.380 vs the 9mm [Battle Of The Nines]

The 9mm and .380 both have the same diameter bullet, but the 9mm casing and overall length is longer.  The .380 has less recoil so is popular with concealable handguns while the 9mm is more powerful and has more recoil.  Both can be great defensive calibers if ammo is properly chosen.

Some people love the 9mm, while others prefer something a bit bigger like the .45 ACP – or if your name’s Dirty Harry, you probably never leave home without your trusty .44 magnum.

Dirty Harry
Go ahead, make my day.

The .380 doesn’t get as much recognition as some of the other big name handgun calibers, mostly because it doesn’t have that hard-hitting reputation that the 9mm, 10mm, and .45 ACPs.

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A Little Bit on the .380

The .380 is an American-made cartridge that was created in 1908 by John Browning. It’s also referred to as the 9mm Browning, the 9x17mm, and the 9mm short, all due to the fact that it has the same diameter as the 9X19mm Parabellum that we all know and love. But in order to avoid confusion, I will not be referring to the .380 by any other name in this post.

Caliber Comparison
The .380 looks like the 9mm’s younger sibling

The .380 was designed to be a low-recoil round that was easy to manage but strong enough to neutralize oncoming threats.

Unfortunately, the .380 never lived up to its true potential as a service pistol and was overshadowed by the performance of the 9mm. Still, it did see some action among police forces, and was the caliber used by the MAC-11 submachine gun.

MAC-11
The MAC-11 may be ugly but it’ll run through an entire 32-round mag in less than two seconds.

Even though the .380 never lived up to the expectations that John Browning may have hoped for, it did become a popular backup pistol due to its relatively small size. And thanks to the gun’s low recoil, it has been marketed as a great self-defense cartridge for inexperienced shooters.

Comparing the .380 to the 9mm

With the exception of the train-stopping .45 ACP, which has a long history of success in the field, most other cartridges in production are going to have a hard time squaring off with the 9mm – and for good reason.

The 9mm gives you the best of all worlds: magazine capacity, control, and power. It’s not hard to see why it’s not only the favored service pistol around the world, but also one of the most popular calibers time and time again.

While the.380 might just look like the 9mm’s shorter cousin, but in actuality, these two rounds function quite differently. Keeping that in mind, it’s unfair to place the .380 up against the 9mm and ask which is better. Instead, what we should be asking is “which caliber is better for you?

Glock Comparison
Various 9mm Glocks of difference sizes, courtesy of Lucky Gunner.

Which Is More Powerful?

When we’re looking at power, the 9mm unanimously beats the .380 every time. It’s a heavier cartridge that produces significantly more energy (including recoil energy) than the .380 ACP.

If power is your primary focus and you’re thinking of going with a .380, you’re barking up the wrong tree. It’s been (unfairly) stereotyped as an underpowered cartridge for almost as long as it’s been around, and ballistic tests place the 9mm lightyears beyond the .380 with regards to power.

And while it’s no match for the 9mm, shooting the right ammo can turn transform your .380 into a formidable concealed-carry pistol.

Hornady 90-grain XTP Jacked Hollow Points
Hornady 90-grain XTP Jacked Hollow Points are a well-rounded .380 round.

If the .380 Is Underpowered, Why Would I Choose It over the 9mm?

Well, if power is your primary decision, you wouldn’t. But power isn’t what the .380 is made for.

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 for use as a primary or backup concealed carry weapon, but not so great as a service pistol for police officers and military personnel. And since the .380 cartridge doesn’t produce much recoil energy, you’re able to exercise more control over your lightweight handgun than you would with a round like the 9mm.

So, what you end up getting with the .380 is a lightweight gun that’s not much different in size to pocket pistols like the .22 LR, .25 ACP, and the .32 S&W, but is far more powerful.

What about Shootability?

Generally speaking, one of the biggest advantages to the 9mm is that it’s an easy-to-handle cartridge – at least when compared to the bigger calibers out there. Indeed, the 9mm does have a lot to offer in terms of power and control, making it one of the most well-rounded handgun cartridges in my opinion. However, when we’re looking at shootability between the 9mm and the .380, the 9mm loses this round.

If you’re looking for a powerful caliber that’s easy to handle, the .380 delivers in every way. It may not have the same expansion or penetration as the 9mm, but it does have lower recoil. In fact, if you shoot from a 9mm handgun and a .380 handgun that weigh the same, the .380 will have 94% less recoil than the 9mm.

While that low recoil will probably do you little good if you’re trying to protect yourself from someone on the other side of the parking lot, it would make a difference if you’re stopping an armed assailant who’s entering your bedroom – especially if you’re an inexperienced shooter.

