For The New Gun Owner: 9mm VS .380 ACP

380 vs 9mm

One of the most talked-about topics in the gun world is the never-ending caliber war. I usually try to avoid it if at all possible because it just causes arguments. Still, one of the most popular questions I hear revolves around caliber choice and “stopping power.” This time around, we discuss two of the more popular carry rounds, .380 vs 9mm.


.380 vs. 9mm Caliber War:

I will not rehash that old argument. Instead, I want to help prepare folks who are new to the concealed carry arena when looking for an everyday carry EDC handgun.

People ask questions, and it's our job, the writers and editors of this fine website, to make sure they get the correct answers. So, keeping in mind who this article is for, let's discuss the 9mm vs .380 ACP for self-defense.

Power and Recoil:

The .380 is not as powerful as 9mm but is still quite popular because it is smaller, and many believe the smaller cartridge will produce less recoil. The .380 cartridge is only about 2mm smaller, hence one of its names, the 9mm short or 9 x 17. The 9mm Luger is 9mm x 19mm. For a visual, 2mm is about the thickness of a dime.

While the .380 does have less powder and thus technically produces less pressure, more than caliber factors into how much “felt recoil” a specific gun has.

Felt recoil is highly dependent on the gun, the actual load, and shooting mechanics. Generally speaking, a heavier pistol will absorb more recoil than a lighter one. There are other attributes at play in recoil, such as slide construction, barrel ports, bore axis, and the like.

New shooters, small-framed shooters, children, shooters with disabilities, and others with special circumstances may feel the need for a less powerful caliber to shoot proficiently and confidently. However, these two issues conflict because the heavier and larger the pistol is, the less felt recoil, but the more difficult it is to conceal.

Simply getting a super small semi-auto in .380 because it will be easy to control and conceal may not be the best route to go. In other words, if you're choosing .380 simply for “less recoil,” you may want to reconsider.


Some of the smallest semi-automatic pistols on the market are chambered in .380, making them suitable choices when concealment is the most critical factor. However, with the release of guns like the Sig Sauer P365, Springfield Hellcat, Glock 43X, the size difference between a .380 and 9mm is almost negligible.

Consider how you plan to carry, and which size pistol works best with that decision. Many people like myself choose to pocket carry for the ultimate in concealability and maneuverability.

Your carry mode also plays a part in choosing between a pistol in 9 or 380. If you are wearing tighter fitting clothes, you may need a smaller gun to help conceal it. If you live in a climate prone to colder weather, the multiple layers in those seasons lend better to greater concealment. Many people carry a smaller gun in the warmer months and a larger one when it’s cooler out.

I am not a big advocate for swapping guns solely due to weather or clothing. It may take some time, but with trial and error and some good advice, you will eventually find a holster and gun combination that you can conceal in a wide variety of clothing styles.

In short, first, select a suitable self-defense caliber. Then consider how you’re going to carry and what you physically feel comfortable shooting. The undisputed factor when comparing these cartridges is power, and for the typical cartridges in these calibers, the 9mm is more powerful.

It is also common for a firearms manufacturer to produce very similar guns, with a .380 version and a 9mm version. In these circumstances, the .380 version is at least a little smaller. One such example is Sig Sauer, with their P238 and P938, chambered in .380 ACP and 9mm, respectively. This tradeoff, as we'll see in a moment, comes at a price.


There are numerous factors to consider when choosing which caliber to carry.  The first being how do common self-defense calibers work in real life.

Greg Ellifritz conducted some research on common self-defense calibers. He concluded that except for .22, .25, and .32, most calibers performed similarly. However, there was a more consistent performance in penetration and expansion in 9mm and above. Penetration and expansion are significant factors in a handgun projectile's ability to stop an attacker. For this reason, .380 is generally considered a marginally effective round for self-defense.


Many people use .380 pistols to defend themselves successfully, and .380 is capable of defending you or your loved ones. But it isn't an ideal cartridge, and there are better options. For example, some attackers stop from the pain of being shot with a bb gun. This doesn't mean bb guns are great self-defense options. Additionally, some people stop merely when a gun is displayed. Does this mean an empty gun is just as effective as a loaded one? Of course not.

