The Much-Maligned .380 ACP

My readers know that Abby and I recently completed our required testing for our Oklahoma Self Defense Act permit to carry a concealed weapon. Today we went together to the Pontotoc County Justice Center to be fingerprinted. As we expected, my fingerprints were easy to scan, but Abby’s, which have always had smooth ridges, were difficult, and the person taking them felt we might eventually end up needing to go to Oklahoma City, which Abby’s father did, to get a clean scan of them.

The .380 ACP vs the 9mm Parabellum vs the .38 Special; all cartridges in 9mm diameter, all capable of ending the life of another human being.
The .380 ACP vs the 9mm Parabellum vs the .38 Special; all cartridges in 9mm diameter, all capable of ending the life of another human being.

Assuming our background checks are okay, we should receive our permits in about four months, since presently there are a record number of concealed carry applicants awaiting approval.

Once we get our permits, we need to decide how and when we want to carry.

Our workplaces are out of consideration, since our employers specifically prohibit it on their properties, most likely as an effort to limit liability if a firearms-related incident occurs. Outside of the workplace there is carrying a weapon on our person, and carrying in our vehicles. Neither of these options lends itself to concealing a full-sized sidearm, leaving smaller weapons as a solution.

Due to the considerations of basic physics, small weapons can only be chambered in smaller cartridges. In recent years, firearms manufacturers have offered more and more of these smaller guns, frequently chambered for the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. Introduced 105 years ago, it also goes by the names .380 Auto, 9mm Browning, 9mm Corto, 9mm Kurz, 9mm Short, and 9×17mm.

This new breed of pistols designed for deep carry are often called by diminutive nicknames such as “mousegun,” and gun nuts will say things about them like, “it’s better than throwing rocks.” It’s an interestingly narrow view of ammunition that has a history of successful use by militaries and law enforcement agencies worldwide. I think much of this attitude comes from a uniquely American notion that bigger is better, combined with a uniquely male view that a big gun equals a big penis, combined with an odd thirst for killing that divorces firearms from self-defense and marries them with vigilanteism.

The more I shoot the .380 ACP, however, the more I appreciate its strengths. I find it an efficient, elegant round with manageable recoil and sufficient energy for self defense, and it is emerging as one of my favorite pistol rounds.

This is where the gun nuts and I part company. Many of them talk about 9mm, the next larger round, as being the “minimum” caliber for self defense. They talk about “knockdown ability” and “stopping power,” when the rest of us know that what they really want – what they really lust for in their hearts – is to kill someone. The fact that they are killing an assailant is, in my opinion, secondary, at least based on the reading I’ve done in firearms forums and YouTube comment sections. It’s obvious from the tone of these writings that gun nuts are all about bringing vigilante death to someone they perceive as evil. Self defense should never be about acting as judge, jury and executioner, which is what these people hope to one day become when they holster a Glock loaded with the hottest 10mm +P ammo.

“You cannot kill someone without killing a part of yourself.” ~Soldier in Iraq, 2003

I think most civilians who carry guns have no real idea what their guns imply, and what potential they represent. As the time approaches for Abby and me to carry, we will endeavor to remember and respect the power in our pockets.

Three .380 ACP rounds in their most common configurations: ball, wad-cutter, and hollow point.
Three .380 ACP rounds in their most common configurations: ball, wad-cutter, and hollow point.


  1. You went straight to ‘how and when’ and skipped right over ‘if’ you will carry. A gun does make you judge, jury and executioner, though. Before you un-holster, you must make a reasoned case, a decision, and be prepared to fire. Regardless of permit and accepting of consequences. Be it in self-defense or defense of another. My hope is you’ll never be forced to pull. But, I’m sure that if you do, it will be something forced.

  2. Hugely apologetic for not making this clearer in the narrative: the whole idea of carrying .380 ACP, and thus the whole point of this entry, is that it is a sufficient and excellent self-defense caliber without being a caliber that is intended specifically to kill with extreme prejudice.

  3. Our home state, Oklahoma, is a “stand your ground” state. Also known as Castle Doctrine or “make my day” law, it says that we are not required to retreat from a threat if we are legally defending life and property. However, retreat is often the best course, and one for which we have trained. We are neither soldiers not police. Get to cover, get to safety, then assess and, if necessary, use deadly force.

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