Which Is the Better Concealed Carry Pistol?

Again, that depends a lot on the needs and expectations you have of your pistol.

Remember, the 9mm is the superior caliber for military and police because it’s powerful, easy to control, has a maximum effective range of 50 meters (almost 55 yards). It also has a maximum range of 1,800 meters, but good luck at hitting a target that far away unless you’re shooting legend, Jerry Miculek.

Needless to say, the .380 doesn’t outdo the 9mm on any of those strengths, with the exception of being easier to control.

But stopping threats 50-yards away isn’t what the .380 is designed for. It’s a mouse gun that’s meant as a last resort to neutralize threats at close range. For this reason, it’s become a popular handbag pistol for female shooters and it also makes a great backup pistol for law enforcement officers.

The Verdict

I mean, can you really go wrong with a 9mm? The type of person who thinks the 9mm is overrated is probably going to be using the .45 ACP or the .357 Mag if they like to mix it up.

Personally, I believe that the 9mm is an all-around great round that’s useful in damn near every type of scenario, whereas the .380 is limited to close-range protection.

The Brand New Ruger LCP II
Like the Ruger LCP II pictured, most .380s are extremely compact.

Also, for all of you doomsday preppers looking for the best survival round, the 9mm clearly wins that one as well due to the fact that you’re more likely to come across 9mm ammo than other cartridges.

If I was shopping around for my very first handgun, I’d go with the 9mm every day of the week simply because you can get more out of it. But if you’ve already got a 9mm or another big boy caliber and you’re looking for a new gun that’s lightweight and easy to carry around, the .380 makes a fine addition to your collection.

Remember, the .380 isn’t an ineffective round by stretch of the imagination. It just doesn’t outperform the 9mm in any way except for weight and size. And since subcompact 9mms are a thing, there’s no reasons why you’d have to make the .380 your primary concealed carry gun unless you really wanted to.

At the end of the day, part of buying a gun is finding the right fit for you. Now that you’ve learned a little bit about the 9mm and the .380, you should hit the shooting range and give both calibers a test to see which one you like best.

As always, be sure to let us know what you think about the .380 vs the 9mm. Are you a big-gun slinger, a compact 9mm shooter, or do you prefer the .380 pocket pistols?  If you are a fan of mouse guns and would like to add a new .380 to your collection, or your pocket, take a look at our top five concealed carry .380 pistols for more information.

Also, if you’re just getting into guns and came across this page while researching for your first gun purchase, make sure to check out our in-depth write-up on home defense handguns for beginners. As you’ll see, it’s mostly a 9mm fest for the reasons I’ve mentioned above (versatility and power).

39 Leave a Reply

  • Clint Booker

    Good article well written describing the 380 as a close contact self-protection option when compared to other small calibers that are available.

    3 weeks ago
  • Morgan

    One of your typos says .308 vs 9mm... Interesting idea... EDC AR-10 pistol hahaha

    2 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Fixed, thanks ;)

      2 months ago
  • Anon

    Good info even though a bit redundant. Who proofreads your articles? A Hard read. Many errors that made me stop and re-read to figure out what you meant.

    3 months ago
  • Tim

    Check out this statistical review. According to it, the .380 is “just as good” as the 9mm by the numbers. As we all know, shot placement is king. Link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nycYxb-zNwc

    5 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Without seeing their data, I'm strongly mistrustful of blind statistical review. I would agree that .380 is acceptable as a defensive cartridge, but I wouldn't put faith in that video.

      5 months ago
  • Florella Crouch

    I wanted a 9mm pistol but bought a 380 today instead. The only reason? I cannot pull the slide to the rearmost position on a 9mm without a major struggle. I tried 3 different manufacturers and couldn’t do it. Not even on my neighbor’s used and well oiled Smith & Wesson. I am a 65 year old female, 5’1” and 123 pounds. I’ve lost a lot of strength in my hands but still deer hunt with a crossbow & 7mm 08 and use a 12 gauge for turkey and duck...but dog gone it, I cannot successfully handle a 9mm. The 380 was easy for me in comparison. It was purchased only for personal protection.

    8 months ago
    • Gracie

      Thank you for posting this. I am 61 and somewhat inexperienced shooter. I am looking at buying the S&W Shield EZ, a 380, for all the reasons you mention.

      6 months ago
      • Richard

        On YouTube Honest Outlaw just put up a review on this. Might want to check it out.

        5 months ago
  • Greg

    As a back up or self defense firearm, most of the time if you have to use one it is going to be in close quarters, 5, 10, 15 feet the .380 is faster, lighter and easier to handle, specially if multiple shots are involved(in most situations), also it normally a cheaper firearm to buy and for someone who does not shoot a lot its a better fit and it will get the job done.

    8 months ago
  • Bigcity

    I hope your not putting the 9mm into the "big boy" category like you stated above I have a "Big boy" gun .357 mag Trooper III , I also have the National match .45acp, 44mag Anaconda. These are "Big boys" the nine is not. As a matter of fact the law enforcement went to the .40 cal. over the nine because they were tired of shooting these criminals 5,10,15 times before they'd stop.

    8 months ago
  • Daniel Segrest

    I appreciate you educating the public on the differences between 9 mm Luger and .380 ACP, however you have made a mathematical error. I followed the link in your claim of the 380 having 94 percent less recoil than 9 mm. The article quotes 9 mm as having 5.36 ft-lb of recoil energy (with all of the requisite caveats of course) and the 380 as having 2.76 ft-lb. After subtracting the two numbers and dividing by the 9 mm's recoil energy, I get a reduction of 48.5 percent. (If you divide by the 380's recoil energy, we get 94 percent but it would be correct instead to say the 9 mm has 194% the recoil energy of the 380.) An easy mistake to make, but certainly not trivial. Thanks for your time and effort. Keep up the good work.

    8 months ago
  • MulderS6

    Well written piece, with IMHO solid conclusions. The .380 certainly not the do it all cartridge, but in a pinch deployed with total commitment I think a good choice for many people and circumstances

    11 months ago
  • Jack

    Excellent page. Lots of good information.

    11 months ago
  • Miss Emma

    Great article. I’ve emailed to many Thank you

    1 year ago
  • A Frank

    I prefer t6he 380 to the 9 mm for many reasons. The 380 with lower muzzle velocity actually has greater knock down than the 9. It has far less recoil and a much quieter report. It . It has less weight and easier to conceal. You left the Browning BDA 380 and the Beretta 380 out of the talking points. The 380 is excellent at normal pistol distances Both firearms have a double stack magazine and an extremely comfortable grip.If I can't have a 1911 or Star PD in 45, it is the 380 for me

    1 year ago
    • Connor H

      Wait a second. Whoa. You're claiming that a .380 with less mass and less velocity somehow has more "knockdown power" than a 9mm? That's simply absurd, and would ignore basic laws of physics. A heavier, faster object of reasonable shape is ALWAYS going to have more force and energy than a lighter, slower one..... It's fine for you to like .380s, but please don't spread non-factual claims about cartridge effectiveness. This is literally people's lives we're talking about.

      11 months ago
      • Andrew

        Not true, faster bullets can pass right through the target (animal\human), slower bullets transfer energy into the target

        2 weeks ago
  • Bob Farrell

    Considering most self-defense shootings are within the magical 7 foot range, what's the problem? I had some .380 loads loaded with some powder, that spits them out @ 1265 fps. When tested at a range, the comments were WTF was that! They're in a magazine marked, "HOT"

    1 year ago
    • Edward

      that is no big deal. You can buy 22LR ammo right off the shelf with over 1600fps.

      11 months ago
  • Infidel762x51

    Remember, the .380 isn’t an effective round by stretch of the imagination., I have seen gang bangers walk away after taking headshots from a .380.that never penetrated the skull. Maybe they will do better with the Lehigh Defense rounds but they are hard to find.

    1 year ago
  • Chuck Cochran

    I love my PPK/S in .380 for CCW, and have used it as such for 20 years. I've got to really screw up in picking out clothes to wear, to profile the gun. At 10 yards with a modified Weaver stance, it'll keep 3" groups all day. Sure, my full size 9mm and .40 S&W are great and go to's for power, but as a CC gun with Hornady 95 grain Critical Defense XTP's, the .380 is a contender. Remember, a .380 started World War 1 (it was the caliber used to assasinate Franz Ferdinand and his wife).

    1 year ago
  • Allen Wisniewski

    Federal, HST 95gr. .380 ammo is no joke when it comes to a great self defense round! I put a couple rounds through 4 layers of denim and gallon jugs of water and I was very surprised at the results. They actually opened up to a slightly larger diameter than it's9mm counterpart. Another nasty little round for the .380 is the Liberty Civil defense, those suckers are moving extremely fast!

    1 year ago
    • Connor H

      Penetration>expansion. Guarantee 124grain 9mm HSTs would have greater tissue disruption and penetration depth. Yes, HSTs are one of the better .380 loads, but compared to high end 9mm loads, it's still going to fall short.

