Caliber Wars | .380 ACP VS 9mm: Which Is Better?

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February 25, 2019 / Comments (38)

Guns & Ammo Reviews

Gun folks have debated about the .380 ACP vs 9mm for ages. Read and decide which caliber fascinates you more like a gun carrier!

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.380 ACP vs 9mm | Caliber Head to Head Comparison

.380 ACP and 9mm Comparison

9mm pistol bullets on old wooden | .380 acp vs 9mm

The caliber wars between .380 ACP vs 9mm have been going on for decades. The age-old debate about which caliber handgun is better to carry is about to be settled.

The answer may surprise you because I don’t take the same approach in comparing them as many others do. The .380 vs 9mm ballistics is not the only comparison to consider.

There is so much more that goes into it than just how deadly these bullets can be. Ballistics are important, but then again, so are recoil, confidence, ability, price, and penetration.


So which of the two is the better self-defense cartridge? The correct answer is a broad one that may differ from one shooter to the next.

Ballistics Definition: The study of the movement and impact of an object that is thrown or shot from a weapon. One good example is a bullet fired from a gun.

.380 vs 9mm Stopping Power

shell bullet dropped out gun while | 9mm vs.380 acp

At this point in the game, both rounds are almost dead equal. I mean, when you think about it, when was the last time you saw anyone advertising that they want to get shot in the chest with a .380 or a 9mm?

Generally speaking, the 9mm does have a higher velocity, a larger grain bullet, and more power to push it out of the barrel.

In other words, it does perform better than the .380 does. It is impossible to take physics out of the equation. However, the 9X19 round isn’t that much better.

USPATRIOTGEAR TSHIRT

And, when you equate the fact that it’s not that much better and adds a bit more recoil to it to slow down your target acquisition, your odds of having a better self-defense round drop.

Unless, of course, you are a confident shooter, who spends plenty of time at the range.

In other words, two people armed with the very same gun can have two totally different outcomes depending greatly on the amount of time they each spend shooting their gun. Shot placement is all-important in a gunfight.

RELATED: Best Self-Defense Caliber Handguns

Cost Per Round

380 caliber semiautomatic handgun magazine loaded | 9mm vs 380 acp

Believe it or not, the cost per round is almost directly related to the above statement. As far as handgun ammunition is concerned, it doesn’t get any cheaper than the 9mm.

This is important because spending $20 on a box of .380 ammo each time you want to go to the range and run some rounds is expensive.

But if you only have to spend $12 on a box of ammo, you’ll be able to go to the range much more frequently because it’s more affordable.

When you train more, you gain more accuracy. That, in turn, translates into a kill shot when someone tries to harm your family.

Penetration

hand gun fire flying bullet | 9mm vs .380 acp

Something that many shooters never even think about is over-penetration. The 9mm projectile is more likely to travel completely through someone than the .380 ACP ammo (or any of the other more popular self-defense rounds).

The reason why this can occur is due to the ballistics of this cartridge. It is narrow enough with the right amount of firepower behind it to cause over-penetration.

At first, you may think that two holes make for one dead bad guy. Whether or not this is true is outside of my point. If your child is standing behind the perpetrator, guess who is now in harm’s way?

Conclusion

six bullets hollow point full metal | 9mm kurz vs 380 acp

The answer to the question about which self-defense round is better is, at best, complicated. First, you have to be confident that you can properly defend yourself with your gun.

This takes target practice and building muscle memory so that drawing your gun becomes second nature.

To do this, you need to make sure your gun is chambered in a caliber you can afford (and handle), so you can actually go to the range without breaking the bank.

Shot placement is king. You could carry the biggest gun you can get your hands on, but if you can’t hit your opponent with its projectile, what’s the point?

And, more often than not, the tinier the firearm, the harder it is to shoot with greater accuracy. The most important thing is to get to a range and shoot what you want to buy, so you know what you’re dealing with.

Watch this bone test video by Langley Firearms Academy about the difference in the impact of a 9mm and .380:

Finally, no matter what caliber you choose to defend yourself with, you own that shot the second the bullet leaves the barrel. Make sure you don’t put someone else in danger with over-penetration (or missing your target altogether).

In other words, the best self-defense caliber is the one you are willing to carry daily, regularly train with and practice situational awareness with whenever it’s drawn from your holster.

Are you team .380 ACP or 9mm?

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Do you have a favored preference between the .380 ACP and 9mm? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 25, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

38 Responses to :
Caliber Wars | .380 ACP VS 9mm: Which Is Better?

  1. Talkeetna says:

    Why does this article exist? It is full of the same old nuggets of wisdom that have existed for years and years and is not worth the time it took to read it. Offering up that an age old question is solved and then printing tired acorns isn’t worth the energy it takes to click exit.

