The .380 for Concealed Carry and Self Defense

The .380 looked like it might fade away, but new ammo and guns are giving it a fresh life.

The .380 for Concealed Carry and Self Defense

It’s always interesting to dig through the new firearm offerings introduced at the annual SHOT Show held each January in Las Vegas. Will shotguns be the hot commodity, and if so, will companies be featuring more hunting or self-defense guns? Or will rifles, ranging from self-defense and hunting guns to long-range competition rifles, be where the emphasis is this year? 

Based on this year’s new introductions I’d say handguns were the hottest category, particularly smaller, semi-automatic handguns well suited for self-defense and concealed carry. And while digging through those new offerings, I happened upon an interesting trend: Pistols chambered in the .380 ACP cartridge, once thought to be a thing of the past, are making a comeback.


A Little History

Colt introduced the .380 ACP back in 1908 for use in its new Model 1908 pocket hammerless semi-automatic pistol. In the first half of the 19th century, it was widely used by military and police in Europe. The cartridge also goes by several other names depending on where you are and who you are talking to, including 9mm Kurz, .380 Auto, 9x17mm, 9mm Browning and 9mm Short. 

The caliber became even more popular when James Bond carried a Walther PPK chambered in .380 in several popular movies. But then the heavier bullet and higher velocity of the 9mm made it the king of sub-45 pistol calibers and the first choice for many for self-defense and for concealed carry, which has become more and more popular over the past few decades.

In recent years, some companies continued to introduce .380 ACP pistols here and there, and they sold some to longtime fans of the caliber who had chosen not to move to the 9mm, likely for the smaller carry footprint of the .380 and the fact that for guns of the same size, the .380 typically carries a few more rounds than the 9mm. 

What many expected to be the death knell of the cartridge was the recent advent of super-small, high-capacity 9mm pistols. Guns like the Sig P365, Springfield Hellcat and others were about the same size as many .380 subcompacts and carried just as many rounds. With the better ballistics of the 9mm, the .380 ACP seemed destined for extinction.


Ammunition Upgrades

Advancements in technology and tighter manufacturing tolerances of the past decade or so have led to great advances in ammunition, and ammo companies haven’t missed out on improving the .380 ACP during that time period. In fact, those improvements are likely what have led to the cartridge remaining popular to this day. 

Newer .380 loads like Federal’s Hydra-Shok Deep rival the performance of many 9mm loads from three decades ago. The specially designed 99-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at nearly 1,000 fps out of a 3.75-inch barrel. And Federal says that in bare gelatin, the .380 ACP Hydra-Shok Deep bullet penetrates to 13 inches and expands to 0.496 inches (about 1.4-times the original diameter).  

Likewise, Hornady’s Critical Defense load carries a 90-grain bullet at about 910 feet per second, and in testing has penetrated ballistic gel to about 13 inches. The same can be said of Sig’s 90-grain V-Crown load, which at about 860 feet per second penetrates nearly 13 inches of bare ballistic gelatin. Two other loads — the 99-grain Federal Tactical HST and the 60-grain Black Hills HoneyBadger — are deliver very good ballistics.  

Does the modern .380 have enough power to rely on for concealed carry and self-defense applications? Well, while it’s certainly not the equal of most newer 9mm self-defense loads, many experts now consider it to again be a viable defensive caliber that can be counted on whether in a holster, in your pocket or on your bedside table. And the somewhat reduced recoil of the round compared to the 9mm out of a similar-size gun is very attractive to many shooters. 

Let’s take a look at six new .380 Auto pistols introduced this year.

Beretta 80X Cheetah

The Beretta Cheetah was one of the coolest and most popular .380 pistols around when it was introduced back in 1976. In fact, it was a gun I really wanted back in the 1980s but I was never able to scrape together enough cash for the purchase. 

Beretta’s new 80X Cheetah is even cooler, and I want one even more! For one improvement, the grip on the gun has been slimmed down so it is more likely to fit shooters with smaller hands. The gun has an extended beavertail to protect the shooter from slide bite, a Picatinny rail gives the user a chance to mount a laser or weapon light of choice, and the gun is optics-ready for those wanting to use a red-dot sight. 

Other features include a frame-mounted ambidextrous safety, reversible magazine release, a lighter, skeletonized hammer and an adjustable trigger. Spec wise, the 80X Cheetah has an overall length of 6.8 inches and features a 3.9-inch barrel. Overall weight is 25 ounces, and ammunition capacity is 13+1. MSRP is $799.

Browning 1911-380 Black Label Crushed Orchid

For your customers who love the 1911 platform and the .380 cartridge, Browning’s 1911-380 Black Label might just be the perfect gun. This compact carry gun features a beavertail grip safety, skeletonized  hammer, extended ambidextrous safeties and white-dot front and rear sights made of steel. 

