The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

9x19mm Parabellum Vs. .380 ACP: Best Carry Caliber?

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More


9mm is by far the most common pistol caliber in the United States, but .380 ACP is insanely popular also for some applications. 

While .380 ACP might just be 9mm on a diet, there are some crucial differences to know that set each caliber apart from the other.

We’ll go over the specs, the ballistics, the applications, and more!


.380 ACP9x19mm
Bullet diameter.355 in.355 in
Neck diameter.373 in.380 in
Base diameter.374 in.391 in
Rim diameter.374 in.392 in
Case length.680 in.754 in
Overall length.984 in1.169 in
Velocity950-1,280 FPS950-1,400 FPS
Maximum pressure21,500 psi (148 MPa)34,084 psi (235 MPa)

Next to each other, the only real difference you can see is .380 ACP is shorter than 9mm. Both fire the same diameter bullet, but .380 ACP normally ranges from 85gr to 100gr, 9mm is more commonly found in 115gr to 147gr.

Both cartridges are offered in a lot of flavors from a lot of manufacturers, but for simplicity's sake let’s look at Hornady Critical Defense

I’m choosing this brand and this line because Hornady has both cartridges available and it’s a decent apples-to-apples comparison. Plus, Hornady puts their data online and that makes it easier to look up.

.380 ACP Hornady Critical Defense fires a 90gr FTX bullet at 1,000 FPS using a 4-inch barrel giving 200 ft⋅lbf at the muzzle.

9x19mm Hornady Critical Defense fires a 115gr FTX bullet at 1,135 FPS using a 4-inch barrel giving 332 ft⋅lbf at the muzzle.

A range of .380 ACP defensive ammo
A range of .380 ACP defensive ammo

Now if we were talking rifle calibers, 132 ft⋅lbf plus or minus might not matter, but when we’re talking pistol rounds – that’s 66% more energy coming from the 9mm over the .380 ACP. 

The 9mm is also moving faster and speed is what expanding bullets need to expand. While .380 ACP defensive rounds can expand well, more speed still makes it more reliable. 


Both 9x19mm and .380 ACP have some odd names floating around out there, so just to clear things up.

9x19mm Parabellum is also known as 9mm, 9mm Luger, and 9x19mm NATO. You'll see most or all of these names used fairly often depending on who is talking about it, but they all mean the same thing.

.380 ACP might also be called .380 Auto, 9mm Browning, 9x17mm, 9mm Corto, 9mm Kurz, and 9mm Browning Court. However, it is fairly rare for any of those names to be used in the USA other than .380 ACP and .380 Auto.



A derivative of Browning’s .38 ACP, .380 ACP is a slightly weaker version but uses a truly rimless design. This was built from the start to be used in simple blowback pistols that were small, easy to build, and cheap. 

Introduced in 1908 in the USA and 1912 in Europe the .380 ACP quickly gained a lot of popularity among civilians and the military both in North America and Europe. Europe especially liked the .380 ACP because it was more powerful than the .32 ACP that was so common at the time.

380 vs 9mm
9x19mm Vs. .380 ACP

.380 ACP was seen as enough of an upgrade while still being easy to use that a number of nations adopted it for their militaries. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia all adopted .380 ACP before World War II.

It was also extensively used by German officers with the Walther PPK being especially popular.

However, after the war .380 ACP started to lose popularity and most nations started to adopt the 9mm Luger as their pistol caliber of choice. .380 ACP hung on until the 1970s when even the holdouts switched to 9mm.

.380 ACP remains a popular civilian cartridge but currently is not used by any military.


Designed by the legendary Georg Luger and introduced to the world back in 1901 the 9x19mm Parabellum is without question the most popular pistol caliber on earth now and has been for a very long time.

Luger invented the 9x19mm because he needed a better cartridge for the pistol designs he was working on. Working to first fix the Borchardt pistol, Luger developed the 7.65x21mm Parabellum to replace the 7.65x25mm Borchardt.

Luger’s work proved that the design and the idea had a lot of potential (this is back in 1898 before semi-automatic pistols were really a thing) but the German army wanted a slightly larger cartridge. Taking his 7.65x21mm cartridge Luger redesigned it into the 9x19mm that we know today.

