Donate HERE to help with my webhosting expenses

Bitterroot Bugle post categories

Bitterroot Bugle archives

.380 ACP vs 9mm:The Concealed Carry 9mm Showdown


380 vs 9mmWhen it comes to picking your next semi-automatic everyday carry (EDC) handgun, two calibers that you should consider are the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) and the 9mm Luger (9x19mm NATO, 9mm Parabellum). Both cartridges fire the same 9mm (0.355”) diameter bullet, but the .380 ACP has a shorter overall case length and is, therefore, the more anemic round.

Some Internet pundits will proclaim that the 380 ACP does not have enough stopping power for self-defense and the 9mm round is clearly the better choice. While others will counter that the .380 ACP has less recoil and enhanced handling capabilities as reasons for picking the cartridge.

No matter how you slice it, the 9mm is clearly the more powerful cartridge; however, does this mean that you should completely disregard the .380 ACP for your next CCW pistol?

Decidedly not!

We’re going to take a detailed look into the origins of each handgun cartridge, their advantages/disadvantages, and the criteria you need to consider when buying an EDC handgun in either caliber.

What is .380 ACP? Browning’s Concealed Carry Prodigy

The .380 ACP was developed by John Moses Browning and was introduced in 1908 by Colt. The .380 ACP is also referred to as the .380 Auto, 9x17mm, 9mm Browning, 9mm short, and 9mm Kurz. However, in the context of this article, we will stick with .380 ACP and .380 Auto.

Colt marketed the cartridge in its new Colt Model 1908 Hammerless Semi-Automatic as a self-defense round. Since its release, the .380 Auto has become a very popular cartridge for use in semi-auto subcompact pocket pistols.


Browning designed the .380 ACP with a blowback mechanism in mind. A blowback recoil mechanism is one that uses the rearward motion of the cartridge case to cycle the slide of the handgun.

When a round is fired in a blowback pistol, the resulting gas pressure pushing back on the case will be enough to cycle the handgun. Blowback pistols are very simplistic in design, which makes them less expensive than a locking barrel design like those used in the Glock 17, Smith and Wesson M&P, and Sig Sauer P226.

A blowback action is typically very accurate as the barrel can be fixed to the frame. Several popular blowback handguns include the Walther PPK, Ruger LCP, Bersa Thunder or Firestorm .380, Beretta 84, and the Sig Sauer P230.

For a blowback pistol, most of the recoil energy is absorbed by the weight of the slide and the recoil spring. Therefore, blowback pistols usually utilize lower muzzle energy and muzzle velocity ammo as anything larger than a .380 Auto would require a heavier slide and recoil spring, making it less than a locking barrel system.

However, there are several locking barrel .380 ACP pistols, such as the Kel-Tec P3AT, Remington Model 51, and the Glock 42.

Prior to World War II, there were five European countries that adopted the .380 ACP as their service pistol ammo: Italy, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. After WWII, most of these countries opted for more powerful 9mm pistols.

However, the .380 ACP remained in service for numerous European law enforcement agencies well into the 1970s. Again, being replaced by the 9mm Luger (are you seeing a trend?)

In the United States, the .380 Auto was never adopted as a law enforcement or military caliber and has been primarily relegated to personal defense pocket pistols.

What is 9mm? The Self-Defense Standard

.380 ACP vs 9mm dimension chart

The 9x19mm Parabellum was designed by the Austrian gunsmith Georg Luger in 1901. Luger derived the 9mm Parabellum from his previous design, the 7.65x21mm Parabellum.

In 1903, he presented the 9mm Parabellum to the US military for consideration at the Springfield Arsenal. However, the 9mm was not adopted by the US military until much later and was instead picked up by the German Imperial Navy and Army in 1904 and 1908, respectively.

The 9x19mm Parabellum is also referred to as the 9x19mm NATO, 9mm Luger, or simply the 9mm.

After World War I, the 9mm Luger became one of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world for both military and law enforcement. However, the United States was late to the party as it clung to the idiom, “Bigger is Better” and our beloved .45 ACP until the 1980s with the adoption of the Beretta M9 Service Pistol by the US Army.

The popularity of the 9mm Luger really exploded in the United States during the 80s and 90s with the introduction of reliable semi-auto pistols, such as the Glock 17. The 9mm has become synonymous with law enforcement and home defense for its high magazine capacity, stopping power using jacketed hollow point ammo (JHP), and low overall cost per round.

