Have you ever wondered what the difference between the 9mm and 9mm Luger is? What about the 9x19mm and 9mm Parabellum? 9mm Makarov? And the 9mm NATO? Don’t worry, we’re here to clear that up for you.
As most of you will know, 9mm refers to the diameter of the 9mm bullet. But not all 9mm rounds are the same. Here’s the biggest difference: their name. Bare with us for a minute. We understand that, especially for new shooters, the wide array of different names can be confusing. But with two small exceptions, these rounds are largely the same thing. For what it’s worth, the round is officially known as the 9mm Luger by SAAMI - who generally set the standards for ammunition.
Here are the Exceptions
So what are the two exceptions? Let’s start with the 9mm NATO. When 9mm became the universally adopted handgun for NATO forces, they tagged NATO at the end. While there is no agreed-upon standard for bullet weight within NATO, and so results are not 100% standardized, there is one feature of NATO ammunition that sets it apart from other 9mm ammunition. That feature is pressure.
9mm NATO rounds generally are the equivalent to what most people know as “+P” ammunition. This provides the rounds with a faster velocity. Most modern guns are capable of withstanding the pressure of both 9mm +P and 9mm NATO rounds. For a good introduction to +P ammunition, make sure to check out our blog “Do you feel the need for speed?”
The 9x18 Makarov ALMOST doesn’t even make the list, because it’s a bit more similar to the .380 ACP than the 9mm. The 9mm Makarov is a cartridge of European descent and, as such, is largely found only in guns of European design (such as its namesake: the venerable Makarov).
While most 9mm guns will shoot 9mm ammunition of various names, shooters should take care to never shoot 9mm Makarov out of a gun designed for 9mm Luger cartridges, or vice-versa. The two rounds are not interchangeable. We know that it is frustrating, especially for new shooters. But if you only take away one thing from this post, let it be that.
Also worthy of special mention are the .380 ACP and .38 Special. While not often thought of as 9mm rounds since they are their unique caliber, they do sport bullets with a 9mm diameter. The .9mm just barely predates the .380, and the .38 Special predates both.
Summing It All Up
It’s a lot to remember, so we’re going to break it down one last time. The 9mm, whether it’s a 9mm Luger, 9mm NATO, or 9x19 name is largely the same round and interchangeable in modern handguns. The 9mm Makarov is entirely separate and should not be fired out of any 9mm guns. Likewise, the .380 and .38 Special are similar in that they are 9mm in diameter but should only be fired out of guns built for their respective calibers.
We hope this clears some things up for you!