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We often get questions about the difference between 9mm and 9mm Luger ammunition, specifically, what exactly is the difference between the two.
Well, if you’ve been wondering, wonder no more! We’re going to go over exactly what these two names mean and clear up a few other designations as well.
9mm Parabellum? 9mm NATO? 9mm Makarov? 9mm Ratchet? We’ll cover them all. Except that last one, that’s gonna be something in your toolbox.
Now, let’s talk about all the various kinds of 9mm pistol cartridges out there to make sure everyone is on the same page.
9mm vs 9mm Luger: Is It the Same Thing?
This is the question we get the most: “Are 9mm and 9mm Luger the same thing?”
Short answer: yes they are! 9mm and 9mm Luger are the exact same thing. The difference is mostly due to marketing and misunderstandings here in the US where there are so many different varieties of 9mm sold under different names.
At the end of the day though, 9mm and 9mm Luger are the same round. 9mm Parabellum is actually also the same thing, just to make things a little bit more confusing.
Let’s talk about some of the other 9mm designations and cover the differences there.
What Do The 9mm Designations Mean?
There are tons of 9mm designations out there, so let’s go over each one individually so you can see how we got into this mess, and why some folks have so many questions.
9mm Parabellum: The Original
First up, we have 9mm Parabellum. Back in 1901, Austrian gunsmith Georg Luger designed a round while working at the German arms manufacturer Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken, which I’m going to call DWM for the rest of this article.
DWM’s company motto, emblazoned above the main gate, was Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, which is Latin for “If you seek peace, prepare for war.”
After the round was approved by DWM, Luger saddled it with the name 9mm Parabellum, in reference to that, admittedly badass, motto.
Just to help make things a little more confusing, he then created the P08 Luger pistol to fire the 9mm Parabellum, and as it was used in both World Wars by German forces, American GI’s started calling the gun the 9mm Luger, which they then started applying to the ammo as well.
9mm Luger: The Name Change for Legal Reasons
Years later, as the round was becoming standardized by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute (SAAMI), the US-based organization that standardizes firearm cartridges so everyone can make and use ammo that has the same dimensions and pressures, caused some problems.
Namely, for legal reasons, they didn’t want to standardize the cartridge in the US as the 9mm Parabellum in order to avoid any chance of a trademark issue.
So to eliminate the issue, they named the standardized round 9mm Luger to both honor the creator, Mr. Luger, and also because that’s what most Americans already knew it as. This of course created much confusion and is the reason for this article.
The good news is, despite the different names, the specifications are exactly the same. Anything you buy that says 9mm Luger or 9mm Parabellum will meet the exact same specifications and will work in any gun that says 9x19mm on the barrel.
9mm NATO: The Newer, Spicier Version
As time went on, and most Western militaries began to adopt 9mm Luger/Parabellum as their handgun and sub-machinegun round of choice, they decided that the standard off-the-rack ammo wasn’t quite up to military spec.
Namely, the round was a little underpowered and failed to cycle some dirty open-bolt submachine guns like the Sten reliably.
So, the decision was made to standardize a 124gr bullet with a little more powder and pressure behind it in order to get some more power out of the round.
The cartridge length, case diameter, bullet diameter, and every other single external characteristic are exactly the same between 9mm NATO and the Luger/Parabellum. The difference is on the inside, and in the allowed pressure differences.
Basically, with 9mm NATO, you get a slightly higher chamber pressure, which translates into maybe 100fps more velocity and a negligible amount of extra recoil you won’t even notice unless you fire the two rounds side by side.
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The only thing to keep in mind is that some historic models of firearms chambered for the original 9mm Parabellum/Luger might not handle the increased pressure of the hotter 9mm NATO rounds.
If you have an antique, don’t feed it 9mm NATO without doing your research first. Anything made in the last 50 years or so is going to be perfectly fine with 9mm NATO though, so don’t worry about any gun made after the end of the Nixon administration.
What Are the Other Variants of 9mm Ammo?
There are a few other variants of 9mm ammo that you might come across on store shelves, so we want to briefly touch on these so you have an idea of what you’re looking at when you see them at your local gun store.
9mm Browning was developed in 1908 for the Browning 1908 Hammerless pistol. Like the more popular 1911 that came later, the 1908 and the 9mm Browning were created by, as you might have guessed, John Moses Browning, one of the founding fathers of modern gun design.
Today, 9mm Browning is known as 9mm Browning Court, 9mm Kurz, and the one you’ve probably actually heard of .380 ACP.
In the past twenty years or so, the .380 ACP has really come into its own, and there are more .380 guns available than ever before. Some of the most popular handguns on the market today like the Ruger LCP and the S&W Bodyguard come chambered in .380.
These days, the humble 9mm Browning may not be known by that name much anymore, but it is still one of the most popular defensive handgun rounds in the United States, more so even than .45 ACP as far as concealed carry rounds go.
John Browning would be proud.
9mm vs 357 SIG
Almost 30 years ago, Federal Cartridge Company and Sig Sauer looked at the .357 Magnum revolver and said “I bet we can put that round in a semi-automatic pistol.
What they came up with was a 10mm Auto case necked down to take a 9mm bullet, and the .357 SIG was born.
It was primarily pitched as a law enforcement cartridge, particularly in the wake of a few high-profile shootings involving bad guys wearing body armor like in the North Hollywood Shootout of 1997, and in the years since it found some success in this realm.
The Texas Rangers, Air Marshals, and certain Treasury Department forces including the Secret Service adopted it at one point or another, but it never really caught on because of the expensive ammo and heavy recoil.
Today, it’s a bit of a niche round, but still popular among its devoted fans.
Finally, let’s talk about 9x18mm Makarov. You might not know of this round unless you live in or near the former Soviet Union, or play a lot of the video game Escape from Tarkov, but you might see it on the shelf occasionally at your local gun store and wonder what’s up.
It was designed in the Soviet Union around the end of the Second World War, and it eventually become the go-to pistol and submachine gun round of the Eastern Bloc. In that respect, it’s sort of the counterpart of 9x19mm NATO which is the go-to pistol and SMG round of the West.
That said, do not try to shoot this out of your 9mm, 9mm Luger, or any other 9x19mm handgun. You’ll have a very bad time, for a variety of reasons.
If you want, you can easily get a Makarov pistol from many importers, and there are even some clones of the original Makarov pistol made in the US that are both good quality, and relatively affordable.
If you were just wondering about the difference between 9mm and 9mm Luger and 9mm Parabellum, now you know! The only difference is the name on the box, the stuff inside is all the same.
9mm NATO is very similar and will work in any gun produced after the Korean War. If your gun doesn’t belong in a museum and it says “9x19mm” on it, you can fire 9mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9mm NATO through it without a single issue.
Hopefully, that clears things up, and the next time someone asks you about the difference, you can answer with confidence.
Or, you know, just link them to this article. We’d sure appreciate it.
Corporal Dalton is a former Infantry Rifleman who served with 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. After leaving the Marine Corps, he started an online business where he focuses on teaching self-defense tactics. His two major passions are hiking and shooting guns. He has been a member of the NRA since he was 6 years old and is a strong supporter of the second amendment.