As most of you know, I’m a big fan of the .32ACP in small, light semiautomatics, and the .32 Long/H&R Magnum in general in small, light revolvers for recoil sensitive shooters, but I cannot deny the popularity or usefulness of the .380 in the United States in small, light, affordable, easy to carry and conceal defensive handguns.

The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is one of the oldest handgun calibers in use today, almost as old as the .45 ACP (1904 vs 1908), but not quite as old as the .32ACP (1899). Both the .45ACP and the 380ACP share a history that began with John Moses Browning and the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company.

Browning invented the .380 cartridge in 1908 and the gun to fire it, the beautiful Colt Model 1908 Hammerless Pocket Model which was simply a modified version of the 1903 .32ACP (which he also designed) Hammerless Pocket Model. The Colt Model 1908 was the very first .380, but production ended in the 1940’s. By then, the .380 ACP had become much more closely associated with the German Walther PP/PPK, the .380 with the longest continuous production history in that caliber. But we should never forget the .380 ACP is an American cartridge, and today’s modern .380 rounds, designed for personal defense, have higher velocities, better expansion and greater penetration than the old round-nose 9x17mm .380 ACP (also known as a 9mm Short, or Kurtz) invented by Browning in 1908. The modern and improved .380 delivers considerably more punch than the original loadings since modern firearms are designed and built to deal with hotter loads and new bullet designs without issue.

The .380ACP remains a popular and effective self-defense cartridge for shooters who want a lightweight pistol with manageable recoil and/or a smaller pistol. It is for all intent and purpose the ballistic equivalent (FPE at the muzzle) of the standard-pressure .38 Special (.357”), and uses 9 mm (.355”) diameter bullets. The heaviest bullet that can be safely loaded into the .380 ACP is 115 grains (the .38 Special ranges from 90 to 158 grains), though the standard for the .380 has long been 90 or 95 grains. It’s European designation as the 9mm short (9x17) is accurate and correct, since it, and the insanely popular 9mm Luger (9x19) are both 9mm’s.

For the last 107 years, the .380 ACP has been among the most popular handgun calibers in the world. The Walther PPK and PPK/S have been the standard bearers for the .380 ACP cartridge for over 80 years, but today, there are dozens of innovative and practical pocket guns chambered in this venerable caliber, and many, if not most are made right here in the United States.

Before you ask, my favorite small .380 is the Taurus 738 TCP. It has the best DA trigger of any .380 I’ve ever used (and I think I’ve used them all), and offers rock solid, American made dependability at an amazingly good price. The close seconds are the Kahr series of .380’s (CW380/CT380). Their triggers are almost as good as the Taurus (shorter and crisper, but ever so slightly heavier), and they have the same attributes I find desirable; a manual slide stop/release/locking slide, stainless steel uppers, drop free magazines, under 12 once weight, polymer frames, and they are made in the USA as well. Each offers maximum bang for the buck, and all can be fitted with custom lasers. Kahr’s are striker fired and have a five year warranty. The Taurus is hammer fired and has a lifetime warranty. None have an external thumb safety, and none need one. Both are double action only, Browning tilting barrel, locked breech designs. I can find no fault with either, but by all means do your own research, as your milage may vary. Buy spare magazines for whatever you choose. Two is the minimum, three is better.

Should the recoil of these very small, very light .380’s be a tad stout for you, I’d recommend a heavier .380 to help mitigate recoil, or the 7+1, 6.6 ounce Keltec P32 (with a hard chrome slide) chambered in .32ACP loaded with Winchester Q4255 FMJ-FP’s. If even that is too much due to physical disabilities, or other issues, look at the tip-up barrel 8+1 Taurus PT22 loaded with (Eley primed) CCI Velocitors or Aguila Interceptors, or the 9+1 PT25 loaded with the hotter European FMJ ,25ACP rounds. Both are available with polymer frames and stainless steel slides. Ruger produces their excellent small, light, concealed hammer LCR revolvers chambered in .22LR, .22 Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum (which also fires the milder .32 H&R Magnum, .32 Long (use wadcutters), .32 S&W/Short, and in a pinch, the .32ACP), as well as the harder recoiling 357 Magnum/.38 Special, .38 Special, and 9mm Luger. Hornady makes a 90 grain Critical Defense Lite round in .38 Special, and a 100 grain 9mm Lite round which will reduce felt recoil in these lightweight revolvers. Any and all mentioned herein will get the job done if you do your part.

Hornady Critical Defense  •  Federal HST  •  Speer Gold Dot GDHP  •  Winchester Q4206 FMJ-FP


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Taurus 738 TCP

9mm Luger (9x19)  .380ACP (9x17)

Winchester 380 Auto FMJ-FP ( Q4206 )

Flat Points tend to tumble on impact creating larger wound channels and more damage. FMJ rounds penetrate deep.