Why I choose 9mm:

I can't answer which caliber you should choose. What I can do, however, is tell you why I chose 9mm for my own self-defense and choose not to own any .380 guns. As a base, .380 projectiles weigh in at about 95 grains, with a small range of bullet weights. 9mm bullets, on the other hand, tip the scale starting about 20 grains more at 115 with a larger range of bullet weights. Because the case is also bigger, the 9mm holds more powder and propels the bullet faster.

I'm far from an expert in physics, but a heavier mass traveling faster usually equals more kinetic energy and a bigger punch on the receiving end.

The practical nature must come into play as well. The price of .380 is nearly always higher than 9mm. No matter what caliber you carry, you should be training. If you can train more for less cost, it's a win. Also, the incredibly small .380's tend to be much more prone to reliability issues.

Overall, with the small, high capacity 9mm handguns available today, there really isn't a clear advantage to carrying a small .380 anymore.

Need more caliber wars? Marines settled the 9mm vs .45 ACP debate a while back. Are you looking for a primer on the trusty forty-five? Check out: Because sometimes old, fat, and slow works just fine.

*this is from a 2017 post that has been updated and republished*

About Joshua Gillem

Josh is a lifelong practitioner and student of the gun. He grew up shooting/hunting with his dad, and was given his first gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, when just a small boy. After high school, he joined the Marines where his love for firearms blossomed as he qualified with an M16A2, an M9, and a 240G. Josh has been writing about firearms and tactics for several years, owns the blog Gunners Den, is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and believes that each individual person has the right to self-defense by any means necessary. Currently residing in gun-friendly NC, he carries a concealed gun on a daily basis, even in his own house.


  1. Patrick Sesto on October 17, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for informing article

  2. Greg Pugh on October 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Two of the most obvious things were left out of this article.

    The first is cost. Before you buy a gun, price the ammo. Anything a .380 will do a 9mm will do better, and for half the cost. Plus, you can more easily buy 9mm in bulk and it keeps.

    The second is because of the first. Shot placement is more important than caliber and that requires practice. (A hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .45). The easier it is to carry, the harder it is to shoot, so expensive ammo and a gun too small to get a grip on means very little practice. The nine wins here too.

    A third thing that is less obvious is the doomsday scenario. If you are miles from home and out of ammo you’ll be able to get 9mm from almost anyone. .380, not so much. Unlikely? Yes, but while not probable it is possible and might be worth considering when deciding what to carry. Just my 2 cents.

    • Joshua on October 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

      All good points! Thanks Greg.

    • Mikial on October 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      All god points, Greg.

      I agree with the author’s points about the two calibers, but I’m glad you added this. Along with your comment there’s the fact that if you really do need to have a very small gun to fit your carry situation you can get 9’s that aren’t really noticeably bigger than a .380. As long as you can handle the recoil, I would always recommend a 9mm over a .380.

    • JAT on October 24, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      Wow, Greg, Com’on Man! Lighten up. Joshua wrote a very entertaining piece. And, some people, believe it or not, shoot for…fun. Most are not preppers or paranoid and enjoy shooting little .380s because just like golf, chipping is as much fun as driving. I love target shooting with a 1911 Colt .45 but after a few hundred rounds, my sig 380 keeps me on the range instead of packing up and going home way too soon. Also, if you can afford a car payment, the cost of ammo is…irrelevant. Your points are valid, don’t get me wrong, but shooting is also a sport and .380s are fun as hell to play with on a calm day. (btw- I carry .357 when I seriously need protection and trust me, the cost of ammo is the last thing on my mind). So, I say, line up the bang bangs from big to small and work through your whole bag…twice! Who cares if the car gets repoed. Life is short baby! Cheers.

  3. JJ on October 17, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Nice read

  4. steve on October 17, 2017 at 10:23 am

    If when using a SW .380, one was to use a R.I.P. Radically Invasive Projectile (G2 Research) as ammo, would results be better?

    • Leonard on October 17, 2017 at 10:47 am

      The G2-RIP is the ammo that I use in my .380 and .45…. But I use my .380 as a back up and the .45 as my primary…

    • Joshua on October 17, 2017 at 10:54 am


      The most important aspect with any firearm that you’re going to carry for self-defense, is to make sure you’ve got ammunition that works in your gun. What that means, is that you’ve got to actually go to the range and test-fire your gun with your chosen self-defense ammo. A good friend of mine a few years back settled on a Kahr CW-380, chose Lehigh Defense ammunition, and this was his primary defense gun with an extra mag. The issue, is that the gun would not cycle the ammo and he carried that for several months before he realized it.

      I have personally not tested RIP in your gun, but if I were you, I’d make sure it cycles properly before you settle on it for defense.

      Thanks for the comment,


      • steve on October 17, 2017 at 11:05 am

        Thank you… The ammo I purchased is rather expensive with lots of “promises” so I haven’t been using it for practice… I’ll use it today and see how well it works

        • Scott Key on October 18, 2017 at 5:39 am


          I have tried the G2 RIP in my S&W .380. I did have the occasional feed problem with the ammo. Granted it wasn’t often, but one time is too often in a self-defense situation. For me personally, the cost of the ammo and the reliability issue equaled a “No”. I have found that Any of the Federal or Hornady ammo works very well in my gun.
          Just my two cents worth. Hope it helps. Happy shooting!

    • Oliver on April 22, 2018 at 11:18 am

      I’ve seen anything from 45’s to 22’s that have struck perpetrators with little or no “knockdown” and as our trauma centers evolved, most have lived. Unless the brain stem is struck, one or two hits may not stop an aggressor. Head shots are not easy so multiple shots are the norm to stop an individual. The greatest point concluded from the author is practice. No matter what gun or caliber you choose, practice in knowing the weapon is essential. Many law enforcement personnel as well civilians, because of time restraints or funds do not practice and/or only see the range on a qualifying basis.Even those who’ve gained great efficiency and accuracy in range type or convenient settings,sometimes forget their training in life threatening moments. It is those who with raised adrenaline, heart pounding practice finding themselves in unexpected, dangerous situations, live to tell the tale.

  5. bwjr on October 17, 2017 at 10:42 am

    If you are going to carry a .380, the choice of ammo is critical. I have the Glock 42 and 43 and use Lehigh ammo exclusively. Here are the stats for the .380:

    Cartridge: 380 Auto
    Bullet weight (gr): 90
    FTM – Fluid Transfer Monolithic
    Box qty: 20
    Velocity (fps): 950
    OAL (in): 0.950
    Penetration (in): 17.0
    Wound cavity (in): 1.00
    A full inch wide hole at 17 inches.

  6. Ron Schlatter on October 17, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for the article. The points that you made are valid. Ergonomics plays a role in my selection process. The one size fits all doesn’t work for me in gun selection. I carry a 92SF full time and a 1911 both are comfortable for me to carry. When selecting a hand gun for my wife we focused on ergonomics. We looked at a SIG Sauer P226 9MM, M&P Shield 9MM and Remington RP9. All of these are excellent choices, however I felt she needed one that felt like it belonged in her hand. The M&P 9MM is the one she selected. I referred to this as a haw moment and her comfort level was met. On the range right out of the box she was spot on. As her skill has improved so has her shot grouping.

  7. Dan on October 17, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Good Article – I appreciate your quote below which really is and should be the bottom line.

    “At the end of the day, one thing remains to be true … any caliber is better than none, and the best is the one that you feel comfortable with and have on you in the time of need.”

    Several factors impacted my decision to a carry 380. I live and work in an area not always friendly to CCP so deep concealment is important. Additionally, my wife carries a 380 which she is both comfortable and proficient with – this gives us ammo compatibility. This is also a calculated risk that I fully understand and accept.

    Another thought, with over 32 years of carry experience (Military and Law Enforcement), I have never met anyone who in the heat of the battle really cares what the caliber of the lead is that’s flying at them. A larger caliber does not guarantee a hit nor a stop.

    I have met many a caliber snob that talks a good game and will tell you all the virtues of that big bore man stopper they have – until you find out they keep it at the house, in the car or some other inaccessible place.

    There are enough anti gun folks that we need to contend with – lets not bicker among ourselves

  8. David L Clarke on October 17, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I think proficiency with your firearm & projectile placement would be the 1st 2 determining factors for whatever size you choose to carry be that .22-.380-9- or 45.
    MOST encounters will occur at less then 15-20 feet so do we care if the projectile will go a mile? Not if we place it where we’d like for it to go.

  9. Don on October 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Good article and good commentary. Gives good information for each to make their own decisions on the best solution.

    • Joshua on October 17, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks, Don!

    • RS on July 3, 2021 at 9:48 am

      The ability to rack a slide was a factor in buying a 380 instead of a 9mm. My wife is small, has small hands with a slight touch of arthritis. It was difficult for her to rack a slide even doing a slingshot with smaller handguns because of the stronger springs. During a self defense class one of the instructors had a SW 380EZ Shield that she had no problems with racking so we bought one for her. This was well before the SW 9EZ Sheild was offered.

  10. Dennis Henderson on October 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    All great points in this article. Now you can do an article comparing the 9 mm to the 40 cal. The results would be very similar. Back in the 80s and 90s many police depts issued the 9s to their officers. This resulted in many criminals not being stopped due to the lack of impact.

    Today the majority of police departments are issuing the 40. I dumped my little S&W Bodyguard because of its lack of stopping power and difficulty to hold because of its small size. I went right past the 9 mm and got the S&W M&P 40. I really love this pistol.

  11. Matt on October 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I carry the P938 for deep concealment and I usually practice 115G FMJ Winchester Ammo. I also have practiced with my carry load, the 135G Hydro-shock JHP. I’ve shot .380, and find it enjoyable, but question the lower caliber and lower velocity. I might consider one for a backup.

  12. Leo G Penkala on October 17, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I guess I’m old fashion. My off duty weapon of choice is still the Walther PPK in .380.

    • gandolf on October 22, 2017 at 8:28 am

      Have you ever had to use your Walther for self defense? I have had one for many years and have only fired it at the range. Until I could keep it in my head to place my hand below the slide it bit me a few times. The sights are the other drawback. It will reliably shoot whatever you feed it though.

  13. Daryl on October 17, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    This debate has existed for decades and I’m pretty sure it will continue. While I won’t bash either caliber, I will say that I have carried concealed as a part of my profession for nearly 30 years. I. Ersonally carry a .380 so I can wear just about anything without risking muscle memory. The advice I will give is, although you should always carry high quality ammo, regardless of what you carry, it is even more important to carry very high quality ammo is your carrying a .380. If you carry a .380 with cheap, light load, ball ammo, your putting your life on the line. Stay safe!

  14. PowderKeg on October 17, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    My made my choice all dated from an article which has stayed true to me for years.

    The was a written analysis of every handgun caliber from .22 LR to 45 ACP and its effectiveness. It stated anyone can survive a hit from any one of the calibers, with only one exception a 100% kill rate – 9MM.

    That’s what impacted my decision. Besides is it the most popular ammunition, other than the .22 LR, the leader. Easy to reload too!

    I would only consider a .380 as a back-up gun. That is after I have used up 2 magazines and 24 rounds. Highly, unlikely I would be able to use it!

    • Stormie on April 20, 2019 at 5:40 am

      So if you shoot someone in the foot with a 9mm it is 100% kill! You are too funny.right in the eyeball with a pellet gun is 100% kill. 45 ACP will take someone off their feet just about anywhere you hit them. He made a very general statement that is not valid.

  15. Skip on October 18, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Caliber is important. Bullet configuration is important. Even bullet weight and velocity are important, But the MOST IMPORTANT thing is SHOT PLACEMENT. Being able to put the bullet where you want it to go. I’ve heard it many times over the years, “Carry the most powerful handgun you can shoot well and discreetly conceal.”

  16. Tommy Reeves on October 18, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    The Hornady ‘Critical Defense’ 90 gr is rated at 1000 fps. That’s what I carry loaded in mine. Also at one can find .380 ammo loaded as hot as 1400 fps. I checked with S&W about using it in the Bodyguard. They said that it would take the extra power but a constant diet of it would shorten the life of the gun.

  17. HB on October 21, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    I bought a P238 because at the time it was the only conceal able small gun that would fit in my pocket, easy to rack and ambidextrous. As a lefty its slim pickings. Since then the 938 came out but remember 8 years ago there were much less in what a left handed shooter can select from.

  18. George W. Bratten on January 17, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    .380 vs. 9mm, ugh caliber wars, well not exactly. We can argue about caliber and stopping power till the cows come home, but that doesn’t help the person the article title says it is directed toward, the new concealed carry gun purchaser. In the 10 years I have had a permit it seems like I have had one of each from tiny 380’s to 45 ACP double stack 1911’s. In the long run there are only two questions to answer: what will you carry? can you make the shot on demand with what you carry? Frankly I shoot my LCP Custom better after I practice with my LC9S. I shoot my LC9S better after I practice with my RIA 1911 9mm double stack. The operative word seems to be practice.

  19. BC on January 20, 2018 at 8:45 am

    The caliber of choice is pretty much a personal choice based upon the what, when, where, why and how its to be used by the shooter. Back in my LEO days, a Sheriff had to put down a bad guy who was high on drugs and attempting to shoot him with a rifle. At the time, the Sheriff carried a 9mm. The Sheriff had to shoot the bad guy several times to put him down. The entire Sheriff’s dept. immediately switched to .45 caliber handguns to get the job done. To this day, I carry a .45 with hallow points which gets the job done nicely. It has maximum stopping power within the legal self-defense range of 30′ using the least amount of ammo. And when I speak of stopping power, I mean maximum amount of damage done. As a former Correction’s Officer, I’ve witnessed inmates get 9mm rounds removed from between their muscle and skin while talking about how much it hurt to be shot. They actually wanted to keep the 9mm bullet as a souvenir. Because of this, I won’t carry anything less than a .40 hallow point as a backup caliber. If I have to draw my weapon for self-defense, I want the upper hand and I want to get the job done . . . period!

  20. Ernie Basino on June 22, 2018 at 5:19 am

    Best option….carry the 9 on your hip and the 380 on your calf….

  21. Chris on July 12, 2018 at 3:10 am

    I have a glock .40 but prefer to carry my Bersa Thunder Plus .380. With 15+1 and a comfortable grip I’m happy. It’s very accurate with a manageable recoil. Concealabilty is easy with its double stack magazine. If the zombie apocalypse happens I’ll revert to my .40 with purchased bulk ammo. Until then my Bersa .380 goes everywhere I do.

  22. Davelegs on November 28, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    My EDC is a 9mm, but my home defense is a 380. Why, I live in an Apartment and I want as little Wall Penetration as possible. I practice often, but that doesn’t mean that I may not miss? If I do, that 380 may, probably, still penetrate, but it will be much slower and, hopefully, cause less damage to innocent neighbors?

  23. Gary on June 24, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more with your analysis, Josh.

  24. K Plourde on June 29, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    As a woman, I have small hands and so I carry a Kimber micro 380. It fits beautifully in my hands and is easy to conceal. My home defense gun is 9 mm. I practice with both monthly. To me Practice is everything- being comfortable with your gun and place the shots where they need to go.

  25. Scott McClellan on June 29, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    First: Have a gun. Second: Know how to safely, accurately shoot. Beyond that one can anticipate variables… Will you be attacked by a man or a dog, or an elephant?

  26. Paul Lerner on June 30, 2021 at 9:09 am

    I have a half-dozen 380s and a similar number of 9s. All are easy to shoot and would do the job of self defense if properly applied. At 75 years I don’t want or need the recoil of the 45s I used to carry.

  27. Jackie Thorpe on November 7, 2021 at 6:56 am

    Great article! Very helpful in deciding between the two calibers.

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