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: