Ammunition > Handgun

The Comeback Cartridge: The .380 ACP

These .380s are the handgun choice for those looking to avoid trouble.


In the 1980s and 1990s, gunwriters penned an almost endless litany of articles declaring the .380 everything from useless to dead - and those were just two of the kinder descriptive terms.

However, at the 2009 SHOT Show, I examined five new small .380 ACP semi-automatic pistols intended for unobtrusive, discreet carry. The guns were the Kahr P380, the Magnum Research Micro Desert Eagle, the SIG Sauer P238, the Taurus TCP and the Walther PK380.

The .380 ACP is considered by some authorities on defensive handgunning to be marginal in power and performance at best, and completely inadequate and unsuitable at worst. So why are so many companies manufacturing-and so many shooters buying-a less-than-perfect personal-defense solution?

Think of the current generation of small .380s as pocket protectors. That, of course, was the original premise for the gun and cartridge as conceived by John Moses Browning as the Colt Model 1908 pocket pistol chambered for the .380 Automatic Colt Pistol. That combination forever changed the defensive handgun 101 years ago. The .380 and .32 ACP became the primary semi-automatic law enforcement cartridges in Europe for decades, as well as a prominent military cartridge until the ascendancy of the 9 mm Parabellum.

So why then was the 10-ounce recoil-operated Ruger LCP (Light Compact Pistol) the surprise hit handgun for the firearm industry last year? Of course, the LCP follows on the heels and hallmarks of George Kelgren's revolutionary Kel-Tec P-3AT of 2003. Why are other makers dog piling on the .380 ACP bandwagon? Why now? And all this attention for a chambering that many defensive handgunning authorities regard as inappropriate or marginal for personal protection. There is more to it than Ruger selling out its yearly production in just a few hours, as both Ruger and Kel-Tec continue to have banner success with their guns, as are companies that make small revolvers also appropriate for discreet carry.

Today 43 states have some form of Right-To-Carry for honest citizens to lawfully carry a concealed firearm, and applications for such permits are up-way up. The first cycle for many seems to be acquiring a CCW, then for him or her to immediately start carrying a full-size, perhaps even a custom, M1911 in .45 ACP. After all, that's what all the gunwriters recommend, right? At the local club or gunshop, if you carry anything less than an M1911, your sanity or manhood are immediately suspect. Firms such as Kahr and Taurus have made extremely small .45 ACPs, but weight and mass can only be reduced so far given the physical dimensions of six .45 ACP cartridges. Recoil in such small guns in this chambering cannot be removed, and it can be difficult to master. A .45 ACP pistol can only become so small, and even the smallest may be too big for some who choose to exercise their Right-To-Carry on a daily basis.

Another problem with a full-size or even an Officers ACP or Commander M1911 is that they are well, heavy. To carry a full-size pistol every day requires one to make some changes as to how you dress, and there are times that it is downright uncomfortable to wear the clothes necessary to conceal a full-size well. Weight, bulk and other inconveniences lead some to simply not carry every day. A heavy gun left behind is of no use when danger threatens. To be frank, it's a pain, but a pain that can save your life. What to do?

After all, the first rule of gunfighting is to have a gun. If you knew you were going to a life-threatening situation, you wouldn't go at all.

But the point of a carry handgun for the armed citizen is to have adequate defensive power to deter or immediately end an unwarranted, unexpected attack. For such situations, a compact, simple-to-operate .380 ACP is all many consumers have decided they need. And a slim, 10- to 14-ounce gun that does not require a whole new wardrobe becomes pretty attractive. This type of firearm is one that is carried a lot, and hopefully, fired never. But if you need it, the gun must be on you. And at the arm's length of typical armed citizen encounters, many believe a six-shot .380 will be enough ... if it's there.

I believe we are seeing a practical compromise on the side of persons committed to their own armed self-protection. While the new generation of .380s is far from the ideal of any combat pistolero knowingly heading into harm's way, they are ideal candidates to keep with you all day, every day. These .380s are not the handgun choice for those looking for trouble but rather the light and handy handgun of choice for those looking to avoid it.