The machined stainless steel slide is finished in a vibrant crushed orchid Cerakote color that is very easy on the eye and mates well with the matte black composite receiver, alloy trigger and hammer. The Vertec grips have a large but subtle Browning “buckmark” on each side, adding to the aesthetics of this pistol. 

As far as specifications, the barrel length on the gun is 3.6 inches, and overall length is 6.875 inches, making it fairly easy to conceal for those wanting to carry it for self-defense. Weight is only 18 ounces, magazine capacity is eight rounds and the MSRP is $950. The Browning 1911-380 is also available in other color schemes for those who don’t think the crushed orchid Cerakote is right for them.

Sig Sauer P365 Rose Kit

Sig Sauer typically has its finger on the pulse of the semi-automatic pistol world and has introduced some real winners over the past handful of years, not the least of which is its super-popular P365. Designed specifically for your lady customers, the new P365 Rose Kit should only make the P365 more popular. 

This kit was designed in conjunction with top shooter Lena Miculek and includes a custom P365-380 ROSE with two magazines, a signature ROSE Vaultek Lifepod pistol safe with built-in lock system and five polymer dummy rounds for safe dry-fire practice. The rose-colored accents on the slide release, slide stop and trigger make for a very attractive package. Barrel length is 3.1 inches, with an overall length of 5.8 inches and a weight of 15.7 ounces empty. The kit is also available with a P365-XL COMP ROSE in 9mm.

Of course, there’s more than just the top-quality pistol and gear involved in purchase of the kit. The package also includes a comprehensive training course and starter kit for women looking to enter the firearms scene, spearheaded by eight-time world shooting champion Miculek. 

Rock Island Armory LI380

Made specifically for concealed carry, the LI380 from Rock Island Armory is a very attractive single-stack, double-action .380 made of steel and made to last. It features an LI-comfort grip and fixed barrel with load indicator to provide both stability and dependability. 

Spec wise, the gun has an overall length of 6.53 inches, with a barrel length of 3.55 inches. It’s a fairly heavy gun at 3.5 pounds, but that weight helps tame the recoil of the already mild-mannered .380. Fixed front and rear sights are mounted on dovetail cuts, and the polymer grips are textured to ensure the gun stays fixed in the shooter’s hand while firing. The company says the double-action trigger breaks at between 4r and 6 pounds, a good range for a concealed carry firearm. 

The LI380 has a black anodized finish that is very easy on the eye. Capacity is 8+1 rounds. Incredibly, for a pistol with a lifetime warranty, the Rock Island LI 380 is also very affordable, boasting an MSRP of only $299.

Ruger Security-380

This little semi-auto gives a whole new meaning to capacity as far as .380 pocket pistols are concerned, featuring a flush-fitting 10-rounder and a 15-round magazine for times when more ammo is needed. Lightweight and easy to rack for anyone with dexterity issues, this small carry pistol features a drift adjustable steel rear sight with a bright, fiber-optic front sight for easy target acquisition. 

A ported slide adds to the weight savings on this little polymer-framed beast, helping it maintain an overall weight of only 19.7 ounces. With a 3.42-inch barrel, the gun’s overall length is 6.52 inches. The glass-filled nylon grip frame boasts an accessory rail for a light or laser. It comes with two magazines and a loading assist device. 

Safety features include an integrated trigger safety, external manual safety, neutrally balanced sear with significant engagement and strong spring tension, and a hammer catch to help prevent the hammer from contacting the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled. 

The MSRP for the Security-380 is $369. Judging from the popularity of Ruger’s other small, polymer guns, this one is likely to be a good seller.


EAA/Girsan MC14T Tip-Up

The EAA/Girsan MC14T S/A pistol, features a Tip-Up barrel for fast and easy loading and unloading. If you have limited hand strength or do not want to pull back the slide on a semiauto pistol for loading or checking, the EAA/Girsan MC14T offers the solution.

By engaging the lever on the right side of the pistol the Tip-Up function tilts the chamber of the barrel up towards the user to load a round of .380ACP. From there, the user can load a round and close and lock the barrel into the frame, making the pistol inherently more accurate. After loading a magazine, disengage the safety and fire. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. 

The MC14T Tip-Up S/A pistol is available with 13+1 or 10+1 magazine capacity and offered in six different finishes. The gun weighs under 1.5 pounds and comes with composite grips, ambidextrous safety, auto firing pin block, accessory rail, and optional easy-loading baseplate tool. MSRP starts at $498.

Wrapping It Up

There you have it: six new .380 pistols from different manufacturers to handle everything from range fun to home defense to concealed carry. Keeping a few models in stock for those .380 ACP stalwarts to choose from when making their next firearms purchase might just add a few bucks to your bottom line this year.


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