380 VS 9mm: Ammo Comparison, Guide, And Review

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Last updated: 
December 29, 2023

380 VS 9mm: Ammo Comparisons

Gun enthusiasts are constantly comparing popular ammunition to find the best bang for their buck. Some ammo types rank higher than others for many reasons. However, there are a few calibers that are equally popular and suitable for their individual purpose. For example, the 380 vs 9mm.

The long-brewing comparison between the 380 and the 9mm falls in the above category. Consumers buy either for self-defense. There are slight differences to pay attention to that make one better over the other, and sometimes these differences depend on the firearm used. These differences present themselves in regards to ballistics performance, recoil, price, and many more aspects.

We have presented a comprehensive comparison between the .380 ACP and the 9mm calibers in this page. Before we begin, take a look at a quick overview of both self-defense cartridges.

.380 ACP: Overview

380 ACP

John Browning designed the .380 ACP that Colt in the U.S. introduced in 1908. The nickname "9mm Browning" salutes its creator. Built for self-defense purposes, it has a rimless and straight-walled case.

The .380 ACP features 9.5mm base and rim diameter, a case length of 17.3mm, and overall length of 25mm. The .380 has a shooting velocity of about 1050 feet per second. Primarily used as a self-defense cartridge, police officials use it as a backup pistol. This caliber is preferable by beginner shooters due to its low recoil and secure handling.

9mm: Overview


The 9mm, or the 9x19 Parabellum, features German engineering designed by Georg Luger. It was then launched in 1902 by the firearms brand DWM for their Luger semi-automatic pistol. Over time, though, it went through various iterations. Since then, several different variants have been launched.

Primarily designed for military use, the standard cartridge is used by NATO forces and by other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and other countries use this standard cartridge because of its initial design for primarily military consumption. The 9mm is also highly prevalent in the self-defense domain.

The 9mm features a rimless but tapered case with a bullet diameter of 9mm. The overall length of the cartridge is considerably longer than the .380, at 29.69mm and a case length of 19.15mm. Depending on the ammo used, it performs a shooting velocity between 950 to 14,500 feet per second.

380 VS 9mm: Comparison

While the .380 ACP is often considered interchangeable with the 9mm due to the same diameter, they are not the same at all. The two are distinguishable from each other due to different shell length and structure.

Let’s take a look at their distinct features and how they compare against each other.


The 9x19mm Parabellum wins when it comes to performance. The 9mm has a heavier cartridge with a longer shell length and can produce more energy. The Parabellum creates a maximum velocity of 1,400 feet per second as opposed to the maximum 1000 feet per second produced by the .380. The longer shell length equips the cartridge with more powder capacity, therefore providing higher velocity and more power.

Consequently, the bullet fire by 9mm does more damage than one fired by the 380. The stopping power of 9mm rounds is higher, and it packs a lot more pressure. This pressure enables the bullet to expand more than the 380 can.




The better the performance, the higher the recoil. More force and higher velocity produce a more significant recoil. A recoil of this magnitude can be uncomfortable to inexperienced shooters and a possible hindrance in the case of an emergency.

The .380 ACP produces less energy and does less major damage. It has lower recoil than the 9mm because of the limitation on power. Therefore, it is easy for beginners to use during self-defense situations. Smaller amounts of gunpowder are used, and the force produced is not as intense. The recoil has less impact, making it easy to reacquire the target after firing.

Target Penetration


The scope of damage to a target depends upon the projectile's extent of penetration. The 9mm has considerably more penetration power than the .380 ACP.

9mm rounds have a sleeker shell which builds more firepower and force behind an ejecting bullet. Therefore, all factors combined, the cartridge can penetrate over 13 inches, causing substantial damage. The .380, on the other hand, packs lower velocity shooting power which limits its penetration to 9 inches.

The 9mm has the edge over the .380 ACP in the sense that a bullet fired through the 9mm has a better chance and scope of tearing down the target by traveling entirely through it.

Shooting Accuracy

When it comes to self-defense, accuracy is one of the most important factors to prevent you from harm.

