Connect with us


Modern Self-Defense: Intro To The .380 ACP



.380 ACP

I've long said that .380 ACP would be one of the smallest self-defense cartridges you'd ever want to carry in your firearm. But, what is the .380? Is it a 38 caliber? Is it like a 9mm? Is it sufficient to deter crime or an attack? In order to answer these questions, I figured it'd be a good idea to take a closer look at this little self-defense cartridge that dates all the way back to 1908.

First, let's debunk some mystery concerning its size.

The .380 is not a .38 caliber. In fact, if you want to get technical about it, it's actually a .35 caliber. To be exact, it's .355, which is equal to 9mm and similar in size to the venerable .357 magnum. What we are talking about here, however, is just the diameter of the projectile itself and not the entire cartridge.

The similarities stop with the diameter of the bullet itself. Even the actual size and weight of each bullet is drastically different. Even though .380, 9mm, and .357 Mag are all technically “35 caliber bullets,” the average bullet weights are about 80-90, 115-124, and 158 grains, respectively. Those listed bullet weights are just some of the more common sizes with plenty of other weights available for all three.

Confused yet? Good. Let's move on…

To make matters even more interesting, the .380, also known as “9mm short,” closely resembles the very popular 9mm parabellum, as you can see in the below picture. If you don't know any better, you could confuse the two. Whereas the 9mm is 9X19 in size, the .380 is 9X17 in size. In other words, the .380 is shorter (and even a bit narrower) than it's bigger sister is.

Anyone who claims that the Automatic Colt Pistol .380 is insufficient believes so because the casing is smaller, and therefore must hold less gun powder (please understand that more powder means a faster traveling bullet, along with higher pressures, and more energy transfer). They would rightly believe that the .380 is less effective than a lot of other rounds on the market, today—including the 9mm.

.380 ACP

.22lr, .380 ACP, 9mm Luger, .38 SPC, .45 ACP — Left to right.

This does not mean that the .380 does not work as a self-defense round, however.

Projectile and gunpowder technology has come along so far that, just as long as your handgun reliably cycles your self-defense ammo of choice, you can put someone down with a .380. You may need to unload an entire magazine, but it'll work. Again, the problem lies not with the size the projectile, but with the amount of gunpowder sitting behind it. The fact that the cartridge is so short and/or thinner than other popular choices, causes some to think that the penetration of the .380 to be insufficient. While it is far from insufficient, it is also far from the best penetrating self-defense round on the market.

Having said all of that, the gun you've got in your hand is better than the one you've got in your safe, and pistols chambered in .380 are usually much more comfortable around the waistband. Very rarely do you see a full-sized handgun chambered in such a small cartridge. Most of the pistols chambered in .380 ACP are meant for optimal concealment making them ideal in situations where you don't want anyone to know you've got a gun.

In other words, if you're going to carry a .380, then it is sufficient for your needs. Just make sure you practice with it regularly, and make sure that it cycles your chosen SD ammo before you begin to carry it around with you.

Other times, even when concealment isn't an issue, people still prefer them just because they are lighter in weight and don't cause the gun carrier as much sweat on the portion of body where it's worn. Sound Off Gun Carriers! Do you carry a gun in .380? If so, let us know which one, and what ammo is in it? Then, make sure you sign up for our FREE Newsletter.

Continue Reading


  1. Rick Garlington

    March 4, 2023 at 8:01 PM

    Conceal carry a Glock 42 with a 1 round extension mag. Loaded with Underwood +p 90 gr. 1200 fps at about 380 ft lbs. 7 round 2nd mag.

  2. Sharp10187

    July 28, 2016 at 11:42 PM

    Taurus 738 TCP .380 with Tango Ammo!

  3. Ken Graham

    July 14, 2016 at 2:04 AM

    Hello George Wallinf. Before you send the Browning 380 back to the factory and possible wait two or three months before they can get to it and tell you what is wrong. Find a good pistol repair shop that speciallizes in your Browning 1911-380 type of pistol. Ask them to check the “forcing cone” for proper alignment and then go from there if that doesn’t solve your problem with cycling your spent ammo cases.
    I bought a brand new Browning HiPower 9mm a few years ago and I had to take it to a gun smith and they found the forcing cone problem I have described above. They were able to adjust the barrel in their shop and I never had another problem with the pistol. Good luck with checking your problem. Go back to the people who sold the gun to you. If you are luck they with a have a gunsmith on site to help fix your gun, locally. Later, K. G.