There is no denying that the 9mm Parabellum has become the self-defense round of choice for many CCW permit holders, but is it the right choice for you? Let’s compare these two 9mm caliber pistol cartridges.

9mm vs 380: The Difference Between .380 and 9mm

Although the .380 ACP is often referred to as the 9mm Short and both the 9mm Luger and .380 ACP fire the same diameter bullet, they are very different handgun cartridges.

In the following sections, you’ll see how the 9mm Luger outperforms the .380 ACP in almost every category. However, that does not imply that the 9mm is the best everyday carry caliber. Let’s find out why!

.380 vs 9mm: Recoil

380 vs 9mm

This is one of the few categories where the .380 ACP is superior, and it is a big one! Felt recoil for a .380 ACP is approximately half that of 9mm Luger. That’s huge, to say the least!

However, you’ll hear 9mm fanboys from gun stores to message boards state that the 9mm Parabellum has very low, manageable recoil. Often in the same breath, they’ll refer to a .380 Auto as a mouse caliber.

So, does that reduced recoil make up for the .380 Auto being considered an anemic round? I’m going to go out on a limb and say “Yes”.

Let me explain!

In any personal defense situation, shot placement is the key to walking away alive. Or to put it another way, “A 9mm in the hand is considerably less lethal than a .380 ACP to center mass.”

Where you hit the bad guy matters, and many shooters will find that they are more accurate shooting a .380 ACP, especially smaller framed shooters. The reason is because of recoil.

Developing a recoil flinch (anticipation) is an easy habit to develop and can be a difficult one to break.

Many handgun manufacturers have begun producing extremely small size handguns, some of which are chambered in 9mm. The Glock 43, Smith and Wesson Shield, Sig Sauer 938, and Kel-Tec PF9 all come to mind.

These subcompact 9mm pistols are often touted to potential buyers as being “super light and packing a punch”. They aren’t joking, but proponents of these handguns fail to mention that the punch they are packing is going to be delivered to your hands.

Let me tell you another story.

The first subcompact handgun I ever purchased was a Taurus PT709 Slim chambered in 9mm. I thought it made a lot of sense as a CCW handgun: it was lightweight, thin, easy to carry, and it had the power of a 9mm behind it.

Sounds great, right? Yeah, not so much.

I’m going to put aside the fact that the gun was more of a picky eater than my 9-year-old daughter – the recoil was simply painful and uncontrollable.

I’m not a small man and I can handle some recoil, but shooting this subcompact was nothing short of a nightmare. I literally dreaded practicing as it physically hurt to do so.

Herein lies the main problem with many new shooters and subcompact handguns, uncomfortable and painful recoil makes for uncomfortable and painful practice sessions. This equates to an incentive to NOT practice a perishable skill.

The typical retort to this argument is, “Take the pain” or my other personal favorite, “The adrenaline dump will make it so you don’t feel it!” Let’s break those down for a minute.

To the “Take the pain” crowd, I can see your point. You are sacrificing the comfort of practice for the comfort of carrying. There’s no denying that today’s subcompacts have high concealability with their small size and lightweight construction.

380 vs 9mm

However, all that pain you are going to experience during practice is going to directly translate into a flinch. This is doubly true with a new shooter.

With the aforementioned 709 Slim, I was sending rounds consistently low and to the left. By mixing in snap caps (inert plastic rounds that cycle like real bullets) into my magazines during practice, it was simple to diagnose that I was dipping the muzzle before every shot. I was prematurely anticipating the recoil.

Pain aversion is a natural human reaction, and a flinch is difficult to break once engrained through muscle memory. It became clear to me, for the reasons explained above, that particular handgun was not a good fit for me.

Sure, I could “take the pain”, but at what cost? Developing a flinch and not being able to reliably hit what I was aiming at? Seems like a really BAD trade to me.

Now onto the old “adrenaline dump” argument.

During a self-defense situation, you will experience an adrenaline dump, there’s no denying this. One major effect of adrenaline is that it deadens your nerves to pain, so you can either stay in the fight or getaway without being debilitated by pain.

This is why many law enforcement officers and civilians in self-defense shootings do not report being injured immediately after the engagement as they literally can’t feel it.

Although adrenaline can deaden your feeling of pain, adrenaline will not alter muscle memory and poor shooting habits. In addition, adrenaline will inhibit your fine motor skills and your instincts/muscle memory will take over.

