Is 380 Ammo Powerful Enough?

Ever since Ruger started selling LCPs by the truckload back around 2008, a question that many believed to be a settled matter was thrust back into the spotlight: Is .380 ACP just another under-powered mouse gun 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 so-called “marginal” self-defense cartridges. But each cartridge has special issues to consider. So rather than trying to establish the One True be-all, end-all, one-size-fits-all minimum acceptable 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 universally bad at stopping determined attackers 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 public school cafeteria, a day-old Arby’s sandwich, and a perfectly cooked medium rare Angus Filet. Sure, there might be some difference in the quality of those first two meals, 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. They do happen in the real world, and fairly regularly. But there is no predictable correlation between one-shot stops and the cartridge used to achieve them. It’s not something we can depend on with a handgun cartridge. 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.

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