To .380 ACP Or Not To .380 ACP

Handguns are poor people killers (regardless of what you hear on the news). On average, only 1 out of every 7 people die from a single handgun shot. Take Chicago for example…last year there were 762 murders here. However, 4,331 people were shot! As disproportionate as that ratio is, many of those murders were not committed with a firearm so the ratio is even smaller.

More importantly, from a self-defense aspect, handguns are poor people STOPPERS. It really doesn’t matter if a person dies as a result of you defending yourself. A mortally wounded person can still kill you before they themselves die!!! No, you want to stop the individual from attacking you, not kill!

All that said, some handgun calibers have proven themselves to be better or worse choices than others. I was asked what my stance is on the .380 ACP, and what .380 round to recommend to those who choose to carry it. I’ll start by answering the first question right away…

I don’t recommend .380 ACP as a defensive round! There are a number of reasons why, but below are the primary ones:

  1. It has less mass than a 9mm but moves at slower velocities like a .45 ACP. This equates to much lower levels of energy available to it. Energy allows the bullet to do two things…penetrate and expand. Penetration is the more important of the two, but both are desirable. The .380 is right on the cusp of being able to both expand greatly in order to dump all of it’s energy into an attacker AND get the penetration required to be effective.
  2. It’s marginally OK in the summer, but a poor choice in the winter. People wear light clothing in the summer time. There is less chance of the bullet having to go through multiple layers of clothing, which in turn, means less chance of the hollow point becoming clogged to the point where it doesn’t expand (not to mention loose energy passing through the clothes). All this equates the the .380 ACP being able to reach it’s maximum potential more often…which, due to #1 above, is just marginally OK. Winter time is a different story. Add a coat, sweater, and additional shirt, and now the bullet has a greater chance of dropping below that threshold of having the required energy for expansion & penetration.
  3. You can’t hide a firearm chambered in .380 ACP anywhere that you can’t hide a similarly sized 9mm. Sub-compact 9mm handguns aren’t all that much bigger than their .380 ACP counterparts.  Take the Glock 42 vs 43.  In real world scenarios, there aren’t many places you’d be able to hide a Glock 42 and not be able to do the same with its slightly larger sibling.
  4. The recoil of the .380 ACP is not that much less than a 9mm, especially out of a small pistol. The recoil of a 9mm, even in small pistols, is still well within the realm of manageable for the average shooter.
  5. .380 ACP is more expensive to shoot than 9mm. That translates to less time live fire training!!!

I can’t imagine too many experienced shooters, even those that love the .380 ACP, denying that any of the above is true. That being the case, why purposely select a round that barely meets the cusp and costs more to train with? Instead, step up to a caliber that gives you the maximum chance of stopping an attacker with the fewest number of shots to do so. 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Magnum, .45 ACP, ect. all have more than enough energy to perform under any of the mentioned conditions and are all available options. Do you want the cheaper, less durable seat belts in your car? How about a smoke detector that’s only sensitive enough to only give you a 1 minute advanced warning rather than 5 minutes??? When it comes to things that you may need to save your live, make the smartest decision possible.

…but it’s better than nothing, right?

Yes, it’s better than nothing. So is a BB gun. That doesn’t mean a BB gun is a good choice! Again, we are talking about something that you may use to save your life one day. Choose wisely!

What if I want to carry it anyway?

Now, for those who are going to carry it anyway, and there are plenty of you, below are the top three choices I’d go with. There were selected purely based on my own opinion. Let me know in the comments if you have other rounds you’d recommend…

  1. Lehigh Defense 65gr Xtreme Defense – You will get penetration, don’t have to worry about having a hollow point clog (there isn’t one), and it has the ability to dump enough energy and damage tissue at a rate similar to a traditional hollow point.
  1. Sig Sauer 90gr V-Crown JHP – This is one of the few .380 ACP hollow point rounds that I’ve seen give consistent expansion and OK penetration in gel tests. Those tests are more for comparison with other bullets than to demonstrate actual results though.
  1. Plain Ball Rounds – You will get zero expansion but you’ll have plenty of penetration. The bad part is that there is a high likelihood that it will over penetrate and pass through the attacker with more than enough energy to still be lethal.

