Before the explosion of concealed carry pistols, the 380 ACP was almost dead. The little 9mm Kurz was never a hugely popular round in the United States. It existed, and mini pistols came and went, but the popularity of concealed carry revived the 380 ACP.
People wanted little guns, and the 380 offered a small weapon, relatively mild recoil, and decent ballistics.
Modern 380 Categories
The 380 ACP was a creation of John Moses Browning, and the little cartridge was designed for the compact pistols of the time. 380 ACP was the right size for a small gun and could work with simple blowback systems without excessive recoil. Over time the idea of a compact weapon has shrunk, and the modern 380 typically fits into one category, concealed carry.
Concealed carry pistols are a big category, but the most incarnation is a small pistol that’s easy to carry. 380 ACP pistols range in size from subcompact concealed carry pistols to pocket-sized pistols. The grips can be nice and thin due to the short 380 design, and the guns are rarely overly bulky or complicated.
Pocket pistols tend to be incredibly small and often make the best use of the short and diminutive nature of the 380 ACP round. They also tend to be a handful, figuratively and not literally. Lots of snap and pop make it hard to shoot comfortably. The small grips and oftentimes tiny sights also add a degree of difficulty to shooting accurately at ranges beyond bad breath.
Best .380 Pistols
.380 ACP Pistols
Best Pocket Pistol
Seecamp LWS 380
Best for Home and CCW
Browning 1911 380
S&W Shield EZ 380
Specs of the Best 380 Pistols Compared
|Glock 42||6||12.17 oz||5.94"||4.13"|
|Seecamp LWS||6||10.5 oz||4.25"||3.25"|
|S&W EZ Shield 380||8||18.5 oz||6.7"||4.98"|
|Kahr CW380||6||10.2 oz||4.94"||3.9"|
|Bersa Thunder Plus||15||20.5 oz||6.6"||4.9"|
|Walther PPK||6||19 oz||6.1"||3.8"|
Ruger LCP 2
#1 Glock 42 : Best Overall
Glock 42 Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 12.17 oz
- Length 5.94″
- Height 4.13″
Say what you want to say about Glock, but they make a reliable firearm. The Glock 42 is no different, and like most Glocks, it runs like an absolute clock.
It eats through nearly any type of 380 ACP ammunition without being picky–from standard FMJs to well-designed defensive JHPs of varying weights and velocities.
The simplistic design makes it easy to operate and far from confusing. Glock makes plug-and-play guns.
The Glock 42 is a pocket pistol-sized firearm intended for concealed carry. The lightweight gun comes in at 12.17 ounces, and it can be easily carried in nearly any manner you choose. With the right holster, it’s a safe and comfortable pocket pistol. With an IWB rig, it’s as close to invisible as a gun can get. Heck, the gun is so small it disappears with an OWB rig.
Small and light 380 ACPs are snappy and often painful to shoot and handle. With that being said, the Glock 42 isn’t the smallest gun on the market, but it’s a much easier shooting handgun because of it. Glock’s little 380 found an excellent way to be easy to conceal and carry while remaining easy to shoot. Like every other Glock on the market, the Glock 42 makes it easy to find holsters, triggers, aftermarket magazines, and beyond.
Glock 42 Pros and Cons
- Easy Shooting
- Highly reliable
- Massive aftermarket
- Glock sights
Glock 42 Gun Deals
#2 Seecamp LWS 380 : Best Pocket Pistol
Seecamp LWS 380 Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 10.5 oz
- Length 4.25″
- Height 3.25″
The Seecamp LWS 380 ACP is the smallest semi-automatic 380 ACP pistol on the market. This teeny-tiny pistol is an all-metal design that still weighs a mere 10.5 ounces.
Reigning as the king of pocket pistols isn’t easy, but the LWS 380 does it well. Seecamp’s unique design is .91 inches wide at its thickest point and is only 4.25 inches long overall. At this size, the Seecamp LWS 380 is a living, shooting billboard of what a pocket pistol should be.
The little tiny gun will squeeze into your pocket with little effort, or heck, go total cell phone case carry with it. It doesn’t get smaller than this in the 380 ACP world, and the slim design is genuinely brilliant.
As such, a small pistol, the LWS 380 ACP, is limited in its potential uses. Outside of being small, the gun lacks conventional sights. A lack of sights makes it easier to draw, primarily when the weapon is carried in the pocket. A lack of sights also means this is a true close-range only weapon. It’s a point-and-shoot design. The small size also makes it rather snappy.
One unique feature that appeals to me as a gun nerd is the chamber-ring delayed blowback system. I won’t go into details here, but this delayed blowback system is rarely used but does allow the Seecamp to stay nice and small. It’s also a reliable system that does an awesome job of ensuring the gun goes bang with every trigger pull.
Seecamp LWS 380 Pros and Cons
- Superbly small
- Extremely well made
- Snag-free pocket carry
- Sight free
- Long trigger pull
#3 Browning 1911-380 : Best for Home Defense and CCW
Browning 1911-380 Specs
- Capacity 8
- Weight 18 oz
- Length 7.5″
- Height 4.5″
Choosing one gun to be both your concealed carry firearm and your home defense gun is possible. Not optimal, but completely possible. The Browning 1911-380 Railed is the perfect choice if you need something light and small to carry, but also something suitable for home defense.
The railed design allows the attachment of a white light, which I think is a home defense must-have.
As a 1911, the single stack design makes the grip naturally svelte, and this pistol is not a miniature subcompact gun.
Instead, it’s a slightly smaller than normal Commander-sized 1911. The grip is full and fills the hand for complete control. The 3 5/8ths inch barrel ensures complete control of the little 380 and makes follow-up shots fast and easy. It’s larger than most 380s, and that helps it fit the home defense role as well as the concealed carry role.
The Browning 1911-380 gives shooters the famed 1911 ergonomics, single action only triggers, and outstanding and well-proven design. At only 18 ounces and less than an inch thick, the little gun is still easy to carry IWB or OWB, and performs admirably for a 380 ACP in numerous roles. The Browning 1911-380 is 85% the size of a 1911, and the reduced 380 design ensures it makes the most of that size.
Browning 1911-380 Pros and Cons
- Easy to shoot
- It fills the hand well.
- Railed for easy light attachment
- A bit larger than most 380s
#4 S&W EZ Shield 380 : Easiest Handling
S&W EZ Shield 380 Specs
- Capacity 8
- Weight 18.5 oz
- Length 6.7″
- Height 4.98″
Have you got arthritis? Weak hands? Or are you scared of recoil? Well, then the S&W EZ Shield 380 ACP is for you. The EZ in the title means something, and with the Shield EZ 380, it means the gun is easy to load, easy to rack, and easy to shoot.
The S&W EZ Shield 380 is a striker-fired 380 ACP designed for a space of shooters that’s oft-ignored.
Non Issue is the best way to describe recoil with the Shield EZ 380.
After the pew, the recoil is a slow roll that’s in no way snappy or uncomfortable. The gun’s large size and full-length grip make it easy to control and shoot. S&W designed the EZ 380 to be as easy to handle as possible. It’s downright pleasant to shoot. Double taps, follow-up shots, and accurate shooting at ranges beyond bad breath are all accomplishable.
The Shield EZ 380 is not a pocket pistol but is easy to conceal and very easy to carry. It hides away without complaint and gives shooters a gun that’s easy to control with both hands or even with a single hand. Thumbing in rounds after round into the magazine is rather easy. A small bar allows you to pull down the spring and follower as you load the gun.
Racking is also quite easy, and the integrated grip safety helps reduce spring tensions as the weapon is racked. The EZ very much lives up to its name, and S&W is wise to make the gun so easy to shoot.
S&W EZ Shield 380 Pros and Cons
- Light Recoil
- Easy to load and operate
- Immensely shootable
- Somewhat large
S&W EZ Shield 380 Gun Deals
Kahr CW380 Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 10.2 oz
- Length 4.94″
- Height 3.9″
Impressively small is a great way to describe the Kahr CW380. The CW380 is a polymer frame, striker-fired design outfitted to be teeny tiny, with an excellent double-action trigger.
Kahr pistol uses an interesting trigger design that’s akin to a well-tuned double-action revolver trigger. Kahr’s long trigger pull often inspires confidence in pistols without manual safeties. The CW380’s small size makes it an excellent pocket pistol.
A long trigger pull will most certainly give the end-user a good bit of confidence, although that doesn’t mean pocket carry without a holster. The Kahr’s stainless slide and polymer frame also keep the rust away with little effort. Pocket carry guns will often be more exposed to sweat than others, and this combination of slide and frame keeps things nice and clean.
The 10.2-ounce pistol isn’t nearly as snappy as you’d expect. Kahr’s grip is a little wider than it needs to be, but that allows recoil to displace a bit more effectively than most. Instead of a high-five-worthy slap, you get a quick push, and that’s it. It’s not uncomfortable to fire and won’t beat you up too bad.
Kahr’s aggressive grip texture makes keeping hold of the pistol nice and easy. The gun doesn’t try too hard to climb out of your hand as you engage. Follow-up shots are still important, and the Kahr CW380 ensures they can be both quick and accurate.
