There is a heavy increase in the .380Auto caliber handguns we have seen come through our doors. Most who purchase this pistol are first time gun buyers or new to concealed carry.

The Shinny Object

I’m not surprised and here is why. There is a huge surge in concealed carry evidence by the rise in application submission and this platform is appealing to a new gun owner. The actual number of private citizens who carry regularly hasn’t increased with the same pace. In fact, I’d almost bet it has stayed proportionately the same. Most new gun buyers wade into the market carefully. Ask yourself the same question, if you were to venture into a new area would you look at making the smallest investment with the lowest impact to success. While I’m sure there are plenty of people who do extensive research, discuss their purchase options with experts and make informed decisions. There are still many who make impulsive decisions in an effort to check the box.

The Other Side of the Coin

This is where I see the .380Auto being so popular. I don’t necessarily think it is the best idea for many though. As they learn when putting these little guns through what we consider to be a low round count class it becomes evident. While I cannot comment on the justification behind their purchase I can comment on the difficult many face. While the recoil impulse may be less dramatic, the smaller frame makes controlling said reduced recoil impulse more challenging. Smaller hands ideally suited for the smaller framed guns make a good combination. I caveat my comment with the student having a solid understanding a good crush grip. The smaller hands around a smaller framed gun with a crushing grip will produce a great outcome. I like these smaller framed guns, they open the market up to many new shooters who otherwise might not be willing to venture into the self defense game.

Squeaky Wheel

Once you have managed the recoil impulse and grip issue these smaller framed handguns make for a great option, but do they out perform a 5-shot “snubby” revolver. A lot will depend on how you choose to define performance. At some point, terminal performance has to be brought into the conversation. With most lethal encounters having less than five rounds being fired the possibility of a reload is reduced. The argument for a faster reload does go to the auto-loader, provided a spare magazine is carried. Both of these cartridges have been around for a long time, but have they maintained the attention of premium self-defense ammunition manufactures.

Penetration & Expansion

A problem with .380Auto loads is small selection of loads that exhibit good penetration and expansion. Selecting your defense loads will be more difficult due to the smaller pool to choose from. Testing for functionality, regular replacement due to wear and checking point of impact mean you will invest in a descent stockpile. How much will depend on how serious you take carrying this as a self defense tool. Conversely, looking for self-defense loads in .38 Special will be more flexible since there is more availability.

Point of Aim/Point of Impact

As mentioned above, you will need to fire a sufficient number of rounds to test the point of impact. Many times, students are surprised to learn their defense loads will hit in a slightly different location. How slight will depend on the types of loads and types of platforms, but it is an important consideration. Using a good marksmanship centric drill to test both your accuracy as well as confirm any shifts to point of impact will go a long way towards gaining confidence in your loadout. One complication is the shorter sight radius of both platforms make this a challenging exercise. Something I find valuable is this challenge also helps for students to learn the limitations of these platforms.

Any system, loadout or platform will have limitations and it is up to you to become familiar with them. In the end, nobody wants to get shot by either.

2 thoughts on “.38spl vs. .380Auto

  1. John says:

    Thank you. Another excellent insight. I am somewhat skeptical of the acceptance of the 380 as a defensive round. I do think that it does open the door for those that would otherwise not carry. Like almost all things, it is a compromise. I guess it is better to carry a “mouse gun” than no gun at all. After all, most miscreants will flee at the sound of the first shots.

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