9mm vs .223 Ammunition

Find out how your home-defense ammo stacks up against today’s criminal element.

An interior wall façade constructed of two layers of sheet rock and plywood.

.223 Remington
Hornady has been offering their TAP (Tactical Application Police) defensive line for some time now and it has seen success in real-world encounters. Featured herein would be their 60-grain TAP load chambered in .223 Remington. When fired from my CMMG rifle, this loaded averaged 2,855 FPS (feet per second) over a Shooting Chrony F1 chronograph.

Benching the rifle, once I had the EOTech optic properly zeroed, I put some test patterns downrange. The resulting groups were predictably tight. A tight 1.17-inch three-shot cluster at 50 yards proved the carbine and ammo combination could be counted on.

For the 9mm pistol ammunition side, the new Winchester PDX1 brand was tested. This ammunition line is specifically marketed for personal protection. The load in question was a 147-grain bonded JHP. If this bullet looks familiar it is because the copper-colored projectile is the heart of Winchester’s Ranger LE ammunition line.
Over my chronograph, this load averaged 1,140 FPS from the 16-inch barrel. Again, from 50 yards I fired several test groups on paper. The best group was right at 1.25 inches.

Entry holes: 9mm (upper left) and spectacular .223 wound cavity.

Real-World Test Conditions
This review is about much more than guns and ammo—it’s about performance. I needed to construct some realistic test barriers and bullet-capturing devices. Up first would be an interior wall façade. This barrier was built using two layers of half-inch sheet rock and a single layer of quarter-inch plywood. This would represent a standard interior wall construction, minus 2×4 studs. An additional portion of the “wall” would include two 2×4 boards combined with the original sheet rock and plywood construction.

Capturing the fired bullets would be accomplished through the construction of a bullet trap of sorts. This contraption was more of a rectangular trough made of wood with an open top. Into the bullet box I place thick squares of waxy ballistic media.

First up was the 9mm carbine. After placing the wallboard material in front of the bullet trap, I took aim. From a distance of 7 yards, I fired a single round of the Winchester ammunition. The bullet passed completely through and entered the waxy media.

Step two was to fire the .223 cartridge from Hornady. Same scenario, shot through the wallboard into the wax media at 7 yards. On the front of the wallboard was an unimpressive .22 caliber hole. However, on the other side, the results were a bit more spectacular. The projectile did its job very well and expanded violently. A hole nearly three 3 inches across and as deep was left in the wax media.

Next on the agenda was to fire both carbines into the 2×4 and wallboard material. This would represent nearly 6 inches of common building material found inside normal interior walls. Both the 9mm and .223 Remington rounds passed completely through.

Taking a moment to closely examine the bullet box, I pried apart the layers of wax media and found that the .223 TAP round had penetrated just shy of 8 inches. At that depth I discovered several bullet fragments. The projectile had come apart completely.

Moving on, we found that the 9mm projectile had traveled a full 15 inches into the wax media after passing through the wall façade. It had not deformed and looked almost good enough to be reloaded.

One round of 9mm fired through a car door. Note the mild fragmentation.

We Report, You Decide
As for our initial conversation, was the 9mm carbine less likely to “over-penetrate” than the .223? Based upon our experiments, I believe we can see how this is not necessarily the case at all. Both rounds easily passed through the basic wallboard material and then through the thicker wall and double 2×4 target. What was most impressive was the fact that the .223 round deposited 100 percent of its energy into 8 inches of wax media. Consider that the torso on most human attackers will be anywhere from 10 to 15 inches, depending on the angle and human variables. It would seem that the purpose-designed .223 Remington load would be less likely to pass through an attacker and continue on through an interior wall than the 9mm fired from the same platform.

Before we completely discount the 9mm carbine, it does have some positive attributes. If you own a 9mm handgun commonality of ammunition is a plus. Also, 9mm FMJ training ammunition costs about half the price of .223 FMJ training ammunition. That’s twice the trigger time for the price.

From a practical, household standpoint, both platforms provide ample accuracy and few felons would want to be shot with either gun. The bottom line is that a pistol cartridge, even when fired from a carbine, is still going to perform like a pistol cartridge. The carbine platform has the advantage of being easier to control, aim, and hit your target with. Carbines or rifles are more imposing than handguns.

When it comes to defending your life with a firearm, base your choices on fact, not supposition. Secure some professional training and practice. Keep shooting straight and shooting safe.


Load Comments
  • guavabreeze

    A 12 guage pump or a .357 Mag are my 1st choices for home defense

  • zac

    this proves they didnt know much about guns or bullets in general, the 9mm will over penetrate before a 5.56, if you dont believe it look it up, most swatt teams and police are trading in MP5s just because of this reason, the 5.56 shatters most of the time when it hits a solid object like a concrete wall, there is 5.56 ammo that will penetrate tho, the black tipped rounds are made to penetrate, the standard wont, this also comes down to barrel length, they say a 5.56 is no good out of a short barreled rifle, that you end up have to rely on .22 caliber wholes because it does reach a velocity to fragment and tumble properly, the 9mm is a big whole all the time no matter what, it wasnt designed to rely on fragmentation and tumbling, it relies on expansion, for close range self defense, 9mm, if you do go 5.56 or .223, use hollow points if you have a short barreled rifle, use fmj if you have at least a 14.5 in barrel and up, but i will say ive talked to a man whose been shot in the line of duty, with both a .308 and 5.56, he claims he couldnt tell a difference he went down both times and luckily survived, so who knows, but a 5.56 will not over penetrate, and even tho a 9mm will penetrate it would never penetrate multiple walls and fly off a 500 yards hitting an innocent person, it just dont happen

  • Pingback: AR training distances()

  • I appreciate the article. I learned a lot! I am new at to the sport of shooting. I was considering buying a 9mm carbine (Bushmaster) because I am also going to buy my wife a Glock 17. I thought it would be more practical to have the same ammunition. I’m not really interested in hunting, as some do with carbines. I am interested practicality, as I said, cost of ammunition, accuracy and personal defense.

    I also appreciated some of the opinions of the readers who responded to the article, especially the point regarding FMJ vs non-FMJ rounds. I’m not an expert but that made perfect sense to me. Why didn’t you choose more similar ammunition. The results may have more similar. It which case who cares about muzzle velocity if both bullets produce the same result a dead home intruder.

    Not to beat a dead horse but what if the rounds you tested were more similar and both penetrated the to approximately the same depth of a human body they would both be at about in the middle of a human heart or an aorta provided you hit the target at center mass.



  • peblair

    If you DON’T want penetration through interior walls, by GLASER ammo.

  • Joakim Henrikson

    Will this debate never die? I remember 20years ago when everybody said that ”the nine” just didn’t cut it at all, I HAD to be 357magnum, or you where doomed! Well it could be OK if was a .45 but NO WAY a nine! We have seen this debate since .30 carbine in the little M1 Carbine was declared useless, funny ha? Still more M1 Carbines out there in service than the 30.06 M1 Garand’s everybody swore by, and later it was the M14 vs. the ”Mickey Mouse Mattel” rifle, well we all know what happened there. So, a high speed light bullet vs. a lower speed heavy bullet. Well here is the bare truth without getting in to details and specific bullet designs. Which one makes you hit better? Has the lightest recoil? Lowest muzzle flash? Which weapon can safely be used by YOU? This isn’t about which calibre, hell it’s not even about what type of weapon it is! It’s about WHO is using it and WHERE and how PROFICIENT the user is, first! Then understand the limitations of YOUR system adapt to it and over come these problems with knowledge and skills. Home defence issues don’t stop or even start with issues such as over penetrations alone. If you only have one set of tools you adapt the whole situation accordingly! Or, change the situation so that it suits YOU. If you live in a ‘’hood’’ where you need a fast shooting carbine then you FIRST need to create sufficient cover! If not for your self then for your loved ones, then its time to start worrying about over penetration or not and what calibre or tool to use, and there are special solutions for both the 9mmP and .223. Should none of them work for you, get a shotgun!

  • George

    Hey Mike Reed ,
    What the didn’t hit on was bullet style & weight the .223 60gr test bullet while it is a rifle round the bullet is designed to fragment on impact. If a fmj bullet had been used it would of had considerably more penetration. The 9mm shooting a 115gr to 124gr bullet no matter if it’s fmj or hollow point will penetrate more than a 55gr to 60gr that is designed to break apart on impact it’s just a matter of the bullet design and weight being used

  • Oz

    Very informative article, we need more like it!

  • Jess

    Mike, The way I read it, both were from carbines.

  • Mike Reed

    Did I read that right? The 9mm penetrated twice as far as the 223? If true, then pistols have a greater chance of over penetrating than rifles. That seems counter intuitive. Still, I recall an episode of Mythbusters that found pistol bullets were more likely to penetrate pool water and strike a swimmer than rifle rounds.

  • Ron

    Buy a shotgun

  • Jay C.

    Nice article.