      11 months ago
  • Vinnie

    Bought a Bersa 380 which is made in Argentina I believe it was used as a sidearm for the Military or the Police , It's compact, Sturdy, easy to rack, mag holds 8 rounds, aluminum frame , good grips , white dot sights (Rear adjustable for windage) and it has a safety, and decocker Reasonably priced.........

    1 year ago
  • Franklin Dixon

    Though a rare problem. I'm getting my wife into the gun world (slowly) and while doing so discovered due to the low recoil of a .380 it's easier to rack than a 9mm. I bring this up because while it may be hard to believe some non shooters need to work the required muscles with less resistance to build them up. She can't rack the 9mm but can the .380. I believe it's caused by less tension on the guide rod spring for the lower recoil of the .380, but we are working her up to a 9mm as her target goal round for range and carry.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Franklin...surprisingly a decent problem! My wife has the same but we've worked her up to 9mm. You can check out the Shield .380 EZ which is much easier to rack.

      1 year ago
      • Connor H

        I was going to suggest the same gun, Eric. The Shield EZ is a great idea for new and disabled shooters.

        11 months ago
  • Bill

    This is relevant, as I believe for women, new handgun buyers, the point is to hit what you are aiming the pistol. My girlfriend handles cash deposits through ATMs after hours, and I am encouraging her to carry. She has small hands and is inexperienced with firearms. I am looking at a subcompact, and 9mm rounds out of a small gun can be jumpy. What is being suggested here makes a ton of sense.

    1 year ago
  • Jeff Seivert

    Cost should be considered as well. The .380 costs about 30-50% more per round and can occasionally be difficult to find (unless ordering online). One more nod to the 9mm.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Good insight!

      1 year ago
  • Dustin B

    I love my S&W Bodyguard .380 when I'm jogging or biking - easy to conceal, even in my shorts while I'm jogging (even though it isn't super accessible quickly). For a tiny pocket pistol, it is easy to shoot, although after 50+ rounds at a time, the bony part of my palm starts aching because my hands are big and skinny (I'm 6'3", 195lbs). My kids, ages 12 and 15 absolutely LOVE shooting the .380 because it fits them perfectly and they could do it all day. The biggest downside which I didn't see you mention is the price per round. .380 ammo is expensive, so shooting it a lot for practice is pricey. Everyone who's carrying IS practicing, right? ;) My main carry is a compact Springfield XDS 9mm 3.3", but it is quite a bit larger and heavier than my .380.

    1 year ago
  • g.ray

    as always great informative article ,i have several handguns i carry but often end up with my little ruger, it has never failed to feed or had any issues at all and i have fed it many types of ammo., so i feel as confident with it as i do my glock

    1 year ago
  • James

    My Glock 42 jams with some hollow point ammo. The round fails to load leaving a "flat" on the bottom edge of the HP orifice and some brands are worse than others. No problems using FMJ ammo of any brand.. I've never had a jam w/ my Bersa Thunder but don't carry it because I will only carry a double action, regardless of brand or caliber. (For my own safety and others.) I think it would be helpful if Pew did an article researching the BEST HP round for the 380 given known issues with failure to load. Another comment mentioned this problem also.

    1 year ago
    • Matthew Collins

      Hey James, we actually have an article on best .380 defensive ammo here. Hope that helps!

      1 year ago
    • Joe L

      I can't speak of .380 as I don't own one, but I have had issues with FTF with some kinds of HP ammo in one of my 9mm's. Never had a single issue with ball ammo in the gun. Win PDX1's would get wedged at the bottom of the feed ramp. It was remedied when I switched to Hornady Critical Defense. The polymer tip in the HP cavity gave the round a profile closer to that of ball ammo.

      1 year ago
  • Cullen Swanson

    The .380ACP does make a fantastic backup carry gun. People always cite the Bersa Thunder or Ruger LCP, but NO ONE mentions the Bersa BP380CC, which is a single stack (8 + 1) pistol created by Bersa specifically for concealed carry. Great pistol. Check it out!

    1 year ago
  • Dennis

    Love the hand feel of 380 but I would never use mine as personal defense...can’t get through a magazine without a jam....like the size, feel, and accuracy..don’t like ... my Bersa...would like another...more reliable...sleep with my CZ...it works all the time Dennis

    1 year ago
  • Kent

    I have a .380 Keltec pocket pistol, a 9mm Ruger semi-auto, a Colt 1911 .45, and a Ruger Red Hawk .357 Magnum revolver. I like shooting them all. My favorite for power and accuracy is the .357. I keep the .380 in the nightstand.

    1 year ago
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