All tactics, including choice in firearms, are a function of compromise, person and gun. My choices are not highly influenced by cost but are based on cartridge (I feel confident shooting 9mm) and concealability. Thus, my choices may be very different from someone who is more concerned with weight, felt recoil or price. I’ve used a subcompact as my preferred everyday carry since first picking up a Walther PPK/S. This preference has been driven by my need for concealment in business casual dress. Over the years, I’ve primarily carried a .380 (more recently, the Glock 42). However, with the advent of more 9mm offerings in subcompact, I’ve moved to 9mm, including the Glock 43 and Kimber Micro 9.
I strongly agree with the school of thought that you should choose a gun you can shoot, will carry and will train with regularly. In other words, carry what you can fire reliably and accurately and what is not unpleasant to train with. Think of the old adage, “A hit with .22 is better than a miss with 10mm.”
Though I recently switched to the 9mm, the .380 still has a place in the market for those seeking a slightly lighter and subjectively softer-shooting carry arm. I strongly agree with the school of thought that you should choose a gun you can shoot, will carry and will train with regularly. In other words, carry what you can fire reliably and accurately and what is not unpleasant to train with. Think of the old adage, “A hit with .22 is better than a miss with 10mm.”
Assessing .380 vs 9mm
I chose guns based on availability, and these guns are not intended to be an exhaustive list. For the .380 handguns, I compared the Glock 42, the Kimber Micro .380, the SIG Sauer P238 and my venerable Walther PPK/S. For the 9mm handguns, I compared the Glock 43, the Kimber Micro 9, the SIG P938 and the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield.
I drew all firearms specifications from manufacturer websites. I tested each gun using a LabRadar chronograph, shooting four different ammo brands and types — again, not an exhaustive list but rather chosen by availability and including one defensive round for comparative purposes. For each velocity test, I measured four magazines of six shots each for a total of 24 rounds of each ammo from each gun. Average velocity in feet per second at muzzle and energy measured in foot-pound force are reported below. Finally, I shot each gun twice at 7 yards, on signal and from low ready, using seven rounds as quickly as I could shoot while maintaining front-sight focus. The goal was defensive accuracy.
The felt recoil reported in the chart above was my own perceptions and was comparable over all eight guns. I personally do not detect a big difference in felt recoil from the .380s to the 9mms. For me, the additional 1 to 4 ounces in weight and slightly longer barrels in the 9mm subcompacts balance the higher foot-pounds of the 9mm into a similar experience of felt recoil. Across all tested guns, I found the Walther PPK .380 to deliver the hardest felt recoil, and I felt muzzle flip was slightly more noticeable with the S&W M&P9 9mm. I otherwise found the guns to have fairly similar felt recoil.
Though the Kimbers are reported to have a heavier trigger pull based on company specifications, I prefer their trigger pulls, breaks and resets compared to the other guns tested. Personally, I was less favorable regarding the triggers on the PPK/S and the M&P9 for similar issues of trigger travel and harder breaks.
In regard to accuracy, I shot best overall with the Glock 42 out of the .380s and the Glock 43 and Kimber Micro 9 out of the 9mms, which admittedly is likely more about me than the guns. I personally like the Kimber, but a sleek appearance and white-dot sights may not justify the cost if you are budget-minded when shopping for a single-stack subcompact.
The SIGs and the Kimbers field-strip in a manner similar to 1911s but simpler, as they contain no barrel bushings. That said, the recoil springs in the Kimber .380 and 9mm can be a bit difficult to get out and back in. The Walther field-stripped easily, as did the S&W. The Glock 42 and 43, like all Glock models, field-strip easily and are simple to clean.
What About .380 vs 9mm Ballistics?
The ballistic data tells a similar tale in both the .380s and the 9mms. Across all brands of ammo, including Hornady XTP in both .380 and 9mm, the Glocks shot with the highest velocities and thus were also harder-hitting in terms of actual force delivered into their targets, though these differences were relatively small and not statistically significant.
My personal choice for everyday concealed carry is the Kimber Micro 9, as I like its slightly smaller frame, lighter weight and more rounded “print.” As mentioned earlier, your own carry decisions need to be a balance of personal factors. What reads right on paper doesn’t always stack up to being the best to wear every day. As usual, I’m afraid that only you can ultimately decide what best fits your needs.