Side-by-side with the cartridge he also designed the P08.

Luger P08 Open
Luger P08

While Luger presented the pistol and the cartridge to the British and the U.S. Army in 1902/1903, the German Navy was the first to adopt it in 1904 and then the German Army in 1908.

World War I and the advent of submachine guns saw the 9x19mm explode in popularity around the world. But it wouldn’t be until the adoption of the Beretta M9 by the US military in 1985 that the cartridge started to truly replace the .45 ACP for many Americans.

Today, the 9mm Luger is insanely popular in every way and on every level.



9mm wins this without even trying. While 9mm isn’t my top choice for home defense, it is a popular choice since it’s accessible and easy to use. Overpenetration from 9mm is a concern, but it’s less than some options at least.

.380 ACP has even less overpenetration, but it also has reduced lethality. 

Add on to this the fact that extended .380 ACP magazines are fairly uncommon and you’re left with an underpowered pistol and not enough ammo to make up the difference.


Personally, I would be very interested to see some manufacturers make .380 ACP PCCs, but as of yet the only one I’ve seen is Hi-Point.

An underpowered cartridge using the cheapest PCC ever made leaves me lacking confidence.

9mm all the way for home defense.


9mm has a lot going for it in CCW format. Good lethality, great capacity, great ammo, great weapons, and is super reliable. .380 ACP has those features also just not as amazing.

Pocket Sized Pistols Glock 43 Sig p365
We always want to maximize our success while balancing concealability. The number of CCW-focused firearms isn’t likely to decrease in the coming years.

The lethality is lower, capacity is higher but since most .380 ACP guns focus on the size of the gun, the magazines are often smaller, and ammo has come a long way but there are still a lot fewer options compared to 9mm.

For quality and reliability, .380 ACP gives nothing up to 9mm.


I actually really enjoy shooting .380 ACP from most of the guns that I’ve shot it from. It’s snappy since most .380 ACP guns are straight blowback, but it’s a decent cartridge on the range.

9mm is legendary because basically everything is chambered in it. From 1911s to PCCs to carry guns, 9mm is by far the most popular recreation pistol caliber outside of maybe .22 LR.

If you want a do-all range gun, 9mm is the ticket. But don’t assume that just because your CCW is in .380 ACP you won’t be able to have fun on range days.


Bottom line, 9mm is better in basically every way. More power, more weight, better ammo options, and options that are simply able to work better in a defensive role. Top to bottom, 9mm just wins.

So why even consider .380 ACP? Because it’s 9mm lite, basically. While 9mm is a fantastic balance of everything, .380 ACP takes that balance and downsizes it just a little.

Beretta Model 84 Cheetah
Beretta Cheetah in .380 ACP and an OTF knife for EDC

Because .380 ACP is less powerful than 9mm, it’s easier to make small guns for .380 ACP. It’s a lot easier to make them cheaper, and it’s fairly easy to give decent magazine capacity even in a small pistol.

Size is where .380 ACP can shine and make for a decent argument, at least for CCW use.

For home defense, .380 ACP makes a gun that is easier to use for some people, such as with the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ 380, but outside of the narrow band of people who physically cannot handle 9mm, .380 ACP is not a wonderful choice.

Around 90 percent of the time I EDC a Glock 19 in 9mm, but when I just don’t feel like strapping that gun on or when I need to be even more low-profile than normal, my go-to is a Bersa Thunder in .380 ACP with a 9+1 magazine.

David's Glock 19 Gen 3 EDC CCW
David's Glock 19 Gen 3 EDC CCW

My Glock 19 with a PL350 weapon light, red dot, and 15+1 rounds of 9mm is hands-down more firepower, but I still feel okay with that Bersa.


As with many things what is truly better for you will come down to your needs and your application. While I would say that generally, 9mm is a safer bet for most people, however, there are times when .380 ACP is what is needed.

Both cartridges are good. Both have their pros and cons. Both are acceptable for self-defense.

What is best for you will ultimately be for you to decide.

Ready for some more reading? Take a look at these!

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free