Kahr CW380 Pros and Cons
- Stainless slide keeps rust away.
- Excellent DAO trigger
- Aggressive grip texture
- Too small for big hands
Bersa Thunder Plus Specs
- Capacity 15
- Weight 20.5 oz
- Length 6.6″
- Height 4.9″
380 ACPs seem to be Bersa’s bread and butter. It’s at least the caliber they are most known for. That’s a shame because some of their 9mms are rather nice too. However, when I say Bersa, you are probably picturing a quasi Walther clone.
Indeed they take a lot of inspiration from those pesky Germans but market their guns at a much lower price.
The Bersa Thunder Plus is certainly inspired by the Walther PPK series, but it also takes a massive right turn.
The Thunder Plus packs a double-stack magazine that fits 15 rounds of 380 ACP. That’s the highest capacity magazine on this list by far. The Thunder Plus and its massive magazine make it a bit of an interesting option as far as the 380s go. Rarely do you ever see one designed with something beyond a single stack magazine.
Short 380 ACPs still allow you to keep the gun rather small, thin, and light. With 15 rounds, the Bersa Thunder Plus makes one helluva good hybrid concealed carry and home defense firearm. Fifteen rounds are a lot of options, and it allows for plenty of options when something goes bump in the night.
Beyond the magazine size, you get a competent DA/SA gun that uses a proven blowback design with a fixed barrel for enhanced accuracy. The Bersa Thunder Plus is adorned with a low MSRP that makes the price of entry surprisingly low.
Bersa Thunder Plus Pros and Cons
- High capacity
- Lightweight design
- Snappy recoil
#7 Walther PPK
Walther PPK Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 19 oz
- Length 6.1″
- Height 3.8″
Do you expect me to create a list of 380 ACP pistols and not include the Walther PPK? It’s James Bond’s favorite pistol, and I would not dare leave it off the list. I mean, not only is it James Bond’s gun, but it’s also one helluva good 380 ACP pistol.
The PPK was designed in 1931 and remained a very popular firearm.
Walther is now building them in the United States to skirt those silly ‘Sporting purpose’ laws that prevent the gun’s importation.
The Walther PPK is an all-metal pistol that uses a simple blowback system. Blowback systems like this have lots of pros and cons, and potential owners should be well aware of them. Downsides include a heavy bit of recoil, as well as a rather strong spring that makes racking the slide difficult. On the positive side, the fixed barrel makes the gun very accurate, and blowback systems are extremely reliable.
The Walther PPK has some snap to it, so proper shooting technique is important. The DA/SA action allows for a little trigger pull on command and combined with the fixed barrel, the gun is quite accurate. Slide-mounted safeties typically suck, but those feisty Teutonic engineers made the PPK’s easy to utilize with the firing hand.
Since the gun is now 90 years old, you can expect plenty of holsters and accessories, as well as spare parts, to be available on demand.
Walther PPK Pros and Cons
- Excellent Ergonomics
- Very Accurate
- Well Proven
- Snappy recoil
#8 Sig P238
SIG P238 Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 15.2 oz
- Length 5.5″
- Height 3.9″
The 1911 is a well-proven design that is seemingly beloved by the gun-buying public. SIG saw the potential for a shrunken 1911 and turned it up, or I guess down, to 11 with the SIG P238.
The SIG P238 is a micro-sized 380 ACP that will squeeze in near any pocket or disappear in any waistline. The width is listed at 1.1 inches, but that’s not entirely accurate. Most of the gun is thinner than an inch, but the manual safety adds a tiny bit of bulk.
The SIG P328 is incredibly concealable and rather easy to shoot. Is it Swiss magic combined with American engineering? Somehow the little gun is not only pocket-sized but downright comfortable to shoot. A gun this small, with a grip, this thing should not be so dang easy shooting. The light recoil and minimal snap make for a very comfortable and easy shooting handgun.
The SIG P238 is topped with full-sized iron sights for easy and accurate shooting beyond belly gun ranges. A short and sweet single action only trigger makes the P238 a sweet shooter by any means. When combined with the full-sized sights, the P238 can be quite accurate.
If your 380 ACP dreams involve something easy to carry, easy to shoot, and easy to shoot accurately, then the P238 is the way to go. SIG made a real winner that’s often overlooked in 380 ACP discussions.
SIG P238 Pros and Cons
- Easy to shoot
- Easy to carry
#9 Ruger LCP 2
Ruger LCP 2 Specs
- Capacity 6
- Weight 10.6 oz
- Length 5.17″
- Height 3.6″
The Ruger LCP 2 is the descendant of the original LCP, one of the first pocket pistols to reach mass appeal. The LCP 2 takes the original LCP and improves it greatly.
