9mm v. 380 ACP Ammunition – Which is Better for Concealed Carry? ~ VIDEO

9mm v. 380 ACP - Which is Better for Concealed Carry?
9mm v. 380 ACP – Which is Better for Concealed Carry?

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- Caliber arguments seldom result in anything definitive as they tend to drift off into, “what if” and, “I heard” arguments generally fueled by participants defending what they own. Not looking to self-rationalize we wanted to be as fair as possible and look at a classic debate that has quieted somewhat since the advent of the “wonder nines”. The American, Browning-designed .380 ACP against the German, Luger-designed 9mm.  There is only two millimeters’ difference between the two calibers’ case length; .380 ACP being 9x17mm and 9mm being 9x19mm.

What are those two millimeters worth?

To test this is not as easily done as one might expect.  Sure, there are hundreds of handguns out there chambered in either caliber, but few true pairs. To test not only for muzzle energy but also for perceived recoil and handling we needed to find a true pair of pistols. The same locking mechanism, barrel length, grip size, and operator mechanics.  Furthermore, we needed to test ammunition that was intended to have similar performance in each caliber.

Fortunately, both SCCY and Walther have handguns that meet the criteria in the SCCY CPX-2 and CPX-3 and Walther CCP in .380 and 9mm.  Not only were did these two pairs meet the above criteria, but Walther’s roughly half inch-longer longer barrel provided us a chance to see what speed could be gained and in turn how much extra muzzle energy.  This was particularly interesting with .380 ACP as the caliber is generally relegated to smaller direct-blowback pistols. The next step proved particularly challenging in a market that is enduring it's now fourth in a row month of ammo panic buying, finding matching pairs of defensive ammunition instock. The ammunition found for this test are listed below with their advertised and measured muzzle velocities.  All calculations were from an average of five shots through a Caldwell Ballistic Chronograph.

9mm Ammunition Velocities as tested
9mm Ammunition Velocities as tested
380 ACP Ammunition Load Velocity as Tested
380 ACP Ammunition Load Velocity as Tested

We've come to expect advertised ammunition velocities to not match the end-user experience. Barrel length, rifling type, operating system, and even ambient temperature and atmospheric pressures can cause one velocity test to have different results than another. Fortunately, we were able to eliminate most of those variables by shooting paired firearms and conducting all ammunition testing on the same day.

So what do those velocities mean? We used the classic calculation of:

Muzzle Energy in Foot Pounds = 0.5 x Projectile Mass x Projectile Velocity squared / 1000

This tells us how much energy the bullet has when it leaves the barrel.  In our test case the Caldwell chronograph was placed ten feet in front of the muzzle so as to represent how hard the bullet would strike a target at that distance. The results were very interesting and show us not only how much more energy is to be gained with 9mm over .380 ACP, but also what the difference between a 3.1″ and 3.54″ barrel can make with these particular loads.

Five matched loads of 380 ACP and 9mm as tested through matching pistols
Five matched loads of 380 ACP and 9mm as tested through matching pistols

That's a lot to digest so we'll break it download by load:

Muzzle Energy as tested of Hornady's Critical Defense
Muzzle Energy as tested of Hornady's Critical Defense
Muzzle Energy as tested with Inceptor ARX
Muzzle Energy as tested with Inceptor ARX
Muzzle Energy as tested with Remington's Ultimate Defense
Muzzle Energy as tested with Remington's Ultimate Defense
Muzzle Energy as tested with Speer Gold Dot
Muzzle Energy as tested with Speer Gold Dot

The debate over which caliber provides more energy was settled long ago, but to answer one of our original questions as to how much more: that depends on the load and the barrel length.  The difference between .380 ACP and 9mm was as little as 65 ft-lbs or as much as 199 ft-lbs with an average across the ten combinations tested of 129 ft-lbs.  To put that in perspective that's nearly as much energy as a single shot of .380 ACP Hornady American Gunner through SCCY's 3.1″ barrel; effectively equating a hotter 9mm load to a second shot of softer .380. Some crime statistics show us that bullet size matters in lethality while others do not. They are probably both right as statistics are easily manipulated, so what about shoot-ability?

