Guns & Ammo
Caliber Wars | .380 ACP VS 9mm: Which Is Better?
Gun folks have debated about the 380 ACP vs 9mm for ages. Read and decide which caliber fascinates you more as a gun carrier.
In this article:
Caliber Wars | .380 ACP VS 9mm Head to Head Comparison
380 ACP and 9mm Comparison
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.
The answer may surprise you because I don't take the same approach in comparing them as many others do. The .380 vs 9mm ballistics is not the only comparison to consider.
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.
Ballistics Definition: The study of the movement and impact of an object that is thrown or shot from a weapon. One good example is a bullet fired from a gun.
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 want 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 someone tries to harm your family.
RELATED: The Curious Case Of The Over-Penetrating Round
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 ammo (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 bone test video by Langley Firearms Academy about the difference in the impact of a 9mm and .380:
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!
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Editor’s Note: This post was first published in April 2016 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
December 16, 2020 at 4:23 PM
The most important thing for a newby is to not allow a clerk to tell them to base a buying decision on their hottest seller or what is popular, with the newest features, i.e. laser sights, flash light attachments, yada, yada.
Consider first, how does it fit the hand? If a semi auto, how difficult is the slide to rack? Is it double action? Then go with the caliber. I prefer the largest, but now carry a compact 9mm, for a backup, because my wife preferred a smaller framed .380! The higher priced guns are generally tighter tolerance and highly accurate range competition guns. I carry a Glock, because is very reliable and eats reloads, cheap range ammo and while my carry ammo is premium hollow points, it always functions properly, regardless of loads. The double stack magazine, makes the grip a bit fat for a smaller hand and a relative recently went with a M&R 9mm single stack, that felt good and performed well. These are $500 guns and will get the job done.
March 24, 2017 at 6:44 PM
380ACP IS THE BEST OVERALL CARRY CARTRIDGE
August 30, 2016 at 10:22 PM
Let me add my .02 here. I am a retired ER nurse who got started in healthcare more than 45 years ago as an Army medic doing search and rescue as well as recon in a field unit somewhere overseas. As you might imagine, I have seen a variety of wounds from different calibers, most notable were 7.62 Russian, 5.56 NATO, and (my personal favorite) .45 ACP. When I got out, I went to nursing school and spent more than 30 years working metro and inner city ER’s, where I saw more GSW’s of many more calibers.
From those more than 30 years in ER, I learned that any caliber can kill you under the right circumstances, but in my experience, the people who died from a single .22 round were destined to die that day, If the round had not killed them, something else would have. They were destined to die THAT DAY.
That being said, I will add that I have little regard for either 9mm or .380 as a self-defense round, much less a smaller caliber. In my experience, they are both woefully inadequate to provide the energy needed to truly deter a miscreant who is intent on doing you harm. I have seen several people who should have succumbed to their wounds perform amazing tasks before they died. More than one exacted lethal revenge before they died. They were all shot with a 9mm or smaller caliber. One man was shot three times in the head with a 9 and survived. I have never seen anyone hit in a vital are with a caliber that started with a .4 who did much more than go to ground.
I know that people talk about shot placement and think that they can always make the good hit. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely hard, if not impossible to concentrate on shot placement when the adrenaline is riding high. You will fall back on performing default patterns most of which you will not be aware that they are there, and you will NOT remember performing them, providing you live through the experience.
An inadequate firearm is inadequate. Placing faith in an inadequate round can be a fatal misplacement of your faith, much as playing with rattlesnakes can also be a fatal misplacement of faith; not much different than someone who takes a blow up kiddie raft on a real river rafting trip thinking they will be okay because they have practiced with it, a lot.
Misplaced faith will make you DEAD!
August 31, 2016 at 3:19 PM
Very nice…. I am clapping right now. After I finish typing……LOL
August 30, 2016 at 8:42 PM
Many thoughtful responses to the topic of discussion. Get to the range when you are able, and use your regular carry gun there with your regular ammunition. Best to everyone.
August 30, 2016 at 5:21 PM
I carry a .45 ACP because that is my preferred round. My wife carries a 9 mm because that is HER preferred round. End of discussion. Carry what you like and feel competent with, and be sure to hit what you aim at. End of discussion.
August 30, 2016 at 12:15 PM
The post are very good, Well my comment ,is That you need to know your gun like the back of your hand.
And be able to place a round where you want , most self defense is 7ft,to 10 max, so practice is very good to do and placement very important and cal, doesn’t matter if you can’t place your shot where it needs to be. The problem to me that people use arms that use more than one round,so you just blast away hoping one will hit where it counts,I teach black power only one round so you have to be good to hit what you want.
This improves your odds ,try this it works only one shot,then work up when you learn to hit what your aiming at every time,I shoot from 500 to 7 yards very well with this standard. Cal, doesn’t matter if you can’t hit our target, right…….
