380 vs 9mm
We don’t enjoy cartridge debates, but we’ll address them, and today it’s the ‘380 vs 9mm, which one is better?’ debate. At Sportsman’s Magazine, we aren’t huge fanboys of any specific cartridges. We all have our favorites, but also generally believe there is a right cartridge or cartridges, for every specific use case. That critical thinking is how we’ll approach the 380 vs 9mmm comparison.
We’ll focus on power, magazine capacity, and control. Before we take a dive into cartridge characteristics, it’s worth answering some of the other commonly asked questions on the topic. “Can a 380 stop an attacker?”, “Can a 9mm stop an attacker?”, and “What has more stopping power .380 or 9mm?”. The answers are Yes, Yes, and 9mm, but that isn’t the end of the ‘debate’.
380 vs 9mm: Power
When it comes to a comparison of power, the 9mm is a clear winner. The 380 ACP produces an average of 190 to 220 foot pounds of energy with normal commercial ammo, excluding higher pressure rounds. The 9mm produces an average of 320 to 360 foot pounds of energy with normal commercial ammo, excluding higher pressure rounds.
There isn’t a whole lot to point out here, and it doesn’t take a genius to see whether the 380 or 9mm produces more power. Tests have also shown the 9mm has greater expansion and penetration than the 380 ACP. 9mm is the clear winner, when it comes to power.
380 vs 9mm: Magazine Capacity
The less powerful 380 auto uses what are essentially the same bullets as the 9mm, albeit lighter, and in a shorter case length. The magazine capacities are pretty much the same, but the shorter round means the magazine, receiver, and chamber of a 380 are also shorter, resulting in a lighter firearm. From a pure capacity perspective, it’s a draw between the 9mm and 380.
380 vs 9mm: Control
Even though 9mm pistols are usually a few ounces heavier than a 380 auto, the recoil is still significantly greater than a 380 auto. The NRA tested the 380 in the same weight pistol as a 9mm, and the results showed the 380 auto produced 94 percent less recoil. The greatly reduced recoil makes the 380 auto a clear winner in the control comparison.
380 vs 9mm: Conclusion
There are two obvious conclusions in the 380 vs 9mm debate, and it’s a firearm fairytale ending. Fanboys of each cartridge can be happy, or at least appeased.
The 9mm is a great round across the board. It has plenty of power, is very controllable compared to a 45 ACP or 357 Magnum, and has plenty of magazine capacity, making it a great all purpose choice. Albeit not the tiniest pistol, it’s commonly carried in a compact or subcompact form. For a multi-purpose, range, home defense, everyday carry pistol, the 9mm is better than the 380 auto.
However, the lack of power doesn’t mean the 380 auto wouldn’t stop an assailant. Enough people have died because of 22lr wounds, with half the energy of a 380, to affirm the fact that the 380 is a lethal cartridge. While the 380 auto isn’t as powerful as the 9mm, and its magazine capacity is essentially the same, they are typically a few ounces lighter and are more compact, because of the shorter, lower pressure rounds. The compact size and still legal power of a 380, makes it a great concealed carry, that is easy to control. For those that want a very compact and controllable concealed carry, and are content with the reduced power of the 380 cartridge, the 380 auto is a no brainer.
Before the fanboys, of either the 9mm or the 380 completely go off the rails, we will also acknowledge that we did not include specific things like ported barrels, custom high pressure loads, and lightweight composite firearms. It is possible to load a hot 380 auto for more power, and it is possible to reduce 9mm recoil by 30ish percent with ported barrels, but these are more of an exception than the standard.