The Lowly 380Auto for Self Defense?


9mm Luger, 9mm Mac, .380 ACP Ammunition
9mm Luger, 9mm Mac, .380 ACP (right) Ammunition

Ft Collins, CO –-( 380 Auto

What is called the “380 Auto” over here, is called “9mm Kurz,” “9mm Corto,” or “9×17” in Europe. “Kurz” and “Corto” both translate to “short”

. 380 Auto Ammunition

The cartridge has been around for over one-hundred years, nearly as long as the currently more-popular 9mm Parabellum (AKA: “9×19,” “9mm Luger”).

The 380Auto’s enduring popularity is due partially to the fact that it is a low-pressure round, even by pistol standards. That being the case, pistols chambered for it have largely employed (until recently) straight “blow-back” designs and are thus much less expensive to manufacture than are pistols that incorporate a locking system.

And, because there are so many blow-back pistols chambered for this round, commercial ammunition manufacturers load the 380Auto strictly within SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) specifications. Thus, the 380Auto can be loaded only so “hot!” For that reason you’ll probably never see a 380Auto “+p”

Some among my colleagues consider any pistol in 380Auto caliber to be inadequate for serious purposes, and maybe they’re right.

And yet, Glock’s G42 (Glock’s single-column 380Auto pistol) has been extremely popular among consumers (many of whom are admittedly naive) since it was introduced several years ago. So popular is the G42 in fact, that S&W recently brought-out their version, the S&W Shield EZ handgun.

S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ Pistol
S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ Pistol

Kahr’s version, the P380 (which has been around the longest) is smaller than either the Glock or the S&W

All are designed for discreet concealed-carry and personal protection.

Hardball ammunition is, of course, available for practice, but “serious” ammunition for the 380Auto is generally a hollow-point between 80 and 90grs. Velocities range from 950 to 1050f/s. Reputable manufacturers all make their own versions.

Penetration generally falls short of the 12″-18″ FBI Standard.

The real question is this: Can we instructors, in good conscience, recommend for serious purposes, any 380Auto gun/ammunition combination?

As noted above, there is no universal agreement on this!

Some will insist the 9×19, even with modern +p ammunition, is still only marginally adequate, even grossly inadequate, and that only 40S&W, 357SIG, and 45ACP should ever be considered.

What I tell students is this; Any pistol/ammunition combination can be correctly called “grossly inadequate!”

Pistols, in general, have scant “redeeming social value,” save the fact that they are small, and we can carry them around discreetly concealed.

When using a pistol, any pistol, in a desperate effort to save your life, multiple, precisely-aimed impacts will likely be necessary in order to precipitate any observable behavioral change on the part of the person(s) you’re shooting.

Even then, long seconds may agonizingly tick-by, with no sign of discomfort on the part of your attacker!

Accordingly, we must be trained and prepared to hit the violent felon, no matter what kind of pistol we’re using;

  • (1) in vital areas,
  • (2) multiple times,
  • (3) rapidly.

Some calibers/pistols may represent a better choice than others, but any pistol, even a lowly 380auto, will surely be a significant improvement over being unarmed and unprepared!

.380 ACP bullets are notoriously unreliable when it comes to expansion, especially when fired from pocket guns like the Ruger LCP. This Sig Sauer V-Crown load tested well.
.380 ACP bullets are notoriously unreliable when it comes to expansion, especially when fired from pocket guns like the Ruger LCP. This Sig Sauer V-Crown 380 load tested well.

For some of my students, particularly the small-statured, with small hands, limited upper-body strength, and limited tolerance for recoil and noise, a 380Auto pistol will be better than nothing, and surely better than anything less, such as 22 rimfire.

I encourage students to purchase what they can comfortably carry concealed, can comfortably and accurately shoot in training (several hundred rounds at a sitting), and that they can comfortably fit into their lives.

Of course, the bigger and more powerful, the better. No doubt!

Is there room for the humble 380Auto in here? You tell me!


Defense Training International, Inc

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr. Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

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I was shot in the thigh from 5 feet by a 32 cal. and I sat down. Get shot even by a 22 lrhp and see how you feel .


The Ruger LCP is great self defense as I am a felon and must carry illegally. Also affordable as heck

Steven Teeples

I find my P238 to be concealable all year long. The rub has always been the performance of available ammo. Almost all rounds are either short on penetration and/or expansion. The Lehigh Extreme Penetrator alleviates both concerns. Those who call this round a “gimmick” haven’t researched it adequately. (Check out Ammo Quest’s evaluation) In terms of penetration (within the 12′ to 18″ FBI standard) and especially the severity of the wound cavity, this round makes the .380 a viable concealed carry option. Also, the Greg Ellifritz research mentioned above was insightful. The .380 rivaled or beat the 9mm in terms… Read more »


please examine the evidence of these tests.
also recall what some say in training classes
“Any gun will DO, IF You Will DO.” ! ! !
and L.E.O.s from around the country will tell you and agree, “from .22LR to .45acp, Dead is Dead.”


