Two of the most popular calibers in the United States are the 9mm Luger and the 22 long rifle. Which is better is not a simple A or B answer.
To really determine which is better we have to break the rounds down to specific tasks, which we do in great detail in the article below. While we understand that everyone has their opinions, we have ours and hopefully it helps you narrow down your next firearms purchase.
As a reminder, we encourage every shooter to test any firearm they are considering buying first – before they go out and spend hard earned money on a purchase. Let’s look at each of these popular calibers in 6 different categories.
Stopping an attacker is typically going to require you striking something vital, creating enough damage to cause significant blood loss, and causing enough pain to make them change their mind. When evaluating a self-defense round you really need to decide if that round can do any of the above.
When it comes to self-defense there are a few things your bullet needs to be able to do and a few things you need to be able to do. First you need to be able to actually accurately shoot the round. Second the round needs to be capable of penetrating at least 12 inches of ballistic gel.
Lastly, the round needs to be reliable enough and tested enough to stop an actual attacker. Without a doubt 22 LR is an easy shooting and accurate round. It’s quiet and has very low recoil so it’s comfortable to shoot. You can rapidly fire the weapon and put most of the rounds in a very tight group.
Unfortunately, what you’ll come up against is a failure to penetrate. 22 LR is a rather anemic round and does not reliably penetrate deep enough to strike something critical. 22 LR was never designed to be a self-protection round and it serves poorly as one.
The round when striking a person doesn’t penetrate, and the best hollow points don’t really expand much. Without a doubt they can cause severe pain, but relying on pain compliance is a dangerous proposition.
The 22 LR is also a rimfire round, meaning it lacks a central primer. Rimfire technology is old and has been replaced largely by centerfire cartridges for a reason. Rimfire primers are simply nowhere near as reliable of centerfire cartridges.
9mm is a completely different story. 9mm Luger or Parabellum was designed from the beginning as a combat cartridge. Parabellum is Latin for prepare or prepared for war.
The 9mm is currently the standard round of NATO and the United States military.
A 9mm round is much larger and much more powerful than a 22 lr round. It can and does penetrate 12 inches of ballistic gel with ease and is capable of dealing damage to vital organs. At the same time the 9mm is still and easy shooting and accurate round.
Even when chambered in small and light pocket pistols the 9mm is still pleasant to shoot. The ammunition is affordable and abundant as well. Since 9mm is a popular defensive cartridge there are tons of different self-loads available.
These include soft point, hollow point, and frangible ammunition. Hollow point 9mm ammunition is designed to expand and deal greater amount of damage to the body. 9mm is also a centerfire cartridge that is incredibly reliable.
This is an unfair comparison as the .22 LR is made for use in both handguns and rifles. The 9mm traditionally is just a handgun cartridge. While the 9mm projectile is bigger and more powerful than the .22 LR, it’s actually a really poor hunting companion unless you are at extremely close range.
This poses two problems when it comes to hunting. The 9mm round is likely to cause a lot of damage to your prey if used up close on smaller game, and will utterly destroy the hide and any meat you may be able to harvest. It’s also likely to pass completely through the animal which creates a safety issue with a rogue round flying down range.
The .22 LR however is an all-around excellent hunting round for small game. It’s not designed to take deer or hogs and shouldn’t be used to. The .22 LR’s wheel house is rabbit, squirrel, and other small animals.
The tiny 22 LR will enter and kill one of these small animals with ease (especially when equipped with a rimfire scope), without causing excessive damage to the hide or the meat of an animal. The 22 LR fired from a rifle is actually pretty quiet. Firing it is less likely to scare off additional small animals.
The 22 LR is perfect for preserving the skin of animal to make a good trophy. It’s also easy shooting and an excellent choice for new hunters. When it strikes an animal it will likely stay in the animal and not send a random round through the woods.
Winner: .22 LR
3. Target Practice
This is a hard category to judge. Both rounds are accurate and easy shooting. Both are chambered in a variety of platforms and both are abundant and affordable. When it comes to basic target practice it seems either round will serve you well.
22 LR is often a much cheaper option that allows someone to buy a brick of 500 rounds and spend an entire day at the range. The easy shooting 22 LR is excellent for kids and older people. The downside is that it’s not very challenging to shoot.
Shooters can often get bored rather easily shooting 22 LR. 9mm is the more expensive round by far. 9mm is louder, has more recoil, and is more challenging to shoot. More experienced shooters, or shooters focused on self-defense would be better served with a 9mm.