Generally speaking pistols in .380 tend to be smaller because they can be. The round produces less energy and lends well to the simplicity and compactness of direct blowback operations. Our test used a locked-breech mechanism and so it was larger than most 380 pistols, resembling 9mm pistols in size. Regardless, in the footage below you will see both the heaviest and lightest-recoiling loads fired by an experienced shooter of smaller stature and hand size and give her opinion on control-ability of one round versus the other.

So what have we learned?

The energy difference between 9mm and .380 ACP, in general, is considerable. What could not be measured is the real-world terminal performance of these rounds (no volunteers were found). Variables of their effectiveness would include shot placement and the target's mental and physical resistance to wounds sustained. For ammunition, the largest variable that keeps this argument alive for some will come from the combination of powder burn rate and barrel length as it certainly can make a difference. Finding those pairings, however, would more likely be an exception than the rule. We also discovered that it seems ammunition manufacturers either can't or haven't loaded Browning's baby .45 to take advantage of longer barrels the way 9mm can.  In most tests, I've seen 9mm doesn't top out on speed until somewhere around the 10″ barrel length. That being said the SCCY's 3.1″ and Walther's 3.54″ barrels aren't exceptionally long, but our data seems to indicated that the loads tested weren't going to get much more out of anything longer than 3″.

9mm is certainly more powerful than .380 ACP, but that doesn't mean that 380 isn't powerful enough, especially if you can shoot better with a .380. I foresee this debate to be continued.


About Graham Baates G B Guns

“Graham Baates” is a pen name used by a 15-year active Army veteran who spent most of his time in the tactical side of the Intelligence community including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Post-Army Graham spent some time in the local 3-Gun circuit before becoming a full-time NRA Certified defensive handgun instructor and now works as an industry writer while curating a YouTube channel on the side. Visit Graham on Youtube .

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Chuck
Chuck
4 months ago

I carried a Walther PPK/S in .380 as my CC weapon for nearly 25 years. Still one of the most accurate guns in my modest collection, and I never worried about the caliber. After all, a .380 started a World War. Speer Gold Dot was my ammo of choice for the last 6 or 7 years. The only reason it’s not my CC gun anymore, is due to my aging eyes and the PPKs sights in low light conditions. This is the only reason I went to a SIG P365 was for the sights.

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
5 months ago

I watch a lot of cop dramas on TV. Oldies from the 40s and more modern ones like Law & Order, Blue Bloods, etc. Seems like whenever there’s a shooting by organized crime/mafia, the caliber used is a .22 and I’ve heard them call it an “execution style” killing. Of course, those are usually up close and personal, but let’s face it, a well-placed .22 round can do the job and if it’s what you can shoot comfortably and well, then by all means, do so. It’s far better than carrying a gun you can’t shoot accurately or, even worse,… Read more »

Jeremy B.
Jeremy B.
5 months ago

“What are those two millimeters worth?”

Wrong question based on data. Difference in cartridge over all length is about 5mm, not just the 2mm difference in case length. Also, 9mm has about a 50% increase in pressure over .380 ACP.

Jeremy B.
Jeremy B.
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy B.

BUT, even with the right data, it’s still the wrong question. I think the more pertinent question is “with the available loads from the two calibers are we getting consistent expansion and penetration?”

Due to the extra available mass and velocity 9mm ammo is much more likely to expand AND penetrate to the vitals than .380 ACP. Just take a look at any of the videos from ShootingTheBull410.

Chuck
Chuck
5 months ago

What it shows, is that John Browning was very Conservative when it came to Cartridge Development. He didn’t push pressures simply because he was designing strictly for simple Blowback systems. This is why the Small Three, .25, .32, and .380 ACP’s are rather wimpy in comparison to the 9 x 19 Luger. Why Browning didn’t consider other system types, was probably due to efforts at cost control (the simpler you can make it the cheaper you can sell it). I’ve always found it interesting that though the fans of the 1911 consider it the peak of his genius, yet his… Read more »

RoyD
RoyD
5 months ago
Reply to  Chuck

Erwin Rommel’s wartime photographer, who ran the photo shop on my base in Germany ’73-’76 carried a Browning 25 Auto in his pocket. Not legal but he didn’t care. He carried it for the, “hoodlums”, as he called the criminal class. Great old man that I learned a lot from.