    1. Jayson Charles Matthews says:

      When I was a kid I thought acorns were tree poop….but that is not my point. My point is, old nuggets survive because they remain true. Kinda like any gun-related site should have newbie posts about choosing a self-defense shotgun or any other “obvious” stuff. You gotta have well-rounded material to attract the most people.

      1. Rick Story says:

        Well said. It is easy to forget that we were all at one time “newbies”. I was trained at an extremely young age, so I succumb to the trap very easily. Now I’m training kids and remembering that I did not come forth from the womb knowing all this information. Obvious stuff is only obvious because we learned it along the way….obviously.

  2. Ed Gleason says:

    I still remember Q telling James Bond how the PPK 380 was inferior.

    1. Otto Bartsch says:

      In answer to some obvious confusion here about JB-007’s “Walther” sidearm’s caliber “lack of power” remark by ‘Q’ in the movie, in his books Fleming originally armed Bond with a Beretta .25 (6.35mm) pistol prior to changing to the .32 (7.65mm) Walther PPK in Dr. No. In either case, it was not a 9k (.380) Walther.

  3. goldcoast125 says:

    It doesn’t mention the type of bullet used: Full Metal Jacket, Lead/Lead point copper jacket/Hollow point. Each type of bullet has a different effect on the body from the entry wound to what damage is done within the body.

  4. Ron Parks says:

    Neither…. .45 ACP is better (for me anyway)

  5. Spence says:

    I can settle this with EITHER caliber.. G2 Research R.I.P. (Radically Invasive Projectile) Ammo… Enuff said!!!

  6. USPatriotOne says:

    This story leave out many facts, and I am a Certified NRA Handgun Expert. He keeps talking about over penetration, yes that’s a problem, and the .380 and the 9mm FMJ rounds both have equal problems with the FMJ round. Now move to the Hornady self defense rounds (Hollow Point) in either .380 or 9mm in HP hardly ever over penetrate do to fragmentation of the round. That’s key, so keep that in mind when choosing your personal defense forearm. Hope this helps, good luck and may God Bless.

    1. Rick Story says:

      The 9mm has a much pointier profile. I have never heard of dangerous over-penetration from a .380 ACP in over 25 years of shooting, studying and training. The 9mm has some good bullet designs that are “guaranteed” to expand and deliver energy to the target, but I have seen expansion failures in EVERY type of bullet that was manufactured as late as August 2015 ( I realize I’m a year out of date, and perhaps there is a perfect JHP out there now, but I haven’t had time to keep up with the newer rounds. I am not trying to be belligerent, so if you know of one, please inform me). Of course some are better than others, but a “guarantee” doesn’t keep you from going bankrupt in court or going to jail. Once a 9mm hp fails to expand, it WILL over-penetrate unless it hits something like a big bone or the target has a lot of mass. I am curious about your information regarding the stubby, rounded .380 ACP fmj over-penetration you refer to. I carry a .380 ACP in a Ruger LCP with Lehigh copper cartridges (not +P). In my experience and testing, they barely meet the FBI requirements for penetration, and rarely pass the mark after many rounds of testing. The FMJ rarely (yes, RARELY) even makes it to the line. Over-penetration is not something a standard .380 fmj round can accomplish, at least not in my experience or study.

  7. Martin says:

    My carry gun is a Bersa Ultra Compact .45. I find with that caliber, the target just doesn’t want to play much after being hit. My wife has a Browning M1910 in .380 that uses hollow point rounds for self defense while the primary home defense gun is a Remington 12 gauge with turkey shot because there’s not really much chance of blowing through a wall (or person) if your house is close by as many are in today’s sub-divisions. But again, what ever firearm you use, practice with it and know how to use it. Even the lowly .22LR round can travel a mile after leaving your rifle.
    And, if by chance, you think a “mouse gun” like a .380 doesn’t have great impact, remember that the Browning M1910 in .32 caliber was one of the triggers (no pun intended) for WWI.

  8. T. Robin says:

    I hear where you are coming from with the caliber and fps. If over penetration is a concern opt for one of the defense rounds or go to a 147 gr 9mm in a defense round. I for one will stay with my 9mm and 45 unless carrying the 380 is needed for deep undercover. And with the 380 I will choose the best carry round possible. I like the Glaser round or the new DRT. FMJ is reserved for the range only. And be sure of your target before letting a round go. And if you can’t handle a gun under stress don’t carry one!

    1. Rick Story says:

      Well said. The new Lehigh rounds are also very good. They come in +p and regular, but only a few pistols can handle the +p. I think the standard Lehigh round is sufficient.