Since the .380 has lower recoil, it fires with more accuracy. When you have less power against you, the pistol fires with greater accuracy because it is easier to maintain target sight. Higher recoil can throw off the accuracy of your sightings between each round. However, the .380 ACP is mainly for very short ranges due to the low velocity and pressure. It cannot be expected to hit a long-range target with equal accuracy as the 9mm.

In the end, though, the accuracy highly depends on the experience and the skill of the shooter.


The .380 has the same bullet diameter as that of the original 9x19mm Parabellum, more commonly known as the 9mm. However, 9mm rounds are bigger and require a larger pistol. The .380 ACP rounds are shorter in size and do better with small pistols.

The .380 rounds are shorter and fire with less force. Pistols of subcompact size easily carry concealed with this type of ammunition. The .380's lightweight design remains discreetly hidden and draws quickly and with ease. For this, It is commonly used as a backup firearm.


The increasing popularity of the 9mm cartridges has made them widely available and lowers their rates. Currently, you can buy them at a more affordable price than the .380. Most buyers save .380 rounds for a specific purpose and do not use them often. Therefore, the economics of supply and demand come into play. The 9mm has a more extensive supply because of higher demand. The market for .380 directly ties to backup carry guns.

Logically, rounds for the .380 ACP cost more compared to the 9mm.

Practical Use
The ballistic performance of the .380 does not hit the mark when compared to the 9mm. The .380 ACP works better as a secondary weapon rather than the primary. The smaller size makes it easy to carry and conceal, though.

The 9mm is the standard ammunition NATO armies and other non-NATO militia, along with major law enforcement agencies, use to arm themselves. It is available in compact pistols with more magazine round capacity. The 9mm is ideal for experienced shooters as self-defense or military use.

Ammo Options

There are many options available for both 9mm as well as .380 ACP. The suitability for self-defense and military operations differ. The 9mm dominates the military end of the market, while the .380 ACP commonly sticks to the self-defense arena.

The top options of ammunition for the .380 include Liberty Civil Defense 50 grain SCHP, Hornady Custom Ammunition 90 grain, Remington 88 grain HTP, and SIG Sauer 90 grain 380 V-Crown JHP. All these bullets are ideal for self-defense and have short rounds suitable for pocket pistols. For a pocket pistol using .380 ACP, a 90-grain projectile will be the most effective for defense because of its penetration capability and higher velocity.

The 9mm's best options for ammunition include Federal HST 9mm 124 grain, Federal HST 9mm 147 grain, American Eagle 9mm 115 grain, and Blazer Brass 9mm. Notice that the 9mm bullets weigh more than the ones used for .380 ACP,  due to the higher caliber and case length of 19.5mm. The penetration of these bullets ranges between 12 to 18 inches.

.380 VS 9mm: Are they Interchangeable?

While the 380 ACP and the 9x19mm Parabellum are often thought to be interchangeable because of the similarity in bullet diameter, they are too inherently different to use in place of one another.

Yes, the diameter for both the cartridges is 9mm. However, the 9mm has a considerably longer shell than the .380. The lengthy shell means more powder capacity and power. The .380 has smaller size and length which make it unsuitable for magazines specific to the 9mm.

When you use more powerful ammo in a firearm not suited for that power, it can backfire and cause damage. Using a shorter .380 round in the magazine built for a longer 9mm case is a hazardous mistake to make.

Choosing the Right Cartridge

9mm wins over the .380 in terms of performance and power. The German-engineered cartridge packs more punch with a longer shell length, more caliber, and higher shooting velocity. It uses heavier bullets with better expansion to hold better penetration.

The .380 is better in terms of ease of use, though. A smaller amount of force exerted results in less recoil impact. Subcompact pocket pistols often call for .380 ammunition. Subcompact pistols are not a haggle to carry and have excellent concealability. Also, even though the .380 packs less force, it is a reliable cartridge for self-defense in short-range situations.

Military and law enforcement agencies have adopted the 9mm because of its reliability in the case of an emergency, self-defense, or attack circumstance. Close-range self-defense shooting suits the .380 best.

A lot goes into 380 vs 9mm comparison, and odds are you won't get a definitive answer. Take your pick according to your purpose and means. You will not go wrong with either.

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