9mm or .380: Which is Better for Concealed Carry?

Concealed carry enthusiasts often face the dilemma of selecting the most suitable handgun for personal defense. Two popular choices stand out among the myriad options: the 9mm and the .380 ACP. Both cartridges have unique advantages and drawbacks, making the decision a matter of personal preference and specific needs.

Ballistic Performance

The 9mm and .380 ACP (often called 9mm Short in Europe) are both effective calibers for concealed carry, but they differ in ballistic performance. The 9mm has a higher muzzle exit velocity than the .380 ACP. The larger and heavier 9mm bullet is capable of penetrating deeper into the target, increasing the likelihood of incapacitating an assailant.

On the other hand, the .380 ACP, being a smaller cartridge, generally has less recoil, making it more manageable for shooters with limited experience or those sensitive to recoil. However, the trade-off is a sacrifice in penetration power compared to the 9mm. Regarding ballistic performance, the 9mm takes the lead, offering a balance between power and control.

Exit Speeds and Penetration

How fast a bullet flies through the air plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of a concealed carry round. It’s not a matter of how fast it gets to its target — this is close range, not a half-mile sniper shot. The exit speed from the muzzle correlates directly to the amount of energy the bullet carries into the target, affecting the lethality of the round.

The 9mm, with its larger bullet and higher velocity, tends to have faster exit speeds than the .380 ACP. This can result in better penetration and expansion, essential for incapacitating an assailant in a self-defense scenario.

The .380 ACP, while capable of achieving sufficient exit speeds for personal defense, may struggle to match the penetration capabilities of the 9mm. This is a significant consideration, especially when faced with the possibility of encountering heavily clothed or larger adversaries. In situations where penetration is paramount, the 9mm proves to be the more reliable option.

Availability of Guns and Ammunition

One crucial aspect to consider when choosing a concealed carry caliber is the availability of guns and ammunition. Fortunately, both the 9mm and .380 ACP are widely popular, making them readily available in various firearm models and ammunition types.

The 9mm, one of the most commonly used calibers globally, boasts numerous handguns from numerous manufacturers. Additionally, ammunition for the 9mm is widely produced, making it easy to find and relatively affordable.

While the .380 ACP may not have as vast a selection as the 9mm, it still enjoys a reasonable level of popularity. Many compact and subcompact pistols are chambered in .380 ACP, providing concealed carriers with diverse options. The ammunition is generally available, although it may be slightly pricier than the more abundant 9mm.

.380 and 9mm handguns are very similar size, looking virtually identical from the outside. Without the slide label, this Walther PK380 would look like its 9mm cousins. Always check the chamber to be sure you don’t put the wrong caliber ammunition into your firearm.

Advantages of 9mm

  1. Stopping Power: The 9mm offers superior stopping power, making it a more reliable choice in self-defense situations.
  2. Ammunition Availability: The widespread use of the 9mm ensures a consistent supply of affordable ammunition.
  3. Firearm Variety: A plethora of 9mm handguns are available, catering to diverse preferences and needs.

Disadvantages of 9mm

  1. Recoil: The 9mm may produce more recoil than the .380 ACP, potentially impacting accuracy for some shooters.
  2. Concealability: Some may find it challenging to conceal larger 9mm handguns, particularly in warm weather or with limited clothing options.

Advantages of .380 ACP

  1. Manageable Recoil: The .380 ACP’s lower recoil makes it ideal for shooters who prioritize ease of control.
  2. Compact Firearms: .380 ACP handguns are often more compact, facilitating easier concealment.
  3. Versatility: .380 ACP pistols are versatile and suitable for both experienced and novice shooters.

Disadvantages of .380 ACP

  1. Less Stopping Power: The .380 ACP may lack the stopping power required in certain self-defense scenarios.
  2. Ammunition Cost: When available, .380 ACP ammunition can be more expensive than 9mm.

Parting Shots

Choosing between 9mm and .380 ACP for concealed carry depends on individual preferences, experience, and specific use. While the 9mm excels in stopping power and ammunition availability, the .380 ACP offers a more manageable recoil and compact options for concealed carry. Prospective buyers should carefully weigh these factors to decide based on their unique needs and circumstances.

For more on this comparison, check out this video by Garand Thumb: https://youtu.be/1tcvMlCkMJM?si=sf8FhK7r9jxacJhz

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David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. As an NRA-certified instructor, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as possible. “Real-life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”



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