To me, even the lowly .22 LR deserves as much respect as the monstrosity that is the .500 S&W Magnum, if only for the simple fact that I wouldn’t want to be hit by a bullet from either cartridge. From this perspective, I view all handgun calibers the same.
However, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a firearm for self-defense. What’s often seen as of utmost importance is the caliber a gun is chambered for — assuming you practice a lot and you can put a bullet at whichever body part you’re aiming at, the cartridge you load in your gun determines whether you’ll incapacitate your bad guy quick enough to survive a life-threatening situation or you’ll die due to a retaliatory strike.
The .38 Special and the 9mm are both fine options for self-defense with all the modern bullet propellants, load data and bullet designs available today. Where the .38 Special is utterly defeated by the 9mm in this handgun caliber comparison is in the price and versatility categories, two things often overlooked by just about everyone.
As far as price-per-round, the 9mm is untouchable. It blows the competition out of the water by costing around half as much but being at least marginally more powerful, if not a lot.
And if you have stockpiles of 9mm ammo, you won’t have to worry about emptying those boxes as there are a lot of different ways you can enjoy shooting those rounds — countless semi-auto handguns, submachine guns, pistol-caliber carbines and even a few revolvers are chambered for it.
I can only hope the .38 Special wouldn’t fall into obscurity in the foreseeable future. The fact that it’s still even relevant a full century and two decades after it came out is a testament to how good it is as a .35-caliber handgun cartridge for self-defense. And I’ve always been one to root for the underdog. Only time will tell.
But for all the reasons stated above, I have to declare the 9mm the winner of this round. And I think it’s a well-deserved win.