.380 vs 9mm: Which Is Best?

.380 vs 9mm: Which Is Best?

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Mathew R Reed
August 23, 2021
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In the world of gun owners, few things are as hotly contested as the battle between the .380 and the 9mm.

Although both calibers are favorites among everyone from law enforcement through to civilians, they each offer something slightly unique that can put them in front.

Is .380 or 9mm best? Both of these calibers have the same diameter with the 9mm being slightly longer, and therefore able to hold more powder and power.

However, the .380 has the benefit of less recoil which can be a gamechanger when you’re in a life-or-death situation and need to fire off multiple rounds fast.

There’s a lot to compare and contrast between these two popular calibers, and we’re here to get down to the nitty-gritty.

If you’re still unsure which round to go for when buying your next handgun, our guide to the 380 vs 9mm will help you decide which is the best fit for your firearm needs.

The .380 Explained

The .380 Explained

The .380 ACP is a 9 x 17mm pistol cartridge that was designed by John Browning and first introduced in the Colt Model 1908 pocket semi-automatic.

The .380 ACP, or Automatic Colt Pistol, features a rimless and straight-walled design and was intended to be an upgrade on their more powerful.38 ACP round.

This cartridge features headspaces on the case mouth which help with accuracy and it was intended to be truly rimless, unlike its predecessors.

As they utilize blowback operation, the overall design of the .308 is simpler which translates to a much cheaper cartridge for those that use them.

Since its unveiling, the .380 has been one of the most popular self-defense cartridges of all time, and because of its low recoil and low power, it’s been commonly enjoyed by women and those wanting a compact pistol.

The .380 goes by other names including the .380 Auto and 9mm short, given its similar width but smaller size than the famous 9mm round.

The 9mm Explained

The 9mm Explained

The 9mm Luger or 9x19mm Parabellum is another rimless cartridge with a tapered design and sometimes goes by other names including 9mm and 9mm Parabellum.

The 9mm was developed in 1901 by an Austrian firearm design, George Luger, and was originally made for the Luger semi-automatic pistol.

Today, the 9mm is known as the most popular handgun and submachine gun cartridge in the world.

This round has been employed by everyone from the average civilian for self-defense purposes through to the military and police force as a cartridge with serious stopping power, and first gained everyone’s attention after it was employed by soldiers during World War I.

The 9mm has become such a household name in firearms that it’s often credited as being the driving force that makes semi-automatic pistols more popular than any other type.

With a longer cartridge and more gun powder than a 380, the 9mm is powerful and fast, as well as being economically priced.

How They Compare in Power

How They Compare in Power

When you stack the 9mm and the. 380 next to each other in terms of power, the 9mm will always emerge victoriously.

The sheer size of the cartridge alone is bigger which means it can fit more gun powder in it, resulting in a much more powerful hit and a more sizeable delivery of energy, but if power isn’t the top of your priority list, it might not be the best pick.

If you’re looking for the most powerful handgun possible and these are your two options, the 9mm is the way to go. However, that’s not to say that the .380 ACP isn’t impressive in its own right.

When paired with the right type of pistol, it can still do a lot of damage, and if you’re after a self-defense weapon and don’t need to go long range, they’re capable of stopping an attacker in their tracks.

One issue with all this power, though, is that the 9mm also creates more recoil energy.

If you’re new to gun ownership or need a weapon that’s going to be gentle on you but harsh on a would-be attacker, choosing the .380 might be the way to go.

They’re softer in recoil which can make them easier to handle and will even assist with accuracy.

Power isn’t the only thing that people look for when choosing a gun, and this is especially true in a CCW.

The 380 is the more compact and easier to carry between the two and will have enough energy to hit someone in close range, but if you want military-grade power and don’t mind carrying a bit of bulk, the 9mm is the way to go.

Accuracy and Velocity

Accuracy and Velocity

Another important factor to consider is which of these two rounds offers the shooter the most accuracy.

Given you’re probably using them at close range and in a self-defense situation, you want something that you can rely on to make the shot, but each of them has an advantage depending on the scenario.

If you want something more accurate with just one to three bullets, the 9mm is the way to go. However, if you plan on shooting more bullets, the 380 will be easier to do so.

This is due to the gun’s recoil being less pronounced with these cartridges so that the physical disruption is limited, which sometimes reduces your ability to aim while in the moment.

When it comes to speed, a standard 9mm Luger will travel at around 1,000 feet per second when firing a 115-grain bullet.

In comparison, a typical .380 ACP round carrying a 95-grain bullet will travel at 845 fps. In this regard, the 9mm is the clear winner, and it means you can shoot one of these rounds with better accuracy from further away.

Can You Use Them Interchangeably?

Can You Use Them Interchangeably?

One of the most common questions people have about these calibers is whether you can use them interchangeably, as their many similarities would make it appear so.

However, although they have the same diameter, these rounds are two different lengths and at first glance, you can see how different they truly are.

The 9mm is the longer of the two cartridges, and attempting to insert one of these into a 380 clip wouldn’t work.

Likewise, if you attempted to put a 380 round into the clip of a 9mm pistol, the sizing would be off and it wouldn’t fit.

It’s never a smart idea to attempt to use a cartridge with a gun that it’s not compatible with, and not just because they’re different sizes.

If you tried to use a 9mm round in a 380 clip and managed to get it in successfully, the sheer power of the cartridge would likely be too much to handle when fired.

Therefore, you should only use the recommended calibers with the handgun you’re firing, otherwise, it will lead to possible damage to your firearm and yourself.

The Caliber Comparison

There’s a good reason why the 380 vs 9mm debate is such a popular one, and that’s because both of these calibers bring a lot to the table.

With good and bad points of each, it’s up to the individual to think about what they require from the round they’re using and let that lead them to the best decision.

Related Questions

Choosing the right caliber for a firearm is one of the most important components, and it’ll dictate everything from power to accuracy.

If you still have questions about the various calibers and what they mean, we’re here to help with some commonly asked ones that will give you a push in the right direction.

What is the Effective Range of a 380 Pistol?

If you’re firing a regular-sized pistol, you can expect an effective range of between seven to 10 yards.

However, with a compact or pocket-sized pistol, it’s even less at around seven yards maximum, but it depends on the rounds and gun itself.

The true test is to fire one yourself during target practice to see what the gun can handle.

What Caliber is the Strongest?

The 500 S&W Magnum is consistently rated as one of the most powerful handgun cartridges that is commercially available when it comes to muzzle energy created.

The sporting gun cartridge was created by Smith & Wesson working with Cor-Bon and travels at speeds of around 1,250 feet per second with a 350-grain bullet.

What is the Best Hunting Caliber?

One of the most commonly used hunting calibers for a rifle is the 30-06 Springfield.

This cartridge is considered an all-rounder that works for all sizes of game, and it was previously used by the US military before becoming a favorite with North American hunters.

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Mathew R Reed

Mathew R Reed is a professional gun seller who runs a dedicated gun store in the suburbs of Oakland, CA. A hardcore hunting enthusiast since childhood, Reed has ample experience with guns and accessories. He is the founder of ArmorHoldings.com and creates some of the most helpful gun-buying guides and explainers. If not in the gun shop, you can find him on the nearest hiking trail or nearby hunting spot.