9mm is often the perfect caliber for shooters to move to once they are comfortable with the 22 LR. The 9mm is a good training cartridge in rifle form and can be a blast to shoot. Both rounds certainly have their place when it comes to plinking.
4. Competition Shooting
Competition shooting is another tricky one to judge how rounds perform. There are a wide variety of shooting competitions out there that involve multiple types of firearms and ammunition. Many close range bulls eye competitions do take advantage of the 22 caliber round.
Also there has been a renaissance in small bore competitions among middle school aged children. Schools in the United States are even forming rifle teams. Most of these competitions use a 22 caliber rifle due to their low cost, low recoil, low concussion, and low noise levels.
9mm has the advantage of being present in all tactical competitions. This includes USPA, ISPC, and 3 gun competitions. These competitions involve defensive shooting tactics, quick draw, and speed over hitting a tiny bulls eye.
These competitions are growing in popularity, especially 3 gun which is now an international sport. All of these sports require a centerfire handgun and most require the use of 9mm or bigger. Another major advantage is that USPSA has recently added a pistol caliber carbine division.
With most pistol caliber carbines being in 9mm this gives the round a decent step forward. This is why the 9mm is a better load for competitive shooting. The popularity of action shooting sports and the wide variety of action shooting sports lends more strength to the 9mm cartridge.
No one can deny that both rounds are quite versatile. They can both be used for a variety of different tasks, and through a variety of different firearms. The 22 LR is much older than the 9mm and has never been replaced as the king of rimfire cartridges.
The 22 LR can be used to hunt, to plink, to shoot and in a serious pinch be used for self-defense. The 22 is also versatile because almost anyone can shoot it. Most kids learn on a 22 LR rifle and it makes an excellent handgun round for beginning shooters.
22 LR is such a popular cartridge that almost every type of firearm has a 22 LR variant. Revolvers, semi-auto pistols, semi auto rifles, lever actions, bolt actions, single shot rifles, and even derringers exist for the 22 LR. Most are affordable and easy to find, and made by big firearms manufacturers.
9mm is versatile because it’s quite common in the centerfire world. Magazines can be made to higher capacities easier because it isn’t a rimmed cartridge. 9mm has also seen a big growth in the carbine market and the new fad with pistol caliber carbines.
9mm is most commonly chambered in semi auto handguns but you can find 9mm revolvers. While the 9mm is a long lasting caliber in terms of firearm skill levels, most novice shooters will start with 22 LR but quickly move to larger calibers. One of the most common move to calibers is 9mm, which will then stick around as a self-defense and target shooting round.
Overall the 9mm certainly loses out when it comes to how many weapons can chamber it, making the .22 LR the clear winner from a versatility standpoint.
Winner: .22 LR
If there’s one gun you should have in your survival arsenal, it’s some form of .22 rifle. Most hardcore survivalists have at least one if not two or three .22 LR rifles in their arsenal. The .22 LR caliber will be one of the easier calibers to find in the event of a survival situation, which makes the .22 a must have.
Let’s not forget about the 9mm though. As a high capacity self defense round, you’d be much better off having a 9mm by your side in the event you actually need to use it for self defense. A .22 LR will not have the same stopping power as the 9mm.
While it’s a good idea to have a wide variety of calibers in your arsenal, if we had to pick one it would be the .22 LR due to the fact the caliber can be used in both rifles and handguns as stated in our versatility primer. If I’m placing my survival in one caliber it will be the one I can get the most use out of, and the .22 LR fits that bill.
If I have the option, I’m carrying a 9mm at my side and a .22 LR rifle in my bag. If I’m only able to pick one caliber, the .22 LR is the easy choice for any survival situation.
Winner: .22 LR
A Clear Winner?
There is really never a clear winner when it comes to calibers that are so different. Each caliber is designed to do something different, and the spectrum between 9mm and 22 lr is quite wide. Both rounds have guns that are essential to any complete collection.
Both rounds excel at what they are designed and to do, and that’s why they are the king of their respective bullet genres. Ideally you will have one of each.
If for some reason you can only pick one caliber, or maybe you are just starting out – it’s impossible to go wrong with a .22 LR caliber rifle/handgun as your first pick.
Our Pick: The .22 LR if it’s your only gun, the 9mm should be your 2nd choice.