So yes, you won’t feel the pain of the recoil energy, but you’re still going to flinch because that’s how you practiced.

So, what happened to my first handgun purchase?

In the end, I sold the pistol at a loss and got a Glock 17 and I’ve loved 9mm ever since.

Now let me throw a curveball into this conundrum. What if that 709 Slim had been chambered in .380 ACP instead of 9mm Luger?

Of course, there is no way we can go back into the past and know for sure. However, I’ve fired several .380 ACP subcompact handguns since, and I’ve enjoyed the experience.

The bottom line is that recoil matters and a small gun will have heavier felt recoil energy than a larger gun.

Does that mean that every 9mm subcompact is a piece of garbage? Absolutely NOT! With the right training regimen, grip, and focus on the fundamentals, there’s no reason you can’t be a surgeon with a Glock 43, M&P Shield, or 709 Slim.

However, for some shooters, it will simply be too much no matter how often they practice. In that case, the .380 Auto is the better choice.

Know your limits and don’t let anyone try to talk you out of which cartridge is best for you.

.380 ACP vs .9mm: Stopping Power and Personal Defense

380 vs 9mm

Proponents of the 9mm Luger are going to harp on the mystical concept of “Stopping Power” and state that the .380 ACP is simply underpowered, and they aren’t wrong on paper.

The 9mm is undoubtedly the superior cartridge when it comes to the numbers, but how is “stopping power” defined?

Although there is not a column in the ballistics tables for stopping power, the FBI has done its best to quantify it. They developed a really complicated scoring system to evaluate handgun ammunition and its terminal performance passing through multiple barriers, let me simplify it for you:

A bullet that penetrates no less than 12 inches and no more than 16 inches into bare ballistic gelatin (a synthetic substitute for soft tissues) is good for self-defense.

For modern 9mm JHP ammo, penetration is around 13-15 inches on average. That’s right in the middle of the range and exactly where you want it to be.

Sadly, .380 Auto is a different story. On average, a .380 ACP will have approximately 9 inches of penetration…that’s pretty bad!

This is a number that many detractors of the .380 ACP will point to and cite that if you EDC a .380, you need to load it with FMJ ammo to get adequate penetration.

However, this does not mean that the .380 ACP is an ineffective self-defense round. It does mean is that you need to do your homework when purchasing self-defense ammo for your .380 Auto EDC handgun.

Not all .380 ACP ammo is created equal and knowing which manufacturer will give you the penetration you need is critical if you plan on carrying a Ruger LCP, Kel-Tec P3AT, or any other .380 for that matter.

Modern .380 Auto ammo has come a long way since its inception and newer JHP ammo options have improved on Browning’s original design.

As always, you need to practice some with your carry ammo to ensure proper feeding, cycling, and function.

All that being said, the 9mm is still going to be the superior self-defense round. It shoots a heavier bullet and has more foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of energy behind it as you’ll see in the ballistics section below.

If shot placement is equal for you between 9mm Luger and 380 ACP, then I’d always pick the 9mm as it’s simply a more powerful round. However, if you find that you’re more accurate with a .380, I’d not hesitate to use that as your carry gun.

.380 vs 9mm: Price for Ammo

Believe it or not, but 9mm is cheaper than .380 ACP, even though .380 is a smaller cartridge.

At the time of writing, 9mm practice ammo will run you about $0.55/round, while American Eagle Federal .380 ammo will cost you over $0.85/round.

The trend continues with self-defense ammo as well. HST hollow points in Federal 9mm will cost you about $1/round, while .380 Auto JHP ammo is hitting your wallet at $2/round.

Speaking of ammo cost make sure to check out our stock of Hornady 380 ammoRemington 380 ammoPMC 380 ammo and Fiocchi 380 ammo to compare prices.

This trend is a clear representation of the popularity of the 9mm Luger. The market is literally flooded with 9mm and the tide shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Buying in bulk is always smart, make sure to check out our stock of 9mm bulk ammo.

.380 vs 9mm: Price For Handguns

380 vs 9mm

One of the major benefits of a .380 ACP carry gun is they are incredibly simple to manufacture. As mentioned earlier, the blowback action requires fewer parts and therefore reduces the overall cost of making these tiny subcompact pistols.

Many .380 Autos can be had for under $300 if you shop around, with the Ruger LCP being at the top of the list in terms of value.

