9mm handguns are by far the most popular variant of handgun in the United States. The 9mm round has been called “the world’s most popular and widely used military handgun and submachine gun cartridge,” by Cartridges of the World. Over 60% of police in the United States carry 9mm service pistols, and 9mm is the preferred ammunition of many civilian defense experts as well.
The 9mm was originally designed by Georg Luger, and introduced in 1902 for use in the German Luger semi-automatic pistol. This is why the round was first dubbed the “9mm Luger.” The 9mm Luger is a standard cartridge of the NATO forces, and is also used in many non-NATO countries. During the 1980’s, the U.S. military adopted the 9mm cartridge (along with the Beretta M9) to replace the well reputed .45 round.
The U.S. military is not the only military to have shifted from a .45 or other larger caliber to the 9mm. The change is largely driven by characteristics that go beyond simple ballistics, and many of these make the 9mm ideal for civilian personal defense as well. I’ll talk about those attributes in the next section.
Table of Contents
How to Choose the Best 9mm Handgun
Among all handgun calibers, a handful are considered to be the premium rounds for civilian self-defense, both in the home and outside the home. These handgun rounds are considered powerful enough for self-defense:
- .380 auto
- 9mm Parabellum
- .357 Sig
- .40 S&W
- .45 auto
While all of these cartridges are adequate for stopping a threat, the trouble is that some of them are difficult to shoot. Larger rounds have stronger recoil, and sometimes come with thicker grips to accommodate the larger circumference of the cartridge. This means that the gun moves more when it’s fired, and that people with smaller hands may find it difficult to get a good shooting grip on the gun.
Additionally, a softer recoiling round is easier to control, which makes for faster follow-up shots and more accurate strings of rapid fire, both of which are critical in defensive and competition shooting.
A round that’s easier to shoot provides benefits to your shooting that aren’t directly related to ballistics, but still make the round more effective in practical use. Here’s why it’s important to choose a caliber that’s comfortable to shoot:
You’ll Train More.
Any sane person will shoot more if it doesn’t hurt their hands. Quality, intensive handgun training courses involve shooting 200-300 rounds, and sometimes up to 1000. If it’s too uncomfortable to shoot your gun this much, you’re not going to train as often, and that means poorer performance when it counts.
Cost and availability
This is another factor that affects training. In most training courses, you will need to provide your own ammunition, or the cost of the ammo is wrapped up in the overall price of the course. In any case, you have to pay for the rounds you shoot. 9mm ammo is cheap and available at almost all gun stores. So, unless you’re on a bottomless budget, using 9mm means more shooting, and better shooting skills.
In competition, defensive, and tactical shooting, the time it takes to reload can be the difference between success and failure. So, it stands to reason that needing to perform fewer reloads is better. Some 9mm pistols hold up to 18 rounds in the magazine. More magazine capacity gives better performance in all shooting contexts.
Although the 9mm is not the largest of the serious handgun rounds, it has plenty of power for both competition and defensive use.
In competitions, the round just has to put holes in paper (maybe cardboard), but here’s the deal with defensive performance:
In coroner studies, coroners could not identify which premier handgun cartridge caused the fatal wound without measuring the entry wound or recovering the bullet.
Additionally, the 9mm round is accurate enough for competition shooting. Even at the far end of pistol competition ranges—usually 25 yards, and occasionally as far as 50 yards- standard 9mm full metal jacket ammunition is accurate enough to hit competition targets, and there are a ton of specialized competition 9mm rounds that give even more precision.
Some of you may be wondering about the .380. If it’s smaller than the 9mm, it must be even better than the 9mm in many of these categories. If it’s considered powerful enough for defensive use, why isn’t it preferred over the 9mm, right?
The .380 is just barely within the acceptable limits of performance for defensive rounds, and it’s not much smaller than a 9mm, so it doesn’t give enough of an edge in terms of magazine capacity and shootability to make it better than the 9mm. However, the .380 is a good option for shooters who have conditions or injuries that make it too difficult to shoot a 9mm.
Also, the .380 comes up short in the following category:
The 9mm is such a popular and widely used round that almost every manufacturer makes a 9mm handgun, and they come in virtually every size profile. No matter what type of shooting you do and what your needs are, it’s virtually guaranteed that you can find a 9mm handgun that works for you. Some of the other primary handgun rounds don’t have a lot of options when it comes to firearm availability in that caliber.
Choosing a handgun
Now that we’ve established that 9mm is the ideal caliber, I’d like to take a minute to debunk some myths surrounding what handguns are best for whom, and give some general guidelines on choosing a handgun.
Myth: different calibers are better for different shooting contexts.
This is false. There are no practical shooting contexts that don’t benefit from the overall characteristics of the 9mm. There are some specialized contexts that call for a different caliber (in certain shooting competitions, shooters compete only against other shooters using the same handgun caliber. Part of the reason for this is because shooters with higher magazine capacity reload less, and thus tend to post faster shooting times).
However, for shooting contexts without artificially imposed restrictions, 9mm is the best option.
Myth: women need smaller guns because they have smaller hands, are smaller framed, etc.
This is one of the most common handgun buying mistakes I see. Women who are new to handguns get talked into buying a subcompact or micro-pistol. Then they hate it and never want to shoot it. It becomes a very expensive paper weight.
The problem here is that smaller guns are actually harder to shoot. If you’re familiar with Newton’s Third Law (if you’re a physics expert, pardon this incredible simplification), you know that the same amount of energy carried by the bullet is also absorbed by your hands. This energy is the recoil.
The only reason that your gun doesn’t go through your hands is because it’s a hundred times bigger than the bullet, so the force is dispersed. A smaller gun offers less dispersion of that energy, and presents more felt recoil. To make this worse, the shorter grip on a small gun makes it more difficult to control the felt recoil. This makes smaller guns uncomfortable and difficult to shoot.
There are reasons to get a smaller gun, and I’ll talk about those in this next part, but it’s not because you’re a woman.
Choose a handgun that’s the right size for your context.
Your size of handgun depends on what you plan on using the gun for. As a general rule, you want a handgun with the largest frame size possible without making it difficult or impossible to carry or store the gun how you need it.
Here’s a rough breakdown of what size gun is best for each type of shooting:
Full-size pistols are the best handguns for home defense, competition, recreational shooting, and tactical professionals who don’t need to conceal their firearm. A full-size handgun offers the best magazine capacity, accuracy, and controllability for these shooting contexts.
For civilian and professional concealed carry, a subcompact pistol offers the best concealment. Some people can conceal a compact handgun, but many find the grip of a compact handgun a bit too long for a dedicated concealed carry gun that’s easy to cover with all different types of clothing. Check out our guide to find out which is the best concealed carry 9mm.
Shooters who need a versatile, one-size-fits-all sort of gun for home defense, concealed carry, competition, and whatever else will find that a compact pistol suits their needs very well. Examples of pistols that fill this jack-of-all-trades role very well are the Glock 19 and the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact.
In the next section, I’ll cover the best 9mm handguns for self-defense and competition shooting. Keep in mind that a defensive gun can easily be used for competitions, and a competition gun is capable in some defensive contexts. However, a gun that’s built to excel in a single context is often not ideal for others.
Best 9mm Handguns for Personal Defense and Tacticians
For civilians, the best concealed carry 9mm is a modern striker-fired pistol (MSP). Their simplicity and reliability makes them ideal for self-defense. By the same token, MSPs are also ideal for tactical professionals, and many police departments around the U.S. use these guns. Additionally, the U.S. military just transitioned from a traditional hammer-fired pistol, the a striker-fired gun from Sig, which is covered below.
Hence, all of the best 9mm handguns for home defense and concealed carry are MSPs .
Here are the best personal defense 9mm pistols of 2023:
Glock is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) and most reputed polymer pistol manufacturers in the world. Their simplicity and reliability is second to none, and they offer so many Glock 9mm handgun configurations, that it’s hard to imagine any shooting context that a Glock is not good for.
Glock offers a size profile for every shooting context from the largest, competition-ready Glock 34 (check out the section on competition handguns below to read more about this one), to the single-stack Glock 43. The strength of the Glock line is that they offer more size options than almost any other handgun. In addition to the full-size competition model, 9mm Glocks come in four sizes.
9mm Glocks Come In Four Sizes:
Also, Glock magazines are interchangeable between all but the single-stack Glock 43, so you can bump up the magazine capacity of a smaller framed Glock simply by using a larger Glock magazine. Magazine interchangeability is one of the reasons many revere the Glock 26 as one of the best subcompact 9mm handguns ever.
