The .380 was originally designed by the legendary firearms designer John Browning, and was introduced by Colt in 1908. Since its introduction, the .380 has been favored for use in micro-pistols because it can be fired from a very small frame.
The .380 is essentially a small 9mm Luger. The projectile is 9 millimeters in diameter, but is slightly shorter and lighter than a 9mm Luger round. .380 is sometimes called “.380 auto” or “.380 ACP,” and for many decades was considered too weak to be a serious defensive round.
However, in recent years, improvements in bullet design have coaxed better ballistic performance from the .380. With modern ammunition, the .380 has sufficient wounding capacity to be used as a regular concealed carry gun.
The main persistent gripe about the .380 is that it doesn’t offer much more magazine capacity than a 9mm Luger, so you don’t get much more capability for the price you pay in terms of ballistic performance. This is a legitimate complaint about the .380, but there are some good reasons to buy a .380 handgun for defensive use.
Why Carry a .380 Pistol?
The .380 has a few advantages over the 9mm Luger in terms of concealability and recoil. The best uses for a .380 pistol exploit these characteristics.
Some people “dress to the gun,” or wear clothes that make it
possible to conceal whatever gun they have. However, this isn’t an option for all of us, and some may not want to do that anyway (I’m one of those people. When it’s summer, I wear summer clothes).
For people who find it difficult to conceal even a single stack 9mm under their daily attire, or maybe have work clothes that mandate a more concealable firearm, a .380 pistol is probably small enough to hide
A .380 makes an excellent backup gun
Not everybody is into carrying a backup gun (BUG). However, there are reasons to carry a backup gun. If you decide to carry a backup gun, it’s best not to carry it in the same area that you carry your primary CCW gun. If you carry your primary and backup guns very close together, you may not be able to access either one of them if you get into a tough spot.
This means that you may have to carry your backup gun in a position that offers less concealment. So having an extra small .380 pistol is handy for making sure that both your gun and your backup gun are concealed.
As a final consideration with backup guns: be sure to make your backup gun a regular part of your training regimen. Chances are, if you’re using your backup gun, you’re in a really rough spot, so being able to draw and shoot your backup gun is just as important as proficiency with your primary carry gun.
.380 is extremely easy to shoot
Last, but not least, is the light recoil of the .380. It’s true that a vast majority of people can shoot a 9mm just fine. However, some people have conditions or injuries that make it painful or too difficult to handle the recoil of a 9mm.
If this is the case for you, a .380 is your best option. The recoil of a .380 is noticeably lighter than a 9mm, and easy to handle, even with a small framed gun. This is handy if you opt to use a .380 as a backup gun, since it’s very plausible that you’ll need to shoot your backup gun one handed, or from an unorthodox position.
Best .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry
If you read our article on the best 9mm handguns for concealed carry , you know that the preferred type of pistol for personal defense is a modern striker-fired pistol. You can read more about MSPs in that article, but just know that all of these .380 pistols meet the same criteria for concealed carry and home defense.
Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ
The Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ is part of the M&P family, some of the best personal defense pistols on the market. The .380 Shield has the remarkable reliability and ergonomics of the M&P line packaged into a Smith & Wesson 380 pistol.
The first thing to note about the 380 Shield is that it’s not a micro pistol. The 380 Shield is about the size of a single stack 9mm. It’s more concealable than a subcompact handgun, but only slightly more concealable than the 9mm M&P Shield, so this is a great option for people who find it difficult to handle a 9mm, but don’t need to prioritize maximum concealability.
The .380 Shield also eliminates some of the trigger issues that have been a common complaint about the M&P line since their inception. The .380 Shield doesn’t have the two-piece trigger safety that other M&P pistols have, which eliminates the trigger press issues that some shooters experience with those handguns.
However, the .380 shield does have palm safety. The palm safety is large and easy to engage. But, in a struggle, palms safeties can very easily be disengaged by a slight shifting of your grip on the gun.
This isn’t a major concern for everyone, but it’s something to keep in mind and maybe get some force-on-force training to prepare for.
Since it’s a bit bigger, the .380 Shield offers some performance advantages over .380 micro pistols:
- The barrel is longer (3.675 inches), so you’ll get better accuracy and performance from defensive rounds.
- The magazine holds 8 rounds, which is more than many micro pistols.
- The light recoil will feel even lighter, since the 380 Shield has a more substantial grip than most 380 micro pistols.
Additionally, the 380 Shield has enlarged serrations on the back of the slide, which makes it easier to load, reload, and clear the gun. This is great for shooters who have grip strength issues.
Overall, the 380 Shield is an extremely affordable option for those needing a concealed carry gun with lighter recoil, without sacrificing much performance.
