Introduced in 1908 the 380ACP was developed by firearms designer John Moses Browning who also designed the 45 ACP around 1904. The 380 has become very popular the last few years as more and more states have passed concealed carry laws. During this time ammunition companies have come out with many new very effective bullet designs to maximize the potency of the 380. The 380 ACP is higher pressure cartridge than a 38 or 38+p that has been used by law enforcement for decades. It also has bullet velocities similar to, and in some cartridges greater than, the 38 Special.

380ACP pressure: 21,500 psi
38 special (+P): 17,000 (20,000) psi

The .380 ACP fires a bullet that is not quite as heavy as most of the standard 38 Special projectiles. Being a lighter bullet we can expect less problems with over penetration. This puts the 380 ACP in the same class as a lighter 38 special round. However this also means that the 380 ACP is not the best at long distances, but given that we are talking self defense use here, not sniping at 1000 yards, this is a non issue.
The 380 ACP is the same .355 inch diameter as a 9mm bullet, but that is where the similarity pretty much ends. The 9mm is much higher pressure than the 380 and generally higher velocity while also having a heavier bullet. The 380 ACP is more ballistically comparable to the 38 Special overall which is .358", so only very slightly larger in diameter.

The 380 ACP offers a very good balance between defensive power, concealability and manageable recoil. Remember, however, that the smaller or lighter that your gun is the more recoil it will have. A good medium is to get a gun about the size of the Bersa Thunder 380. It's not the smallest 380 but it's very concealable, has a very nice grip that fills the hand perfectly. If you couldn't tell I'm fairly biased in favor of the Bersa Thunder 380. The reason is that we own the Bersa Thunder 380 and every new and soon to be gun owner that we have introduced it to has fallen in love with it. That speaks Testaments to the gun itself. It's an all metal gun but it isn't really any heavier than a polymer gun. The Thunder 380 is reliable and accurate and very easy to shoot.
It's the one gun of all the 380 s that I have personally handled that I could say this would be a great first and only gun. If you are looking for that one gun and have no intention of buying another gun the Bersa Thunder 380 is an excellent choice especially because of price, quality, warranty and availability of parts.

Just Say No to 380+P (Plus Pressure) ammunition.

This is a cartridge that EXCEEDS the standard SAAMI pressures for your gun. Some calibers are sold with +p on the firearm, 38 Special +p comes to mind, and there is an accepted SAAMI pressure maximum for these calibers.
To be clear, the firearm itself will say "+P" on it if it is designed for +P cartridges. At the time of this writing there is no SAAMI pressure standard for the 380 ACP so its a flip of the coin if your gun can handle the excessive pressures or not. The problem is that you wont know if your gun can handle +p or not until it blows up in your hand. And just because it doesn't the first time doesn't mean it won't the next shot.

My personal view of +p ammo is that I refuse to use it. I believe if one wants a more powerful cartridge that the best and safest thing to do is buy a more powerful gun, not pushing pressure limits into the red zone risking damage to both your gun and your person. If your gun does not specifically state "+P" on the firearm itself do yourself and your weapon a favor and just use standard pressure ammunition. If you want or require a more powerful cartridge than the 380 ACP I urge you to simply move directly up to the 9mm instead of risking injury with 380 +p ammo.

See what happens if your gun cant handle +P ammunition.

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