Is your .380 enough gun? Lately, the market has been flooded by compact .380 ACP pistols, from the brand new Diamondback .380 to the Sig P238 there are a ton of options out there for shooters looking for a compact pocket gun. In fact, Cheaper Than Dirt! recently went over some of the more inexpensive pocket .380 pistols available. Having carried a .25 ACP in a pocket for quite some time, it’s safe to say that I’m a firm believer that the .380 you carry is a step above the 9mm or .45 ACP that you leave at home because it’s too heavy.
The current generation of pocket guns have some serious strengths and weakness as well. Starting with the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec guns, the sights are essentially non-existent. Both the Ruger and the Kel-Tec sport what is commonly called a “gutter sight” which means that instead of the traditional 3-post set up we’re all used to, there is a trough down the middle of the slide. All of these pocket pistols benefit greatly from the addition of Crimson Trace Lasers, but this goes more so for the LCP and the Kel-Tec. By adding the Crimson Trace Laserguard for the LCP to your gun you then greatly improve your ability to hit close targets faster and to hit distant targets period. Using a Crimson Trace equipped Sig P238 (pictured above) I was able to make consistent hits on an IPSC A/C zone target at 25 yards. The Sig P238 doesn’t even need the Crimson Trace as much as the LCP as it has excellent factory night sights; and yet even on this gun it just makes sense to add it.
The next issue that you’ll encounter on these pocket guns is the trigger. I like the Ruger LCP – I think it’s a great defensive firearm. I don’t like the trigger very much. The same can be said for the Kel-Tec, Diamondback, Bersa, and pretty much all the pocket .380s with the exception of the Sig P238 (again) which has an excellent single action trigger. But that’s not without problems of its own, as the Sig P238 must be carried cocked-and-locked with the safety on…in a pocket. That might be an area of concern to some gun owners, in which case a double action gun such as the LCP might be a better bet.
Of course, the most critical issue with the .380 is ammo selection. The debate will continue to rage whether the .380 is “enough” gun, and whether or not you should use ball ammo to get more penetration or use JHP ammo to get more expansion. The BVAC ammo at the right is a 90 grain JHP at approximately 1000 FPS using a Speer hollow point bullet. I tend to prefer hollow points for .380 ammo not because I think they improve my stopping power but rather because a hollow point bullet is less likely to glance off the hard bones in the rib-cage if used in a dynamic critical incident. FMJ rounds are great for practice and training, but for defensive carry I definitely want the heaviest, fastest hollow points I can get for my .380.
The final thing to consider for your defensive .380 is reliability and learning curve. Your gun must run the ammo that you choose for it reliably. If you carry the BVAC ammo above, it needs to work in your gun. You also need to practice with you gun, and not just standing on the range. A .380 that’s carried as a last ditch defensive weapon needs to be something that you can draw and get quick, accurate hits with. Would you take a defensive shooting class with a Ruger LCP? I honestly don’t know if I would, but it’s something to think about.
When selecting a defensive pocket gun, remember that the first rule of a gunfight is “have a gun”. The .380 you have beats a .44 at home, but if you have the wrong ammo or can’t hit with your .380, it’s not much better than a magic talisman. Carry your guns…but make sure your gear is the best you can get. After all, your life may depend on it.