Best .380 Pistols in 2024

.380 pistol

Let’s start with the hard facts at the beginning: .380 pistols are not ideal if you can carry something larger and more formidable. .380 is not known as 9mm’s smaller, more anemic brother for no reason. On some level, you know that or you wouldn’t be reading this. Let’s get the brutally honest truth out of the way – for concealed carry, we’d much rather carry a 9mm.

So, then, why do we own and occassionally carry one? (Lately, a S&W .380 has been our nightly dog walking pistol.) For us, the answer is because they are easier to carry, and a gun is better than no gun. The .380 ACP has long held a respected position within the defensive firearms industry, cherished for its balance between compactness and capability. This blog post aims to weave together expert opinions and personal experiences to present a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of using a .380 pistol for self-defense, as well as give you pointers on the best .380 pistols on the market today.

.380 pistols
When you need to grab and go, it’s hard to go wrong with a J-frame or small automatic .380 like the Smith & Wesson E-Z .380 fitted with a budget light the author is currently testing.

Pros of Using a .380 Pistols for Self-Defense

1. Compactness and Concealability: From time to time, you need to be able to fit a small gun into a small space. The .380 ACP excels at this, being highly concealable and compact, making it an ideal choice for concealed carry, especially in situations where dressing down or light clothing is necessary. Many users, including myself, find it advantageous for daily carry due to its lightweight and ease of concealment through methods like pocket carry. Its size and form factor allow it to fit seamlessly into a lifestyle that requires discretion and comfort.

2. Mindset Shift: There’s nothing wrong with carrying big iron on your hip, or having a tricked out Glock 17 with an extended mag. We encourage it, in fact. For us though, carrying a small J-frame or a .380 is a reminder to look for an exit first before ever going to the gun. In this way, you can look at the limited capacity and firepower as a bonus…an incentive to avoid rather than engage. In a blue city near you, that might not be a bad idea, no? It’s your call. Know your mission. Ours is simple: Get home safe. For us, that means avoiding conflict and looking for every avenue possible to escape to get back to our family. Does this sound funny to you? If so, here’s a book you might want to check out when you have the time.

3. Manageable Recoil: Let’s say you do find yourself in a self defense situation that you can’t run or talk your way out of. The bottom line with ANY pistol caliber is that shot placement is king. One of the standout features of the .380 ACP is its reduced recoil compared to more powerful calibers like the 9mm. This makes it particularly appealing for those with less experience or physical strength to handle larger calibers. The lower recoil improves control and accuracy, enabling quicker, combat-accurate hits on target. This can be crucial in a self-defense scenario where rapid follow-up shots may determine the outcome.

3. Suitability for a Diverse User Base: It seems to be the case that .380 pistols are easier to handle. The .380 ACP is suited to a wide range of shooters due to its manageable size and recoil, making it a practical choice for individuals of varying sizes and skill levels. Furthermore, modern .380 pistols often come equipped with enhanced features and capacities, making them competitive options in the concealed carry market. Again, for those with weak hands, the Smith & Wesson EZ .380 (or it’s 9mm sister) is an amazing choice.

4. Effective with Proper Ammunition: One of the big criticisms of the .380 pistol s its perceived lack of penetration. However, 2hen loaded with high-quality self-defense rounds, the .380 ACP can achieve the necessary penetration to reach vital organs, despite its smaller size. Advances in ammunition technology have mitigated some of the traditional weaknesses of the caliber, enhancing its effectiveness in defensive situations. The .380 is a fightstopper, even if its nearer to the margins than some would be comfortable with. Take this with a grain of salt, but it should also be considered that once rounds begin flying, it tends to put people in motion. It’s then up to you and your training to ensure the bullets you’re firing end up hitting the target.

Cons of Using a .380 Pistol for Self-Defense

1. Limited Stopping Power: It’s a bit weak. While advancements in ammunition have improved the .380 ACP’s capabilities, it is still generally considered less powerful than larger calibers. This can be a significant drawback in self-defense situations where stopping an assailant quickly is crucial. Yes, having a gun is more than half the battle, however the caliber may require more precise shot placement to compensate for its lower inherent stopping power. This means more practice…and unfortunately, .380 pistol ammo can be a bit more expensive than cheap 9mm ball typically used for practice.

2. Ammunition and Performance Balance: Finding the right balance between penetration and expansion is particularly challenging with .380 ACP rounds. While effective self-defense ammunition is available, the smaller size and lower velocity of the .380 can limit its overall terminal performance compared to more robust calibers. There’s also the fact that you probably are going to want to test the ammo you plan on carrying so that you can feel comfortable trusting your life to it. This is going to be a cost you need to factor in as you make a purchasing decision.

3. Trade-Offs in Capacity and Size: The reason for choosing .380 pistols often comes down to a size consideration. As with anything, this involves a compromise. The compact nature of .380 pistols often comes with a trade-off regarding ammunition capacity. Carrying fewer rounds could be a disadvantage in situations where multiple threats are present, or where more than one shot is necessary to neutralize a threat.

4. Recoil and Control in Subcompact Models: While .380 pistols typically offer lower recoil, this advantage can sometimes be offset in very small pistols, where the recoil can be more pronounced compared to larger framed models. This can affect handling and accuracy, particularly under rapid fire conditions. All things considered, we don’t think this is a major concern…it all comes down to training with your firearm.

Conclusion and Top Picks

A .380 pistol remains a viable option for self-defense, particularly for those who prioritize concealability and ease of carry. Its effectiveness, however, hinges significantly on choosing the right ammunition and maintaining proficient shooting skills focused on accurate and rapid shot placement. For many, the .380 ACP’s advantages in terms of size, weight, and recoil management justify its selection over more powerful alternatives, especially in scenarios where a larger firearm would be impractical or uncomfortable to carry regularly. Thus, while it may not be the perfect choice for everyone, in the right circumstances, a .380 ACP can be precisely what’s needed to provide security and peace of mind.

So, with all that said, what are our top picks for a .380 pistols in 2024? The Smith & Wesson .380 Shield EZ stands at the top in our number one spot. We like its reliability above all, followed by its multiple safety features. We have zero qualms about grabbing and going with this, even using it as an impromptu pocket gun for a quick dog walk. This is also a fantastic option for someone with limited hand strengh, due to how EZ it is to rack the slide and chamber a round. Keep in mind, this model also exists in 9mm. The price is also right on this handgun, making it our top choice. That said, the models below, in no particular order, also deserve a look.

Glock 42 Subcompact


View Details

Walther PD380 .380 ACP


Dirty Bird Guns & Ammo

View Details

Ruger LC380 3.1″ 380 ACP


Dirty Bird Guns & Ammo

View Details

Beretta 80X Cheetah .380 ACP


Dirty Bird Guns & Ammo

View Details

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *