joel grew up in the cornfields of Illinois. After college, he had a brief stint in California, befriending veterans at the Navy base he worked at who introduced him to shooting. Realizing how much fun shooting could be, he carried that passion with him to his new home in Indiana, where he developed a love for rare and unusual handguns and firearm history. He tries his best to keep his gun collection to reasonable levels while doing what he can to introduce new shooters to the joy of the hobby.

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