I just finished selling my .380 back to my friend’s gun shop yesterday. I had an incident with a Pit Bull that broke through my privacy fence and was actually in my back porch trying to kill one of my dogs. I heard the commotion and thought my dogs had just went too far in one of their little sibling spats but when I went out there a big Pit Bull had one of my dogs by the throat and she was screaming bloody murder. I knew better than to try and pull it off but I yelled at it… Read more »

Art out West

Why did you have to “run in” to get your pocket gun? The point of a pocket gun – is to have it in your pocket.
If you are going to “run in and get”, grab a better gun. Grab your .45, your .357 mag., your rifle or shotgun for Pete’s sake. Even a 10/22 is better than an LCP for “run in and grab. With a 10/22 you could pop off a large number of well aimed shots pretty quickly.

Wild Bill

@AoW, When I first bought this ranch and started running it, I carried a S&W 686. It was heavy, in the way and got really filthy. So I went to a Walther PPK. Still in the way and got really filthy. So I went to a NAA .22 in a sandwich bag. The bag wore out, the .22 got filthy.
Now, It i ever need to shoot at something, I’ll have to run into the house first.


Almost indestructible Makarov, 9×18 , leather holster and one mag, protects good enough for battlefield, should survive your ranch. LOL. And cheap too, costs less than your NAA, 1/2 the PPK, 1/3 of the S&W 686, about as powerful as .38 special….way more than the .32ACP of the PPK


twice right behind the shoulder , and once in the rump and it ran away ? uh………


If you hit any dog twice in the shoulder with a 22 he would have been disabled. The dog wouldn’t be running, walking, or crawling from that type of wound.

Ken Curtis

“I don’t fight to win. Rather, I fight not to lose.” Helio Gracie.

Carmine Damato

My EDC is a Glock 43 loaded with 124gr.+P Speer Gold Dots,two extra magazines and a blade.


Ha Ha Ha say all you want about a .380 round, but I have yet to see anyone stand in front of one and tell me the difference between the .380 and any other round. Stories are like B.S. You can tell them all you want. But I know for a fact that not one of you would want to be shot with a .380 ACP. Case closed. End of story. That is why I hate going on these stories and seeing these B.S. Comment’s and Face Book Gun Groups alike.. The next Guy always has the bigger Ball’s..LOL.. Tell… Read more »


I’ll stick with my SIG P938 SAS and not worry about it.


I carry a .357 most of the time. But my little Ruger LCP goes with me when carrying the heavier revolver isn’t an option. Something is better than nothing. I carry it with FMJ’s. One, because I feel they will penetrate better than a hollow point. And because my little pistol was not completing the load cycle with some hollow points. They were hanging up on the ramp. I polished the ramp and that seems to have helped. But just in case, I will stick with the FMJ’s.

Don Baker

Carry it with a hollow point in the chamber and ball ammo in the magazine.

marine sgt

that’s what I do, hollow point in the chamber and FMJ in the magazine


I agree with the article about the Sig 380 Elite rounds out of a LCP2, but everything else I tried in the LCP2 was accurate as I can shoot from 15 years , just as good as a G42. I carry a LCP2 everywhere I go, nobody knows I have it. I would not want to stand in front of it. It’s not meant to stop a charging bear, but it’s better than a rock. Most attackers even in groups of 2 or 3 will most likely back down or end up dead or in a wheelchair. Nobody wants that.

joe martin

We may not want to kill, but the number of people (victims defending themselves with a gun) who shot and only wounded an attacker and then were sued by the attacker and lost in court and had their lives ruined is myriad. Yes, family members of dead attackers have also attempted to sue the shooters, but without a live witness to dispute the telling of the events by the shooter, the success rate of the families suing the shooters is negligible.


He was shot 17 times. 1. that was all the gun held. 2. It was the damnest case of suicide on record.
I agree dead men tell no tales.


As with any firearm, comfort in use and shot placement are the key to the successful use of the weapon. If it does not fit comfortably in your hand or if the caliber is to large for you to shoot accurately, then it probably is not good for you to rely on in a self defense situation. Most women or smaller structured men may very well be more comfortable shooting a .380 and it is easier to conceal for them. If their shot placement under stress is increased then by all means it is appropriate for self defense purposes. Most… Read more »


When I was on the job we had a gang banger take a 380 on the side of the forehead, it went around the skull under the skin, no penetration and it did not even knock him out. You can keep your .380s.

Sagacious Sam

I agree with the comments above regarding Lehigh products. They feed well and the performance is impressive. Well worth a look for anyone who carrys a 380.