NRA Certified Range Safety Officer & Firearm Instructor | FL & IL State Certified Concealed Carry Instructor

13 thoughts on “To .380 ACP Or Not To .380 ACP

    1. Oh Lord, I don’t know where to begin. YES a 9mm is more BALLISTICLY effective than a .380…….and a 45 is more so than that, and a 10mm more than that. THE POINT IS, there are various reasons why a person would need to know if a .380 is “ENOUGH”. Maybe they already invested in one AND the ammo also. Maybe their hands just can’t handle the extra recoil of a 9mm WELL ENOUGH or without pain etc etc. The fact is the .380 is LONG well established as a man-stopper (as is the lowly .22lr rimfire btw!) and is a VERY viable tool for self defense and carries the benefits of reduced size, reduced recoil, and reduced weight. Ruger now has the .380 Security Lite Rack and MANY seniors with arthritis, who have since given up on carrying due to their weakened hands/wrists inability to operate the slide rack are now enjoying the confidence and independence of arming themselves once again. Stop nitpicking ballistics, gel tests. FBI stats etc. NOBODY is going to ask what caliber you’re using when you brandish a firearm let alone dump 3 well placed rounds into them. They will either enter a state of shock and flee wounded leaving a trail for the police, OR JUST DIE…..either way, I GUARANTEE NOT A SINGLE ONE WILL CONTINUE ADVANCING AND ASK FOR MORE.

  1. So if I buy $500 handgun and my ar is $500 I don’t know if I’d call a hand gun poor people stoppers if you spend equal amount on either type of firearm it doesn’t matter riffles have greater range..

    1. Rifles generally have a greater range because they have a higher velocity (due to a longer dwell time in the barrel). That said, the added velocity from a .380 in longer barrels isn’t that great (~200 fps), and is nowhere near the 2200 fps required to create a significant permanent wound cavity as determined by the FBI. As a matter of fact, even out of an 18″ barrel with +P ammo, the .380 only accelerates to velocities similar to a hot 9mm (but with less mass). You can see some exact velocities at Ballistics By The Inch by BBTI.

      Additionally, rifles chambered in .380 are few and far inbetween. The only one that comes to mind off of the top of my head in the Hi-Point Carbine (though, I’m sure there are others).

  2. I get better patterns with Hornady Critical Defense with the little red rubber tip/ hollow point. I like the pistol because I just carry it everywhere in my front pocket and don’t even think about it. Close range only of course. My 45 ACP is just to large to tote everywhere.

    1. Hello Sean, it’s definitely better than not carrying anything at all! If that works for you then continue on. My words here are more for future purchase decisions!

  3. First I want to say I was of like-mind thinking years ago. Back in the day, a 9mm wasn’t enough for me – I needed to carry my 45. I have changed my opinion. I will agree that a 9mm is a better choice than a 380 for most. However, I call BS, a 380’s recoil is a good bit less than a 9mm especially in a sub compact. I have 1 22 pistol and 2 380’s and 4 9mm’s and 2 45’s and I have taken many woman to shoot and for the first time and there is an obvious difference. I usually start them with the 22 and move up.

    IMO, it’s best not to use a bullet the expands in a 380, so no HP’s. There are articles that recommend ball ammo over HP’s out there. Your statement about not good in the winter because of lack of penetration and ball ammo having to much penetration, they sorta contradict each other. It cost me more to reload a 9mm than it does a 380?? (Yes, I agree the if you purchase your ammo it is a little more expensive.)

    “Yes, it’s better than nothing. So is a BB gun. That doesn’t mean a BB gun is a good choice!” This statement is an exaggeration to make your point. However, it is extremely misleading I could say you need a 44 mag if you really want some stopping power, why would anyone choose a little 9mm? What the male always forgets about is their are some females (I guess some males too) that can’t handle the recoil of a 9mm and they can a 380. My questions to you? So is a 9mm that someone can’t hit their target with better than a 380 that they can? Is that 380 considerably better then your BB gun?

  4. Practice, practice, practice. Shot placement is most important. Go for the head. Clothes won’t matter. Don’t buy the weapon
    And put it in the nightstand drawer. Use it. Get to know it. Even if you never have to shoot someone — and we all hope to hell
    We don’t — target practice is fun. And if you become proficient with this “little caliber” weapon it’ll be just as deadly in your
    Hands as most anything else. Buy it. Practice with it. Be confident with it. The Boy Scouts said it best: Be prepared.

    1. I won’t ask! 😆 That said, a .22 LR will as well. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best choice for defense given the other options.

  5. Well My Choice Is The Golden Saber 102gr Out Of My Beretta 84f Which Will Get Most Jobs Done With Out Over Penetration ! Which Would Be My Most Concern Especially In Tight Quarters, “House Or Public Place” .

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