It’s unsurprising that a Glock 380 pistol would show up in an article about .380 pistols for concealed carry, since Glocks are incredibly simple and reliable. The Glock 42 has been tested, and proven to be just as simple and reliable as any larger Glock model.
The Glock 42 just barely skirts the line between standard single stack and micro pistol. It’s just smaller than the Glock 43. The Glock 42 offers a great combination of concealability and light recoil, without some of the drawbacks of a micro pistol.
Operating the Glock 42 is incredibly simple. There’s no manual safety, and no palm safety. The safe action trigger uses a butterfly lever that disengages the safety when the trigger is pressed normally.
The performance tradeoffs for the concealability of the Glock 42 come in the barrel length and the magazine capacity. The barrel is 3.25 inches, and the magazine capacity is just 6 rounds.
These are both adequate specs for a concealed carry gun, but probably inadequate for home defense or other shooting contexts.
The Glock 42 has a low bore axis, which makes the .380 recoil as manageable as it gets in a gun this size, and the utilitarian design make for snag free operation from concealment.
Overall, the Glock 42 probably skews a bit more toward backup gun territory, but is also a great option for people who need a lighter recoiling CCW gun with excellent concealability.
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380
The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 is one of Smith & Wesson’s first 380 M&P pistols, and it’s a solid handgun built with the reliability of the M&P series, though the ergonomics are a tad different. The Bodyguard 380 is purpose built for concealment.
The Bodyguard 380 leans pretty heavily toward being a backup gun. The grip is very short, and most people will have to grip the gun with their pinkies hanging off, unless they use the magazine with the finger rest extension. However, even with this, some shooters with large hands will still need to leave their pinkies free.
Some have complained about the ergonomics of the Bodyguard 380 because it has finger grooves. A lot of people don’t notice finger grooves, but they’re unpopular enough that many pistol manufacturers have redesigned their most popular guns without finger grooves. So, the Bodyguard 380 is definitely one you’ll want to try out in your hand before you buy.
However, the Bodyguard 380 is one of the simplest pistols on the market to operate. There’s no trigger or palm safety to worry about. The Bodyguard 380 is basically point and shoot operated.
For concealed carry safety, the Bodyguard 380 has a double action only trigger with a long, heavy pull. This is fine for concealed carry, but you’ll need to put some training in to get used to it, especially if you carry a primary gun with a standard striker-fired trigger.
In exchange for the extremely small size and incredible concealability, the Bodyguard 380 loses some barrel length and magazine capacity. The barrel is a mere 2.75 inches long, and the magazine holds 6 rounds. These specs are fine for a backup gun, but aren’t ideal for an EDC or home defense gun.
The Bodyguard 380 is a solid backup gun, and could be carried as a primary gun in situations that demand deep concealment. However, it’s not ideal as a primary EDC gun.
Ruger LCP II 380
Ruger manufactures high quality firearms, and the Ruger LCP II 380 is one of their best forays into the striker-fired world. The LCP is technically not striker-fired, but the hammer is internal, and there are no additional controls, so it functions the same as an MSP. The LCP II has one of the most substantial grips of any micro pistol, and is very easy to shoot.
The thing that Ruger put the most time into on the LCP II is the trigger. The LCP II trigger has a short uptake compared to standard striker-fired guns, and a clean break. This is very handy when you’re using the gun for sighted fire, and will make those who often shoot in competitions happy.
The LCP II has serrations on the front and rear of the slide, which is good for those who like to do press checks. The magazine release is ambidextrous. However, the slide release lever is not. Though, most left handed shooters will find that the LCP II is so small that the right-handed slide release isn’t much of an issue.
One drawback of the LCP II is the integrated sights.
If you don’t like the fixed steel sights, they can’t be changed. So check and make sure the sights will work for you before you buy one of these.
The LCP II has pretty standard micro pistol specs, sporting a 2.75 inch barrel and a 6-round magazine. Ruger supplies a flush magazine and a magazine with a pinky rest, but there are no extended magazines for the LCP II.
Ruger also sells rubberized grips for the LCP II, which are nice for keeping a hold of your gun with sweaty hands, and easing the strain of longer training sessions. Although it’s not a performance thing, the LCP II also comes in several different colors, if that’s what you’re into.
The LCP II makes a great backup gun with an exceptional trigger for those who want precision even from their tiny guns. Like most micro pistols, though, the LCP II isn’t much of a home defense or EDC gun.
Kahr has been making pistols fit for backup gun duty for quite some time, and was one of the first manufacturers to produce a single stack 9mm handgun. The Kahr P380 reflects Kahr’s dedication to concealability.
The first thing to make sure you like, and one of Kahr’s signature features, is the double action trigger coupled with a striker-fired action. Since it’s not a true double action only trigger, the trigger press is a bit lighter than most hammer-fired pistols. However, it may be uncomfortable for those who have extensively trained with striker-fired guns.
