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Is less more? .380ACP guns for concealed carry

Long-time readers know that I like calibers and cartridges that have been around a long time. Did that sound redundant? Maybe a tad. Let me be more specific: I’ve been a life-long fan of the Government Model 1911 pistol and the .45ACP cartridge it’s chambered for. Why? Both the weapon design and the cartridge are over 100 years old and still in service. I’d say that makes them a proven team. Several other calibers/cartridges have been around just as long, or nearly so. One of them, the .380ACP, has been around for over 100 years (since 1908) and is still frequently used today for a variety of purposes.

The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) was developed by firearms designer John Browning in 1908. It’s a rimless straight walled cartridge. I’ve seen loadings with projectiles as light as 80g and as heavy as 102g. Muzzle velocity out of most guns chambering the round is about 1,000 feet per second (fps). Energy (out of the barrel) is roughly 200 foot pounds. Several contemporary loadings have jacketed hollow point ammo in the 95g to 100g weight range with muzzle velocities at, or just over, that 1,000 fps speed.

The .380ACP may be more popular in Europe than North America, as it’s been used by many military units and police agencies there. Also, some countries across the pond prohibit the civilian ownership or use of the 9mm Parabellum round, so those civilians who do pursue a suitable defense handgun often pick the slightly shorter, slightly less powerful .380ACP.

Perhaps the most popular, or at least most well-known, .380ACP handgun is/was James Bond’s Walther PPK. The Walther PP (Polizeipistole or police pistol) was first produced in 1929 and has been in service, in some way, shape or form, ever since. The PPK (Polizeipistole Kriminalmodell or Detective’s model) was released in 1931 and has remained popular throughout the years. The PPK is (in general because there are several variants) about a half inch shorter than the PP. The 7+1 capacity of the PP and the 6+1 capacity of the PPK were considered sufficient by a great many folks for several decades. With modern manufacturing and metallurgical engineering, however, we now can get that same capacity in much smaller, more concealable weapons.

I know several people who will argue that the .380ACP is “too underpowered” to be a true defense round. Those same folks will dress carefully to carry and conceal their full size 1911s, Glocks, Sigs, Berettas, etc. They will carry weapons chambered for 9mm, .40S&W, .45ACP, 10mm and .357Sig. And in the summertime they will sometimes complain that they can’t dress comfortably and still conceal their handgun…but they won’t compromise on the caliber.

I’m not faulting them and I’m not being critical. I’ve never seen anyone stand and face ANY weapon of ANY caliber (including bb guns) and say, “Sure, go ahead and shoot me. It’s not going to kill me.” And, in fact, I know a young man who was shot in the heart with a bb gun and it almost killed him (shock trauma treatment centers work wonders). Plenty of people have been killed with .22s, .25ACPs and other similar calibers through the years. Two bullets in the chest is two bullets in the chest, whether they are .22s or .45s. Certainly, the .45s will make bigger holes and do more damage, but the .22s can kill someone just as dead.

With that in mind, I try to tailor what I carry to the climate, where I’m going, mode of dress, etc. I have just recently been doing some tests and evaluations on three different .380 handguns, and with the release of the Glock 42 at SHOT Show this year, the caliber is certainly getting some attention. In the colder months I usually carry either my Springfield Armory 1911 or my Kahr CW4543 (the Kahr more often than not because it’s lighter). But with the coming of warmer months and more comfortable clothing, I’ve examined the .380ACP weapons as a nice CCW alternative. Because I live (for now) in the wonderfully anti-gun state of Maryland (read the sarcasm), I wasn’t actually able to get a Glock 42 for testing yet—it hasn’t made it to the “approved” list by the state as of this writing. I was able to get a Beretta Model 85F, a Ruger LCP and a Kahr CW380.

To compare the Beretta with the other two (or three if you include the Glock) really isn’t fair. It’s a much larger gun. Let’s take a look at the size and capacity specs to see the difference.

Beretta 85F: Barrel length: 3.8 inches, Overall length: 6.8 inches, Capacity: 8+1

Ruger LCP: Barrel length: 2.75 inches, Overall length: 5.16 inches, Capacity: 6+1

Kahr CW380: Barrel length: 2.58 inches, Overall length: 4.96 inches, Capacity: 6+1

As you can see, the Beretta’s barrel is a full inch longer than that of the Ruger and nearly 1.25 inches longer than the Kahr. The Kahr is the smallest overall but matches the capacity of the Ruger. While the Ruger LCP and the Kahr CW380 can, in my opinion, be considered true “pocket guns,” the Beretta 85F is too big for that. More easily concealable than a full size 1911? Yes, it is. More concealable than a Kahr CW4543? Not by much, if at all.

The question though, and point of this article, is whether or not these .380s are acceptable as, or even good as, weapons for concealed carry. The answer, in my opinion, is a qualified yes. What’s the qualification? Like most other folks who carry a gun on a daily basis, I’d prefer a bigger caliber, and when the weather or dress requirements permit it, I do carry a larger handgun. But when the weather and dress comfort require something smaller, and therefore more easily concealed, these .380s are fine choices so that you’re not leaving the house unarmed. That is the “choice” to always avoid if you can.

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