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44 Responses to The Comeback Cartridge: The .380 ACP

Doug wrote:
September 30, 2013

I own a Makarov in .380 acp and I think that it is one of the best shooting firearms that I have. I can shoot it more accurately than I can shoot my S&W M&P9 Shield. It has enough power to do what I want it to do. The newer rounds made for the .380 pistol are better than your dads old .380 rounds. I shoot Hornady Critical Defense and I have faith that it will stop the bad guy just as fast as a 9mm will. The .380 is the round for the guy that wants to carry and not have to worry if he is dressed right or whatever. Just my opinion.

Tomas wrote:
August 30, 2013

I owned smith 357 magnum model 686. It was heavy, beefy, high profile while using a holster.mostly it was in my safe for 20 years untill i decided to buy a pocket gun.i chose the legendery sig p238, an amazing 380 which goes with me every where in the ladt 1.5 years.its like carring a phone, i got used to it and recently i bought a kydex holster custom maid fir this little pistol and carring it now is even better. Great article!

Argyraspide wrote:
August 21, 2013

I inherited a Beretta M1934 in .380 from my father who brought it home from WW2 as a war trophy. It was the standard issue side arm for the Fascist Italian Army and manufactured into the 1980s. Some accounts I've read stated the Nazi Germans preferred the .32 Cal version. I've fired several thousand rounds through it and it has cycled flawlessly every type of .380 ACP I've loaded into it, even cheapo Winchester white box. I've yet to experience a failure of any kind and it shoots true to aim. I frequently put 90[%] of rounds I fire into the center of mass of a target at 25 yards. Rugged, reliable, superbly manufactured and elegant in design, I can't tell you how happy I am with this pistol.

Jack London wrote:
August 10, 2013

When or if a time arrives when it is determined in a persons mind to draw a weapon,(shooting) for the saving of themselves or a friend nearby the idea of recoil is completely lost in the moment. Most all, including police officers interviewed after a shoot tell you they 1. Did not hear the gun go off and 2. Never felt the recoil or worried of the aiming for a follow-up shot. Using the small person it hurts excuse is a fallacy. After, they will tell you it was all in slow motion and can remember minute details of the time of the shoot but not the sound or feeling of it. Many, when the adrenalin is flowing never even feel the shot when they are hit at the moment of it happening. As a retired LEO (25yrs) and a firearms instructor the 'after' debrief of officers involved all said about the same things only in their words about the shooting itself at the moment of the trigger pull. Don't use the small hands or the pain of the recoil as a excuse to remove a weapon from viable use in a defensive position!

Taos Gun Guy wrote:
July 20, 2013

Too bad they didn't include the North American Arms Guardian 380. Though this all metal gun isn't light, it's built like a tank and NAA is an awesome company that back up its products.

Alex Diaz Gueko wrote:
July 09, 2013

380acp is what I carry everyday... is powerfull enough to stop someone on the streets.. specially if you carry a high capacity gun like a bersa plus... i have one and load it with remington golden saver (15 round in a little gun) i'm so glad with this caliber.

Alex wrote:
March 29, 2013

Excellent article, linked in from wikipedia. Very informative! Inherited a 40-year old Llama III-A 380, but didn't like it. It was heavy, mechanically complex, and quite finicky about being kept clean. Waiting for my new S&W BG 380 to be delivered. Know its pros and cons from reading numerous articles and watching youtube videos till my eyeballs glazed over. I will tweak the laser (buttress the tact switches and loctite the hold-down screw), inspect, and clean it thoroughly before I fire round one. Expect the S&W lifetime warranty will see me through anything untoward. One point I haven't seen made about the laser is the intimidation factor in low light conditions. I may be the worst shot ever with a pistol, but the idiots who think violent crime is a viable career choice get most of their education from television. On TV laser-equipped guns never miss. Doesn't mean I'm going to start shooting my pistol horizontally though, even if morons see that as more menacing. Lastly, just thought I'd mention I've also ordered a Jimenez JA-22. Again, I am aware of all the strongly defended opinions, but my budget for introducing wife and son to recreational and self-defense shooting practice just doesn't cover 1000 rnds/yr of 380 ACP for the three of us. Strangely, I am having no trouble finding 380 ammunition whereas 22LR is nowhere to be found at any price where I live. I assume that will eventually change. Meanwhile I will have both guns fluffed and buffed by an expert I know, install a good quick-access safe at home, and start looking into obtaining a CC permit in my state ... before the gun control nuts completely nullify Amendment #2 "for our own good".