Small, light, and made with an uber small polymer frame the LCP 2 is most certainly a pocket pistol. This little 380 ACP holds 6 rounds of ammunition in a 10.6-ounce gun.
The trigger is much improved from the original LCP. The original LCP trigger was a horrendous DAO design that was long and heavy.
The newer design is much lighter and shorter with a very positive reset.
Ruger implemented a more aggressive grip texture and a last-round bolt hold open. Ruger made the slide much easier to manipulate and added some serious serrations to the slide. The sights are slightly larger than the LCPs and much easier to use. Overall the LCP 2 is a vastly superior gun to the original and the improvements bring it to the top of the pile.
The LCP 2 retained its small size, and small price tag. It’s a budget-minded 380 that’s quite reliable and refined. As far as budget pocket pistols go this is one of the few I’d trust my life to. Admittedly, the recoil is rough, accuracy is limited to close-range encounters and training is a must-have. The LCP 2 is a perfect deep concealment or backup gun.
Ruger LCP 2 Pros and Cons
- Good Trigger
- Extremely small and light
- Budget friendly
- Snappy recoil
The Many Names For 380 ACP
380 ACP is the American name and the most common you’ll see when shopping for arms and ammunition. However, the 380 ACP is also known as the 9mm Kurz. Kurz means short, and the 380 ACP is a 9x17mm cartridge. Speaking of, it’s also occasionally known as 9×17, 9mm Short, 9mm Browning, and .380 Auto.
There is no difference between these various names, but time, language barriers, and a lack of standardization between metric and imperial systems lead to interesting naming conventions.
The Truth About Pocket Pistols
Many new concealed carriers consider the 380 ACP because the guns are so small and easy to carry. Oftentimes they buy an S&W Bodyguard or a Ruger LCP and quickly develop a distaste for it. If you ever need a pocket pistol, check the used market. You’ll find plenty of them.
These pistols are exceptionally hard to shoot and are not for beginners. They have excessive, often painful, and snappy recoil as well as long DAO triggers and small nubs for sites. Pocket Pistols require a lot of practice to master, and that practice is often painful to obtain.
Keep this in mind when you start shopping for a 380 ACP pistol.
Be Ammo Picky
Using 380 ACP for self-defense does give you an ever-so-slight handicap when it comes to ballistic performance. The primary means a firearm stops an attacker is shot placement, but you also need a round capable of suitable penetration. The FBI maintains a set of standards the industry has also adopted. These standards call for a round that can penetrate at least 12 inches of ballistic gel and no more than 18 inches.
Projectiles that can penetrate 12 inches are capable of penetrating deep enough to strike something vital. Oftentimes the 380 ACP will have a hard time reaching that 12 inches with some defensive JHPs. The expansion slows them down too fast and they can’t reach that golden number. Other times the barrels of certain pistols are so short they fail to provide enough velocity to allow the projectile to penetrate.
When choosing a self-defense ammo search out gel tests, and pay attention to the weapon used. A Seecamp will not produce the same results as a PPK. In my experience, Federal 90 grain Hydra Shok rounds do well from pocket pistols as do CorBon 90-grain JHPs.
9mm or 380 ACP?
When choosing a caliber to carry, there are lots of considerations to make. One is weapon size, and 380 ACP guns can be nice and small, much smaller than 9mm. The difference in case size and PSI potential makes it possible to make ultra-light and easily concealable guns. Recoil can be another issue. Ultra-small and ultralight 9mm guns tend to be hand smackers, making 380 more appropriate.
When you place a 380 ACP in a package designed for a 9mm, like the LC380 or upcoming 380 SIG P365, the recoil is cut substantially, making the gun often much easier to shoot and handle.
With all that said, 9mm is the better round ballistically. It tends to penetrate more, as well as expand more with its defensive options. 9mm outperforms 380 ACP, and when it comes to FMJ, loads even tend to be cheaper.
If you can handle a 9mm, then I would suggest a 9mm. If you need the smallest gun possible or are recoil sensitive, then the 380 ACP is the way to go.
Automatic Colt Pistol
The 380 ACP is not new; it just made a massive comeback in the last decade and some change. The 380 ACP now reigns supreme when you want the perfect compromise between ballistic performance and gun size. The little cartridge that could is seemingly incredibly popular and remains one of the better options for deep carry—knowing which gun to choose and why is only half the equation.
Keep in mind your purpose and limitations when choosing a 380 ACP. If you combine purpose with firearms knowledge, you’ll find the right pistol for you.
February 6, 2023
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