  9. Christopher Clagg says:

    I carry a .45 or .40 as primary CCW was carrying a S&W 36 but +P ammo tends to destroy them, since I picked up a. 380 revolver the other day cheap, have it in my pocket as a backup. Working I have to carry a Glock 23, off work FNP .45acp 15 rounds. Getting ready to go to 9mm @work due to cost, still 50 rounds a year qualifications, woefully innacurate qualification amount for law enforcement annually

  10. BOB MANNING says:

    The post are very good, Well my comment ,is That you need to know your gun like the back of your hand.
    And be able to place a round where you want , most self defense is 7ft,to 10 max, so practice is very good to do and placement very important and cal, doesn’t matter if you can’t place your shot where it needs to be. The problem to me that people use arms that use more than one round,so you just blast away hoping one will hit where it counts,I teach black power only one round so you have to be good to hit what you want.
    This improves your odds ,try this it works only one shot,then work up when you learn to hit what your aiming at every time,I shoot from 500 to 7 yards very well with this standard. Cal, doesn’t matter if you can’t hit our target, right…….

  11. Mikial says:

    I carry a .45 ACP because that is my preferred round. My wife carries a 9 mm because that is HER preferred round. End of discussion. Carry what you like and feel competent with, and be sure to hit what you aim at. End of discussion.

  12. Ole Jerrild says:

    Many thoughtful responses to the topic of discussion. Get to the range when you are able, and use your regular carry gun there with your regular ammunition. Best to everyone.

  13. Chuck says:

    Let me add my .02 here. I am a retired ER nurse who got started in healthcare more than 45 years ago as an Army medic doing search and rescue as well as recon in a field unit somewhere overseas. As you might imagine, I have seen a variety of wounds from different calibers, most notable were 7.62 Russian, 5.56 NATO, and (my personal favorite) .45 ACP. When I got out, I went to nursing school and spent more than 30 years working metro and inner city ER’s, where I saw more GSW’s of many more calibers.
    From those more than 30 years in ER, I learned that any caliber can kill you under the right circumstances, but in my experience, the people who died from a single .22 round were destined to die that day, If the round had not killed them, something else would have. They were destined to die THAT DAY.
    That being said, I will add that I have little regard for either 9mm or .380 as a self-defense round, much less a smaller caliber. In my experience, they are both woefully inadequate to provide the energy needed to truly deter a miscreant who is intent on doing you harm. I have seen several people who should have succumbed to their wounds perform amazing tasks before they died. More than one exacted lethal revenge before they died. They were all shot with a 9mm or smaller caliber. One man was shot three times in the head with a 9 and survived. I have never seen anyone hit in a vital are with a caliber that started with a .4 who did much more than go to ground.
    I know that people talk about shot placement and think that they can always make the good hit. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely hard, if not impossible to concentrate on shot placement when the adrenaline is riding high. You will fall back on performing default patterns most of which you will not be aware that they are there, and you will NOT remember performing them, providing you live through the experience.
    An inadequate firearm is inadequate. Placing faith in an inadequate round can be a fatal misplacement of your faith, much as playing with rattlesnakes can also be a fatal misplacement of faith; not much different than someone who takes a blow up kiddie raft on a real river rafting trip thinking they will be okay because they have practiced with it, a lot.
    Misplaced faith will make you DEAD!

    1. Rick Story says:

      Very nice…. I am clapping right now. After I finish typing……LOL

  14. ArmedPatriot says:

    380ACP IS THE BEST OVERALL CARRY CARTRIDGE
    https://youtu.be/WHVLINP_xz8

  15. Michael Douglass says:

    Interesting video. You stated that this shows the difference between the 9mm and the .380. I disagree. This video shows the difference between a section of long bone vs a slice of cow knuckle. For a TRUE test, you need to use the same type of bone/target material.

  16. Jeff Pahlke says:

    I find it interesting that people are so split on the matter but I add this I just bought a smith and Wesson M&P EZ in .380 the why is I’ve been shooting since I was 14 my 1st pistol was a SW model 27 with a 6″ barrel 357 anyway after I got out of 11 years of honorableserbice in the Army I continued to train with handguns problem is that I found shooting a 9mm my shots were all over the place I was diagnosed with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy which helps in destroying muscle your muscles are alway in a state of flex which.causes it to atrophy and that ends the biology lesson. I no longer had the forearm strength for even. A 9mm so I tried a couple different .380’s and my shots were back to my standard and as I shoot it more I’ll get faster and better for awhile at least it is also easy to conceal and fun to shoot which makes it perfect for me

  17. Max says:

    I’m an either or, respecting the capabilities of each in any number of scenarios. Both are steel frame 1911’s, a RIA ” Baby Rock ” .380, and a Taurus G2C, 9mm. Both are loaded with JHP rounds. Range time is divided between them and a Citadel PT111 1911 .45 ACP.
    Shoot’em if you got’em!

