Ever since Ruger started selling LCPs by the truckload back around ’08, a question that many believed to be a settled matter was thrust back into the spotlight; Is .380 ACP just another underpowered “mousegun” round on par with the likes of the diminutive .25 ACP, or is it a serious caliber for self-defense, worthy of trusting your life to? We could ask this question of any number of “marginal” self-defense calibers. But each caliber has special issues to consider, so rather than trying to establish the One True be-all, end-all, one-size-fits-all “minimum” caliber, we’ll tackle .380 by itself and present the pros and cons as best we can.
A Preface to Caliber Debates
Before we venture too far into the dangerous territory of caliber debates, let’s remember a couple of things right up front. First, handguns are pretty crappy at stopping bad guys when compared to rifles and shotguns. Comparing the raw effectiveness of .380 ACP, .45 ACP, and 5.56 NATO is like comparing a cheeseburger from a high school cafeteria, a Big Mac, and a perfectly cooked medium rare Angus Filet. Sure, there’s a big difference between those two burgers, but they are just not in the same league as that steak, even though it’s all beef (in theory, at least).
The “one shot stop” handgun is a myth. In the real world, they do happen on occasion, but no handgun caliber can deliver that kind of power consistently and predictably enough that we should depend on it. Handguns have the advantage of portability, but it’s always a trade-off of size and accessibility for effectiveness. To stop a determined attacker with any handgun, assume that multiple hits to a vital area will be required. As the cliché goes, “shot placement is king.” The number on the slide of your pistol is not nearly as important as possessing the skill to fire accurately under pressure, and the ability to exercise good judgment on when to pull the trigger.