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Resurgence of the .380 ACP

Consider a .380 auto-loader as your backup gun for better concealment and capacity than a revolver.

May 26, 2010  |  by Brian Ostro - Also by this author


A .380 auto-loader such as Ruger's LCP can be an effective backup gun for an officer.

With the recent surge in concealed carry legislation in many of our nation's states, smaller pistols chambered in the proven .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) caliber are becoming more popular with civilians and law enforcement.

The .380 ACP cartridge was developed by John Browning and introduced in 1908 by Colt, which chambered this round in small pocket pistols that quickly gained popularity in undercover police work.

The Germans followed with the introduction of the iconic Walther PP/PPK series of pistols (beginning in 1929) chambered in the same round and given the metric designation 9mm Kutz (German for 9mm Short). The metric designation is 9x17mm as opposed to the 9x19mm (German 9mm Luger—the standard 9mm we know today).

It is important to note that both the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger have the same bullet diameter of .355 inch, so the .380 ACP is really a misnomer. The only difference dimensionally is the case length of the cartridge; also .380 ACP bullets are a bit lighter. Most range in weight from 70-90 grain compared with 9mm Luger bullets that range in weight from 90-147 grain.

Since the .380 case has less powder capacity than the 9mm Luger, this makes perfect sense. A .380 bullet will exit the muzzle ranging from 700-900 fps as opposed to 950-1,200 fps for their 9mm Luger cousins. The round's shorter case and lower powder capacity reduces velocity, as does the fact that most .380 pistols are smaller and have a barrel that's less than 3 inches in length.

Even with the reduced velocity, the .380 shines in several areas, and should be given consideration by officers as a backup gun.

The first area is the size of the pistol and the ability to deeply conceal it with an exceptionally low profile that will not print through clothing.

Unlike a small J-clone, five-shot revolver—no matter how small the profile, it still has a bulky cylinder—small auto pistols stack the ammunition vertically. The .380 ACP round is much shorter than either the 9mm Luger or the .38 Special, creating the ultimate deep concealment package with six to eight rounds of ammunition. This exceeds the average five-shot, deep-concealment revolver by a few potentially life-saving rounds.

Many officers have also chosen the .380, because of its pleasant recoil characteristics as compared with the 9mm Luger and its bigger cousins. The .380 can be snappy when shot out of a small-frame pistol and is still much more of a pleasure to shoot than its larger cousins.

Tags: Backup Guns, Concealed Carry, Ammunition, Ruger, CZ-USA, Smith & Wesson, North American Arms, Kel-Tec, Hornady


Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

JAYIRK @ 5/28/2010 2:08 AM

IT IS ABOUT TIME SOMEONE LISTENED TO ME. I HAVE BEEN PREACHING THIS FOR YEARS. GREAT BACKUP WEAPON.

GLENN

tpd223 @ 5/28/2010 1:27 PM

.380s are OK, IF you can't carry a real gun.

I'm not a guy to argue caliber, anything from .38+P to .45 works, but the .380 is sub-optimal. There is no .380 load that can pass the FBI testing, and even if the barrier shots are left out .380s have a great deal of trouble passing the bare gel and heavy clothing shots.
It's better than not having a BUG, but it's still not throwing a real bullet.

In addition, these timny guns are hard to shoot well, and they are much less durable and reliable than a mini-service pistol (Glock 26/27 or Sig 239 as examples) or a J frame .38/.357

triggercontrol @ 5/29/2010 4:26 AM

Great feedback guys.

I do agree that a larger caliber makes sense in a primary duty gun and that a pistol like the Glock 19,26,27 are exceptional guns, but the point of a BUG is size and deep concealment, dimensionally, these pistols(380s) are tiny and won't print through clothing like a much wider and longer baby glock. The point is to have maximum firepower in the most minimum package, and the much shorter 380 rd accomplishes that in a much shorter frame.

As far as the FBI protocolts are concerned, I doubt Hornady's New Critical Defense ammunition (which claims virtually zero bullet deformation as it passes through clothing and almost one hundred percent bullet weight retention upon entry) was part of the older testing.

For a primary pistol, the 9mm, .40sw, .45ACP, and .357SIG make sense, but as stated in the article, as far as the .380ACP is concerned, yesterdays ball ammo is no comparison to todays modern expanding ammunition.

