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:

  • 39 thoughts on “The Lowly 380Auto for Self Defense?

    1. 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 .

    2. 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 of percent of rounds fired to incapacitation and percent of one shot stops. I believe this data was compiled before the Lehigh Extreme Penetrator was introduced. What do I carry concealed? A P238 with Extreme Penetrator ammo.

    3. 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 and it didn’t even look up. I ran in and grabbed the little Ruger LCP I had recently purchased for a pocket gun and shot it twice right behind the shoulder. It just looked and me and ran out the door. I shot it in the ass on the way out and it just kept going. It was loaded with a Federal Hydro-shock so I know it wasn’t the Ammo. I’m glad I learned this lesson before I got caught in a real life or death situation. Back to a .45acp, you don’t have to worry about it doing the job.

      1. 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.

        1. @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.

          1. 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

    4. 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 it all guy’s but when I can shoot a .380 ACP at 50 feet and have it stick into a railroad tie that has never been shot into and have it stick into the wood an 1 an 1/2 you will not convince me of the B.S. that always get’s spewed. People are soft Target’s.. How far are you willing to let a .380 ACP go into you and tell me that you will not bleed out or die from it before they get there to save your Sorry Hinnie… I have seen it first hand. And no .380 ACP is going to stay under the skin of any ones head and not penetrate the skull unless he was shot from a far enough distance. Like I said Stories are like B.S. anyone can tell them but the proof is truly in the shot Round it’s self.. A shot only has to go into most bodys 8″ and it can kill you. And even less on most..

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

      1. 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.

    8. 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 shooting incidents occur in the 7′ – 10′ range. As the writer noted, never expect a one shot and done situation. It will take several shots, well placed, to stop any threat at close range. It is less the caliber that is important than the shot placement. This will always be an individual decision with no right or wrong answer.

    9. 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.

    10. 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.

    11. 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”.

    12. 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.

      1. 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.

    13. 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 it, and whats interesting to me, is that I used to carry a cz82 chambered for 9×18 makarov, which is ballistically similar to .380, and I never worried too much about its ability to do the job.

    14. 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 one shot stops, and percent of one shot stops. Is the 380 my “go to” sidearm? No, but it is in my arsenal and will accompany me at certain times.

    15. 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.


    16. 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.

    17. 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 bit. It seems that there is a large percentage of cases in which the mere presentation of a defensive firearm can diffuse the situation without shots being fired at all. If I ever end up at that moment, I hope that’s how it goes for me. If not, I know where on a body to shoot at and my training regimen focuses on that skill set. Yes, I get it that a .32 is a puny little toy gun that no self-respecting real man should even consider. Well, screw that. It’s very concealable. It’s also very loud, especially indoors. I don’t know about anyone else but if I was being shot at, I really don’t think I’d sit there and take a moment for thoughtful reflection on the caliber of what was shooting at me. I’d be trying to get away – as would many of the typical thieves and attackers out there when presented with loud bangs and pain.

      As to the .380ACP… It is perfectly acceptable as a defensive cartridge in my view. Can it kill? Of course. Is it likely to kill? Probably not. But at this point, people should really ask themselves: Do I intend to KILL or do I intend to LIVE? I’ve looked at the numbers as have many others. Pistols are grossly inadequate for the task of being single shot lethal. They just are. Criminals are grossly lacking in actual courage, otherwise they’d have a job and a life and be out there trying to make do like the rest of us. They’re cowards. Drugs or desperation or just plain evil – their motivation is irrelevant if they threaten me or mine. I’ll shoot them if I have to but that will never mean I wanted to kill them. I just want to get home to my wife and family. Whether they live or die is NOT MY PROBLEM. I do know that there’s a crapload more paperwork to be dealt with if they do die from my actions, so from a practical and selfish perspective, I’d prefer they survive (crippled, peeing in a bag for the rest of their lives, whatever… still not my problem).

      The point is to stop the threat. That’s it. Loud bangs, some smoke, and pain will be sufficient in almost all cases of legitimate personal defense to stop the threat. Sure, if you want to, go for the Hollywood headshot with that custom 1911. Have at it. I’d rather put four or five rounds of .380 or .32 into the pelvis and fold them in half on the ground, puking and crying. Ever been kicked in the nuts? What happened to your will to continue whatever it was that got you kicked? Just imagine what it’d feel like to get shot a few times in the bladder.

      Planning to kill is what murderers do. That’s not me.

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

      2. 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.

        1. 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

      3. 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 I can think of, I have full confidence in my mighty midget. As you suggested, aim for the belt buckle and all will be good.

    18. 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.

      1. 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.

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