Some Interesting Facts About the .380 ACP

From Shooting Illustrated:

Because of these European names, some mistakenly believe the .380 ACP is a shortened version of the 9 mm and that it originated across the big pond. It may have gained popularity overseas, but the .380 ACP is an American cartridge.

I was aware that John Browning designed the cartridge, but I had always figured, given the American penchant for big cartridges, and Europe’s penchant for smaller caliber cartridges, that the .380ACP largely caught on in Europe more than the United States. But as the article points out, the .380ACP is on fire today, thanks to many compact carry pistols being offered.

h/t SayUncle

11 thoughts on “Some Interesting Facts About the .380 ACP”

  1. It’s a .38 Special for the non-wheelgun semi-auto crowd. I’ve never really understood why it was so belittled except on the “size-matters” basis, since terminal performance is comparable to many .38 Spl. loads

    1. Can you cite a source for this assertion? Convention wisdom is that terminal performance of most .380 loads is pathetic compared to .38 SPC. Which is not surprising considering .380 has far less mass and similar muzzle velocity.

      I guess it is technically comparable, in that you can compare 7″ to 12″.

  2. I think the most interesting part of that article was how it’s not a shortened 9mm, but a scaled down .45ACP.

    It’s a .38 Special for the non-wheelgun semi-auto crowd.

    And, of course, now there’s a revolver for it. I might even be interested. Since switching my work carry gun from “office configuration” to/from pocket carry (so I can access it when wearing my winter coat) is a non-trivial task, it would serve well as a pocket gun while using the same ammunition.

  3. For those who think .380 ACP is too weak to take seriously, think in these terms:

    1. Would you rather have .380 ACP pistol that you are actually carrying? Or a 9mm pistol that you are not carrying because it is too bulky or too heavy to conceal well?

    2. Would you rather have a pistol with which you can repeatedly hit center of mass, because the recoil is relatively low, or a pistol where 70% of the bullets hit center of mass?

    3. If a bad guy threatened you with a .380 ACP pistol, would you not take his threat seriously, because it isn’t much of a cartridge?

    1. I don’t have a .380 at the moment, but I do have a Makarov, which is just slightly more powerful. I can get a tight grouping with that more quickly than I can with the 9mm Glock. The low recoil is definitely a plus IMO. I think there’s certainly a place for that caliber in small carry guns, 9mm in that size can be snappy.

    2. “2. Would you rather have a pistol with which you can repeatedly hit center of mass, because the recoil is relatively low, or a pistol where 70% of the bullets hit center of mass?”

      Using the full-size XD (model number XD9701) I wear every day, I can reliably hit a target 8″ in diameter 15′ away while pulling the trigger as fast as I can manipulate it.

      1. That’s fine if you don’t mind the extra weight and bulk. When you start looking at tiny .380 and tiny 9mm pistols, an equivalent 9mm will be a handful to control.

        Of course, you can go too small on a .380. A friend bought an AMT Backup .380. It was surprisingly accurate for such a tiny pistol–but every time he fired it, it drew blood. The recoil was so severe that the trigger guard would cut his trigger finger, and blood was come out. I bought an AMT Backup .22LR, and it was much more controllable.

        1. A good point and the reason why I went with an all-steel Sig P238 (the HD version). It’s a bit heavier and the mass feels better in the hand.

          Fully loaded it feels about the same as the 9mm Kahr PM9. Almost went all-steel on that, too. But as it stands, the two feel the same. That translates into the same movements when I move the gun.

          The big difference, of course, is the manual safety on the Sig, I don’t mind it, but some would hate it. Also, recoil is less than the PM9, but both are quite easy to manage.

  4. Well given that until 1911 (or a little after given I suspect many of the old war heroes in the army at the time were a little wary of the new-fangled auto-pistol, just like the ones in the 80s were about “Plastic Guns”) The most common pistol cartridge in America was .32 ACP, so .380 Auto was a bigger more powerful cartridge, and it was designed for the 1908 Colt Pocket Hammerless which was an updated an more powerful version of the colt 1903.

    So while its a “Small wimpy cartridge” it was a bigger more powerful alternative to the norm.

  5. Got two pocket guns: a Sig P238 and a Kahr PM9. Like them both and consider them fairly interchangeable depending on clothing, etc. I trust them both at short ranges. Also have larger pistols, but they are resigned to home and range guns. Too big for us.

    I am no ballistics expert, but I tested both mouse guns (and some of the bigger frames). I shot everything from paper (grouping) to wood 2x4s, layered drywall, through old tarps and even shot 3/16 aluminum plate. The big thing I walked away with is that I don’t want to the on the receiving end of any of them. The other thing I learned is that at short distances, it doesn’t much matter what the hell hits the target, provided something does.

    Ammo counts with .380 much more than with the 9 or the .40. It’s a smaller cartridge and there is less margin for error. Don’t carry cheap ammo. I found a gulf of difference between target ammo and Federal HST in .380. The Federal Low Recoil stuff had good punch.

    Yes, the .40 drilled holes in everything, including through the aluminum plate. But it was huge and I’d never carry it consistently.

    Choosing the “right” gun is personal. My wife and I are not big people – she tops out well under 5 ft. and 100 pounds. I am about 5’5″ and 150. We are both fit. Neither of us are going to carry big guns.

    The .380 is a good choice for us. I don’t see it as a compromise. It is a choice. I can go between it and the 9mm and not think about it. If placed in a defense situation, it will be in close quarters and I’ll be happy knowing that we’ve put any gun we carry through enough to know it will go bang and make holes, should the need arise.

  6. One of these days, someone needs to kill off the myth that JMB designed the cartridges that his firearms used. It is my understanding that UMC’s William Morgan Thomas was the real father.

    The stuff about it being a scaled down .45 ACP is nonsense. The lineage of the .380 ACP’s dimensions appears quite clear to me. You have to go back to the original .38 ACP (9x23mmSR) used in the Colt M1900/M1902. You take 3mm off of the length of the .38 ACP, and you get the 9mm Browning Long (9x20mmSR) used by the FN M1903. Take off another 3mm and lose the semi-rim, you have the 9mm Browning Short/.380 ACP.

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