The Glock chassis is very simplistic and streamlined, which makes the Glock 19, 26, and 43 ideal for concealed carry, since there aren’t really any edges to get snagged on clothing or gear. Additionally, all Glocks exclude a manual safety for extremely simple operation, which is what you want in a self-defense gun.
Another standout feature of the M&PGlock puts a lot of thought into the design of their guns. The loaded chamber indicator is excellent for doing tactile chamber checks with your trigger finger, and all Glocks ship with a hexagonally rifled barrel for consistent accuracy and performance with jacketed rounds.
The newest models (Gen4 and Gen5) have great ergonomics, which are comfortable for most shooters. However, some people find that the Glock grip and palm swell is a bit too bulky for their hands. It’s a good idea to get a hold of a Glock and see how it feels in your hand before buying one. Here’s how each Glock models stacks up in each shooting context:
- For home defense and recreational shooting, the Glock 17 is your best bet.
- The Glock 19 is a great crossover gun that works well enough in all contexts.
- Finally, the Glock 26 and Glock 43 are among the best handguns for concealed carry, with the 43 being the most concealable.
Overall, in terms of price and performance, it’s very hard to go wrong with a Glock.
Smith & Wesson M&P
Smith & Wesson created their M&P series as a legitimate competitor in the polymer pistol market that was aimed at meeting the needs of police and civilian concealed carriers. The Smith & Wesson 9mm pistols have been used and tested by police departments and defensive shooting specialists, and have been found to be as durable and reliable as any pistol on the market.
The M&P comes in four size profiles:
- Full size.
- SHIELD Single stack.
9mm Glocks Come In Four Sizes:
These four sizes meet the spectrum of demands for all shooting contexts, and Smith & Wesson offers Performance Center variants with upgraded and tuned internals for better competition and defensive shooting performance than the stock models. However, many shooters will find the standard M&P handguns to be quite capable.
The M&P comes in more configurations than any other series of handgun in this article. Smith & Wesson builds M&P models that not only fit every shooting context, but also that meet the requirements of almost every state law. So the M&P is available in almost every state. Check your local laws to find out which model you need to stay legal.
Another standout feature of the M&P is the ergonomics. The M&P grip shape is one of the most comfortable designs on the market, and many shooters who find that the Glock grip is too awkward for them, pick up the M&P because it’s so comfortable. The grip shape is also very comfortable for shooters with smaller hands.
The only real trouble people have with the M&P is the trigger. Smith & Wesson says they have improved the trigger feel on the newest M&P models, the M&P 2.0, however some shooters have issues articulating the two-piece trigger safety when they have a high firing grip on the gun. More attentive shooters also say that the trigger reset isn’t noticeable enough. So be sure to get a feel for the trigger before you buy an M&P.
Here’s how the M&P sizes line up for each shooting context:
- For home defense, the M&P9 2.0 or the M&P9 M2.0 are excellent options.
- All-around defensive use, the M&P M2.0 Compact is ideal.
- The M&P9c Compact is best as a dedicated concealed carry gun, and the single-stack M&P SHIELD M2.0 is the most concealable M&P model, and the best single stack 9mm as of right now.
The Smith & Wesson M&P delivers the performance and reliability of an MSP, with configuration options that make it available to gun owners in more states than most other pistol brands.
Springfield XD and XD(M)
The Springfield XD, XD(M) and XDs handguns are an evolution of the Croatian made HS2000. The HS2000 is still produced and available in Russia. However, Springfield purchased a license for the design, and produces the handgun for American markets under the XD and XD(M) branding.
Springfield’s line of XD and XD(M) handguns were among the first legitimate alternatives to Glock when it came to polymer pistols. Both the XD and XD(M) have proven to be one of the most durable and reliable pistols on the market. Similar to the M&P line, XD and XD(M) pistols come in four sizes:
- 5 inch tactical model.
- 4 inch service model or 5 inch XD(M).
- 3 inch subcompact model or 8 inch XD(M).
- 3 inch XDs single stack.
- 4 inch XDs single stack.
