There seems to be a proliferation of “mouse guns” on the market. You know the ones I mean: they are small, lightweight, and very easy to conceal. Couple these features with the fact that many of them are less expensive than other larger handguns, and it is easy to see why many people are drawn to them for use as a back-up gun or to carry off-duty. In fact, one of the runaway hits in the 2008 firearms industry is the Ruger LCP.
However, there are some serious drawbacks to the use of a mousegun for self defense. For example, the sights are typically awful and the sight radius is very short meaning it is going to be very difficult to hit your assailant in the right spots. Even if you do hit your assailant in the right spots, mouseguns are normally “sub-caliber” pistols, meaning .22, .25, .32, and yes… .380. These calibers, even with modern ammunition, frequently fail to penetrate very deep and hollowpoints almost never expand.
Some of my fellow officers would argue (and some have) that the .380 ACP is adequate for self defense. The most frequent argument I have encountered from fans of the .380 is the size of the guns make it easy to conceal and there is very little recoil. If you notice, neither of these arguments actually address the effectiveness of the caliber in stopping an armed criminal. Besides, I’ve never believed that “adequate” was good enough when we are talking about my life or the lives of my family members.
To show the effectiveness of the .380 ACP, take a call officers on my shift responded to two nights ago. A distraught man intending to commit suicide pulls out a .380-caliber gun, puts it to his head, and pulls the trigger. The round cause quite a mess. Although he looked dead when officers arrived, the bullet failed to penetrate the skull and the man was merely rendered unconscious. In fact, the man was sitting up and talking to paramedics on the way to the hospital.
Two of the officers at the scene carried .380′s as off-duty guns, and they are now for sale…cheap.
One possible exception to the “mousegun” calibers is the .327 Federal Magnum that was introduced earlier this year. The .327 Magnum launches a .32 caliber bullet at much higher velocities than any of the previous .32 chamberings. Try a 115 grain Gold Dot at 1300 fps (3″ barrel). That is pretty darn impressive. However, I am not aware of any ‘real world’ shootings with this caliber, so I don’t know how the narrow profile, even at high speeds, will fare in both penetration and expansion.
I firmly believe that the .38 Special +P is the minimum anyone should carry for self defense or back-up. In an autoloader, 9mm is the base line. A .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP are even better. Anything less leaves too much to pure chance, which is never good in a life and death encounter.