May 1, 2016 at 1:47 PM
I carry a .45 or .40 as primary CCW was carrying a S&W 36 but +P ammo tends to destroy them, since I picked up a. 380 revolver the other day cheap, have it in my pocket as a backup. Working I have to carry a Glock 23, off work FNP .45acp 15 rounds. Getting ready to go to 9mm @work due to cost, still 50 rounds a year qualifications, woefully innacurate qualification amount for law enforcement annually
May 1, 2016 at 9:35 AM
I hear where you are coming from with the caliber and fps. If over penetration is a concern opt for one of the defense rounds or go to a 147 gr 9mm in a defense round. I for one will stay with my 9mm and 45 unless carrying the 380 is needed for deep undercover. And with the 380 I will choose the best carry round possible. I like the Glaser round or the new DRT. FMJ is reserved for the range only. And be sure of your target before letting a round go. And if you can’t handle a gun under stress don’t carry one!
August 31, 2016 at 3:24 PM
Well said. The new Lehigh rounds are also very good. They come in +p and regular, but only a few pistols can handle the +p. I think the standard Lehigh round is sufficient.
May 1, 2016 at 8:20 AM
My carry gun is a Bersa Ultra Compact .45. I find with that caliber, the target just doesn’t want to play much after being hit. My wife has a Browning M1910 in .380 that uses hollow point rounds for self defense while the primary home defense gun is a Remington 12 gauge with turkey shot because there’s not really much chance of blowing through a wall (or person) if your house is close by as many are in today’s sub-divisions. But again, what ever firearm you use, practice with it and know how to use it. Even the lowly .22LR round can travel a mile after leaving your rifle.
And, if by chance, you think a “mouse gun” like a .380 doesn’t have great impact, remember that the Browning M1910 in .32 caliber was one of the triggers (no pun intended) for WWI.
March 30, 2016 at 8:01 AM
This story leave out many facts, and I am a Certified NRA Handgun Expert. He keeps talking about over penetration, yes that’s a problem, and the .380 and the 9mm FMJ rounds both have equal problems with the FMJ round. Now move to the Hornady self defense rounds (Hollow Point) in either .380 or 9mm in HP hardly ever over penetrate do to fragmentation of the round. That’s key, so keep that in mind when choosing your personal defense forearm. Hope this helps, good luck and may God Bless.
August 31, 2016 at 3:40 PM
The 9mm has a much pointier profile. I have never heard of dangerous over-penetration from a .380 ACP in over 25 years of shooting, studying and training. The 9mm has some good bullet designs that are “guaranteed” to expand and deliver energy to the target, but I have seen expansion failures in EVERY type of bullet that was manufactured as late as August 2015 ( I realize I’m a year out of date, and perhaps there is a perfect JHP out there now, but I haven’t had time to keep up with the newer rounds. I am not trying to be belligerent, so if you know of one, please inform me). Of course some are better than others, but a “guarantee” doesn’t keep you from going bankrupt in court or going to jail. Once a 9mm hp fails to expand, it WILL over-penetrate unless it hits something like a big bone or the target has a lot of mass. I am curious about your information regarding the stubby, rounded .380 ACP fmj over-penetration you refer to. I carry a .380 ACP in a Ruger LCP with Lehigh copper cartridges (not +P). In my experience and testing, they barely meet the FBI requirements for penetration, and rarely pass the mark after many rounds of testing. The FMJ rarely (yes, RARELY) even makes it to the line. Over-penetration is not something a standard .380 fmj round can accomplish, at least not in my experience or study.
June 23, 2015 at 11:41 PM
I can settle this with EITHER caliber.. G2 Research R.I.P. (Radically Invasive Projectile) Ammo… Enuff said!!!
June 12, 2015 at 6:35 PM
Neither…. .45 ACP is better (for me anyway)
June 12, 2015 at 2:56 PM
It doesn’t mention the type of bullet used: Full Metal Jacket, Lead/Lead point copper jacket/Hollow point. Each type of bullet has a different effect on the body from the entry wound to what damage is done within the body.
June 12, 2015 at 11:19 AM
I still remember Q telling James Bond how the PPK 380 was inferior.
May 1, 2016 at 12:21 PM
In answer to some obvious confusion here about JB-007’s “Walther” sidearm’s caliber “lack of power” remark by ‘Q’ in the movie, in his books Fleming originally armed Bond with a Beretta .25 (6.35mm) pistol prior to changing to the .32 (7.65mm) Walther PPK in Dr. No. In either case, it was not a 9k (.380) Walther.
June 12, 2015 at 8:59 AM
Why does this article exist? It is full of the same old nuggets of wisdom that have existed for years and years and is not worth the time it took to read it. Offering up that an age old question is solved and then printing tired acorns isn’t worth the energy it takes to click exit.
Jayson Charles Matthews
June 16, 2015 at 1:24 PM
When I was a kid I thought acorns were tree poop….but that is not my point. My point is, old nuggets survive because they remain true. Kinda like any gun-related site should have newbie posts about choosing a self-defense shotgun or any other “obvious” stuff. You gotta have well-rounded material to attract the most people.
August 31, 2016 at 3:45 PM
Well said. It is easy to forget that we were all at one time “newbies”. I was trained at an extremely young age, so I succumb to the trap very easily. Now I’m training kids and remembering that I did not come forth from the womb knowing all this information. Obvious stuff is only obvious because we learned it along the way….obviously.