They are one of the hottest items in the gun industry today. As more and more states pass laws allowing the concealed carry of pistols, millions have sought out this firearm. Lightweight and easily concealed, this pistol is still powerful enough to stop a determined attacker.
We are, of course, talking about the pocket .380 pistol. Lambasted in the past as a “Saturday Night Special,” this inexpensive yet easily concealed shooter is perfect for the law-abiding gun owner who wants a convenient concealed carry pistol. Its small size makes wardrobe selection easy. Many people find that the double-action, polymer-framed models are so light and slim they can slip them into a pocket sans holster.
Often considered a weak and underpowered cartridge, the .380 ACP-caliber round is definitely lacking the knock-down power found in a larger cartridge, such as the .45 ACP or .40 S&W. With proper shot placement, however, it is still possible to stop an attacker with one or more shots of .380. Knowing shot placement is so important with a caliber of this size, it is difficult to consider a pocket-sized .380 pistol with a short barrel and equally short sight radius anything but a point-blank distance firearm. That is not to say you cannot employ one at a distance, only that they are much more difficult to aim properly at long ranges—particularly given the heavy double-action trigger on most.
Here we evaluate the most popular of these, laying out the facts on each. Whether you are looking for an ultralight polymer-framed pistol or a more traditional but still easily pocketable Bersa or Walther, you are sure to find a .380 that suits you.
Based on the PPK, the Walther PPK/S is one of the original pocket .380 pistols.
Walther PPK and PPK/S
Easily recognizable as one of the preferred pistols of James Bond, the Walther PPK and its slightly larger cousin, the PPK/S, are easily concealed pocket .380s. The smooth, rounded slide and frame make it easy to slip either into a pocket or draw it quickly without snagging.
When the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 went live, Walther created the slightly heavier PPK/S, which is based on the design of the PPK, to comply with the “sporting” requirements of GCA-68. To continue importing the pistol, Walther paired the frame of the PP pistol with the PPK slide and barrel, creating a pistol weighing 1.5 ounces more but carrying one more round of ammunition.
Later, in 1978, Walther licensed production of the original PPK in the U.S. to Smith & Wesson, which added a slightly longer grip tang to protect the shooter’s hand from slide bite.
The Bersa Thunder is another original pocket .380. Though it has an all-metal frame, the Bersa Thunder weighs in at just more than a pound. It has a number of features normally found only on larger handguns, such as a loaded chamber indicator and slide lock. The slightly larger grip also allows an extra round, giving it a capacity of 7+1, compared to the 6+1 found in most pocket .380s.
Taurus 738 TCP
Released for sale in 2010, the Taurus 738 TCP is the Brazilian gun manufacturer’s entry into the pocket .380 market. With a slim, single-stack grip and lightweight polymer frame, the 738 is comparable to the Kel-Tec P-3AT andRuger LCP. But unlike theP-3AT andLCP, the 738 has a last-round, hold-open feature so the slide locks back on an empty magazine. Taurus also added another feature normally only found on larger pist
ols: a loaded chamber indicator just above the extractor.
Several years ago, Kel-Tec set the standard for ultra-light, polymer-framed pocket pistols with its P-32 pistol. Later, Kel-Tec engineers created the P-3AT, which is the same size as the P-32 but chambered in the significantly more powerful .380 ACP. It was a runaway success, so much so that retailers still have difficulty keeping it in stock.
Ruger took Kel-Tec’s P-3AT “keep it simple” design a step further by adding a slide-lock lever. While the slide does not lock back after the last shot, the slide-lock lever makes administrative tasks, such as clearing a jam or showing clear for an RO, easier. Affectionately called the “Elsie Pea” by aficionados, the Ruger LCP quickly gained a devoted following.
Sig P238 and Colt Mustang
The original Colt Mustang was a small .380 pocket pistol manufactured from 1986-1997. Ironically, just as Colt ceased production, concealed carry pistols began to rise in popularity. In 2009, Sig Sauer started producing its Colt Mustang-inspired design, branding it the P238. Essentially, a small 1911-platform pistol, the Sig P238 and Colt Mustang are single-action guns with frame-mounted safeties. They are designed to be carried “cocked and locked” with the hammer back and safety engaged, but many people believe the design is impractical for pocket carry. With a good-fitting pocket holster, however, you can safely carry one of those pistols without concern.
On most pocket .380s, the sights, or lack thereof, leave much to be desired. When Sig began the design process for the P238, one of the first things they added was a decent set of combat sights. You can even find models available with Tritium night sights, which help immensely in low-light situations.
The Kahr P380 is essentially a slightly smaller version of its much loved 9mm PM9. Another double-action pocket .380, the Kahr P380 features a wider trigger, which helps smooth out the double-action pull. Small .380-caliber pocket pistols are not known for being forgiving to shoot or easily controllable, but Kahr put aggressive texturing on the grip to give the user better control under even the hottest +P loads. Like the Sig, the Kahr P380 is available with Tritium night sights, which are highly recommended.
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380
The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 is one of the newest .380 pocket pistols to hit the market. First shown at the 2010 SHOT show, both it and its companion .38 Special revolver feature integral laser-aiming systems. The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard has all the controls found on a full-size semiautomatic, including a safety, slide lock and release, and a generously large take-down lever. One problem that other ultra-slim .380 pistols have is difficulty in field stripping due to the close fit of the take-down pin. With the large take-down lever on the Bodyguard, field stripping is very fast and extremely easy.
|Pocket .380 Pistols||Weight||Capacity||Barrel
|Walther PPK/S||22.4 ounces||7+1||3.35″||6.1″||0.98″||4.3″||DA/SA||Steel|
|Walther PPK||20.8 ounces||6+1||3.35″||6.1″||0.98″||3.8″||DA/SA||Steel|
|Bersa Thunder .380||23 ounces||7+1||3.5″||6.6″||1.4″||4.75″||DA/SA||Aluminum|
|Sig P238||15.2 ounces||6+1||2.7″||5.5″||1.1″||3.9″||SA||Aluminum|
|Kahr P380||9.9 ounces||6+1||2.5″||4.9″||0.75″||3.9″||DAO||Polymer|
|Kel-Tec P3AT||8.3 ounces||6+1||2.75″||5.2″||0.77″||3.5″||DAO||Polymer|
|Ruger LCP||9.4 ounces||6+1||2.75″||5.16″||0.82″||3.6″||DA0||Polymer|
|Smith & Wesson Bodyguard||11.85 ounces||6+1||2.75″||5.25″||0.75″||4.1″||DAO||Polymer|
|Taurus 738 TCP||10.2 ounces||6+1||3.3″||5.25″||0.75″||4.1″||DAO||Polymer|
Many people dismiss the pocket .380 pistol as inaccurate and underpowered. While I will not contest that it is, indeed, less accurate and powerful than a full-sized service pistol in a caliber that begins with .4, it bears repeating that the pistol you have is always better than one left at home. The new line of pocket-sized .380 automatic pistols being produced are reliable and easily concealed no matter what your wardrobe. If the thought of lugging around a couple of pounds of full-sized or even compact defensive pistol is off-putting, consider downsizing. You can get an easy-to-conceal pistol for less than $300 and have the peace of mind of being armed everywhere the law allows.
For more information on pocket .380 pistols, see our review where we evaluate some of the more popular .380 caliber pocket pistols.