Concealed Carry: 380 vs 9mm - Caliber Comparison

.380 vs 9mm - Caliber Comparison
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Concealed Carry: 380 vs 9mm - Caliber Comparison

The Pros and Cons of 380 vs 9mm Self-Defense Calibers

For any consumer interested in purchasing a firearm for self-defense or concealed carry, the list of brands, colors, and sizes may seem never-ending.

For argument's sake, let's imagine you've already narrowed those choices down and now have to decide which caliber of firearm you want to purchase.

While it's true there are many calibers to choose from, this article will focus on the following, the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) and the 9mm (9mm Luger, 9x19mm NATO, 9mm Parabellum).

Both cartridges fire the same 9mm (0.355”) diameter bullet, but the .380 ACP has a shorter overall case length and is, therefore, the more anemic round.

380 vs 9mm Ballistics Comparison

Utilizing a micro-compact pistol, the .380 Auto ammunition will launch a 99-grain Federal Hydra-Shok Deep bullet at about 860 fps and the bullet will deform with a frontal diameter of around 0.510-inches, penetrating to around 12 inches.

The same micro-compact pistol using 9mm Luger ammunition will launch a 135-grain bullet out the barrel at about 1,000 fps and push to 15 inches, with a recovered diameter similar in size.

Additionally, if you compare the crush cavities created by these two loads, the 9mm crush cavity is 25 percent larger.

From a kinetic energy perspective, the .380 Auto Hydra-Shok Deep load will generate 163 foot-pounds of kinetic energy compared to the 9mm Luger Hydra-Shok Deep load that generates 300 foot-pounds - that’s an 84 percent advantage for the 9mm.

380 vs 9mm Ballistics Chart

380 vs 9mm Ballistics Chart comparing .380 Auto Federal Hydra-Shok JHP 90gr and 9mm LugerFederal Hydra-Shok JHP 147gr

Granted there are numerous types of loads for both calibers that offer different performances, but the Hydra-Shok Deep loads represent top performers for both cartridges.

So, with the clear ballistics advantage of the 9mm, why would anyone consider a .380 Auto for concealed carry?

Well, there are two good reasons, and both might be important enough for you to go with the .380 instead of the 9mm.

380 vs 9mm - Size Advantage

The first is the most obvious and maybe the most important. It’s the fact that .380 Auto handguns are smaller and easier to conceal.

For example, the Diamondback DB380 is one of the smallest .380 Auto pistols on the market. It is 5.26 inches long and weighs an unbelievable 8.8 ounces.

By comparison, the Diamondback DB9, which is one of the smallest 9mm pistols available on the market, is 5.73 inches long and weighs 13.4 ounces. Both handguns have the same 6+1 capacity.

380 vs 9mm for self defense

Size and weight are important, especially in relation to everyday concealed carry and self-defense. After all, the very concept of concealed carry is for the firearm to be concealed.

There's also the consideration that when a handgun is smaller and lighter, the more likely an owner will be to routinely carry it.

This is exactly why over the years we've continued to see pistols decrease in size and while a half-inch difference in length is mostly inconsequential, a handgun that’s 34 percent lighter is, well, about 34 percent easier to carry.

380 vs 9mm - Recoil

Recoil, the backward movement a shooter feels when the projectile is discharged from a firearm.

Here we examine one of the few categories where the .380 rains superior over the 9mm.

For example, if we compare the Glock 42 in .380 and the Glock 43 in 9mm, both pistols hold the same amount of ammunition, yet the G42 is 23 percent lighter (that's quite significant!)

Furthermore, if we compare firing the same two Glock firearms using Hydra-Shok Deep loads we find that the .380 Auto G42 recoils with 3.09 foot-pounds of energy.

The 9mm G43 on the other hand, recoils with 5.73 foot-pounds of energy - that's a 46 percent difference in favor of the .380 Glock 42!

380 vs 9mm ammo

How much does 46 percent less recoil matter? It could be substantial if you cannot handle recoil well.

In some ways, the low power of the .380 ACP is actually one of its strengths, depending on how you look at it. The average .380 gun is designed as an ultra-lightweight, subcompact handgun.

This makes them great as a primary or backup concealed carry weapon. Additionally, because the .380 cartridge doesn't produce much recoil energy, you can exercise more control over your lightweight handgun than you would with a round like the 9mm.

This is a serious consideration for new and older shooters. But even for strong and experienced shooters, more recoil reduces the effectiveness of their shooting performance.

Recoil directly impacts your ability to recover from one shot and then fire another.

380 vs 9mm - Concealed Carry

When purchasing a firearm specifically for everyday concealed carry, few would argue that .380 and 9mm calibers aren't good choices.

Like most important situations, the final decision comes down to researching your options and personal preference - not to mention the desired usage of the firearm.

Additional factors to consider before making a purchase include overall size, weight, capacity, ergonomics, and reliability are equally important.

Diamondback DB9SL 9mm Handgun

It's also advisable to handle and test different pistols in both calibers to determine which one feels comfortable, fits your hand well, and suits your shooting style.

Ultimately, the better choice between .380 ACP vs 9mm for concealed carry depends on individual preferences, comfort, and the shooter's ability to effectively and accurately engage targets.

Final Thoughts

Because of ease of carrying and ease of shooting, for some people, a .380 Auto pistol might be a better-concealed carry handgun than a 9mm.

Also, in certain circumstances, it might be a good idea to have an ultra-compact .380 Auto pistol in addition to a 9mm for when ultra-deep concealment is needed. I routinely carry a lightweight (27-ounce) Browning HiPower.

But there are instances—because of my dress or the situation—when that gun is just too large to hide. When I’m in a situation like that I’ll comfortably carry my 8.8-ounce Diamondback DB380.

By no measure of terminal performance could the .380 Auto cartridge be considered as effective as the 9mm Luger.

But effectiveness is not the only consideration when it comes to concealed carry. In some instances, and for some people, the .380 Auto can be a better choice.

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Christopher Senephansiri
The small size of these Pocket 380 pistols is especially helpful to entice fat guys like myself to carry more regularly where I don't have to worry about the thing poking me in the side all the time. I have carried sub-compact before but some days the fit just isn't right and the little 380 gives me the ability to keep carrying.