The XD and XD(M) pistols have a slightly more vertical pistol grip than most other pistols, which mimics the grip angle of the Colt 1911, one of the most popular pistols in history. This is the most natural grip angle for a lot of pistol shooters, who find the XD and XD(M) pistols to point and shoot very intuitively. Shooters who have trained extensively on the 1911 platform will also find that the Springfield XD and XD(M) pistols work very well for them.
Springfield XD and XD(M)
The XD(M), which stands for eXtreme Duty Military, showcases a few additional features that the standard XD doesn’t have. The most notable of these is the serrations along the front of the slide—which are useful for shooters who want to do press checks—and a more aggressive grip texturing to keep the gun graspable even after long training cycles or with sweaty hands. The XD(M) series also has a contoured slide to minimize issues with snagging on gear or clothing.
Springfield also equips the XD and XD(M) pistols with high visibility fiber-rod sights right out of the box, which are excellent stock defensive and competition sights.
Something to be aware of with both the XD and XD(M) pistols is the presence of the palm safety. It’s a decent additional safety feature, but it can be easily disengaged if your grip on the gun isn’t quite right. Most of the time it’s a non-issue, but in close quarters and force-on-force situations, this can cause the gun not to fire when you want it to.
Here’s how the different XD and XD(M) sizes shake out for gun owners:
- For home defense, the 5 inch tactical model or the 4.5 inch XD(M) are the most capable models.
- For a versatile, do-it-all gun, the 3.8 inch XD(M) will give you the most use.
- For a dedicated concealed carry gun, either the 3.8 inch XD(M), the 3 inch subcompact or either of the XDs 9mm single stack models is best, with the XDs single stack being the most concealable.
The Springfield pistols are one of the more expensive guns on this list, but they deliver a lot of durability and reliability, paired with some handy features that many manufacturers don’t include on their base models.
Heckler & Koch VP9
Heckler & Koch (H&K) is one of the great military firearms manufacturers, known for the famous MP5 submachine gun and USP9 handgun. The VP9 is H&Ks entry into the defensive polymer pistol market, and it possesses the ergonomic design and reliability that have made H&K one of the most renowned manufacturers in the world.
The VP9 features a very no-fuss design, but retains the outstanding aesthetics lines that H&K is known for. There’s no manual safety or decocker, so the gun is quite viable for concealed carry and home defense. However, it should be noted that the VP9 only comes in two size profiles:
- VP9 full size.
- VP9SK subcompact.
These two sizes cover most shooting contexts, but the VP9 may not be ideal for concealed carriers who need exceptional concealment. However, all the other features of the VP9 make it an exceptional tactical pistol.
Heckler & Koch VP9
The VP9 features two tabs on the rear of the slide that make racking the gun much easier, which is ideal for defensive and tactical use, since it’s easier to rack the slide under stress than find the slide release.
If you prefer using the slide release, both the VP9 and VP9SK feature slide releases that are very easy to manipulate during tactical reloads or malfunction clearing. Additionally, shooters who have conditions or injuries that make it difficult to grip the slide for weapons manipulations may prefer the VP9 or VP9SK for this feature.
H&K also included a cutout on the side of the grip to allow access to the magazine for extracting the magazine during reloads or malfunction clearance. Overall, the VP9 is one of the easiest handguns to handle, and is very suitable for new shooters and shooters with limiting conditions or injuries.
One thing on the VP9 that requires some getting used to is the magazine release. H&K uses a paddle magazine release, which is just as good as a button release, but needs some familiarization because it’s a slightly different motion than pressing a regular button release.
First time shooters won’t notice, since they’ve never learned any other way, but shooters who’ve trained with button releases will experience a bit of a learning curve.
Here’s how the two sizes in the VP9 line up fit into the different shooting contexts:
- For home defense and recreational shooting, the VP9 has the best size profile.
- For a dedicated concealed carry gun or a good jack-of-all-trades handgun, the VP9SK will serve you best.
Overall, the VP9 and VP9SK are very well designed guns with features that make them ideal in defensive and tactical situations.
Sig Sauer P320
The Sig Sauer P320 is the civilian model of the pistol that the U.S. military recently adopted as its new service pistol. The P320 is built on the same ergonomics and design that made their hammer-fired P220 series so useable and popular.
The Sig P320 features a core component design that enables the grips to be changed without changing backstraps.The trigger mechanism can be removed from the lower polymer frame and put into a frame with a smaller or larger grip as needed. The P320 also has a minimal grip design that makes it ideal for small handed shooters. Sig offers three different sized grip modules, and the P320 is offered in four size profiles:
- P320 Full-Size.
- P320 Carry.
- P320 Compact
- P320 Subcompact.
Sig Sauer P320
Many consider the P320 to have the best striker-fired trigger of any gun on the market. Sig designed the P320 to have a trigger that feels more like double action trigger, so the trigger press is very smooth and consistent, with a clean break. Those looking to use their defensive gun for competitions will appreciate this, and the easy trigger press makes long training days a bit less fatiguing.
Sig also uses side access cutouts on the grip for easier magazine removal during critical reloads or malfunction clearance. The slide has serrations on the front and rear for easier manipulations, which is idea for shooters who want to press check. The P320 also has an easy slide action, so shooters with limited grip strength will find it easier to rack the P320 slide.
Even though the ergonomics and design is very solid, the P320 does have a higher bore axis, which translates to a bit more muzzle flip. So some shooters may find that the P320 is less controllable in rapid fire.
The cost of the P320 is also a factor, as the Sig is one of the most expensive guns in this article. Additionally, the grip modules must be purchased separately. So shooters with extra large or small hands may need to drop some extra cash for the most comfort.
Sig has a massive following of raving fans for a reason, though. So the the P320 may be worth the price. Sig also recently released the P365 for Sig fans looking for a single-stack concealed carry gun.
Top Products on the Market
Best 9mm Handguns for Competition
Many of the best defensive and concealed carry 9mm handguns also have competition models that are excellent options for most competitive shooters. The handguns below are excellent base models that can be customized into serious competitive guns, and feature budget friendly price points.
Really serious competition shooters willing to shell out a lot for a high end gun may want to consider something like the STI DVC Limited. Shooters looking for a more budget friendly competition option, or just want a good platform to build a dream gun on should check out these pistols:
1. Glock 34
- Barrel Length:
The Glock 34 is simply a tuned version of the Glock 17 with a longer slide. It has a longer barrel for more accuracy than a standard Glock 17, a polished trigger for a smoother trigger press and a lighter break, and porting on the slide and barrel to make the gun a bit lighter and reduce some of the felt recoil. The Glock 34 also features adjustable sights, and a slide release tab with a bit extra on it so it’s easier to drop the slide after a competition reload.
The newest model (Gen5) Glock 34 also features a milled slide for a red dot optic. Many favor the Glock 34 as an exceptional crossover home defense and competition gun. One thing that makes the Glock 34 attractive for many shooters is the wide range of available upgrades.
Shooters looking to build their own competition gun on a solid platform should look into the Glock 34.
2. CZ 75
- Barrel Length:
The CZ 75 is one of the great handguns built by CZ. It’s a favorite among security forces and professional competition shooters alike. The CZ 75 is built for accuracy and smooth handling, and has been used to win IPSC championships.
Unlike the best defensive handguns, the CZ 75 is a hammer-fired pistol that showcases an external hammer. CZ also includes a manual safety on the CZ 75, which some competitors prefer for shooting stages that require movement. However, these two features do make the CZ 75 less than ideal for civilian concealed carry.
On the upside, the CZ 75 is designed with the slide rails on the frame of the gun, rather than the slide, which make the bore axis very low for a hammer-fired pistol.
A lower bore axis makes for a more natural point of aim, and better controllability during strings of rapid fire. Competition shooters will find that they’re able to make accurate first and follow-up shots with the CZ 75.
Another thing that makes the CZ 75 a great competition gun is the trigger. The trigger is a double action/single action trigger which gives a long heavy trigger press on the first shot, then a very light trigger press on following shots. The light trigger press is ideal for making precision shots, since it requires very little pressure to drop the hammer.
The standard full size CZ 75 model comes with a 4.6 inch barrel, and CZ offers the CZ 75 in configurations with longer barrels for even better accuracy. Since the CZ 75 is a popular competition gun, there are a lot of aftermarket upgrades to improve the competition capabilities of the CZ 75, and CZ offers some of their own competition ready models.