(PS: this is the author)

saint @ 6/3/2010 5:49 AM

One thing to seriously consider is availability and cost of .380 ammunition. There is a serious shortage nationwide of ball / target ammunition in .380, and many retailers are elevating prices based on supply and demand. If your department provides a monthly ammo allowance then no worries... if you are footing the bill however, practice sessions will end up costing you more than the price of the weapon in short order... food for thought. P.S.- Midway, Cheaper than Dirt, and the Sportsmans guide sell .380 in bulk at competitive prices.

walkin' trails @ 8/21/2010 6:10 AM

I personally prefer a five-shot .38 Special over a .380, but its a preference based on the fact that I like five shot revolvers and the cost and availability of ammunition. Making small packages to shoot the .380 was an excellent idea that has apparently caught on big and probably contributed to the .380 ammo shortage. I have fired both the Kel Tec and the Ruger LCP. Neither were that pleasant to shoot but made excellent backup or third guns. I shot the Ruger at 25 yards and will attest that it will shoot a 10" group at that distance on a Q target if you really pay attention to the stubby front sight. Most of the officers I know who have acquired those pistols wanted them to carry off duty or UC (or probably more likely for every day plain clothes investigative duties though they wouldn't admit it) because they were so light and concealable. Any gun is better than no gun, but I would not want to rely on anything smaller than a baby Glock if I wound up in an off-duty situation such as an active shooter.

John G @ 1/4/2012 8:00 AM

Where you live has a bearing on what you carry. I live in Fla. while I feel well armed w/ a 357 sig., often the heat, and the light clothing, do not lend themselfs well and or comfortable , and or practicle to carry. I recently recieved a ppk/s in 380, and was skeptical, never having a 380 that I was comfortable or felt confident with. I waited to build up several hundred rounds of hardball, to make or break, this gun, cleaning it every 100 rds, getting used to small sights, smaller grip frame, recoil, I have gained a good,feeling for it now, as well as the most important aspect, of any gun you carry confidence in it. Albiet a sub-calibre to my mind ,hitting your ''target'' is much more important, then the size of the projectile, just look at what the Israelis have done with a 22.

john ray @ 1/14/2012 6:39 AM

im a small person and the victom of a hold up so i got a 380 for personal proction. will this wepon stop the next person who shoots at me

Dave @ 9/23/2012 11:18 AM

I have a bersa thunder .380. I consider it a great gun. Very little kick and fairly accurate. On the other hand, the Keltec .380 has a terrible kick and even tho I wear a glove on my right hand I go home from the range with my Hand in pain. In addition the Keltec has a bad habit of
Jamming every 4-5 shots. I'll take the Bersa

Lou Jarocki @ 2/23/2013 4:00 PM

A couple of months ago I went out to buy a 40 cal auto. I don't have very large hands and most of the guns didn't. Feel that comfortable in my hand. My wife was with me and she fell in love with a Bersa 380 Thunder with Crimson Trace laser sights in the grip. I have never been that good with a hand gun but this made me a lot better shot. Today my wife went with me to the range and the first time she ever shot a gun and was putting them in the block at 20 and 33 ft. We shot 100 round today and as comfortable as can be. 200 rounds through this gun and I am truly impressed. We both love this gun.

Gott Mit @ 8/4/2013 8:30 PM

It has been proven that FMJ in 380 acp penetrates better than the JHP.
In fact, it exeeds the FBI's requirements.
This does not apply to 9mm+ rounds. Only 380.
youtube.com/watch?v=soNdX36P-3E

Zack @ 2/20/2014 6:05 PM

For those who haven't seen it... Sig Sauer P238 is a .380 that's small, safe, and packs enough rounds to make you feel safe. It has almost full size SigLite night sights and you can get am extended mag with extra finger space. They also make a 9mm version that is almost as small, but not sure of model # or round capacity. I do know the P238 is a sweet shooter that would hold -1.5" groups at 21 feet (standard conceal carry qualifying rangehere in Missouri) with the 5 different kinds of ammo I had at the range right out of the box.

Todd @ 2/28/2014 3:57 PM

I've had my P238 for several; months now, and I can't say enough about it. Stable, accurate, comfortable to shoot incredible workmanship. I use a crossbreed minituck IWB and it virtually disappears. Also a Desantis pocket holster that I use with cargo shorts no print at all. Have 250 rds or so through it so far, no failures of any kind. A little pricey but a great 380 acp

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