  4. Tony

    July 8, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    While the majority of comments focused on the type of firearm they carry, the article deals more with the pros and cons of the caliber of the round itself; it’s effectiveness. To that end, as the article also noted and in my personal experience, you’ll likely have to empty your magazine but it will put someone down. Up-close-and-personal, this will create a wound cavity that will prove devastating. Not as much damage as other larger rounds but adequate, especially considering the goal is to stop the threat, not necessarily take a life (although will take a life, if necessary). I truly hope I never have to draw my firearm in defense but through training and mindset, my opponent will not be having a good day if we cross.

    The firearm I have owned and carry daily is a Makarov chambered in .380 that I’ve had for 12+ years. I carry it either on my hip, open carry: or small of back, concealed. CONSTANTLY train with it. While the caliber does have its limitations, it’s a great round for self defense inside 100 yds. The Mak cycles the rounds smoothly and effectively. I’ve used the weapon so much that it’s become an extension of my arm (which is the goal). The round capacity is almost half comparative to my PX4 .40 cal (which is 14+1 compared to the Mak’s 8 round cap.) It is extremely loud compared to other rounds but that’s relative, I suppose.

    I’ve consistently tagged target from 100 yds. (which has been confirmed by multiple witnesses as well as was repeated – got 8 out of 10 shots on target from 100 yds with the Mak using steel casing rounds one day). Did a “wild West” style shot another time where I shot a can off a fence into the air then shot the can while it was in the air. Blew everyone’s mind when they saw those incidents each time.

    I wouldn’t shy anyone away from getting a firearm chambered in .380. It’s a great starter self-defense round while maintaining it’s functionality even for a more experienced shooter (the Mak is actually my preferred handgun, especially since it was the first firearm I ever bought).

  5. John Shoemaker

    July 2, 2016 at 11:22 AM

    After 27 years in Law Enforcement I decided to scale down my concealed carry handgun. I chose the S&W Bodyguard 380. I have tested the 380 round utilizing many different brands of ammunition with numerous objects simulating a human body, house walls and glass and the round did surprisingly well. My conclusion was that once finding that trusted ammo that feeds well and you feel comfortable with, the compact and lightweight design is unbeatable.

  6. Carl Callender

    July 2, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    I regularly carry a Bersa BT380 loaded with Hornady Critical Defense. Bought this gun plus an extra mag plus local txes for $320. It looks exactly like a Walther PPK/S 380 but half the price and just as accurate and nice in handling and weight. I plan a second 380 … a Kimber Micro CDP.

  7. Chiefatk

    July 2, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I carry the Walther PPK .380, fully loaded with MAGTECH Guardian Gold, 85gr, JHP. I also carry three spare magazines loaded with the same ammo. I think this weapon is more than adequate for close encounters. I have never had a malfunction with this weapon, it is very reliable and easy to conceal.

  8. Trumpet55

    July 2, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    My wife carries a Glock 42. She tried a Walther and a S&W Bodyguard, but had difficulty racking them. She finds the Glock comfortable and easy to operate. It helps because she has smaller hands and we’re advancing in years. But I like using it, too, but carry a G19.

  9. John Mooney also a former Marine

    July 2, 2016 at 8:06 AM

    Thanks for the info, I have several .380’s and in the dark about how effective they are. Your run down was very informing..Semper Fi brother.

    • Joshua Gillem

      July 2, 2016 at 11:05 AM

      Semper Fi, John!

  10. George E. Wallinf

    July 2, 2016 at 7:42 AM


    I have a Browning 1911-380 which I’ve owned for about a month and have not found any ammo that doesn’t hang up when cycling so far shot Blazer Brass, Remington UMC and Browning all 95 gr they all do it so maybe sending gun back to Browning and hope they can make it shoot right or I will go back to a wheel gun as this is my first auto other than my colt 1911 full size 45 which never jam’s or may try the Colt Mustang 380 but hope that Browning can fix or shed some light on what ammo works best in this gun and makes it reliable for conceal carry.

    • Joshua Gillem

      July 2, 2016 at 11:07 AM

      Yeah, you can’t have a gun that won’t work. Hopefully they get it figured out for you.

  11. Sam

    July 2, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    Diamondback .380, regularly carryou this one with Sellier&Belloit hollow points. No feed issues, yet.

  12. Bradshaw

    July 1, 2016 at 3:17 PM

    I do carry a .380 Bersa. The Bersa is the only pistol I own that hasn’t had one malfunction or misfeed. I know the “insufficient size” argument better than most. I just don’t agree with everything that’s repeated. After using several different calibers killing hogs; I’ve found the hated .22 to the head the best round and I wouldn’t be afraid to CC it either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Enter for a chance to WIN this Customized AR-15 when you sign up today for our exclusive email newsletter subscription.