3. Springfield XD (M)
3 – 13
- Barrel Length:
The Springfield XD(M) Competition Series is a tuned up version of the standard full-size XD(M). The differences between the XD(M) and the Competition Series are designed to improve the controllability, accuracy, and handling of the gun.
The XD(M) Competition Series barrel is 5.25, which is one of the longest stock barrels on any polymer frame pistol. The longer barrel and slide means more accuracy, longer sight radius, and less muzzle flip.
These qualities make it easier for competition shooters to acquire their sights, and shoot accuracy strings of fire, and the long sight radius improves deviation control during sighted fire.
Springfield also upgraded the trigger and reduced the weight of the slide for faster and accurate follow-up shots to make life easier for shooters who shoot a lot of long stages of fire.
The Springfield is a solid performer out of the box, and a good deal for the money. However, there aren’t as many manufacturers of aftermarket parts for for the XD(M), so it may be a little trickier to really build a custom XD(M) Competition Series.
4. SMITH & WESSON M&P9
The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Pro Series is designed to provide enhanced performance in a package that still remains “stock.” It’s an excellent choice for competition shooters that want to compete in the “stock pistol” category, while getting a bit more advantage from their gun.
The M&P9 Pro Series gives an edge over true bone stock handguns with the addition of high visibility fiber optic Novak pistol sights, and a smoother, lighter trigger press via polished trigger internals. So the M&P9 Pro Series makes it easier for competition shooters to acquire their sights, get on target, and make steady shots.
Additionally, the Pro Series has an extra long slide and 5 inch barrel, which is longer than the standard full-size M&P models.
The additional slide and barrel length produces less felt recoil and muzzle flip, and tighter groups at longer ranges, for better scores in rapid fire and precision competition stages.
For defensive shooters, a nice perk of the M&P9 Pro Series is that it easily doubles as a home defense gun. So, shooters looking to multi-purpose their guns will appreciate the versatility of the M&P9 Pro Series.
One last thing: the M&P9 Pro Series has the same grip ergonomics of the other M&P9 pistols, so it’s also a good alternative to the Glock and CZ pistols for shooters who have smaller hands, or dislike bulky grip styles.
On the whole, the M&P9 is a very attractively priced for a competition gun, and adds a lot of value by being suitable for home defense.
5. Sig Sauer P320 X-Five
- Barrel Length:
The Sig Sauer P320 X-Five is by far one of the most competition-ready pistols right out of the box. Sig includes a lot of competition-specific upgrades that usually get added as aftermarket additions.
The core parts of the P320 X-Five—the sights, trigger, and grip—are all upgraded to support better competition performance. Sig added adjustable sights, a lighter, flat trigger, and contoured the grip for better controllability. The trigger breaks at 90 degrees, for steadier precision shooting, and the grip features a longer beavertail and more undercut on the trigger guard for better recoil management and faster follow-up shots. The P320 X-Five is ideal for rapid fire and precision competition stages.
Sig also includes a flared magwell and extended magazines in the box. Usually these two upgrades are purchased separately. The P320 X-Five is ready for professional competition performance without any aftermarket add-ons. Keep in mind that these features may take the P320 X-Five out of the “stock pistol” competition category, depending on what types of competitions you compete in.
The last tough Sig put on the P320 X-Five is the scalloping along the slide to reduce the reciprocating weight. This reduces muzzle flip and helps shooters get back on target after each shot.
The P320 X-Five is one of the pricier competition guns covered here, but it’s got more high end features than all the other models right out of the box. Competition enthusiasts who don’t want to tinker too much with their gun should have a look at the P320 X-Five.
Shooters looking for a personal defense gun that will work in all defensive contexts (and other contexts) will likely be happy with a Glock 19. However, the Glock grip isn’t comfortable for all shooters. Gun owners who can’t get a good grip on a Glock should check out the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact. These are the best compact 9mm handguns on the market.
Best Compact 9mm Handguns
Competition enthusiasts who want a high-end competition ready gun will be best served by the Sig Sauer P320 X-Five. It comes right out of the box with many upgrades that competition shooters often end up adding to other handgun models anyway. A lower priced competition alternative with a ton of customization potential is the Glock 34.
So feel around and find out which of these is best for you. Once you’ve got your favorite gun in your hands, all that’s left is to get out and shoot!
High-end Competition Ready Guns
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