  18. Chris Bourg says:

    I prefer the 9 mm I care one every day no matter where I go

  19. Gerald Feola says:

    On the 9 vs .380 why didn’t you use the same bone type for each shot. No wonder why people are confused. Apples for apples. Gf

  20. Paul E. McLaughlin says:

    Shooting one at a leg bone and one at a knuckle bone is not a comparative test. you proved nothing

  21. Dolanfossil says:

    I carried a Beretta 1935 .380 for forty years and was always being ragged about my mouse gun. Funny thing was NO BODY wanted to be shot by it. But I wasn’t worried about over penetration, or wounding someone in the other room. Only had to draw it twice and never fired in anger.

  22. John C. says:

    Give a choice between only those two I would go with the 9MM, a little heavier round and more velocity, the recoil difference is barely noticeable. I’ve carried both .38s and 9MM at work but i started carrying a 10MM S&W 1006 years ago and frankly I prefer it over any of the others and it’s not that hard carrying it concealed. I own a number of handguns from the .22LR to the DE .50AE (a good woods gun) but prefer the .45 ACP and especially the 10MM for personal self defense. The nice thing about the 9MM is lots of shots and very easy to get ammo and it is cheaper than most ammunition or was before all of this nonsense started.

  23. Jim says:

    Your comparison between a 380 and 9mm was between apples to oranges. You need to have two bones of each and shoot both with each gun to be able to get a good comparison.

  24. Steve says:

    To do a fair test between .380 & 9mm, you need to use two leg bones and two knuckles. The long bone is essentially a tube, but the knuckle is a denser solid bone. The tubular bone will explode as a bullet hits it and passes through the soft marrow. The bullet starts to expand and the pressure will blow the tubular bone apart.
    Whereas the knuckle will resist expansion and not break apart as readily. So each caliber should be tested against each bone type.

  25. randy draves says:

    when i decided to get a handgun after being almost beaten to death after leaving the bank, i decided to get a handgun and license to conceal and carry,i bought a 9 mil and that was like carring a armored tank, didnt like it, too big and heavy,i decided to get a 380 with hollow points,tried one out,i fell in love with it an bought it,its light and small and it will kick ass, wont say what i used forammo but its the best ammo for it and do the job,i carry in my hip holster and no one knows i have it,our state patrol police have that for a back up and they love it, my neighbor is the state policemen,he loves that gun, i tried his wifes out and loved it, bought the hollow pointsfor it too,you cant go wrong,it will do the job for ya

  26. Leon says:

    I agree with Steve need to use two leg bones similar in size. And the same with knuckle bone.

  27. James Liu says:

    Honestly….380 vs. 9mm?? I can see 9mm vs. 45ACP but saying the. 380 compared to the 9mm… might as well compare it to the 45. Recoil? Not much difference from 380 to 9mm. 9mm is superior… period. Not even close.

  28. Kimberly K. says:

    I think the Smith & Wesson M&P .380 EZ Shield is the perfect handgun for those who have hand or wrist issues either from disease or weakness. My preference is 9mm, it’s normally cheaper than .380 acp. (9mm and .45 acp are what the ammo manufacturers are pushing out the most of right now.) It really doesn’t matter what you shoot if you are not accurate. A gun is a tool and if you don’t know how to use it properly, you might as well run and hide.

  29. K. R. V. says:

    Ok this was my first time here, to visit your site. But sorry I call cowshit on this one! You test 2 different bullets on 2vastly different bone structures, so of course the outcome is not exactly what was expected. You needed to use ballistic gel, in order to get truer outcomes. As far as actually comparing the two? The most important aspect is the shooters experience! For my personal concealed carry? I carry a fairly new Kimber Micro 9, I bought new, I have ran over 500 rounds of mixed new ammo, no reloads, from 115-125grain, FMJ, Hollow Point and Critical Defense, with not one FTF, or jam! Right out of the box I gave K a nice field cleaning and few drops of the oil/cleaner that came within the box, that resulted in a fine 5” shot group of 6 rounds, all inside the third roundel at 10 yards, with practice I’ve continually had the same results, but now at 40’, but with at least a round or two within the bull!

  30. Red Wolf says:

    In my opinion you should of used the same bone for each caliber you should post a video with that. I am sure that you will see that they do the same thing. of course you could shot the knuckle with the 9mm and the bone with the 380acp. But you are a good shot with both.

  31. Joe says:

    We were talking about over penetration with the type of ammo 380 or 9mm. I was a Deputy Sheriff in North East Texas. I was dispatched to a shooting one night. The victim was hit with a .22long rifle. The round hit at the corner of right eye. The round made 7 rounds around the skull. Then hit the spine. Went down the spine to the hip bones. Then went down right leg to the right foot then went 4 inches in to the ground. Even a .22 can do over penetration. Under the right circumstances. And this could be 1 in a Million.

  32. 바카라 says:

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