The .380 made an unlikely comeback. You could credit James Bond and M, switching from the .25 cal to the Walther PPK, but I’d say more credit goes to your insistence on the resurgent right to keep and bear arms–with the emphasis on “bear.” Really, actually, carrying a gun–not just owning one.
Now, the dilemma we all love to talk about: Which gun to carry and where do I put it?
People with more experience than I will tell you that the equipment you choose depends on the mission, but that surely you recognize a certain floor on effective firepower and should start from there. There is no way that, in this article, I will even begin to get into the continuing debate over the optimal death-dealer caliber and whether the .380 should even be in the contest. Regardless of the never-ending arguments over whether the .38 Special going to +P sufficiently rehabilitates it, and whether improvements in the .380′s bullet make it a respectable personal defense round at all, here is the reality you “calibers that begin with 4″ guys have to acknowledge: the public has voted and the .380 ACP has achieved market popularity. Why? Concealed carry.
Concealed carry is huge, and is big business. The demand brought forth the supply and now, the .380 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge is a hot commodity, a highly sought after item. So hot that the .380 round disappeared from analog and cyberspace retail stocks in 2008 and it is still hard to find. My sponsor, Luckygunner.com, got its start scouring the market for supply and offering .380, 9mm and 5.56 when others back-ordered customers, or led customers down the primrose path to the Checkout Cart, only to discover after many mouse-clicks that the rounds were “out of stock.” So, the boys at Lucky specialized in advertising ONLY what they had in stock and locating hard-to-find ammunition. Back to .380: they have to stalk for .380 still.
I’ve owned a couple. Hey, I’ll admit it: I bought a Grendel. Don’t remember this one? No problem. It was highly forgettable. It was cheap and you got what you paid for. The gun was junk. Then, I owned a Colt Mustang. Cool, huh? You collectors just salivate away. Owned a Pony Pocket-Lite, too. Then, I got rid of them both: Why?
The Mustang malfunctioned and the Pony bit you in the pad of your trigger finger, putting your trigger fingertip in a vicious pinch between the trigger guard and the back of the trigger. Sorry, Colt fans, that is the hard reality. The self-defense gun is for critical-moment killing, not collecting.
I moved on, but I’m willing to reconsider the .380. Indeed, as the NRA’s flagship and official publication observes, there has been a “…sea change in manufacturers’ efforts to provide the concealed carry handgun market with exactly what license holders have been clamoring for: a light, compact, personal protection handgun that won’t be left at home.” (American Rifleman, February 2010, p. 47)
The American Rifleman reviewed 9 new .380 ACP pistols. I let this article go, but have returned to it. Why? Here’s why: Shooters, I’m troubled by the article, that’s why.
Wiley Clapp has been writing for years. I value his career and I appreciate his work. However, this article reviewed guns men and women intend to stake their lives on: carry guns. Probably, the owners will never need to deploy the pistol but…. The gun owner will desperately need utter reliability–the gun must not fail. MUST not fail. Carrying is nice; having the thing go “BANG” at the critical moment is the sine qua non, the sole reason, for packing it in the first place.
Wiley reviewed the following: Kahr P380, Kel-Tec P3AT, Magnum Research Micro Desert Eagle, North American Arms Guardian, Rohrbaugh R380, Ruger LCP, Taurus 738 TCP (pictured on cover), SIG Sauer P238, and Walther PK380. These guns ranged widely in price, from $318 to $1,150. Wiley describes them in detail, and notes details that shooters realize are important only after buying it and putting some rounds downrange, things like poorly finished edges that bite your hand.
But, here is what bothers me: during the test, he fired each gun only about 100 rounds.
In a separate, colored print box, Mr. Clapp expressed his own concerns about the number of malfunctions he experienced shooting these guns. “I am concerned about the number of cycling malfunctions, most commonly failures to feed and chamber.” (p. 53) Worth mentioning, he wrote, “The Rohrbaugh did not malfunction.” (p. 50)
Mr. Clapp cautions, “Shoot until malfunctions stop.” Mr. Clapp gives some benefit of the doubt, quoting Kahr’s manual cautioning the shooter to break the gun in with at least 200 rounds.
My Glock didn’t need breaking in. I’ve experienced one ammunition failure malfunction in 9,000 rounds. None with my S&W J-frame. One with my Taurus .38 revolver and I’ll never forget the shock. Guns you rely on to save your life in extreme circumstances must fire reliably. You can’t test a gun’s reliability firing only 100 rounds. Based on the test, I’d cross every gun off the list but the Rohrbaugh, and then it would get 400 more rounds. After 1,000 malfunction-free rounds, I’d be confident in the equipment. Granted, spending a range-day with a .380 is not great ergonomic fun. Ouch. But, neither is a close encounter with the demented kind fun. Hire some college kids to pull triggers and blast away, regardless of what’s hit and get some rounds through these combat pistols. Note every malfunction, record the type, the load, and when it occurred in the string of fire. Or, are these sea-change offerings really combat pistols at all?
I’d like to have seen a scathingly critical conclusion, admonishing the manufacturers to make guns that not only sell, but also shoot–every time–out of the box.
(Footnote: I’ll admit I got excited and reviewed the .22 cal CMMG conversion kit for my AR-15, after only 150 rounds. I just couldn’t contain the excitement. I’ve gone back out and the kit has proven astonishingly reliable. I’d have welcomed a few malfunctions; they would force more carbine manipulation. But, the kit is a stalwart. And, more to the point, I don’t rely on my AR-15 loaded up with .22 LR to kill anything but cardboard and time.)