Kahr takes advantage of their double action trigger design to make the P380 incredibly simple to operate. There’s no manual safety or bladed trigger safety. So the P380 operation is super solid for a backup gun.
The P380 is also super concealable. The frame is one of the narrowest on the market, coming in at just .75 inches wide, and the grip is just barely long enough to accomodate a 6-round magazine. However, this means that most shooters won’t be able to get their pinkies on the gun, so the P380 is a bit more difficult to shoot.
Ultimate concealability also means a shorter barrel. The P380 has a 2.53 inch barrel, which is one of the shortest of any pistol in this article. This is adequate for concealed carry, but if accuracy is a big thing for you, the P380 may not be ideal.
The P380 is a nice package, but there are some caveats with Kahr pistols:
- Kahr recommends that you don’t concealed carry their guns until you’ve broken them in by shooting 200-400 rounds through them.
- There are reports of some quality control issues with Kahr firearms. Some shooters have reported needing to take Kahr guns to a gunsmith to get them to be reliable.
Most Kahr guns function just fine once they’re broken in, but make sure you’ve done a reliability test with your defensive ammunition before you carry the P380 concealed.
The P380 can be a bit pricey for some, but it’s one of the most concealable .380 pistols available.
Taurus Spectrum 380
Taurus doesn’t have a lot of offerings in terms of striker-fired guns. The Taurus Spectrum 380 is one of their first striker-fired designs. The Spectrum offers a lot of utility for concealed carry, and customization options.
Taurus designed the Spectrum to be extremely smooth for snag free performance when drawing from concealment. There are zero sharp corners on the Spectrum, which is more snag free than even Glock can claim.
However, to get this snag-free shape, the sights are very low profile, and integrated into the slide. This means that you can’t change the sights if you don’t like them, and also that they might be difficult for some shooters to see well, especially those with bifocal type glasses.
On the upside, the Spectrum 380 is incredibly simple to operate. There’s no manual safety, and even the slide stop is extremely minimal and seems designed to encourage overhand racking.
On the specs side, the Spectrum 380 delivers a pretty respectable 2.8 inch barrel, and a normal 6-round magazine capacity. Taurus includes an extended 7-round magazine standard in the box.
The Spectrum 380 is also one of the smallest .380 pistols, with a frame width of .89 inches and a total height of 3.82 inches. These dimensions make the Spectrum 380 extremely easy to conceal.
The Spectrum also comes with a rubberized grip. This makes the gun easier to shoot, and won’t make your hands sore during extended training sessions. However, Taurus went one step further and added rubberization to the slide as well. The ergonomics of the Spectrum are very unique, and the gun is easy to handle and shoot for those with grip strength troubles.
In terms of aesthetics, the Spectrum 380 comes in a bunch of different color combinations, and the rubberized material can be ordered in twenty different colors. If you want a pink 380 pistol, this might be the one for you.
Another selling point of this Taurus 380 pistol is that it’s one of the most affordable 380 handguns on the market, so it’s a viable option for any budget. One last note, this is a very new design and has very little consumer testing so far. Run a reliability test with your defensive ammunition before you carry the Spectrum 380.
All in all, .380 pistols are viable concealed carry guns, but are ideal only in certain contexts. Most are so small that they’re great for deep concealment, but don’t offer much in terms of magazine capacity and accuracy.
If possible, using .380 pistol for home defense should be avoided. Even the largest pistol in this article has a much smaller frame size and lower magazine capacity than any full-size 9mm pistol. Unfortunately, there are very few (if any) full-size .380 pistols for those that need a lower recoiling round. If shooting 9mm is absolutely not an option, it’s possible to use a .22LR rifle for home defense.
The smallest 380 pistols are best used as backup guns or confined to situations where concealment issues make a larger gun impossible to conceal. 380 pistols with slightly larger frames are better for people with grip strength limitations that make it too difficult to shoot 9mm, but still want an EDC gun.
Best .380 for Defense
Best .380 for Backup
Smith & Wesson M&p 380 Shield ez
Shooters who need a versatile .380 pistol that they can use as a primary gun for concealed carry and potentially as a home defense option (even if it’s not ideal) will find the Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ is the best option.
It has enough magazine capacity to be an EDC gun, but is small enough for almost anybody to conceal, without being too small to shoot easily.
Those looking for a quality backup gun should consider the Glock 42. It’s smaller than the 380 Shield EZ, so it’s easier to conceal in a backup position like an ankle rig. However, the Glock 42 isn’t quite capable enough to be a good primary concealed carry gun.
Whichever direction you decide to go, make sure you get out there and carry!