In general, most 9mm handguns will be a bit more expensive as more material is needed to strengthen the frame and slide to accommodate the muzzle energy and recoil that comes with a 9mm bullet.

Most 9mm handguns will start at around $400 and go up from there depending on the manufacturer and the bells and whistles they add to it (laser grips, night sights, etc.).

.380 vs 9mm: Availability for Ammo and Handguns

You will not be lacking in options for personal defense handguns when you consider these two calibers. Virtually every handgun manufacturer has some offerings in 9mm Luger and .380 ACP.

There are options available for all different hand sizes so you can find a handgun that fits you best. You can find new products, used, law enforcement trade-ins, and even military surplus options in both calibers.

As far as ammo is concerned, there is unlikely any cartridge that has been more heavily developed than the 9mm Luger.

Modern 9mm JHP ammo is probably the most researched and most optimized bullet in the world. It will not let you down in any home defense situation, delivering solid expansion, penetration, and weight retention when you need it the most.

Furthermore, if you want more power out of your 9mm Parabellum, there are +p and +p+ loadings available for when you want that 44 Magnum feel without the added weight and bulk of a steel-framed Dirty Harry revolver.

Although the .380 Auto is gaining some popularity in the CCW crowd, generally there has been less work performed on this cartridge when compared to the 9mm Luger. As such there are fewer ammo options for .380 than there are for 9mm.

.380 vs 9mm: Reloading

Both the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger are straight-walled pistol cartridges. As such, they are extremely simple to reload.

You can tinker and optimize your ideal practice ammo for either 9mm caliber as there are abundant powder and bullet weights to choose from.

Furthermore, brass cases are easy to find for both and incredibly cheap on the secondary market.

Just make sure you separate your 9mm and .380 brass as there’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally loading a .380 case with your 9mm loading (not that I’ve ever done that!)

.380 vs 9mm: Ballistics

In terms of ballistics, there’s no denying that the 9mm Luger is the superior cartridge. As it has an additional 2mm of case length, the 9mm is the bigger cartridge and therefore has higher muzzle energy, muzzle velocity, and will penetrate deeper than almost every .380 ACP on the market.

Our team here at has assembled some ballistics tables for you to compare the .380 ACP vs the 9mm Luger:

.380 ACP (Auto) Ballistics: Chart of Average .380 ACP (Auto) Ballistics

Since .380 ammo is often used for personal protection and self defense, the ballistics of the cartridges chosen greatly impact its performance. When people buy .380 ammo for self defense, they should look for a cartridge that penetrates at least 12 to 18 inches into ballistics gel, and expands to at least .35 caliber on impact.

Remember, .380 shells are a low-powered round, so ammo selection, especially when buying bulk .380 ACP ammo, is vital to performance standards.

Note: This information comes from the manufacturer and is for informational purposes only. The actual ballistics obtained with your firearm can vary considerably from the advertised ballistics. Also, ballistics can vary from lot to lot with the same brand and type load.

380 ACP (Auto) Bullet WEIGHT Muzzle VELOCITY (fps) Muzzle ENERGY (ft. lbs.) Mid-Range TRAJECTORY (in.) Barrel Length (in.)
  Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. 50 yds. 100 yds.  
60 Grain 1130 960 n/a 170 120 n/a 1 n/a n/a
75 Grain 950 n/a n/a 183 n/a n/a n/a n/a 3″
85 Grain 990 920 870 190 165 145 1.2 5.1 4″
85 Grain JHP 1000 n/a n/a 189 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
88 Grain 990 920 870 190 165 145 1.2 5.1 4″
90 Grain JHP 900 n/a n/a 162 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
90 Grain 1000 890 800 200 160 130 1.2 5.5 3.75″
95 Grain FMJ 900 n/a n/a 171 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
95 Grain 955 865 785 190 160 130 1.4 5.9 4″
100 Grain 955 865 785 190 160 130 1.4 5.9 4″
90 Grain JHP +P 1200 n/a n/a 200 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

9mm Ballistics: Chart of Average 9mm Luger Ballistics

Note: This information comes from the manufacturer and is for informational purposes only. The actual ballistics obtained with your firearm can vary considerably from the advertised ballistics. Also, ballistics can vary from lot to lot with the same brand and type load.

