Enough Gun or Any Gun?

posted on December 8, 2009

The saying “use enough gun” addresses a host of different aspects of firearms and ammunition. In Robert Ruark's book of that title, it had to do with hunting. Most often these days, the phrase likely comes up regarding defensive handguns unobtrusively carried on the person by qualified individuals. For many Americans who have made the personal decision to be responsible for their own personal protection, the .380 ACP is the cartridge of choice.

Once the dominant cartridge in European law enforcement and for hide-out guns such as the Colt Model 1908 and the Walther PPK/s, the .380 ACP fell out of favor as primary defensive cartridge in the United States. Many knowledgeable about armed self-defense regard the .380 ACP as below the minimal threshold of energy. Field Editor Wiley Clapp falls into that camp. With some 9 mm Luger handgun designs only slightly larger than today’s .380 designs, Wiley would gladly encumber himself with an extra few ounces of weight in exchange for 20 more grains of bullet weight and 100 ft.-lbs. or so more energy.

Without belaboring various theories of incapacitation indexes or stopping power formulas, other authorities both disagree or disagree about efficacy of the .380 for defensive use. Regardless, today’s consumers have made their choice with their pocketbooks. The current trend in small, thin light .380 ACP pistols is not so much about using or bringing “enough” gun as bringing any gun at all. No matter where you stand on .380 as a manstopper, this crop of pistols is not likely to be left behind because of size or weight. You can keep it on you all the time, and any gun you have in life-threatening situation is better than no gun at all.

In the February 2010 issue of American Rifleman magazine (in your mailboxes and online next month) Wiley Clapp examines nine .380 ACP pistols in “Concealed Carry 21st Century Style,” which he says are the maturation of trend. The .380 ACP pistol has gone from primary duty or service gun, to a back-up gun (a “New York reload” so to speak) to a primary concealed sidearm. How popular is the .380 today? Ask anyone who tried to find .380 ACP ammunition on the shelf after Ruger introduced the LCP last year.

In terms of accuracy, the results Wiley reported are about what I anticipated. To get five-shot 25-yard groups with a gun with a 2.2-inch barrel and no rear sight is a challenge. If nothing else it demonstrates that such guns are for close-in defensive use (all performed fine accuracy-wise in his close range drills) and there’s no danger of them appearing in the center-fire 50-yard matches at Camp Perry. One must accept both the benefits and limitations of such guns.

Wiley worked these guns over pretty hard. He likely fired them more than some purchasers will in their lifetimes. The stark reality with such small, lightweight carry guns is that it is difficult to see their sights and they are not a lot of fun to shoot for extended periods. Slimness and light weight are paid for at the bench. But they must be shot, and range work needs to be done with the loads to be carried and ensure absolute reliability. The decision on what to carry as a personal protection gun and what load to stoke it with is perhaps one of the most important decisions an armed citizen may ever make, and you must make sure your gun and ammunition work flawlessly. Look at what’s on the line.


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