Dennis wrote:
March 18, 2013

I have fired the Ruger LCP .380, the LC .380, and the S&W Bodyguard in .380. They all seem adequate to the task, but they are so light they can be painfull to shoot and the recoil makes them jumpy for smaller people. My wife is 5'5"/110 lbs and tends to lose control after the first shot. I haven't shot any of the Taurus .380's but I do carry a PT709 Slim (also a bit rough for my wife). The Bersa's I have seen (but not fired) have a nice feel, and seem to have the necessary heft to reduce the recoil, along with a higher capacity than the 'pocket pistols', but have a wider grip making them larger and less concealable. these are the same reasons I don't carry my Beretta 84 in a waistband holster (which is probably my favorite gun ever). These are great options for a bigger guy, or in a shoulder rig. Following the instruction I was given as a youth, if you aren't going to practice with a weapon, you certainly shouldn't carry it, and that is the only downside I have found to these tiny pistols. I cannot imagine going to the range and firing them enough to feel comfortable with them. The slightly heavier (but not any bigger) Sig P238 is a much more comfortable gun to shoot, and therefore a better option for carry.

Tim wrote:
February 02, 2013

Today I bought a Taurus TCP .380. It fits in my pocket very nicely, and NOBODY would want to take a .380 round or two to the chest, torso or anywhere else on their body. And yes criminals tend to flee when confronted by a good guy with a handgun. Within the last month, two robberies were prevented each incident, by women who simply pulled out their handguns. And the criminals had guns, but they RAN away anyway! Thank The Lord nobody got hurt or killed!

Roger wrote:
February 02, 2013

I am neither an expert on guns nor ammo but I do have enough knowledge and confidence to assess my own situation and make a good decision. Like many here, I too purchased a 380 pistol for full time carry. Yes, I have another weapon for home defense but my understanding of personal self defense situations, a 380 will do the job. I am sure many know this fact that there are more gun fatalities/injuries from a .22 cal than any other type. Does that mean a .22 is a powerful round? No, it just indicates that a .22 is very common,used often, and will make a hole in someone. So know your gun, know how you are as a shooter, and dont go looking for a fight. practice.

Lee wrote:
January 21, 2013

I own two 380 handguns. A Browning BDA made in '78 and a Bersa Thunder both with 13 and 15 round magazines, respectively. Both are very accurate and reliable. When I worked in Homicide investigations with a large Texas city, a friend of mine made this comment concerning the 380, "just button his shirt". It'll work...

Jack Harper wrote:
January 19, 2013

I own a Sig P232. Small, compact, lightweight, fits my hand well, recoil light compared to larger cals all necessary in light of the weakness of my hands with basilar thumb arthritis. Good choice for me. I'll let the machisimo handle the big guns.

Seamus wrote:
January 06, 2013

Maggie I have that same handgun feg pa63 9mmk it is a blowback operated gun so it has a little more recoil but it is easy to handle. I have Wolff springs in mine 15 lb recoil and a 7 lb trigger this gun has never failed to fire regardless of the ammunition used. I have heard some trash talk this gun but I've put a1000 rounds through it and I will bet my life on it, with aluminum frame it is light and very thin and easy to carry and two 7 rd mags should be enough. I've changed the grips midway has a set that eliminates the thumb rest and makes the gun even thinner but require a bit of handwork to make them fit right. I carry an xd40 sub as a rule but for lite clothes the feg is handy put a few hundred rounds through it and I think you will find it easy to handle and pretty accurate.

j.gonzales wrote:
December 19, 2012

The 380acp is by far more capable than most think,3 inches of ammo into your body hurts,6 kills,10 quite simply takes your life.put the rds where they need to go,380acp will give you about 10 inches of average penitration.

Robert Smith wrote:
October 15, 2012

MAGGIE - SHOOT THE GUN YOU PLAN TO CARRY. Learn how it (and you) acts and feels while firing.

Jacko wrote:
October 04, 2012

I have a taurus M380 and it is my EDC gun. 90 grain Hornady XTP in the summer and 90 grain Buffalo Bore +P in the winter. I feel very secure with this revolver!

JD & Co. wrote:
September 29, 2012

The ideal situation is not having to use a sidearm at all. But, times have changed, and if in certain places you need to carry a piece that you can conceal, a 380 is not a bad choice. Sure there are many larger calibers, but 380 is an "attention-getter" to say the least. Most armed situations happen in less than 20-feet of distance. The 380 is a very capable munition, if delivered accurately onto the offender(s). The key is to learn to use your weapon instinctively and without having to look at it to fire. Practice, train, practice and train. Most criminals and thugs are cowards at heart. I carry a Beretta 380. At the range, I practice at various distances both right and left handed. Always carry 2x mags in case you have to hole up until backup arrives. Best wishes and may God Bless us all.