9mm Bullet WEIGHT Muzzle VELOCITY (fps) Muzzle ENERGY (ft. lbs.) Mid-Range TRAJECTORY (in.) Barrel Length (in.)
  Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. 50 yds. 100 yds.  
80 Grain 1445 n/a n/a n/a 385 n/a n/a n/a n/a
88 Grain 1500 1190 1010 440 275 200 0.6 3.1 4″
90 Grain 1360 1112 978 370 247 191 n/a n/a 4″
92 Grain 1325 1117 991 359 255 201 -3.2 n/a 4″
95 Grain 1300 1140 1010 350 275 215 0.8 3.4 4″
100 Grain 1180 1080 n/a 305 255 n/a 0.9 n/a 4″
105 Grain “Guard Dog” 1230 1070 970 355 265 220 n/a n/a 4″
115 Grain 1155 1045 970 340 280 240 0.9 3.9 4″
123 Grain 1110 1030 970 340 290 260 1 4 4″
124 Grain 1150 1040 965 364 298 256 -4.5 n/a 4″
125 Grain 1110 1030 970 340 290 260 1 4 4″
135 Grain 1010 960 918 306 276 253 n/a n/a 4″
140 Grain 935 890 850 270 245 225 1.3 5.5 4″
147 Grain 990 940 900 320 290 265 1.1 4.9 4″
90 Grain +P 1475 n/a n/a 437 n/a n/a n/a n/a 4″
115 Grain +P 1250 1113 1019 399 316 265 0.8 3.5 4″
124 Grain +P 1180 1089 1021 384 327 287 0.8 3.8 4″

Your average 9mm 124 gr FMJ ammo will have a muzzle velocity of around 1,150 fps and pack 364 ft-lbs of punch. Compare that to .380 ACP 90 gr FMJ ammo that will have a muzzle velocity of 1000 fps and muzzle energy of about 200 foot-pounds.

Self-defense hollow point ammo will be loaded somewhat hotter for both calibers, however, the difference in fps and muzzle energy is about the same.

Bottom line, the 9mm Luger will have about 50% more muzzle energy, penetrate deeper, and is the superior cartridge based on the ballistics numbers.

9mm vs 380 for Concealed Carry

This is where the .380 ACP really shines as it is so comfortable for concealed carry. A .380 Auto subcompact is a very small gun and is incredibly simple to conceal.

In contrast, a 9mm Luger handgun will naturally be a bit larger as it is a more powerful cartridge and needs more material for the frame and slide rigidity.

380 vs 9mm

For concealed carry, weight matters.

Your average CCW permit holder is more likely to leave that full-size Glock 17 in the nightstand as opposed to carrying it concealed as it’s bulky and requires particular fashion decisions to conceal correctly.

Compare that to a little Ruger LCP that can easily be concealed in a pocket holster with minimal effort and discomfort.

As humans, we naturally avoid pain and discomfort. Although many internet message board commandos will say that concealing a full size 9mm is “no big deal,” I’m willing to wager that they will take the lightweight EDC option if given the choice.

The main draw for a .380 Auto carry gun is its low recoil energy, lightweight construction, thin frame, and ease of concealability. Just make sure your shot placement is on point and you’ll be good to go!

380 vs 9mm Conclusions

Both the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger are excellent choices for self-defense and concealed carry.

From a ballistic standpoint, the 9mm is the superior cartridge with higher muzzle energy and muzzle velocity but at the cost of increased recoil.

The .380 ACP has approximately 50% less felt recoil and is extremely comfortable for everyday carry as .380 handguns are lightweight and very slim compared to 9mm handguns which are a bit bulkier.

Although neither of these cartridges will have the stopping power of a 45 ACP or a 44 Magnum, both the 9mm Luger and the .380 ACP are exceptional choices for any self-defense situation and will not let you down should the need ever arise.

Which of these two concealed carry all-stars is best for you? That depends on what your needs are.

If you are recoil sensitive or feel that a 9mm subcompact is too snappy for your liking, then a .380 ACP might be exactly the right choice for your EDC. However, if you can handle a 9mm and don’t mind the added recoil, then there’s no reason not to carry your favorite 9mm concealed.

Just remember, shot placement is key, and always practice with your carry gun.

As I always like to say, “A .380 on the belt is a lot more useful in a self-defense situation than a 9mm on the nightstand.”

Carry responsibly, carry often, and keep flexing those 2A Rights!

Chris Dwulet

Written by

Chris Dwulet