Compact .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry: Why and How

— Jason MosherCADRE Dispatch

The caliber you carry for concealed carry has been long debated without any real consensus among firearms experts and enthusiasts. .380 ACP is a lower-powered round that some say is insufficient for self-defense. But others argue it has its place in the gun world, and yes, even the concealed carry world — often in the form of compact .380 pistols.

The rule I have always applied to my choice of concealed carry gun is this: carry the largest size gun, with a caliber you can control.

A full-size handgun is ideal in a gunfight because it holds more ammo, and you have better control of it. In the winter I can fit a full-size handgun under my coat without any issue. But there are other times when a full-size gun isn’t possible to conceal. In fact, there are times when my only options are to carry a micro-sized gun or no gun at all.

When I’m faced with that ultimatum, a small .380 pistol suddenly becomes viable — even though it’s small, carries less ammo, and has less knockdown power.

If you are wondering if a .380 pistol is right for you, we will discuss some of the benefits and when it is appropriate to carry one.

.380 ammunition.
If you are going to carry a .380 for self-defense, make sure to use quality ammo made for that purpose. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Why a .380?

How you view something always depends on what you are comparing it to. Have you ever fired a .45 from a small micro-sized pocket gun? It’s not what I would call enjoyable. The recoil is so bad that it’s hard to hang on to, let alone fire rapidly at an attacker. Sure, it has more knockdown power and will stop the threat faster when you hit it. But shooting a big caliber from a small gun is not something everyone can do.

A .380 doesn’t have as much knockdown power, but it does have less recoil.

.380 ammunition.
Can .380 ammo be used for self-defense? [Photo: Jason Mosher]

I teach law enforcement firearms classes and citizens CCW classes. I’ve always preached you should carry the largest gun you can reasonably conceal.

This will not be the same size for everyone though. Body size, type of carry, weather, clothing, and other factors will all affect what size you can carry. When I’m in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s hard to conceal a Glock 17, 1911, or another full-size handgun. A .380 is often the largest caliber I can conceal when my dress attire doesn’t work for larger guns.

I could go with a micro-sized gun chambered in a larger caliber, but this is not the best combination for me. When the gun gets that small, it’s too hard to manage the recoil and control your shooting.

When I’m not carrying a micro-sized gun, I prefer 9mm in a larger framed gun. Others may not want to purchase multiple guns for concealed carry. They want one gun for everything, so a model that is small and easy to hide is what works for them.  

How effective is a .380 for self-defense?

As I stated above, a .380 is not ideal for self-defense when compared to a 9mm or larger round. But if a gun is small and comfortable, people are more likely to carry it more often. A big gun does no good if you leave it at home.

You can improve the effectiveness of a .380 by selecting quality ammo for self-defense. The key is your ability to fire rapidly at a target and hit what you are aiming at. If you have good ammunition, a .380 can still be effective for self-defense.

Training with the Ruger LCP Max

Everyone handles guns differently, so run some drills and see which caliber is best for you. It’s important to run drills in your everyday clothing and concealed carry holster to make sure you are prepared.

Select multiple micro-sized guns in different calibers and see if you do better with one over the other. I have shot a lot of .45 and .40 caliber micro-sized guns before, and I don’t care to do it again. Again, the point of concealing a micro-sized gun is to keep a firearm on you when a larger gun is not possible.

One of my favorite micro guns for CCW is the Ruger LCP Max. It’s extremely small and still utilizes a 10-round magazine. (ATG) supplied some ammunition for training so I took the Ruger LCP Max and headed to the range.

For this training session, I used Federal .380, 95 grain FMJ. As you would expect with Federal ammunition, it was reliable and accurate.  I was able to shoot quickly and stay on target.

Shooting the Ruger LCP Max .380 pistol
Shooting the Ruger LCP Max .380 pistol on the range. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

For self-defense training with small guns, I like to stay in that 7 to 10-yard range. Most self-defense incidents take place at 7 yards or less. It’s also good to fire some self-defense ammunition through your gun to make sure it will cycle correctly.

When it comes to hollow point ammo, some guns handle different brands differently. I chose Fiocchi Defense Dynamics for my self-defense ammunition. This 90-grain jacketed hollow-point bullet runs 975 feet per second and fires great through my LCP Max. While I mostly stuck to the 10-yard range, I did back out to 20 yards with the Fiocchi ammo. I wasn’t as accurate with the micro pistol, but good enough for self-defense.  

Best ways to conceal-carry a .380 handgun

My recommended method of carrying a micro to compact-sized firearm is with an IWB holster. The point of carrying a small gun is to conceal it with clothing that would not conceal a larger gun. An inside the waist holster keeps it as close to the body as possible.

Bianchi’s model 6 leather inside the waistband holster is a great option for compact .380 pistols. It has a metal clip to keep the holster in place and the leather is ultra-thin to allow for maximum comfort.

Carrying the Ruger LCP Max.
Drawing the Ruger LCP Max during concealed carry. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Safariland also makes the Model 25 Pocket Holster that keeps the gun in place in your front pocket, coat, purse, or another type of bag.

Ankle holsters are another option. However, I would only choose that option if there were no other way to carry the gun. When a gun is on your ankle, it takes longer to access it and it’s harder to keep in place on your ankle. OWB holsters can work if you have clothing that will cover it up.        

Is .380 right for you?

There are plenty of quality compact .380 pistols and holsters for carrying them. For me, a .380 is not a replacement for larger calibers, it’s another option. When I can carry a larger gun I do, but sometimes a micro-compact pistol works best.

The larger the caliber, the more recoil it will produce. Larger guns reduce that recoil but are harder to conceal. This is the happy medium everyone must find. When I pick a small-framed gun, I choose smaller calibers. For larger, heavier guns, I choose bigger calibers.

Just remember to train with the gun, holster, and ammo you select. Ruger, FN America, Kimber, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, and other manufacturers all make great options to choose from.

If you have the ability, select a few sizes of handguns for concealed carry. This gives you the ability to select the right gun for that day. And if your choices are slim, a .380 is going to be much better than nothing at all.  

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