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.380 vs 9mm luger

.380 ACP vs 9mm Luger

If you have ever been in the market for an everyday carry (EDC) handgun, you probably have noticed that there are two chamberings that seem to pop up the most when looking at compact and subcompact handguns. If you haven’t already guessed by the title, today we’re going to be talking about .380 ACP, 9mm Luger, and why projectile diameter doesn’t always paint the full picture for the 9mm and .380 round.

What is .380 ACP?

The .380 ACP cartridge was released in 1908 under Colt and designed by John Moses Browning, hence, why it is also sometimes referred to as 9mm Browning. It was originally designed as a self-defense round for compact handguns with blowback operated actions where the barrel is fixed, and the slide and recoil spring absorbs the energy in order to cycle. This type of action usually requires a heavier slide and stiffer recoil spring, therefore, the .380 ACP has less muzzle energy and velocity so that weight can be kept to a minimum. The main benefits of .380 ACP is that it has almost half the felt recoil of the 9mm Luger and can fit into a shorter frame because of its shorter case length. This cartridge was utilized by many European law enforcement agencies until the 1970’s when it was eventually replaced by the 9mm Luger. In the United States however, it was only really used for self-defense in pocket pistols and never saw service in law enforcement or the military.

What is 9mm Luger?

The 9mm Luger cartridge was designed in 1901 by an Austrian gunsmith named George Luger, and is actually synonymous with 9mm Parabellum. Georg Luger originally called it the 9mm Parabellum because it was part of the motto for the manufacturer he worked at, which was the Latin phrase, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, which translates to: “If you seek peace, prepare for war”. The reason why we have two names for this cartridge is actually because of the regulatory organizations that standardize ammunition specifications. SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) is the organization that standardizes ammo specs in the United States, while the CIP (Commission Internationale Permanente) is the European equivalent. The CIP lists the cartridge as 9x19mm Parabellum, while SAAMI (because of trademark reasons) lists the cartridge as 9mm Luger in honor of its designer. The 9mm Luger grew to be one of the most common cartridges for handguns around the world and was used extensively throughout both world wars by the German military from 1904 until 1945. The United States military stuck with the much larger (and American) .45 ACP up until the 1980’s when the Beretta M9 was adopted and thus introduced 9mm Luger to the masses. Since the adoption of the Beretta M9 in 1985, the 9mm Luger cartridge has been the choice for the United States military sidearm for almost 40 years now.


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So how do the two stack up?

The projectile diameter for .380 ACP is .355”, the case is straight walled measuring .680” in length, with most projectiles weighing around 90 to 100 grains. The maximum chamber pressure under SAAMI standards for .380 ACP is 21,500 psi, which results in approximately 950 fps and around 200ft-lbs of muzzle energy out of a 3.5” barrel. The projectile diameter for a 9mm Luger is also .355”, the case is tapered with a length of .754”, and the typical projectile weight is typically around 115 to 147 grains. The maximum chamber pressure under SAAMI standards are 35,000 psi, resulting in approximately 1150 fps and around 400ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle using a 4.2” barrel.


Now that we know the numbers, let’s talk about how this adds up in practice. As I previously mentioned earlier, the .380 ammo has significantly less recoil than 9mm Luger. This can help improve accuracy and make for better follow up shots, as well as just be more pleasant to shoot if you are using a subcompact or lightweight weapon as when compared to 9mm Luger which may feel snappy and uncomfortable to shoot. However, even in a compact or full-size handgun, the recoil of the 9mm Luger is typically very manageable and with proper training shouldn’t be an issue for most people.

Stopping Power

When considering ‘stopping power’ and effectiveness in a self-defense situation, there are a lot of different metrics one can use, but for our purposes we will be talking about muzzle energy and penetration through ballistic gelatin. We will also be comparing the two cartridges using the same manufacturer and equivalent self-defense load. Starting with the .380 ACP, we will be using data from the Federal .380 ACP 99 grain Hydra-Shok Deep load, which has 220 ft- lbs of energy at the muzzle travelling at 1000 fps. This cartridge penetrates to around 13.5 inches in ballistic gelatin and expands to .496”.

The 9mm Luger cartridge we will be comparing is the Federal 9mm 135 grain Hydra-Shok Deep load, which has 337ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle travelling at 1060 fps. This cartridge penetrates around 15 inches in ballistics gelatin and expands to .52”. With this in mind, we can clearly see that the 9mm Luger equivalent cartridge performs better than the .380 ACP equivalent, however, it is important to note that the .380 ACP cartridge has made large steps in the past few decades towards being much more effective with the right loading. Therefore, the 9mm Luger outright wins in terms of ‘stopping power’.

.380 & 9mm Luger

.380 & 9mm luger


The 9mm Luger is usually going to be a little cheaper than .380 ACP as of late, since 9mm Luger has surpassed .380 ACP in terms of popularity and availability. When looking at the two Federal Hydra-Shok Deep loads we compared; the .380 ACP is a couple more dollars per box of 20 at $37.99 while the 135 grain 9mm Luger equivalent is $35.99 for a box of 20 rounds. Prices are always variable though based on where you look and especially the current political climate, so, these numbers may be completely different in a few years. However, as of right now, 9mm Luger is definitely running a little cheaper per round than a .380 ACP equivalent.

What Should I Use?

So, if you’re still on the fence between picking up a handgun chambered in 9mm Luger or .380 ACP, consider what you intend on using it for. While these two calibers have their own strengths and weaknesses, there is no right or wrong answer. If you strictly want the most lightweight and smallest profile handgun for everyday carry (EDC) that is easy to control under strings of fire and you don’t mind the slightly larger price tag on ammo, you might be more inclined to choose a .380 chambered handgun. However, if you are fine with a little more weight and a slightly larger frame, you can’t go wrong with the 9mm Luger. The 9mm Luger makes for a more dynamic handgun that you can carry everyday but also afford to take out to the range since the ammo is generally always cheaper than .380 ACP. The choice is yours. .380 vs 9mm has been a hot topic for quite a while. Both 9mm & .380 have their advantages and disadvantages, but it comes down to what you are really looking for.

If you have any questions or looking for more information on .380 & 9mm ammo, please contact us.

If you’re looking to order any of the .380 ammo, 9mm ammo, or these calibers by the box please visit our website at trueshotammo.com, call us at (888) 736-6587 or, you can email us at [email protected].

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