Is the .380 the New 9mm?
Dr. John Woods 03.19.15
Yeah, this is a serious question. No fooling around. As a long time outdoors/gun writer, I watch all the trends in the firearms industry. This includes guns and ammo popularity reflected in national sales, new gun models coming on the market, as well as new ammunition.
The last decade or more has shown tremendous energy in creativity and productivity when it comes to the firearms industry. Sometimes it moves so fast it is hard to keep track of everything happening. It’s not only challenging but fun to read all the material coming out, tracking the gun phenomenons across the country, and then letting our readership in on a few insights we have noted.
One of the trends I have been monitoring over the past couple of years is the number of new handguns that have come out chambered for the .380 ACP. Most of these new guns have been classified or labeled as “pocket pistols” or CCW mode, meaning for concealed carry. That is the marketing angle anyway, and frankly it works well for pistols chambered for the .380.
Now if you regularly read any gun magazines off the rack and study what is going on, you know what is happening in the .380 realm. There are literally dozens of small pocket pistols available all of sudden in .380 ACP. Of course, the .380 has been around since WWII in the Walther PPK and later the PPKS. The .380 was also initially referred to as the 9mm Short. This is not the place for a history lesson, but you might want to look up all that on your own.
Just in the last couple of years, the .380 market has become flooded with some excellent pistols. Names like Sig-Sauer, Beretta, Accu-Tec, Diamondback, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Colt, Kel-Tec, Glock, Bersa, Taurus, and Kahr come to mind immediately. Undoubtedly there are others out there that I can’t recall, forgot about, or don’t know about. Of course, also note that all of these handguns are semi-automatics, hence the classification as pistols. Pistols are red hot right now. I suspect that will continue on, too.
So where does all this rather sudden interest in .380 pocket pistols come from anyway? First and foremost I think the main reason is for self-protection and protection for the home. While the .380 might be thought of as a “lady’s gun,” it has much more application than that given the development of new defensive ammo choices in the .380. I suspect a fair share of law enforcement officers are using .380s for back ups as well.
I also think the .380 is a decent choice for outdoors enthusiasts to carry when hunting, fishing, and hiking or even if they are out in public areas. These days you simply can’t be too careful going anywhere. Put one in your gear bag or in the vehicle when you travel. The .380 is a reasonable compromise for these uses.
So, as in the title, I pose the question given current market trends. Is the .380 the new 9mm? If I imply a replacement, then I doubt this is the case. It is a practical matter that most, but not all 9mm pistols are larger and heavier, thus slightly more difficult to wield.
Not so if you just practice with them, but they recoil more, are louder, and more difficult to conceal easily. The 9mm is hardly going away. I will say though that a 9mm in some of the new micro-pistol packages can be quite a handful. They are close quarters pistols though and like the .380 are meant for short range engagements.
However, it’s hard to argue that a neat little .380 can fit right into your pants pocket, a purse, a waistband holster, book bag, backpack, fanny pack or such. They are small, light, and easy to conceal. With practice and proper safety instruction, they are easy and pleasurable to shoot. The trick is getting used to the controls as second nature.
The reality is, too, that the .380 is no 9mm in terms of terminal ballistics, but it was not meant to be. Remember the .380 is the short version of the 9mm implying lesser power. With new ammo revelations recently though, the .380 has gained some respectable ground in terms of defensive power.
In general terms, picking a universal type load each for the .380 and the 9mm for comparison, how do they rank? Many .380 loads use a 90 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of around 1000 fps. Its muzzle energy is listed at 200 foot pounds. The 9mm’s “standard” load is a 115 grain bullet with an MV of 1,160 fps and a ME of 345 ft. lbs.
You make the judgment which you would rather have. There have been many complaints over the years about the ineffectiveness of the 9mm. My own opinion is that the shooters expected too much from it or over extended its logical capabilities. Again, both the 9mm and for sure the .380 are short range affairs.
New ammunition developments have greatly improved upon the numbers listed above. So for the .380 check out Winchester’s SXZ, Federal Guard Dog, Barnes Personal Defense, Hornady Critical Defense, and other new loads for the .380 and the 9mm.
This new “defensive” ammo genre really ramps up the effectiveness of personal defense handguns including the .380s. It only makes sense to use the most effective ammo you can buy if the setup is going to defend your life and protect family and home. The AllOutdoor fellowship is going to want one of these along on all outdoor adventures.
So, is the .380 the new 9mm? Well, I have to hedge the bet by saying yes and no. It rather depends mostly on the application. For an outdoors person toting a backpack or fanny pack, a small concealable .380 is a good choice. It could be used to dispatch wounded game or offer defense against an aggressive trespasser, hoping no incident would ever come to that.
Putting it all in perspective, the .380 is better than a .22 rimfire or something like the .25 or .32 ACP. But it is not as powerful as the 9mm, the .38 Special, .357 magnum, or some other larger caliber choices. Still, in a small concealable pocket pistol package, the .380 sure does offer a lot of positive compromise.