Vk wrote:
August 25, 2012

CZ-83 in.380. Remora iWB. Carrying concealed everywhere it is permitted. 12+1 and no need to carry an extra mag.

Johnny D. wrote:
July 21, 2012

I would be nice if there was a magical gun that weighs next to nothing and always stops an attack with one shot. But it doesn't exist. Here in Phoenix, I feel confident carrying a 380. Macho gun writers who think anything less than an .88 magnum is powerless may disagree, well fine. I'll stick with what works for me. A convienently sized gun I have with me rather than a cannon in the safe at home.

Tomas6774 wrote:
July 21, 2012

I purchased my P238 one month ago and since then im watching all kind off youtube crap telin me that the 380 is awfull caliber and all of that .the text here is reasonable and i quite sure now that i made the right decision!! Thanks!! Any way, i am carrying my Sig much more than my previos s&w 357 magnum 686...

Vincent Bermudez wrote:
July 01, 2012

I carry a Ruger LCP when and where not prohibited. I think that,s enough for South Florida, I also have bigger guns 40 cal. 45, 12 ga. but my lcp is my carry weapon. How many times a bad guy comes to you when you are holding a gun? Not many is that correct! feel secure practice when ever you can be safe and cautious

Big tman wrote:
June 14, 2012

I just got a taurus 638 .380 holds 15rounds I dont know much about this brand name so I was kinda looking for help if you know about it Id like to know thanks. P. S. Why did I get it if your asking I heard of the 380 guns in general heard they didnt kick much needed one for my girl as I would like her to feel comfy shooting with me. Myself I like glock27 40cal little bit small for me but its fun to shoot.

Destroyer wrote:
May 22, 2012

I told my wife, to aim for the groin with her LCP she might get a head shot.I don't really care you get shot in the crotch your combat ineffective. Lots of arteries and toys men will be busy checking on for damage plus if you aim low and miss you have a few more areas to hit.

monopolyman1953 wrote:
April 04, 2012

I started off with a Glock 26 9mm for concealed carry. Great nearly 2 lbs. loaded was too heavy and big for concealed carry here in Florida. We don't wear heavy clothing here in the sunbelt and the Glock weight made my cargo shorts pull down. Moved to a KelTec 3AT (.380). At 8.5 oz. loaded with 6 defence rounds & belt clip eliminated holster need, nice gun, big recoil. After I discovered that the trigger spring had broken, I lost confidence in it. I moved on to the S&W Bodyguard .380. IMHO this is the best of the three. Only 12 oz. loaded, an external manual safety so I can be chambered & the dependability of S&W. A winner for sun belt climate, concealed carry.

B-mac122112 wrote:
February 26, 2012

You do not want to be the one with the red dot on your forehead from the Laser on my 380 S&W Bodyguard. My wad-cutters will stop you with 1-6 shots. It doesn't matter. I carry extra mags. I don't miss.

ejdavid wrote:
January 13, 2012

I've been researching this stuff for a decade. SUMMARY: ANY gunshot wound in the head or torso is good enough for most most bad guys. In fact, .22 has an ACTUAL one stop shot better then a .45. It also took fewer shots to obtain incapacitation. However, in some cases there was no incapacitation. The .22 has a 30% rate of non-incapacitation. .380 and up have about half that rate.

old man wrote:
January 09, 2012

Here in alaska its cold most of the year so I get to carry my 220 most of the time but when I head south I take my 380 do to it being to hot for me and need somthing smaller better to have somthing small then nothing at all

MAGGIE wrote:
January 08, 2012

I have a FEG. MARK II Made in Hungary double action Patterned after the Walther PPK/S Alloy frame 7 shot mag 21oz. w/2 7shot mags and a cleaning rod imported by SSME Plant Cty, Florida Can anyone tell something about this gun? It has never been fired and I thinking of trading for a 45 magnum or a Judge. Hoping to trade at next gun show which is 2nd week of Feb 2012. I am a 5 foot 105 lb single female looking to find something I can manage, recoi,l but biggest bang for the size. The grip is great for my small hands. I can lay my thumb on my middle finger nail in a grip. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Maggie.

