Is the .380 ACP the new .38 Special?

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Firearms

As a woman working in the firearms industry, I often am asked what guns I recommend for other women. It is a tough question to answer, as we all have our preferences and abilities. I find that more and more gun bloggers, gun store workers, instructors and shooters direct women toward trying the various small .380 ACP semi-automatics on the market. I also am guilty of that. I have reviewed plenty of small, concealable .380s hoping to guide women shooters to the right handgun. However, it is starting to feel like a cliché. We been down this road before and asked: Has the .380 ACP replaced the snub-nosed .38 revolver as the go-to handgun suggestion for women?

I remember when .380 ACP ammunition was next to impossible to find; I also remember it was during a time when it did not matter that much. Who was carrying a .380 anyway? Sure, there were Walthers and Kel-Tecs, but those guns were not popular with many women. However, in the last few years, the .380 ACP has regained popularity.

Picture shows a woman holding a pink revolver.

Has the .380 ACP replaced the snub-nosed .38 revolver as the go-to handgun suggestion for women?

During the 1980s, enough women purchased handguns to make a difference, and the industry took notice. It was not 2012, or even 2002, but 1992 when women gun owners grew in significant numbers. Scholars claim Smith & Wesson’s Ladysmith revolver and the marketing campaign that followed aided greatly in the increase. In a market overwhelmingly dominated and propelled by men, gun manufacturers likely were at a loss for what to sell us. With our inexperience, we women certainly had no idea what to tell them what we wanted to buy.

Enter the .38 Special revolver. Certainly, the revolver is reliable and easy to use, and snub-nosed ones look less intimating than GLOCKs or 1911s—especially during a time when many women left firearms and home defense to men. The .38 Special’s popularity continued. Even today, on more occasions than not, when a woman walks into a gun shop, the sales staff immediately directs her to the short-barreled revolvers. A few years ago, I fell for it. When Smith & Wesson released its polymer, snub-nosed .38 Special Bodyguard with laser grip, I thought it would be the perfect concealed carry gun. Indeed, in theory, it was. The .38 Bodyguard is lightweight, accurate, reliable and perfectly concealable under a variety of clothing in my Flashbang bra holster. What I did not expect was that becoming confidently proficient at shooting it would be a painful chore I ended up choosing not to endure.

As my journey continued to find the Bodyguard’s replacement, friends let me try their .380 Bodyguard, SIG P238, Bersa Thunder .380 and Ruger LCP. Though I found shooting many of those enjoyable, it was not until I went out on my own that I found what I actually preferred. For me, shooting the SIG P938, Beretta Nano, GLOCK 27 and even compact 1911s in .45 ACP is preferable to the plethora of tiny .380s available. In fact, quite a few years ago, my everyday carry (EDC) was a subcompact Kimber 1911. An accurate and smooth shooter, the .45 ACP was my go-to. With training, practice and determination, you can just about master anything.

I understand why.380 handguns are so popular with women. With the locked-breach design of many modern .380s,  a lighter recoil spring is possible, making the slide smoother and easier to pull.

Generally, .380 ACP handguns:

  • Are kind to the recoil sensitive.
  • Are sufficient for self-defense.
  • Hold more rounds than a small, snub-nosed revolver.
  • Are smaller, lighter and thinner.
  • Are easier to conceal under tighter-fitting clothing.

Many of my friends chose to carry the GLOCK 42 or the SIG P238. They are both very good handguns, but why the .380 and not the 9mm? Is the 9mm that intimidating?

Let us compare the .380 ACP with the 9mm. Even though the .380 and 9mm share the same bullet diameter, the .380 round holds less powder than the 9mm, meaning it does not gain as much velocity as the 9mm. The 9mm is a faster round that penetrates further than the .380. Meaning, the 9mm outperforms the .380.

My friends, you can operate a “larger” caliber gun. Just check out Shyanne Roberts. Shyanne is a nine-year-old competitive shooter—comfortable behind her .223 Remington AR-15, 20-gauge Remington 11-87 shotgun and GLOCK 19c 9mm. Also, 17-year old Michelle Chestnut shoots competitively for Barrett with a .50 BMG, and 19-year Lena Miculek has competed since she was eight.

When it comes down to it, it is your choice, and you should choose the gun you feel most comfortable using. If you feel comfortable with the .380 now, I am glad you found a handgun you can train with and defend yourself. However, do not limit yourself. If you think you cannot handle a “bigger” caliber, please read the following articles for a confidence boost, then get out there and try.

What do you think about the new .380 craze? Tell us in the comments section.


Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (49)

  • CherokeeScot


    Seems everybody keeps on reinventing the wheel here. If you find ANYTHING that matches the ballistics of the wicked .32 NAA, Id like to see it. Ive had mine for five years and would put it up against anything. Including my .40 cals. I can hold the pistol in the palm of my hand totally concealed. Recoil is not a problem at all. And Kahr kept the quality up when they took over the original mfr. How about 4 layers of denim and then 8.5 inches into the gel. What did you say? No, I got the tests and you can quote me on that. PS: The pistol is all steel.


  • Stephen


    I agree with Tim above. I wonder how many people are carrying little (ccw) guns and have not taken the time for proficiency. Especially with the strikers and the long DA trigger pulls put on ccw guns. This alone would lead me to DA/SA or SA only for handguns with barrels under 4 inches. My little revolver with 1 7/8″ barrel took a lot of lead down range until secure levels of proficiency came in.


  • montewhiteowl


    I too would like my wife to shoot a larger caiber,which she does with a gold cup 45.but it is too much for practical carry,for her anyway. around our propery she uses a small tractor and it is really handy having her 38 loaded with shot shells and a speed loader wth hollow points..anyway every one is diferent and likes what they like.thank you for your insight and your values as a shooter and an American,semper fi


    • LarryArnold


      She has probably already figured out that she can load a revolver cylinder with a couple of shotshells, and three or four hollowpoints.


    • montewhiteowl


      you are correct sir.i even noticed she turns the cylinder to the selected load and have seen her do it now several times while shooting varments and a cooperhead snake.


  • Tim


    I read a recent article on the small, polymer guns and the author’s opinion was that the little pistols are really hard to master as the center of weight on the action, which is nearly behind the trigger, makes for a surprising amount of muzzle-whip. This was extremely tiring to the author and his opinion was that too small made the firearm a poor choice for ETC as proficiency would require an unacceptable amount of compromise trading range time for “small and light”.

    My wife prefers her Ruger Security Six and practices with the .38 spl. Plus the difference between that and the .357 mag is negligible. I have a Bursa mini-firestorm in 45CAP and that is about the smallest in that calibre that a normal mortal should carry.


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