RoyD
RoyD
5 months ago
Reply to  RoyD

Hmmm,: 6-23-20 “Donald Trump Previews Executive Order to Prosecute ‘Hoodlums’ Toppling Statues” Like minds? I like it.

RoyD
RoyD
5 months ago

This type of article is what you normally get in most gun rags because they pay by the word count. LOL!

SGT_Wombat
SGT_Wombat
5 months ago

Come on guys, when you’re using graphs to compare make sure they’re the same scale. The velocity graphs make it look like the .380 is the same as the 9mm, if not faster. I’m curious how the Makarov 9x18mm compares, I have a P-64 and it kicks a lot harder than my S&W M&P Shield Performance Center 9mm

Finnky
Finnky
5 months ago
Reply to  SGT_Wombat

@Sgt – While 9×18 seems like Mak should be dead center between 380 (9×17) and luger (9×19) – Mak is actually much closer to 380. For all practical purposes, just consider it a 380. I find “ballistics by the inch” to give good info on such things, though they also use floating scale graphs. Guess that’s the price we pay for lazy graph makers using easy graphing tools. As M444ss says below – terminal ballistics are close enough between the three. It is all about placement, particularly facing someone with armor (which none of the three penetrate) or a small… Read more »

Knute
Knute
5 months ago
Reply to  SGT_Wombat

More important than the case length, at least outside the realm of physically fitting the round into the chamber, is the pressure spec that it operates at. Almost any round’s performance can be improved by simply upping the powder charge, which will increase the operating pressure, which will give greater performance, assuming that the firearm in question remains in one piece while firing it. In this particular case, the maximum operating pressures really tell the whole story between .380acp (9×17), 9mmP (9×19), and the 9mm Makarov (9×18). From SAAMI: 9×17 = 21,500 PSI 9mmP = 35,000 PSI 9×18 = 23,200… Read more »

pigpen51
pigpen51
5 months ago
Reply to  SGT_Wombat

The P 64 is almost a clone of the Walther PPK. It is a straight blow back design, and with the Makarov round, it does have a rather stout recoil. Much more than my 1911 commander did, in .45 ACP. I got one brand new unfired, back in the early 2000’s. It was made in 1969, and I loved that gun, after I replaced the springs with a set of Wolfe springs, with a lighter spring that made the double action pull more reasonable. The single action was then VERY light. Also, it has no slide stop lever, and so… Read more »

M444ss
M444ss
5 months ago

“What could not be measured is the real-world terminal performance…”

Actually, a review of 1700 actual shootings included the following answered this question. Search for “Greg Ellifritz’s 10-year stopping power study of real-world gun fights” – you can find articles on the Internet as well as a youtube video that summarizes it all in a little over 10 minutes.

Any way you slice it, difference in actual results between .380 and 9mm (and other popular cartridges) are statistically insignificant.

Blaine
5 months ago

What matters is where the hole is — not how big it is. A .22-caliber hole in the assailant is far more effective than a .45-caliber hole in in the neighbor’s house behind the assailant. Carry what you can shoot well — no more, no less.

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
5 months ago
Reply to  Blaine

Carry what you can shoot well” is the best advice I’ve heard. I might be a good shot with a .45, but my little 5’1” wife would not. So she carries a Taurus .380, but she also enjoys shooting her SCCY 9mm.