It is a bit of history, but when you knock the lowly .380, please remember that a Browning M1910 was the “trigger” for World War I.
There are folks that say it was .32 caliber and some say .380.
Regardless, a large number of people died between 1914 and 1917 because of a “mouse gun”.

Robert Radulski

You might want to check out the performance of .380 auto ammo at to see penetration and expansion tests in fabric-covered gelatin. It’s most informative. I personally carry a Kimber Micro 9 or a 1911 in either officer’s, commander’s, or full-size models depending on the situation. I’ve been carrying 1911s in various sizes for almost 70 years (that’s right, 70 years) and I’m fast and accurate with them.


Ammo Quest has a thorough test on many different .380 brands. The “Ammo Quest .380 final wrapup” on YouTube covers the worst and best of them all. The Fiocchi XTP and Hornady Custom had good penetration (well over 12 inches) and consistent expansion.


Don’t forget disabled folks. My wife has very limited mobility, hand strength and overall body strength. A Walther PK380 is one of her prized possessions. Its really her only means of physical self defense and she can’t go any bigger. I have two handguns. My P3AT is with me, along with an Emerson knife, 98% of the time. If I feel the need to carry heavy, then I load my XDM .45 compact. .380 is what we used to call a “piss me off” caliber, I know its not a hand cannon. With more modern ammunition I feel better about… Read more »


An article by Greg Ellifritz published on the Buckeye Firearms Association in 2011 entitled “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power” ( ) gives a very interesting view of the subject. In Ellifritz’s study he concluded that there are a number of bullets that will stop an assailant and they range from the lowly 22 to the 44 Remington Magnum. Ellifritz makes a good argument for the 380 ACP, in that it’s history confirms, the 380 ACP will perform as well as the 45 ACP, in the categories of the average number of rounds fired to incapacitation, percent of… Read more »


I’m sorry to do this and I promise I’ll read the article, but I couldn’t get past the typo on picture caption. Not being a grammer nazi, but its 9mm MAKarov, not MAC n’ cheese.


Ben Chaffman

“Penetration generally falls short of the 12″-18″ FBI Standard.”

It’s all about proper ammo selection. I carry Hornady 90 gr FTX Critical Defense. Median penetration is 13.5″ and median expansion is .482″. (See for data. Other rounds with less expansion have even greater penetration.


I carry my .380 Keltec everywhere I go no matter what I am wearing. I was reluctant to carry one of the larger handguns I have just because of the concealment issue. I feel it is better to carry all the time than to wish you had. The smaller .380 fits in my pants pocket and there is no reason not to carry it so I do. Is it the best choice? For me it is.

Mike S.

My rotation varies between a compact 13+1 9mm, a .380 (also 13+1), and a little Beretta 7+1 .32ACP. It depends on where I’m going, what I’m wearing, and what sort of potential “issues” may arise during the trip. In my area of the country, spring/summer clothes are prevalent for roughly 10 months out of the year so having to shoot through several layers of clothing is unlikely. The 9mm and .380 typically have light-for-caliber but higher velocity hollow points while the .32 has 71g fmj. I have done a great deal of research and thought about this subject quite a… Read more »


Thanks, Mike. I found your discussion of the issues here very helpful. I appreciate your candor.

Heed the Call-up

Mike, very good points – 100% – our intention is never to kill, but stop the threat. As you stated, shot placement is of utmost importance.

Jim E.

I agree with Mike. The only thing I would add is that women who carry often have trouble racking their gun and the .380 in general is easier to slide. The easiest to rack is the Walther PK380 in my experience, but unfortunately it is larger than some 9mm models.

Sam S.

try the M & P Shield EZ 380 easiest slide Iv ever used and I believe if you hit them enough times with any size chunk of lead they will wonder why the heck they are doing something wrong to be in this position go for body mass shots not the trick shots to the head half of them wont have any brains in there to scramble anyway


Well thought out and quite accurate my friend. My “normal” carry is a S&W .357 revolver (5 shot, very concealable). When I’m walking the dogs, messing around in the garage, doing yardwork, etc., I carry my little Sig .380 (if I’m walking the Pit he’s my first line of defense anyway – the Yorkie not so much LOL). With light clothing it is much easier to carry/conceal. On my nightstand I keep an IWI .40 “Baby Eagle”. Different pistols for different jobs. Based on what .380 HP’s do to water jugs, firewood, and just about any other kind of target… Read more »


Lehigh Defense’s Extreme Penetrator round is a game changer for .380. It’s a machined, all copper projectile that because of its unique design gives penetration like ball ammo, yet leaves a wound cavity like what’s seen from a hollow point. It’s the round I carry when I carry a .380, which is about 50% of the time.


The lehigh defense round is a gimmick.

James Wagner

Yes, this round was my choice for my .380’s. In the test it did as well as most 9mm rounds. New technology on ammo is progressing fast.