The argument over the cartridge caliber for a defensive carry handgun has been ongoing for years, and this article will not settle it. I leave it to you to discuss the ballistics and effectiveness of any given projectile; you can argue through the ballistics tests, pig carcasses, ballistic gel, whatever you like. I'm on about a different and irrefutable mathematical comparison between common centerfire concealed carry cartridges.
It's all in the diameter... not of the bullet, but of the casing. We have an historical path to take note of, and history is a huge piece of the puzzle in explaining the irrational basis for an argument to which many cling. First consider length. After WW2, the treaties that removed the 9mm (Luger) cartridge from use by Germany and its disallowed use by police agencies caused the 9mmK (Kurz=short, aka .380ACP) to begin its rise in popularity: same bullet, shorter casing. Then current gun technology, most notably that of Walther and Mauser, cranked out some fine .380 pistols for German LE. With a thin profile, light weight, it’s a perfect undercover pistol to supplement the first of the lineage of bulkier, heavier standard German Police Pistol sidearm: the P1 (the daughter of the P38).
Guest author Robert "Doc" Adelman
So the undercover guys and the leadership had their 9mmK sidearms. When it came time for Ian Flemming to pick a gun for James Bond, he called a friend who he thought of as a shooter and asked for advice. The spy had been carrying a .25 auto. Even Flemming got the word that a .25 isn't a real caliber for a Double Naught Spy. He switched to a .32/7.65 PPK. Then, bigger... that is why 007 carries a .380. I mean really though, what would be a slicker, sexier looking piece of steel in 1962 than the Walther PPK? So James got his gun. If you don't see the mild under-powered absurdity in this, compare it to and defend the choice of weapon he holds in the classic Sean Connery image in From Russia With Love, you know- where Sean is holding that rather long barreled pistol for that photo? It's actually a Walther LP53, a fairly nice airgun. The BB gun never took off, but for 007 to finally have that PPK, the .380 exploded on the U.S. market.
For that moment in firearms manufacture, and for quite a while afterward, the .380 made a lot of sense. It provided a solution to the main bugaboo to covert carry- the size of the grip and magazine. So the length of the .380 made for smaller handgrips, not thinner, as they are still a 9mm casing, but smaller front to back.
The world has changed a lot, certainly in terms of metallurgy and the huge one- the advent of plastic framed weapons. It is irrefutable that new generation micro 9mm handguns (single stack) take up no more space than a .380 did. Technology came into play, but mathematics prevail. If you have a 9mm casing, why not carry the same number of longer, more powerful 9mm cartridges, as one used to have with your .380?
But .380s continue to sell. The only real argument made for it is that it offers less recoil. This means less power, at least if you believe Newton's Third Law. Some people cling to this with thoughts of making a stress shooting incident more controllable with better accuracy. Even if you disregard the many stories of those who have actually been there- that this gun’s flip and recoil issue becomes a very minor concern- even if you buy into that, wouldn't you rather have a 9mm than a .380... the same amount of cartridges in the same space- and you can handle a 9mm, right?
So now comes Glock with their first U.S. single stack in .380. I liken the insane popularity of that Glock 42 to the same phenomenon that drove us to crave Coors beer. You want what you can't have. Glock had issued the .380 in Europe as G25 and G28 for many years, but they didn't pass our GCA68 import restrictions. Redesigned to comply as the G42, they couldn't make them fast enough. After a taste, just like Coors beer, what's the attraction? So Glock sold everybody the new .380. Then what's next for Glock?
After they saturated the newly sated single stack market with the .380, now they're going to give you what you really wanted after all: the G43, the newest single stack, in 9mm. Think about it- if they had brought out the G43 9mm, do you think they would have ever sold one G42? The only reason they made the U.S. version G42 is that they already had the engineering done for European .380 Glocks. It was a no brainer, but the U.S. consumer got screwed. You can now buy the single stack 9mm Glock 43 for $550 (one mag) plus shipping, but Walther has made the equivalent as a model PPS for years, and you can have that for $425 with two mags. Walther also offer the PPS in exactly the same size pistol- in a .40SW cartridge, carrying one round less (if you use the standard flat bottom mag) because its cartridge casing is 1mm bigger around.
Now for the part of "my argument" that I will surely agree swings toward interpretation of ballistics. I myself will give up one cartridge of mag capacity to get the .40SW over a 9mm. That's me; I could argue with you about it over beers at PubWest, but I don't drink beer. I am also too old and have seen enough gunfight residue that I made up my mind on the .40 S&W cartridge. But again, if you prefer a 9mm, by all means, go that way.
But a .380, really?