The caliber wars between .380 ACP vs 9mm has been going on for decades. The age-old debate about which caliber handgun is better to carry is about to be settled. But the answer may surprise you because I don’t take the same approach to comparing them as many others do. The .380 vs 9mm ballistics is not the only comparison to be considered. There is so much more that goes into it than just how deadly these bullets can be. Ballistics are important. But, then again, so is recoil, confidence, ability, price, and penetration. So which of the two is the better self-defense cartridge? The correct answer is a broad one that may differ from one shooter to the next.
Caliber Wars | .380 ACP VS 9mm Head to Head Comparison
380 vs 9mm Stopping Power
At this point in the game, both rounds are almost dead equal. I mean, when you think about it, when was the last time you saw anyone advertising that they wanted to get shot in the chest with a .380 or a 9mm? Generally speaking, the 9mm does have a higher velocity, a larger grain bullet and more powder to push it out of the barrel. In other words, it does perform better than the .380 does. It is impossible to take physics out of the equation.
However, the 9X19 round isn’t that much better. And, when you equate the fact that it’s not that much better and adds a bit more recoil to it to slow down your target acquisition, your odds of having a better self-defense round drop. Unless, of course, you are a confident shooter, who spends plenty of time at the range.
In other words, two people armed with the very same gun can have two totally different outcomes depending greatly on the amount of time they each spend shooting their gun. Shot placement is all important in a gunfight.
Cost Per Round
Believe it or not, the cost per round is almost directly related to the above statement. As far as handgun ammunition is concerned, it doesn’t get any cheaper than the 9mm. This is important because spending $20 on a box of .380 ammo each time you want to go to the range and run some rounds is expensive.
But if you only have to spend $12 on a box of ammo, you’ll be able to go to the range much more frequently because it’s more affordable. When you train more, you gain more accuracy. That, in turn, translates into a kill shot when your family is being attacked.
Something that many shooters never even think about is over penetration. The 9mm projectile is more likely to travel completely through someone than the .380 ACP (or any of the other more popular self-defense rounds). The reason why this can occur is due to the ballistics of this cartridge. It is narrow enough with the right amount of firepower behind it to cause over penetration.
At first, you may think that two holes make for one dead bad guy. Whether or not this is true is outside of my point. If your child is standing behind the perpetrator, guess who is now in harm’s way?
The answer to the question about which self-defense round is better is, at best, complicated. First, you have to be confident that you can properly defend yourself with your gun. This takes target practice and building muscle memory so that drawing your gun becomes second nature. To do this, you need to make sure your gun is chambered in a caliber you can afford (and handle), so you can actually go to the range without breaking the bank.
Shot placement is king. You could carry the biggest gun you can get your hands on, but if you can’t hit your opponent with its projectile, what’s the point? And, more often than not, the tinier the firearm, the harder it is to shoot with greater accuracy. The most important thing is to get to a range and shoot what you want to buy, so you know what you’re dealing with.
Check out this video by Langley Firearms Academy about a 9mm vs .380 bone test:
Finally, no matter what caliber you choose to defend yourself with, you own that shot the second the bullet leaves the barrel. Make sure you don’t put someone else in danger with over penetration (or missing your target altogether). In other words, the best self-defense caliber is the one you are willing to carry daily, regularly train with and practice situational awareness with whenever it’s drawn from your holster.
Do you have a favored preference between the .380 ACP and 9mm? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was first published in April 2016 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.