James wrote:
January 06, 2012

I do like my S&W 45acp, but it does become a beast to conceal carry down here in S.Fl. I have been taking my wife's Bersa Thunder 380, with my cutom grips and load it with Cor-Bon PowerBall ammo. I always was a big caliber guy, but, I'll bet my life on this lil 380. "A Well Placed Shot(s)& Good Defense Ammo will get the job done.

Rick wrote:
January 05, 2012

This is very simple... Most bad guys out to do harm to others feel empowered when they have a gun... Until they realize they are not the only one with a gun. As soon as they see or hear another gun, THEY RUN LIKE CHICKENS... So if you intend on killing the bad guy on the first shot, then by all means bring a cannon. If your goal is to defend yourself, even a 22LR could do the job. Not that I recommend it. But just look at all the tv real videos of jewelers and pawn shop brokers when they brought out their gun, what do the bad guys do? Did they stay and fight? Did they think hey my gun is bigger? Nope they RAN!!!! IF they didn't have a gun their concept of empowerment would have continued and some innocents would be harmed.

Jon wrote:
January 04, 2012

If you can carry a larger caliber handgun and keep it concealed you should. Your handgun should be one that fits its role and one that you are confident with. 380 is not a bad self defense round, but pocket lint is.

Arnold wrote:
December 21, 2011

I just got my CCL here in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and my backup gun is a Taurus TCP. I love it. Its not a gun for plinking because I have large hands but what a performer. Good shot placement with even a .22 makes a big difference.

101abn wrote:
October 13, 2011

The Bersa Thunder .380 is perhaps a mid size carry, 7 round magazine, do not have one in the chamber and 7 in the mag., otherwise you will have a stovepipe jam after first round. Federal Hydra-Shok 90 grain will be enough. If you expect trouble, carry a 12 gauge shotgun.

woodyb wrote:
August 02, 2011

I have carried an AMT 380 Backup SAO for more than 25 years. It has always been reliable. I have been carrying concealed for more than 30 years. I have drawn a firearm only four times, and praise God The other guy has always backed down.

Judd wrote:
April 16, 2011

I carry my Sig p238 everywhere (where legal) in Michigan. With a Sig aftermarket 7 shot clip (7+1) filled with Gold Dot 90 grain hollow points, I feel very confident if it is ever needed. And it shoots like a dream.

Luis wrote:
March 22, 2011

I carry a Smith & wesson 380 bodyguard everywhere I go--even when I take the trash out. I also own a Springfield XD9 sub-compact which I also carry as my second resourse. Love that 380!

JIM wrote:
January 13, 2011

I carry a concealed pistol every where I am permitted. I love carring my Bursa Thunder 380. It is easy to conceal and feels good in the hand. I can easily conceal it with a inside the pants holster while wearing scrubs. Texas

L Bunch wrote:
December 06, 2010

.380 works for me for CCW.

WS wrote:
November 27, 2010

I dont get why the "is the .380 inadequate" argument is here. Will a pellet gun stop someone with a good shot...yes, will a big knife protect yourself...yes. I don't carry to expect a gunfight or id bring an AR everywhere. Bottom line is showing ANY firearm will normally diffuse the situation. If you do have to fire id rather have my p238 with me than the p226 that i left at home!

Neil wrote:
October 08, 2010

Down here in TX carrying a full size auto just isn't an option for most of the year. Its just too hard to hide. The LCP does the trick, either with a kel-tec pocket clip or a pocket holster. And yes, .380 ammo is much better now than it was in the past.

John wrote:
September 20, 2010

I've carried the LW Seecamp .32 ACP in a Kramer pocket holster for years. Seecamp makes a .380 version, but, based on cartridge performance, there doesn't seem to be much reason to change.

Robert "Smokey" Harter wrote:
August 27, 2010

I carried a pocket 380 for years before the CCW permits became available and it stopped a few encounters just by producing it. I only had to use it once when attacked by a gang of 5. One was shot and the rest scattered. All went to jail. I know this little handgun saved my life that night.

Pat wrote:
August 26, 2010

What makes the .380 a viable choice today is much better ammo.

Deepwoods wrote:
August 26, 2010

I agree most certainly, I normally carry a G27 in the cooler months, but when I wear only levi's and a T it's the LCP in a pocket holster for me, all day comfort, every day.