Doszap
Doszap
5 months ago

I far prefer 9mm for power, and bullet weight.BUT, for pocket carry were it’s a 100*+ every day OWB’s and IWB holsters are just a PITA,because of weight/ being concealable.(printing)
Latest stats on one shot sops between the two(Torso COM hits),show not much difference between the two.So, I do not like carrying a .380, but given the climate and comfort, I have no choice.
We have open carry, but the LE will be all over you if you Open carry even while it’s legal.I don;t need the hassle of arguing with Cops.(it seems they don’t know the laws)

gunnerdd517
5 months ago
Reply to  Doszap

Altho we also can ‘open’ carry, I prefer not to see it done, nor do it myself. To me, it is not necessary, and seems somewhat like what I think of as a ‘cowboy’ syndrome. As in, ‘see, I have a gun’. ‘I be a bad dude’. Also, it draws attention. Some idiot tackled a legal open carrier,thinking he was somehow dangerous. The tackler got the gun away from the carrier,passed it to a stranger while holding the other man down. He was arrested for assault, and I don`t remember if an illegal transfer was charged to him also. But,… Read more »

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
5 months ago
Reply to  gunnerdd517

Although I’ve never heard of a scenario like you describe, in today’s “A gun! I’m scared!” climate, I can certainly see the possibility of it happening. The reason always given against open carrying is, “If you’re in a store or bank or any situation in which a thug comes in with his gun drawn, seeing you with your open-carried gun will make you his first target and you’ll be dead.” But I have never actually seen a verified report of this happening. I don’t describe open carriers as “cowboys” for two reasons: first, in many states, open carry is all… Read more »

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
5 months ago
Reply to  Doszap

I, too, find the ignorance of cops frustrating. But I wonder, for those cops who will harass a man legally open carrying, is it not more likely that they are control freaks? These are the cops who will disobey their oath to the Constitution and come to confiscate our guns if Pelosi & Bloomberg ever get their way. I carry a full-size 9mm IWB except on Sundays. I’m a pastor and I prefer an invisible .380 in my pants pocket. On those days I carry the Taurus Curve which I don’t recommend for anything else. But if some thug comes… Read more »

Pa John
Pa John
5 months ago

Probably the single biggest eye opener for me – something that runs entirely counter to what you might intuitively suppose – in the ongoing adventure of learning to custom load my own ammo, was very well documented on video by a certain “ShootingTheBull410” channel over on YouTube, who did an excellent “Ammo Quest 9mm” series. What was different from the norm was his perspective, being specifically from the point of using subcompact / micro 9mm handguns with little 3 inch barrels, such as many people prefer to more easily carry concealed. Shorter barrels tend to net lower velocities, so he… Read more »

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
5 months ago
Reply to  Pa John

With the price of ammo rising, I’ve begun to consider loading my own, but I’m not sure if the cost saving would be worth it when balanced against the expense of initial set up. Could you tell me about how much I should expect to spend on a basic loading operation? I have both 9mm & .380 handguns. [email protected]

BobE
BobE
5 months ago

Follow up shots maybe be needed. Choose a caliber and ammo you can control for this.

coonhunter
coonhunter
5 months ago

I carry both, 380 in front pocket and 9mm IWB. The 380 is always with me, and the 9mm is a lot also. Once in awhile I carry my 45, carry what you like.

Matt in Oklahoma
Matt in Oklahoma
5 months ago

Good data but nothing earth shattering. 9mm is more powerful than .380. The end.
carry what suits ya as long as you actually carry

Green Mtn. Boy
Green Mtn. Boy
5 months ago

For my money it’s 9 mm,everytime however you are welcome to chose and carry what ever you perfer.

MICHAEL J
MICHAEL J
5 months ago

Each has its place, but isn’t comparing the 380 to a 9mm like comparing a 22 lr to a 22 short?
I wouldn’t want to get shot with any of them.

gunnerdd517
5 months ago
Reply to  MICHAEL J

You remind me of an officer, Scorpio, I think was his name. Anyway, he answered a call & was shot in the face with a .22. If I recall rightly, the bullet traveled along side his head. Knocking him unconscious. I dont remember if it was a .22 short, or LR.. I think it was a short. A book was written about him and later a sitcom. Regardless, I agree with you. I carried a .22 revolver for decades, before getting my 1st .45. Timely bullet placement means a lot, regardless of caliber. The late great Jeff Cooper said if… Read more »