Face Off: .380 vs 9mm

9mm cross section

Similar bullet diameter, the same level of popularity, both are rimless and have moderate recoil, but is one cartridge really better than the other? Will we be able to finally settle the score between .380 vs 9mm? Let’s find out!


.380 ACP

Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2595916

The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) has been a widely used cartridge in handguns and as a self-defense round since its introduction in 1908. Its manufacturer, Colt, designed this cartridge for the Colt Model 1908 pocket hammerless semi-automatic pistol.

Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP (Image from http://www.coltautos.com/)

The .380 ACP was developed from John Moses Browning’s earlier .38 ACP design, with the former only a little less powerful than the latter. 

This popular cartridge is also known as .380 Auto, 9×17mm, 9mm Browning, 9mm Corto, 9mm Kurz, and 9mm Short. It was given the designation “9mm Browning Court” by the Permanent International Commission for the Proof of Small Arms or CIP. Despite its name, the .380 ACP’s actual bullet diameter is only .355 inches.

9mm Luger

9mm JHP set

The 9mm is designed for the Luger semi-automatic pistol by Austrian firearm designer Georg Luger in 1901. The CIP and the SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) gave it the designation “9mm Luger.” Other names for this cost-efficient cartridge are 9×19mm Parabellum and 9mm Parabellum. The name Parabellum comes from the Latin motto of Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), Si vis pacem, para bellum which means “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

The Imperial German Navy adopted the cartridge in 1904 and the German Army adopted it in 1908. The German Military also used it during World War II. Now, the 9mm Parabellum serves as the standard cartridge for NATO forces and non-NATO countries. It’s also widely used by law enforcement and military personnel worldwide.

Comparisons: .380 vs 9mm

Stopping Power: Winner – 9mm

Stopping power is measured in foot pounds. It is a gun’s ability to incapacitate, but not necessarily kill, a target. One major factor that contributes to stopping power is the projectile’s physical properties (such as speed) and how its behavior affects the target upon impact. The heavier and faster the projectile, the more powerful they are. 

The .380 ACP is light and compact, with its most commonly used bullets ranging from 85 to 95 grain. Its stopping power is less than other modern pistol cartridges, depending on the manufacturer and bullet weight.

A 115-gr 9mm load has a stopping power of 13 ft-lbs, while a 90-gr .380 load only has 2 ft-lbs.

Accuracy: Winner – .380 ACP

Since the .380 ACP is not that powerful and has light recoil, it’s fired in blowback pistols. With these types of pistols, you can permanently fix the barrel to the frame and achieve better accuracy. Plus, the .380’s cartridge is rimless, “and headspaces on the case mouth instead of the rim.” Because of its low recoil, you can also shoot comfortably and consistently out to 25 yards

The 9mm is more powerful than the .380 ACP and has no problem penetrating any target at 50 yards (124-gr FMJ load). At 100 yards, shooting tight groups can be a little challenging even for skilled shooters, but it’s not impossible.

Performance: Winner – 9mm

Despite its accuracy, the .380 ACP’s range is relatively short compared with the 9mm Parabellum. Bullet energy for .380 ACP loads varies from roughly 190 to 294 foot-pounds force (258 to 399 J). The 9mm, on the other hand, has bullet energy ranging from 355 to 538 foot-pounds force (481 to 729 J).

Price: Winner – 9mm

At today’s prices, 95-gr .380 ACP ranges from $0.44 to $2.52 per round, depending on the manufacturer. While a 115-gr 9mm load costs $0.26 to $0.30 per round, again, the price varies per manufacturer. The reason for the 9mm’s low cost is its high demand, even if the .380 ammo is cheaper to manufacture.

Application: Winner: Tie

The .380 ACP may not be as powerful as the 9mm, but it’s small and easily concealable, making it a great backup gun for law enforcement personnel. Its size and low recoil also makes it a popular self-defense cartridge among civilians. 

The 9mm Luger is a widely used service round in the military and the police because of its combat efficiency, flat trajectory, greater magazine capacity, affordability, and vast availability.

Recoil: Winner: .380 ACP

The .380 ACP has way less recoil than the 9mm Luger, that’s why it’s widely used for concealed carry pistols, particularly by beginners. 

The 9mm may be more powerful and has superior ballistics, but when it comes to shootability and control, .380 ACP is better for most people. 


Is a 380 good for self-defense?

Yes. The .380 is good for self-defense because of its manageable recoil and concealability.

Can a 380 stop an attacker?

Yes, a .380 has enough power to stop an attacker at self-defense distances. It’s not as powerful as 9mm Luger or other cartridges like 45 ACP, but it’s a good blend of power and manageable recoil.


.380 ACP


  • Handguns chambered in the .380 are compact and lightweight
  • Light recoil
  • Accurate
  • Comfortable to shoot


  • Short range
  • Low stopping power
  • Costs more than the 9mm 



  • Cost-efficient
  • Moderate recoil
  • Very powerful
  • Easily available
  • Superior ballistics


  • Less shootable than the .380 ACP


Like we always say here at Reload Your Gear, know your priorities and from there you can determine what’s best for you.

When it comes to the best self-defense round, if your priority is shootability and concealability, go with the .380 ACP. But if you want a powerful cartridge with excellent ballistics, you can’t go wrong with the 9mm Luger.

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